Jason Marteny

The Player’s Perspective: Proactive v Reactive Players

 Dungeons & Dragons, Pathfinder, Role Playing Games, Troll in the Corner  Comments Off on The Player’s Perspective: Proactive v Reactive Players
Jul 212013


Hello there folks, I am back with another viewpoint from the player’s perspective. Today I want to talk about a topic that made me decide to start writing these articles in the first place. When it comes time to sit at the table and play are you proactive or reactive?

Let’s start at the beginning, all players fall into one of these two categories. The proactive player takes charge of the situation and takes action. In doing so, they move the plot forward and keep things rolling. The action taken does not need to be relevant to the current plot hooks. Simply by taking action they are causing an event to unfold that will move story along. Examples of this can be as simple as a warrior inquiring about available mercenary work in a local tavern. The point is, rather than waiting for the GM to sink the plot hook in and pull them along, they go and look for the hook. On the other hand, the reactive player often waits for the GM to prompt them into action. This player is still making things happen; however, they are not the catalyst of change.

The players are the protagonists of the story, which implies a certain level of necessary action. If the hero of the story just sits on their hands then nothing happens and that is not much of a story. I cannot count the number of times I have heard a player complain of being bored or feeling left out; meanwhile, during the game they took no effort to integrate themselves into the action. The PC’s in any game are always amongst the most significant people in the world, which is why we are telling a story about them in the first place. Long story short, you are the hero SO DO SOMETHING!

As a player I cannot help but be proactive, it is simply in my nature. At times this can create issues at the table. Taking the proactive urge too far can come across as selfish and start to deprive others at the table of a good time as one player dominates the spotlight. If you have this issue at the table it is most likely the result of one of two things. First, you have a GM that is either playing favorites or needs to work on pulling everyone into the spotlight. This is most common amongst inexperienced GM’s. Let’s be honest, running a game is a juggling act and takes a certain amount of finesse to pull off well. The best way to fix this is to talk with the GM, if they address the issue and attempt to fix it then you are in a good game, if not just find a game more in line with your needs. Second, and probably most common, you have a one proactive player with slot of reactive players. This combination can give the appearance of one player stealing the spotlight.

For example, I was playing a Pathfinder game being run by my brother. The campaign had been running for roughly 9 months before I joined the game. At my first session I quickly found myself embroiled in plots that had nothing to do with me and quickly felt out of place. Naturally the other PC had a lot history and back-story driving things that I had no part of because it happened before I joined. Instead of being a spectator I started making a place for myself in the framework I was given. I took actions that made sense for my character and found ways to integrate myself into the story. Instead of waiting for the GM to write me into the story I wrote myself into the story. Eventually I started becoming a center point of the story because I was doing things to progress the story, I was taking action. This resulted in the others players at the table complaining about what they called “the Jason Show”. The thing was that the GM was not writing this plot for me specifically, I was only at the center because I was taking action and interacting with the world the GM created. There was nothing special about what I was doing; I simply took action instead of waiting for the GM to tell me where to go next.

Quite simply, I guarantee, that if you are proactive as opposed to reactive both you and your GM will have more fun. By taking a proactive stance you are providing everyone else more to work with and it can turn into a domino effect. A group of proactive players is crucial to well executed collaborative storytelling. Even if the players don’t always agree on what to do, the conflict between them can make for great stories, provided it remains in character. Even if you pay no heed to anything else that I write just remember, be the hero and DO SOMETHING.

Jul 112013


Some years back I was helping some friends of mine run a LARP. It was actually a reasonably large operation; we had around 20 to 30 players if memory serves. When discussing my LARP activities with non-gamers, I found myself describing it as an improvisational acting group. At the time it seemed to make sense and was a lot easier than telling folks that every other weekend I pretended to be a vampire. While I was using this as a ruse to hide my geek activities from those in my life that wouldn’t understand, it was, on some level, true. When you really break it down, role-playing games are projects in improvisational acting.

The degree to which this idea relates to your gaming table is subject to your group’s play style, but on some level, it still rings true. Everyone at the table is playing the role of one or more characters, there are no scripts (although extensive notes may or may not be used), and the outcome is uncertain.

So why am I talking about improv, and how will it help you as a player? Well in improv there is a very important rule: do not negate the premise. The idea being, when you are working with someone and they throw an idea out there, do not shut it down and try to make things what you want them to be. Instead, work with what they gave you and build on it. When employed correctly at the gaming table, this can be the difference between a great session and a night of disappointment and resentment.

Let’s face it, everyone at the table wants their time to shine. So when the quiet guy in the corner finally speaks up and does something, only to have it shot down by others at the table because they think it is dumb or want to do something else, how is the fun of the group being served? By no means do I mean this as a pardon for the completely ridiculous, but on anything short of the absolutely absurd what is the harm of going with the flow? I am willing to bet that you will tell more interesting stories that way and everyone at the table will have more fun.

At times this will require players to compromise current desires for the sake of the greater story. In turn, this means that everyone has to trust each other to work towards the goal of telling a great story together and having fun.

I am sure most of you out there have been playing a game where there is that one person at the table that just does not want to do what the rest of the party is doing. Now when I am a GM, I absolutely love this, because it gives me a lot of ways to pull the party into the story. But even as a player, I can use this to my advantage.

For starters, it is always possible that this character has an idea for the current scenario that is better than my own. Sometimes even if I do not see the merit of the character’s actions, it can be the catalyst that brings me to the solution that was eluding me. Finally, there is always the option to use the character’s acting out as a distraction.

In one of my former gaming groups, one guy insisted on charging into battle every time, no matter the circumstances. At first this would drive me crazy because I normally play the strategist/scheming kind of character, and this would invariably throw a wrench into my finely-crafted plans. Eventually, I realized that nothing was going to stop this guy from his mad charge into battle, and getting angry over it was pointless. So I started planning for this guy to charge blindly in and often times used him as a distraction to make sure the enemies never knew where I was coming from.

