Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Table Etiquette

Keeping with the quicker updates for this week, I decided I'd do something on table etiquette. For the unenlightened, by table etiquette I mean basic politeness rules that you should follow when sitting at a gaming table. Some of these are common sense, some of them I've found to be surprisingly lacking in both older and newer gamers.

I suppose the first thing to say about this is that the etiquette in different places is going to be different. Some of the things that I say you shouldn't do, other groups are perfectly fine with, and may in fact encourage. So ask your group if there are any general things to do. Some of these though, are just good sense to not do until you have received specific permission to not do, some of these are less table and more general rules of etiquette too, but they should be kept in mind at the gaming table.

#1 Hands Off My $&@*
The fact that a lot of groups in my area don't just automatically follow this came as a huge surprise to me, but seriously, don't touch my stuff without my permission. I don't care how open the game is, or how friendly it is supposed to be, don't grab my character sheet to look at without asking me first. If you do grab it, and meant to ask, just stop, apologize, and ask me then. The same goes for dice, now maybe I'm a bit old fashioned but I remember a time when you didn't touch someone's dice without explicit permission. You also don't know exactly what the person is doing with them either. So, if someone has a pool of dice sitting in front of them, and you need to borrow one or whatever, ask first, then borrow.

Obviously there is an exception to this if there is a communal pool of dice (we have one of these in my apartment now), but don't assume dice are community. And always ask before grabbing someone's character sheet or pencil. If you do borrow someone's stuff, give it back to them. Most people I know who don't like lending out pencils or dice do so for a very good reason, they don't get them back. Dice are cheap right? I mean you can get a loose die for 25 to 50 cents. Except dice sets aren't cheap, they run anywhere from 7 dollars for 10d10 to much much more. Including some sets that are as much, if not more, than $2 per die. Losing just one of those dice can more or less ruin the set too. Besides, if your reason for why it is ok to lose someone's dice is because they're cheap, then kindly go out and get your own. It's not like its a surprise what dice you need every week for the game.

But the main point here, ask before touching someone else's stuff, and if they say no, don't touch it.

#2 Turn Off Your Cellphone
Turn your phone off when at the gaming table, while you're at it turn off your other distractions too. Now, everyone is guilty of this from time to time (even me when I'm RUNNING the game), but really it is bad form. If you're expecting an important phone call, tell the GM and the group beforehand so that they know. But nothing is quite as scene breaking as getting into a tense moment and then hearing the jazzy-pop song of someone's ring tone followed by them talking on it. It's also just kind of rude, so turn it off.

If you're playing, and want to text someone, do it away from the table at a time when you are off screen. Don't distract other people with it. Oh, and when that important phone call does come through? Apologize for the distraction, excuse yourself from the table, and take the call. If the group is forewarned they'll understand, people aren't unreasonable, and everyone will appreciate you excusing yourself to handle your business elsewhere, letting them continue with theirs.

#3 Don't Talk about Out Of game Stuff
This one can be harder to do than you'd think, and I don't know a gaming group out there that doesn't succumb to it at some point in time or another. Sometimes you only see a person at game, that one time a week or so, and it is hard not to talk about the stuff in your lives. But when game has begun, you shouldn't be talking about out of game stuff. There is plenty of time before and after game for it, but when you're sitting around the table playing leave the out of game stuff exactly there, out of game.

The classic example of this is Monty Python, where D&D groups would quote python all the time to be silly. You still see a lot of GM stuff mention Monty Python when talking about this, but that isn't all. Music, events from your week, shows you and someone else watch, other games, all of these are impolite to talk about during game. It distracts other people, kills time, and can just ruin the mood. So try to keep it quiet until game is over or a break has been called. Now, sometimes it happens anyway, hell sometimes the GM begins it and everyone goes off on a tangent for a bit, but when someone goes "Right, lets get back to game" try to do just that.

