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Being a good player and helping your DM – a Technical Discussion

The following article was written by KrisfromGTW

In addition to the 4 Game-Preparation Tips images (see below), there are things you can do as a player that will allow the story and adventure to move along without losing momentum and allow the DM to respond quickly and comprehensively to the action. They are not difficult – but they are crucial if a DM is to do their job well. The DM needs certain information very quickly from a lot of sources but in most cases they need to know WHO is doing WHAT.

The following rule applies to Players who only use the mic and do not use the coded commands in Chat to separate when they are speaking In Character, Out of Character.

Identify yourself in third person.

From the DM’s perspective, especially in the case of running one-shots, there are up to six players who are total strangers at the table. Strangers whose voices the DM may have never heard before, are not familiar with, who might sound similar, all speak at once or be trying to do different things at once. Beyond lighting up your characters portrait in green (if this option is set-up) or the small speech bubble that appears when you use your mic – there are no identifying factors that tie a player visually to their character.

If your DM has two screens, sighting the lit portrait or the speech bubble may not be possible or missed especially if there is a lot going on – and there usually is. So always state your characters name before attempting any action. Here are a couple examples.

Frodo will try to wrestle the scroll away from the goblin,” – or –

Lash-si will hiss and skulk back to her table.”

These are both helpful and quickly tell the DM who is doing what so they can provide rapid accurate narrative.

I will try to wrestle the scroll away from the goblin,” – or – “I will hiss and skulk back to my table,” leaves the DM blind as to who might be doing what. It’s sometimes helpful to see things from the DM’s perspective so here is another example.

There are 6 players at my table: I only know them by their nicknames and I won’t likely hear their voices until about 10 minutes before the games starts. They choose their characters – 2 Wizards, 2 Fighters, a Rogue and Cleric. Their names are Henge, Mattock, Kabal, Gozer, Edda and Rung.

In one event they trigger a trap, the doors seal and the roof starts to descend. Here is what they say on the mic:

“I will push Henge out of the way of the spikes.”

“I’ll cast levitation on the stone roof and try to stop it crushing us.”

“I’m going to lie down to improve my chances of living.”

“I will try to hold up the roof with my hands.”

“I want to charge at the door and hit it with my shoulder.”

There are five responses, meaning someone hasn’t yet responded – and of those that did, I have no idea who said what, as essentially everyone is referring to themselves in first person.

How do I work who did what and who didn’t speak: and quickly, in a situation that is meant to be tense and exciting? The difference between speaking as first person (you) and third person (your character) is huge. It often occurs as different languages place different degrees of emphasis on first person – it also occurs because many new players have difficulty getting into the mindset of not being ‘them’, while simultaneously trying to play a role where only one body exists transferring their consciousness into the character that they are playing.

When gaming face to face, this is not an issue – But online RPG is a different beast. The DM cannot see who is talking if they miss the small cues given on another screen while they are changing maps, bringing up storyline, describing something, adding tokens to the combat tracker, items to the party sheet, locating encounters and so on.

There is a lot of work behind the scenes that also involves a lot of screen selecting, shifting, resizing and struggling to fit a huge amount of information from various sources onto one or two screens – while also keeping track of the story. In addition identifying new voices is hard – and tying those voices to a particular character adds to the complexity. Put six new players at the table and it begins to emerge why there are fewer DM’s than players online – because DM’ing online requires a particular set of skills that not everyone has. But an appreciation of the mechanics may help players understand the necessity of announcing what they are doing in third person each time they take their turn or perform an action AND announcing which action they are attempting to perform. It’s fine to only speak but be kind to your DM and identify yourself when you do.

Identify your action. Be consistent, and stay in the present.

You and the DM are telling a story together – you need information from them, and they need information from you. Both of you need the right information at the right time to tell the story well. For your DM, especially if they are new, to quickly provide fast-paced immersion and reactive dialogue to detail outcomes of your actions – they need to know not just what they are – but when they are – and who they affect.

Stories in RPG take place in the present – meaning the action is happening now, it has not already happened. So a player needs to attempt or try to do something – not assume it is a foregone conclusion. Here’s yet another example:

Drake will attempt to cast Burning Hands on the Orc,“ – vs –

I cast Burning Hands and scorch the Orc.” – or –

[posted in chat while I am in the middle of explaining other outcomes to other players]

“Drake casts Burning Hands does 2d4+2 damage to the Orc Captain [SAVE] Failed – Shock.”

The first example is great. It tells me WHO, Attempted WHAT, WHEN and on WHOM.

The second example tells me WHAT, WHEN and the TARGET but not who targeted – and – it assumes that their die roll will be successful, that it will be possible or allowed, and presumes that it has done damage. The underlined example pops up out of nowhere and potentially changes the mechanics of the game by adjusting scores and values without the DM first being able to certify it. The third example goes from Present Tense, to Past Tense. Players are on the edge of the story as it unfolds – they cannot move into the future and predict outcomes – it is the player and the DM’s job to move through the present tense a step (a turn) at a time to find out what happens together.