At the end of the day, if all you want is to be the hero of the story and get exactly what you want, then it is far easier to play a video game or write a story. When you sit down at the gaming table, you are doing so to have some fun and tell a story with friends. Everyone involved has a vision of what that story should entail. The surest way to make sure that the vision comes to fruition is to make sure that you do not negate the premise.

The Player’s Perspective: First Lessons

 Role Playing Games, Table Top  Comments Off on The Player’s Perspective: First Lessons
Jul 022013

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAGreetings once again all!

As I mentioned last week, I have been playing tabletop RPG’s for nearly my entire life. All of this was thanks to my father, who was one of the original D&D geeks. I started gaming with Dad around the age of 7. He ran a weekly game for some of his friends and I would always have to watch and generally be bothersome. Eventually, after months of begging to be a wizard so I could throw a fireball, my Dad caved.

One of the first lessons I was ever taught about playing RPG’s was to put myself in the character’s place. At such a young age I was not really able to develop interesting and compelling characters, so everything I played was really just me with cool powers and abilities. So my first lesson was about immersion and the idea is simple: don’t think of your character as a piece you are moving around on a board; instead, imagine yourself in your character’s situation.

Half of the point behind the game is to escape, even if only for a few hours. Why not let yourself do just that by truly stepping into the shoes of your character?

DragonEvery time I sit down to a gaming table I cease to be just Jason. I blend with whatever character I am playing and try to get into their head. What would I do if I were this person? For example, if I were to encounter a dragon just Jason would wet himself and run away as fast as possible, but if I was Caeldon the young ambitious knight trying to prove himself to his liege lord, I would charge into the fray for the sake of honor and glory.

The more you are able to step into the persona of your character the easier it is to make an honest and believable personality. In fact, I usually find that I never really know the character until I have played them for a few sessions. During creation, I make a concept that sounds good to me; kind of an outline. This rough sketch is what I take into the first game and the interactions with the GM and my fellow PC’s help me find the fine lines hidden within the broad strokes. Slowly but surely, a character is born.

Bear in mind that one does not have to go overboard to immerse themselves in their character. Chances are no one at the table is expecting an Oscar-winning performance. How deep the rabbit hole goes is really up to you and your style of play. However, even a small amount of character immersion can go a long way to keeping you engaged and entertained. Speaking as a player and a GM I always have a better time when other people in the group are getting into the story and action.

Sometimes all it takes to get your creative juices flowing is that one spark that you get by seeing what someone else made. The next thing you know, you have a table full of well-developed PC’s and a GM inspired to create by his players’ excitement. That, my friends, is the place where all the best gaming stories come from.

The Player’s Perspective: Collaborative Storytelling

 Dungeons & Dragons, Role Playing Games, Table Top  Comments Off on The Player’s Perspective: Collaborative Storytelling
Jun 262013
'talk' by lovelornpoets on Flickr

‘talk’ by lovelornpoets on Flickr

Greetings, travelers! Welcome to “The Player’s Perspective,” a new column on Troll in the Corner with a little twist. You see, there is a wealth of information out there to help and assist game masters. Admittedly, GM’s have a lot of work to do to run a fun and enjoyable game, but what about the players? At any given table there are more players than GM’s, so why is there not more information for them? I am here to help players with advice and tips on how to bring their game up to the next level.

At this point, a brief introduction seems appropriate. My name is Jason, and I have been playing tabletop RPGs since the late 1980’s. The D&D first edition Player’s Handbook was one of the first books I ever read cover to cover. I have played most major game settings and rules systems through the past 25 years. Long story short: I have been gaming for as long as I can remember. It is just a part of who I am.

For my debut, I want to discuss an idea that will underpin every conversation one can have about playing RPGs, and that is collaborative storytelling. A common misconception is that the Game Master is solely responsible for telling the story in any given game, and this is not entirely accurate. In World of Darkness games, the GM is even referred to as the Storyteller and they certainly play a big role in the telling of the story, but they are not alone. The players of the game are the protagonists of the story and as such have a crucial part to play when telling the story. Your GM can spend hours working on making the most epic of adventures for your game all to have it ruined because a party member said, “Screw it,” and went to the local tavern to get drunk and start a fight with a halfling. Being a GM is like trying to recreate The Lord of the Rings, only having no control over what the Fellowship actually does.

No matter how frustrating this truth can be in the worst of times, this concept is what makes RPGs amazing. When the GM and the players are on the same page, great stories are told. Everyone at the table has a part to play in this collaboration, and all it takes is one stubborn or misguided person to derail everyone’s efforts.

For example, many years ago some friends and I started a new campaign in a home brew world made by the GM using 2nd edition D&D rules. I made a centaur druid to play and went to town making a background and a personality that I thought would be great. My character lived in his grove in the forest and was happy and content; nothing mattered more to him than his woodland home. Unfortunately, this meant that he did not care about these random people, the party, who came into his forest and insisted that he leave and seek adventure. You see, I made a deep and interesting character that made sense in the world, but I did not make a protagonist suitable to the story. So instead of beginning on a noble quest, the party had to try to drag the reluctant centaur out of the forest. While it was temporarily fun for me to rain on everyone else’s parade, it did not lend itself to an enjoyable game as it pitted me against the rest of the table. While conflict between characters, whether it is PC vs. NPC or even PC vs. PC, is an integral part of any good story, it must be handled within the framework of a shared vision.

Sometimes this shared vision will require compromise. The goal of every game should be to have fun. Learning how to work together and build off of each other will not only make the whole experience more enjoyable, but you will also make a great story together.