6 Things I'm Tired of Hearing at the Gaming Table

William T. Thrasher

When I wrote 10 House Rules from a Fed Up GM I had a revelation, in that I saw a seven-headed beast arise from the sea and lay waste to the Earth and all the works of man. But that's neither here nor there nor anywhere. Six months of campaigns, one-shot adventures, conventions, and special events have come and gone since then, and again I find my mind turning to gaming's little foibles that fester and metastasize into enjoyment-killing albatrosses around our collective necks (no one mixes a metaphor or a mojito like I do). Because the pen is mightier than the sword - and my pen in bigger, sharper, and bedecked with more ostrich plumes - I turn my focus to the words that gnaw at our hobby like so many hungry canker-worms. These are the words we've all heard before and wish we'd never hear again, the phrases that strangle campaigns in their cribs and stop sessions cold. There are the five things I'm tired of hearing at the gaming table.

  1. "I don't know what I can do." Have you looked at your character sheet? Right in front of you is an itemized list of everything you can do. And that's just the obvious stuff the highly fallible authors of the game intended for you to do, to say nothing of what you could do in the game if you used your imagination and thought outside the red box. When the GM turns to you and asks, "What do you do?" say something - anything - other than "I don't know what I can do." because we know that's not true. Unless of course you haven't read the rules, invested in the game and your character, seen a narrative play out, or lived in this world of crude matter and cause and effect. When you say this you're not playing, you're waiting to be played by someone else at the table, which brings us to...
  2. "What you should do is..." Stop right there. I'm sure you think you know exactly what to do in this situation, and I'm sure you know exactly what the GM has planned and exactly how to bring this adventure to its best possible conclusion with the gold and the relics and the wenches and the XP and the hey-hey-hey *insert unintelligible Jerry Lewis noises here*. And I know you chafe under the restriction of only playing one character at a time and you see everyone else at this table as a weak link just waiting to to topple your Marty Stu off his baadasssss throne and trash your fictional aspirations, but let the other players make up their damned minds about what they want to do on their own. When you get what you want to reduce the other players to passive bystanders, and when you don't get what you want you waste the whole post-game wrap up talking about what people should have done. Lead by example or keep your mouth shut, and remember that RPGs are the one type of game where failure is more entertaining than success . . . if your GM is doing it right.
  3. "Your character wouldn't do that." You're not off the hook, GMs. If you've ever said this to a player you were wrong. The player knows what her character would or wouldn't do, and no matter what it says in Grundwalt's Indispensable Humanoid Compendium about the attitudes and behaviors of gully kender, it's always the player's prerogative to make her character the exception.
  4. "No." No is a boring word. No is the least useful word. No puts up barriers that demand to be torn down no matter how much time that wastes. In good gaming there is only "Yes, and..." peppered with the occasional "No, but..." When a player asks if they can get a deck of many things, why would you waste your breath on a "No" when you could answer "Such a thing can only be found at the highest spire of the Crackspine Mountains clutched in the skeletal hands of Dragmador, last Magus-priest of the Shadow Epoch." Nothing, no matter how you think it could threaten your precious game, should be brushed off with a "No". All those unbalanced things your players want? Give them a quest of a curse so they can earn it. At loggerheads with another character because neither of your will budge on an issue? Strike a bargain or raise the stakes so that denial becomes the least attractive option. There is no glory - and no story - in "No", so leave that word to the tyrannical villains.
  5. "Mind if I take a smoke break?" I have nothing against smoking. I've been know to enjoy a fine cigar every now and then, often while waggling my eyebrows, twitching my greasepaint mustache, and inspiring Margaret Dumont to huff with indignation. But I now how this goes. You slip out to grab a cigarette. Half way through that cigarette someone else decides to join you for a cigarette. Then another, then another. Pretty soon a 5 minute break for to smoke or use the restroom or grab a snack or whatever turns into a 30 minute gabfest while I'm waiting for everyone to come back to the table so play can resume. Coordinate your smoke breaks, keep them on a schedule, and hold off that nicotine craving for just long enough for me to get the game to a natural stopping point so we don't have half-hour gaps in the middle of the action.
  6. *braaap* This is a word because you can spell it, and note that this piece is about things I don't want to hear. And in this case it's something I don't want to hear, smell, or see you chuckle about. Last weekend my campaign had to take a fifteen minute break so we could open windows, light juniper-scented candles, and wait for the fallout of someone's biological weapon to dissipate. What are you, five? There are plenty of places where you can get flatulent other than the gaming table. I know how intestines work. I know it didn't sneak up on you. Did you think we wouldn't mind? Do you think if this keeps up we won't sew your ass shut?

No let's get back to the table and play.