Play Boldly

Following up on my last post, I intend to disparage no one, including my players past and present, but a malaise sets in on me occasionally when I’m playing a D&D game. Players seem lethargic. They don’t respond to the information given to them. Their characters act far different than the intrepid adventurers those characters should and must be.

Players should be as bold in game action as their characters are in the game world. Why? Because it pays off in fun and energy at the table.

I don’t mean that you should be the type of player who opens a closed door in the middle of combat or pushes every shiny, red button. Don’t go your own way at everyone else’s expense, despite what a certain famous D&D-playing author has said to the contrary. That’s jackassery rather than boldness. (Rule X: Don’t be a jackass!)

Instead, decide how the happenings in your game present opportunities for your character. Can you take cooperative actions that also work toward your character’s goals or display your character’s personality? If not, might you help further define the narrative or push the game onward? This can be as simple as making a deal with another character in a “you scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours” way. At other times, it’s a no-brainer how your character acts. Although some events in a game might fail to fit your character’s aims, think of how the smaller picture of the current situation might fit into the larger frame.

Whatever you do, don’t be afraid to take actions that make for a great game. Several bits of boldness follow.

Have Fun

Playing a D&D game is all about having fun. If you’re not having fun, say so constructively. Try to help figure out what’s going wrong. Maybe the subject of the game makes you uncomfortable. Perhaps play has bogged down. It could be you just crave some action. If you do say something (again, constructively), the game can be altered to accommodate your desires. A good DM wants you to have fun.

Ask Questions

Whenever you want more information, ask. A detail might be important to you or your character, and that’s fine. The game is about exploration and investigation, as well as fighting and character interaction. If you fail to ask questions, you might not receive some information you want or, worse, need. It’s not the DM’s job to give you every bit of information—sometimes you have to work for the goods. Further, detail should be built based on player interest rather than dumped by the DM in a way that slows the action. The DM is justified in assuming no one’s interested in details if no one asks any questions. By asking, you’re also telling the DM what you’re interested in.

Use Powers, Rituals, and Skills

Be familiar with your character’s abilities, and then use them whenever it seems appropriate. Suitability of use can be defined tactically, like the right spell for the right moment, or by roleplaying, such as how your character reacts to a situation. Most adventures are constructed assuming that a party has particular skills and abilities. If you have those abilities but don’t use them, the game might just go nowhere fast. Think about problems in terms of how your character’s abilities can solve them. It’s not the DM’s job to remind you of a ritual you have or to make sure you use your other abilities wisely. Know then do, bold one.

Have a Hunch

It’s the DM’s job to provide a situation, but few complex situations have clear-cut answers. Maybe you have an idea–it’s out there but it seems like a possibility.  You might just be right, even if evidence suggests otherwise. Sharing your idea is always good for the game. If you have an opinion, then, voice it.

And don’t keep ideas to yourself just because your character might not know. Although your game might vary from mine, I see player discussion as the collective cleverness of the party. It’s fine to roleplay, after out-of-character discussion, that the wizard came up with the idea. It’s also possible that your barbarian just had an amazing flash of insight. (That could even become a permanent and regularly appearing character trait. How does she do it?)

The caveat here is that you avoid using knowledge the party has no way to know, such as verbatim attributes from Monster Manual. In my games, especially, relying on such player knowledge is a sure way to end up in trouble. Instead, use your player knowledge as a reason to use character skills and other abilities. It’s fine to ask for an Arcana check to learn about a monster, even though you, the player, think you already know some of the creature’s attributes. Perhaps it’s even fine to roleplay what your character assumes about a monster from details the DM has given. (“Careful with fire around this beast . . .”) Such roleplaying might even lead the DM to grant a bonus to your skill check.

Ham It Up

We all game to have fun creating a story about a group of awesome characters in fantastic situations. Part of the fun is the personalities of characters and how they interact with their world. As a DM, I use accents, changes in voice, scare tactics, and all sorts of theatrics to get across the situation or person I’m portraying. I do the same with my PCs when I’m on the other side of the table. You can too. Don’t be shy. Only a jackass would ridicule you for increasing the fun. (Rule X.1: Don’t game with jackasses.)

When in a game situation, consider how your character might react. Even if you try to focus on the cooperative alternatives, this can result in actions that seem inappropriate to the situation. Don’t worry about what other players think, unless their characters have a chance to react. (Try not to coach others on their own actions, as well.) Sometimes, however, your portrayal will rub another character the wrong way. This can lead to appropriate drama as long as everyone’s comfortable with that course of play.

A druid I play is very bold with her sense of righteousness and proper authority, and she also refuses to take any crap. She has to back down at times to please or appease her comrades. Her boldness has become part of the way the whole group plays. Something happens, and everyone wonders how she’s going to respond. It adds fun.

In all cases, though, it’s important to distinguish between what your character says in a scene and what you, as a player, are saying at the game table. It’s remarkably easy to become confused. (This is why I, as DM, try to use accents and voice changes when speaking as a non-player character.) One misunderstanding in this vein can send a whole scene awry.

Repeat: Be Bold

It happens that all it takes to get things going in a game is bold action on the part of one or more players through their characters. Player characters are supposed to be heroes, after all. Although the DM does provide the scenario, background characters, and plots, the game requires player (and thereby character) boldness to keep things moving. Like in life, timidity or inaction can be the worst choice. Lack of boldness can leave you with little but regret to nurse your wounds. Regret is a terrible bandage and a bitter medicine.

In a recent game, one player decided her male rogue character was too wounded to go toe-to-toe with the villain. He timidly hid, taking pot shots with shuriken, sans combat advantage. But he could have taken his mace, the clever strike power, and a little boldness to hit that guy dead in his face, with combat advantage, ending the battle dramatically and covering his wounded self in the glory. Instead, he just made me (the DM) sad and seemed a lot more like a punk than the tough guy he really is. Circumstances dictate that this might be the character’s final impression on the game. Double sad.

Don’t play to make others sad. To adhere to this point, you have a simple creed: when in doubt, just do something. Whenever possible, make that something audacious, cooperative, and entertaining. You won’t regret it.