But Only the DM can move time forward. The fourth example should read “Drake will attempt to cast Burning Hands and scorch Orc #2” – or “Drake would like to try and target the Orc with Burning Hands” wherein the player using Drake can target the specific Orc to which they are referring if there is more than one. The DM will then analyze the battlefield and tell Drake if there are conditions involved such as range, modifiers or other circumstances BEFORE Drake makes his attack. Just as DM’s must try to move along at the players speed – players need to keep pace with the DM and not jump ahead. Players are always in the present so every action they perform is always an ‘Attempt’ or a ‘Try’ until the DM tells the player if it succeeded or failed and moves the story to the new Present.

Try to remain consistent.

Returning to the matter of being consistent – if you are using the mic, use the mic, if you are using the chat, use the chat – if you want to use both, use both – but always provide the DM with Who, is Doing, What, When and to Whom.

Assisting in the Pace of the Story.

If you use a spell, weapon, perform a task, speak to an NPC etc. – you need to tell the DM you are Attempting to do so. By telling them, they can process it, work it into the story seamlessly and get a head start on finding a description to provide narrative in the case they aren’t familiar with the given action, ability, skill or spell for instance.

If you have been using the mic to tell the DM what you are doing and then suddenly post an attack into the chat without announcing your intention – it means the DM is caught off guard. This is because you’ve changed elements you aren’t entitled to change as a player and as someone bound to stay in the present. Fantasy Grounds manually calculates certain actions and it will require the DM to manually restore what has been changed by posting your unannounced action including giving back a creature lost hit points, restoring your expended spell slot – and performing these actions while trying to do everything else. Secondly it derails the story by jumping ahead in the story as a lone wolf and – takes on the role of the DM.

It is important to work together with your DM.

Players and the DM work together but they must never confuse their roles because telling a story has rules, using online RPG mechanics to tell a story has more rules, and being a good player that helps progress the story as it should unfold, moment by moment, letting the DM tell you what happens – is the golden rule.

There are a lot of rules that simply cannot be broken if the story is to be told well. The rules that Fantasy Grounds sets down on top of these for using its software, brings another set of rules. We didn’t make them – they are embedded into the core of our very language, into the essence of what we understand to be linear space-time, moving from the past to the present to the future in 3d space. Certain definitions must be given for a story to make sense and to provide the information both sides need to progress it. It must be timely, it must be correct, and it must be consistent to tell a good story.

DM’s manage all of these rules for you. They keep time-space aligned correctly, they keep you in the present with their tense, they describe a world that exists only in their imagination or from a handful of notes they’ve made and must be ready to invent virtually anything as they have no idea what their players will do. They control all the strings, the conversations, the movements, the reactions, the weather, what you see, hear, feel, experience, what you find. They find sounds, invent voices, props, provide maps, give up their time and expend tremendous mental energy to get all of this right so that the story seems effortless for you the Players. In addition they answer to their own boss, the Dice. Those Masters of Fate – adding calculations and extra mechanics adn ever-changing conditions to the mix.

Your responsibilities in helping the DM tell the story and take you on an adventure are by contrast very simple: Turn up, push to talk, choose a player, change your dice colour, tell the DM Who is doing What, When and to Whom or What – and – stay in the Present. Doing these few things gives a good story the chance to become a Great story.

A last note on continuity.

One last note. If you have to leave, let your DM know. If you’re removing yourself from the game – you are leaving players behind still in an adventure. Life happens, but let your DM know so they can think of a plausible way to write you out of the story. Imagine watching your favourite TV show and suddenly one of the actors just vanishes without any warning and no explanation. Players as well as DM’s commit time and energy getting together to telling a story – the magic that is built over the course of hours of intense game play can be easily broken by a player that leaves without warning. No DM requires more than a minute’s notice, in most cases 15 seconds just to say you are leaving, thank them for their time and wish the remaining players luck is all most DM’s need who are quick at thinking up the next part of story. In the end – it is not the maps, the tokens, the ability to role-play or be someone else, the socialising or sense of drama, intrigue, horror or excitement, the pride in conquering adversity or the escape or relaxation into another world that defines RPG – it is a universal respect for telling a story. A tradition that goes back millions of years. A number so big we never see a million of anything at once – or could scarcely calculate it adequately even if we did. Story telling is in our blood, our genes, our culture, our humanity. And for all their diversity, humans innately respect a good story and still eagerly clamber to sit around the proverbial fire and listen (or become part of it) to those who can tell them. If you’ve lost respect for the story and the story-tellers – you’ve got no place being involved in RPG.


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