Why is player advice so hard to come by?

Finding advice for GMs in roleplaying blogs or print publications is pretty easy. Almost every blog has posts with tips for the person running the game and almost every roleplaying game book has a GM section giving tips on how to run the game, deal with certain situations in the game or how to handle certain types of players. But only a handful of posts or articles deals with player advice. The question remains: why is player advice so hard to come by?

The reasons are manifold. It may be just me, but I got the impression over the years that the vast majority of blog authors and writers are actually GMs themselves. And as we all know it much easier to write from your own perspective than to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Most GMs I know don’t get to be player often, so they are in “GM mode” most of the time. But it also seems as if the majority of blog visitors are GMs as well. So the audience consists of basically the same people who are writing the posts. You write about what concerns you the most and you read articles that help you do your job better. It’s only natural.

Another reason is the (certainly wrong) impression that the whole burden lies on the GM’s shoulders. Roleplaying games are a social activity and normally you would guess that everyone has the same responsibility when it comes to making the activity fun. But in many cases everyone at the game table (including the GM) expects the GM to entertain the players. Problematic players (think of the “rules lawyer”, “power gamer”, or even “that guy”) are there to be dealt with, but for some reason noone expects them to try to become better players. After all isn’t it the GM’s fault if she or he can’t get the player in line?

Then there’s the problem that while players are often quite numerous (your mileage may vary), GMs are hard to come by. So what do you do to turn players into GMs? You provide a lot of advice and tips to encourage people to take up the  mantle of the GM. Players are assumed to learn the craft from other players or the GM’s example. But for someone to accept the GM’s burden you obviously need more encouragement. It’s a bigger hurdle after all.

So there are at least three reasons why people focus on GM advice. But the players are as important if not more important for the success of a game than the GM. Even the best GM can’t run a good game if the player … well … suck. Alas when a game goes downhill people usually blame the GM, even though he or she is the only person at the table who actually tried to improve his or her skills.

Of course I am exaggerating here to make a point. In reality things might not be so glum. But I think it’s clear why there’s so much GM advice while player advice remains a rare commodity. In the past I wrote a couple of posts about how to be a better player, but most of my articles deal with the GM’s situation. Perhaps I should try to lead by example…

So what are your thoughts on the matter? Do you think there should be more player advice? Or more importantly: what makes a good player? Please share your ideas in the comments below!

Michael Wolf is a German games designer and enthusiast best known for his English language role-playing games blog, Stargazer's World, and for creating the free rules-light medieval fantasy adventure game Warrior, Rogue & Mage. He has also worked as an English translator on the German-language Dungeonslayers role-playing game and was part of its editorial team. In addition to his work on Warrior, Rogue & Mage and Dungeonslayers, he has created several self-published games and also performed layout services and published other independent role-playing games such as A Wanderer's Romance, Badass, and the Wyrm System derivative Resolute, Adventurer & Genius, all released through his imprint Stargazer Games. Professionally, he works as a video technician and information technologies specialist. Stargazer's World was started by Michael in August 2008.

11 thoughts on “Why is player advice so hard to come by?”

  1. Michael, this makes a great point and yes there should be more player advice.
    From a GMs point of view players are hard to come by. People who want to play are on hand but a real player. They are rare, the kind of player is the one as a GM you can bounce ideas off of without them realising. Where as a player just waits to be told what to do or does something that only benefits themselves or they even say they dont know what to do. Never playing a character but just playing the charactet sheet.

    Would these players be open to advice?

  2. Great article and something that I think about myself, as I consider myself a good player when it comes to helping the GM push the story forward and also share the spotlight with other players not hogging it. I might have a go myself at writing a article on the subject.

  3. I’ve wanted to write player advice for a while now but saying it in a way that makes the want to know how to play better is difficult. After all, many feel that their job is to stay alive, amass power and outwit the GM and they may be very good at that.

    The lookrobot.co.uk has an article called 11 ways to be a better roleplayer. It’s language gets a little dicey but the examples are solid.

    On friday I put out a post on being a good roleplayer and today at noon (-5 GMT) the second part, how to be a great roleplayer goes up.

    This is something I’ll have to revisit because I like to write advice from the perspective of what a person should do rather than a laundry list of things they shouldn’t do. I was only partly able to stick to that this time so I’ll have to try better later.

  4. Part of the issue is that player’s don’t read. That is, the type of player that is most likely to be surfing the web and pouring through rulebooks looking for advice is a player who is also a GM.

    I’d also dispute the assertion that there’s not that much player advice out there. I’d agree that there is not much material that has been packaged and published as advice specifically for players, but there is still a lot of advice out there in rulebooks, forums, blogs, and other places. For example, 13th Age has a goodly amount of player advice scattered through its pages. It isn’t just limited to one section.

  5. I’d argue that this comes down to the fact that a bad GM will torpedo a game a lot faster than a bad player will. A disinterested player, a power gamer, a rules lawyer, or any other breed of ‘bad’ player can be ignored or dealt with by a savvy GM. What are you supposed to do if the GM doesn’t know what their doing?

  6. Erik, nobody’s saying that there shouldn’t be any GM advice. Michael’s point, probably caused in large part by my own years of griping and by my gleefully linking him to both Joshua’s excellent post and the recent LookRobot post, is that there isn’t enough player advice to go with it. Everyone at the table is part of the game, and everyone who’s part of the game has certain responsibilities; yet we rarely see anyone offering advice to the most numerous participants, the players. That in no way takes away from helping GMs. It’s not a zero-sum thing.

    1. Right, let me clarify, I didn’t mean to say that advice is zero-sum or that somehow writing player advice would detract from GM advice. I’m only suggesting that probably the reason more is written about the GM’s role is that for a lot of games, the GM plays a more ‘key’ role. In that, if a GM is bad at what they’re doing, the game is going to go downhill a lot faster than if just a single player is causing trouble.

      Personally, I think LookRobot’s post is the definitive article on the topic of being a good player. 🙂

  7. Maybe you’re just looking in the wrong place?

    For example, there are plenty of blog and forum posts out there for Pathfinder builds. My character recently died and I went searching for advice on a new character that would fit with my current party. I limited my search down by what held my interest and didn’t step on the other player’s toes.

    Now granted, this is primarily mechanical for character building but it often comes with specific advice about working with the other players as a team and what sort of things this particular character can add to the group.

  8. I think there are the following reasons in addition to what you said:
    1) Being a GM is seen as being a lot harder then playing. Therefore people think you need advice for it, while players just show up and play, right?

    2) There is a lot more ‘general’ game advice for running a good game, then playing in one, which tends to be game, genre and group specific. Or at least that is the perception. Even when I wrote a group of player advice posts on my blog, it was focused on D&D and similar games.

    3) Giving player advice is often seen as a bad thing, and drowned out in a flurry of ‘don’t tell people how to play’ and/or people claiming you are encouraging power gaming, etc. When I tried to give player advice is one of the few times I’ve gotten negative feedback on a blog post of mine (People who follow #RPGChat on twitter might have seen that).

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