Advice on Player Preparation

Lucas McIntosh

Tags advice, D&D, How-to

Have you ever felt pressure or anxiety about a game session?  But you’re a player and not the DM?   What do you need to prepare properly?  How do you ensure you’re ready to engage and add value to a game session?

Feb 4th, 2019 - Your dungeon master (or storyteller) puts a TON of work into their world, the story you're playing and everything in-between. You expect them to know it back to front and they expect you to know your character just as intimately. But not all of us are great at jumping into character or role-playing. If you are particularly empathetic and good at getting into people’s heads, you’ll probably find this process easy.  But for introverted or less empathetic players this is probably the hardest thing to achieve.  So how do you do this if you’re not naturally good at it?  There are a couple ways. 

Know your character

Your alignment can help you understand, in a broad stroke, what your character believes.  But really that’s only a guide.  It’s important to understand what motivates your character.  What tenants do they hold to be true, no matter what?  What are they willing to sacrifice to get what they want and what are they not willing to bend to get there? What good and bad things have happened to shape them; deaths or births, relationships, suffering and misery, happiness and bliss?  What made your character into who they are at this point.  Ultimately, a good question is: what caused your character to become an adventurer?  If this particular part really interests you or you find it particularly difficult, you can check out my post on getting into your character here. 
Make sure before every game that you go through your character’s mental and emotional “space.”  This is best done during the note review stage, which I’ll talk about in point 4.

Know your character sheet – 

There are few things more jarring to story and battles during a session than the DM asking for a roll and the character having to search for the stats.  If you watch Critical Role you’ve probably seen this when a guest joins or a player who is rarely present comes back.  As a viewer and fellow player it can be distracting, but as a DM it can be downright game-breaking.  For a good story teller, building tension and mood is a key way of keeping people engaged, invested, and involved.  When that has to stop or pause due to someone looking for stats, it pulls everyone out and reminds them that they’re in a system or game.
So while no one expects you to remember everything, make sure you at least know core stats and abilities and review ones you feel may be used and which you haven’t looked are recently.

If you’re a spell caster, know your spells - 

If you’ve ever played a spell caster you know how damn hard this one is.  Keeping track of your spells and their effects and mechanics can be really difficult, particularly if you’re a wizard.  So my advice is twofold – first make sure you have the right spells for your groups situation and memorize them, and second change things up regularly if you can.  Changing things up will force you to memorize different spells and their effects, which makes you that much effective.  This is particularly important for wizards.
To summarize, do your best to know your spells thoroughly and change them up if you can.

Know you’re groups characters – 

As a team, you are always more effective if you understand how you can support each other.  Players with previous real-world team experience (i.e. soldiers, team sports, work) will find this a bit easier, but everyone should know how they can bolster another character, or where their character will need support.  Understanding their weaknesses and strengths helps you as a player to role-play your character better.  Maybe they don’t acknowledge their weaknesses and this impacts how they react when they’re vulnerable?  Or maybe they just aren’t aware and so they act clueless.   But even as a battle-hardened dungeon crawler knowing how your team fits within your own abilities is key to overcoming challenges and obstacles.
It also means you can play with group dynamics better.  How does your character fit into the overall picture of the group?  Is she someone who takes the hits or gives them?  Is he squishy so needs to stay at the back?   Once you understand these dynamics and your groups abilities, you’re better able to position yourself, make yourself useless, and not become a burden to the group overall - which means that more focus can be put on playing the game than getting frustrated with it.

Read (and take) notes from the last session - 

Finally, take notes after every session and review them before the next one.  These don’t have to be extensive or particularly detailed, they only need to encompass key plot or character changes, encounters during the session, and maybe a few bits of colour added in for character flavour.  These notes help you keep pace with what’s happening in your own words.  This is critical because it is difficult to really get into your own head from the last session through the words of someone else.
Also, as I mentioned in the first point, it helps you keep a mental and emotional perspective on your character.  How does she feel after the most recent encounter?  Is he starting to fall for another character because she saved him?  Maybe she’s really getting annoyed with the group over the course of the story.  There are so many things that might feel small at the time, but which add up over time.  And tracking that without notes is neigh on impossible for most of us.
My recommendation is to keep notes simple and to something similar to this format: important plot changes, your characters mental and emotional state, and important relationship changes (if any).  And finally, make sure you list what you were doing before the session ended.

Final Thoughts...

It's good to keep in mind that role-playing is a group activity and the responsibility for ensuring the story moves forward rests on everyone’s shoulders, not just the dungeon master's.  One of the best ways you can show appreciation and respect for all your DM's hard work is to do a bit of your own hard work.

You aren’t perfect, won’t remember everything, and no one should expect that of you.  But spending some time preparing for the next session can help you to be ready to enjoy the session and the story.

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