#4 Don't Cross-Talk or Talk Over the GM
The GM has a big role in front of him, he has to run the world and engage 4-6 people at the same time in the game. This becomes incredibly difficult when you are having side conversations and talking over them. The GM shouldn't be fighting for voice time, because they need to be heard for the game to be running. At the same time, the player currently being engaged by the GM has the spotlight, and also shouldn't be fighting to be heard. If you are talking in character, bring the other player over to you, or go over to them, somewhere where you can talk without your voices having to travel through or over the line that the GM is talking through. It helps everything go smoother when you do this.

#5 Get Food Before the Game
This is one of the more minor ones, but Games tend to go for a long period of time, usually about 3-6 hours. They usually also take place right around a meal time, and I've yet to see a gamer group have an issue with someone needing to eat at the table. However, try to get the food before the game. It breaks up the game for an amazingly long time if you have to get up and get the food during the game. Even if it is delivery, there is just a decent amount of set up time for it. I don't think anyone will hold it against you if the delivery guy is late and food shows up mid game, but whenever possible try to have your food ready to be eaten before game, and spare the 10-20 minute break in the action that will happen as you get it, sort out what is what, and actually get down to eating and back into the game.

While we're talking about food, if game is in someone else's house ask before you go through their fridge. Unless you have specific permission to not need to, most people prefer being asked before their food is rummaged through. It's rude, not just for gaming but in general. Mostly, people don't like others, even friends, rummaging at all. if you need to put something in the fridge, ask. When you go to get it, let them know you're going to get it. I've yet to see something casual break a GMs (or players) attention from the game faster than someone just going and rummaging around in their kitchen. So don't be a jerk, just ask.

#6 Let the GM know if you need to go
This is an extension of the  previous rule, but if for whatever reason you need to leave the table for an extended period of time, let the GM know. A simple heads up of "Gotta use the bathroom" or "Crap, just remembered I gotta call my folks" can mean a lot. it lets the GM know that you won't be there, and they can re-arrange things in their head a bit differently so that the game doesn't suffer from your absence and will be waiting for your return.

If you need to leave early, or show up late for some reason, tell the GM as well. Not much bothers me as much as having planned to go another 2 hours, only to find out that one of the key players needs to leave early because of some other engagement. Especially when that 2 hours is dependent on the emotional tensity already built up. But bottom line, just let the GM know if you're leaving the table and if so, for how long. They'll thank you for it.

#7 Help Out New Players
You know who I am talking about, the people who are new to the game, or just don't quite get how all the rules work. Give them a hand, help them quietly with figuring out how their sheet works and what they should be doing. Not only does it help the game by letting the GM focus on running the game and not explaining the rules, it helps the player too. They get help privately and quietly, instead of with the GM and the focus of the game on them. It isn't public, it isn't as embarassing, and as such they're more likely to pick it up. So, help out that new player when you can. It only helps the game right?

I'm sure there are more rules and table manners out there that people should know, but I wanted to go over some of the basics, the more common ones. Feel free to add more below if you'd like. Just remember the most important rule, different groups have different rules so find out what they are. Erring on the side of caution is usually better than annoying someone, but still, you want to find out what the ground rules are before making a fool of yourself, or possibly causing enmity with a friend.

Enjoy, and Happy Gaming


  1. One I've experienced a little while back: Keep in mind that you're playing a CHARACTER. Do not get offended out-of-character by in-character scuffles and decisions. It's most likely not personal. Your friend's character can argue with your character and it not be a real argument out of game. Leave those fights at the table. And on that same token, don't let out-of-character feelings affect your RP chemistry. It's fine to feel's another for your character to go from true love to a complicated murder plot over an in-game spilt glass of milk.

    Secondly: GMs rules triumph, even if that's not exactly what the book says. Don't argue with the GM about minor rule interpretations, and if you really feel you need your piece pull him/her aside at the end of game and discuss it privately. Otherwise you end up confusing gamers like me who enjoy the role-play but don't get every nuance of each rule.

  2. Both very good comments and things to point out. I didn't specify IC/OOC divide as I feel it is more than just manners, but you are right mentioning it here is a good thing.

    The same with the GM being the final arbiter on decisions. Most RPGs say this, but it is one of the few perks of being the GM, what you say goes. If someone has an issue with that, they should do exactly what you say, and talk it over privately with the GM, after the matter.