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During his keynote speech at the 2007 PAX (Penny Arcade Expo), Wil Wheaton made a note about sportsmanship when playing games online. It has since become known as Wheaton’s Law, which states: “Don’t Be a Dick!” 1 This was intended to apply to life in general, not just online gaming.2
Mike Mearls addressed this topic with regard to roleplaying games in the article Good Fences Make Good Players
Here is an excerpt:
[Let’s] take a moment to consider the definition of a good player. Obviously — and I’m sure I’ve belabored this point — D&D is a game with a diverse player base. People like all sorts of things, and one person’s fun adventure is another’s cure for insomnia; plus, there are definitely people who are good D&D players in terms of making the game more enjoyable, rather than in terms of play skill. With that in mind, are there a few traits that distinguish a good player from a bad one? If so, can the rules help to enforce good play habits over bad ones?
What Would Gary Do?
In the Dungeon Master’s Guide for 1st Edition, Gary Gygax wrote at length about troublesome players. From his comments, we can discern the qualities of a good player.
To Gygax, bad players “will find more enjoyment in spoiling a game than in playing it, and this ruins the fun for the rest of the participants.” Bad players are “loud and argumentative,” “pout or act in a childish manner when things go against them,” and “use the books as a defense when you rule them out of line.” Bad players aren’t just obnoxious toward the DM. They also “attempt to give orders and instructions even when their characters are not present, tell other characters what to do,” and otherwise boss everyone else around.
In short, we can see that to Gygax the key to being a good player was simple: Don’t be a jerk. The solution to a bad player was equally simple: Kick them out of your game. Clearly, this was a DM and designer who saw little need for mechanics as a tool to keep players in line. If anything, his disparagement of using the rules to override the DM places a clear divide between the rules of the game and the rules of behavior at the table. The rules were a tool for the DM, not for the players. The DM set the rules of the table, using the rulebooks as he or she wished.
“Don’t be a jerk” is a fairly simple rule, but one that requires a little more illumination. In looking over the AD&D Dungeon Master’s Guide and a few other books, I think we can make a list of good player traits that includes the following:
- A good player gives others the space to make decisions and do fun stuff.
- A good player gives the DM the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the rules.
- A good player focuses on the group, rather than himself.
- A good player becomes immersed in the action by paying attention and focusing on the game.
These rules are by no means set in stone, and different groups can interpret them differently. For example, making fun of an NPC shows that a player is paying attention to the game, and if the comments are genuinely funny they help everyone have a good time. However, other groups might prefer a more serious approach. At the end of the day, what matters the most is that the players and the DM are all on the same page.