Are You the Most Interesting Roleplayer in the World?

Photo by Steve Townshend

Regardless of what people say about tabletop RPGs, there is no denying that it is a social game.  Whether you are trying to play a fun and interesting character, do the most damage or get the highest defenses, or create the most engaging story as a group, none of those pursuits are possible in a vacuum.

The 4e Dungeon Master’s Guide, in my opinion one of the best books on RPGs in general and D&D in particular, does a great job of breaking down the various types of gamers and examining what people are looking to get out of playing RPGs.  While the information that James Wyatt presents is crucial for DMs to create content and run games that appeal to their players, it also equally important that players understand these differences in play styles and preferences.  Players cognizant of the needs of others, while also itching their own scratches, can facilitate the best game possible.

One of the lowlights of my time involved in the RPG world is the time I have spent forced to read RPG message boards and forums.  Having been an administrator in various shared-world, organized-play campaigns, this time tolerating the trolls and know-it-alls is penance for all the fun and challenging work that goes into such campaigns.  But undoubtedly the worst of the Interwebz troglodytes are the ones who insist that other people are playing the game wrong, or failing to realize that games can be played in different ways or for different reasons.

But on the Bright Side

With all the negative stereotypes that are proliferated and intensified on the Internet, I am the first to admit that I absolutely love gaming with strangers.  Having spent the first 20 years of my gaming life only playing with those I knew well and whose attitudes I agreed with, it was easy to carefully tailor the makeup of my gaming groups to match my own preferences, eschewing the necessity to deal with those who might play the games differently than I.

In the midst of outlining the content of this column, I read an interesting sentiment on Twitter.  I don’t remember the exact quote, but it was something like, “Removing those who don’t belong improves the experience for those who do belong.”  It was so completely relevant to this column that is struck a chord with me.  Like any overly simplified aphorism, it is so very right and so very wrong all at once.

For all those years I had a great time gaming because I made sure I only gamed with those whom I thought “belonged.”  A great deal of conflict was avoided because anyone who joined the group who turned out to be argumentative rules lawyers, who pouted when every decision or conflict did not go their way, were not invited back.  The harmony of our group was not perfect, but it was conflict-free enough to ensure that the players and DMs kept coming back for more, year after year after year.

What We Learn from Those Who Don’t Belong

However, people different from us—those who might not seem like they belong—do have something to offer.  Even in the most extreme cases, where the person is totally incompatible with a group, his or her very presence as a disharmonious force helps to teach the group why and how their preferences were established and reinforced.  And in less extreme cases, where the person brings a different but reasonable view to the group, there is much to be learned.

My gaming group as a kid and young adult actively avoided rules lawyers and players who stressed the letter of the rules over the spirit: or more correctly stated, over what our group thought the spirit of the rules meant.  Looking back, as someone who has taken a more-than-passing interest in game design, I now regret not being more accepting of a rules-focused player.  Those detailed rule discussion, even if they turned into arguments on occasion, would have pushed me deeper into that dimension of the hobby.  I would have grown more as a person and as a gamer by accepting those who “didn’t belong,” even if it was at the expense of my own enjoyment at that particular time and place.

My eventual involvement in the RPGA, its public-play emphasis, and its shared-world, organized-play environment was an eye-opening experience.  People who I never would have shared a game with under other circumstances soon became part of my very large and diverse gaming group.  All those people who Mr. Wyatt talks about in the DMG, with their diverse preferences and expectations, became living examples within an incredibly varied gaming community.  I would be lying if I said that every interaction–whether as a player, DM, writer, or administrator–was a great one.  But I am better person and better gamer for seeing all of the different attitudes, styles, imaginations, and talents of the hundreds and thousands of gamers I have interacted with since getting involved in organized play and the gaming community.

So What’s Happening at DDXP 2011?

While ruminating on whether or not I should attended DDXP in January 2011, I asked myself what I would really want to do at a national gaming convention to make my attendance meaningful and worthwhile.  I thought about the games I had played and the people I had met, and my final resolution was that I would attend if I could meet new and different gamers, people whose experiences and sensibilities might be different from my own.  That led me to ask this question: I wonder how I could meet the most interesting roleplayer in the world?

From that one question came a flood of ideas that churned and bubbled into various configurations.  Finally, after interesting and productive discussions with Dave Christ of Baldman Games (the entity responsibility for running DDXP) and Dave Chalker of Critical Hits (this most awesome collection of gamers), we decided that a tournament was the answer.  This tournament will try to offer something fun and enticing to each type of player, with the understand that the best type of gamer is the one who understands that the best gamer is the one who has fun while facilitating fun.

Between now and the end of January, keep an eye on Critical Hits and the DDXP website.  We will be releasing more information on “The Most Interesting Roleplayer in the World” tournament.  I invite everyone who loves gaming, who enjoys sharing this hobby with other enthusiasts, to take part in the tournament.  Yes, there will be prizes.  But I hope that the best prize for all the participants will be the chance to take part in a game with others who might bring a new and different sort of fun to the table.

That, and there is going to be so much awesome stuff happening there that any D&D (and RPG) fan will not want to miss it.


  1. Interesting insights. Like many gamers, I’ve played the vast majority of my games within a regular gaming group. But I’ve also played my share of pickup or organized games at cons or other events, usually with a crowd of complete strangers, and I’ve almost always had a terrific time! Great group chemistry is the most wonderful thing in the gaming world, but the insights and freshness that comes with a bunch of new players is also brilliant.

  2. Judging D&D Encounters has reminded me of how gaming really has not just different gamers but different gaming demographics. We start to assimilate along strata created by the games we play and even the sites we frequent. (I note that many of the known bloggers/twitterers all read each other’s stuff, forming a strata and that often the really crazy cool stuff comes from a blogger that is not completely aware of the rest of that community!)

    In judging D&D Encounters I get to see the demographic of players that started with AD&D, for example, and might have a desire to really explore every cranny of a room. I can contrast them with the young players who have a lot of ideas from movies and fiction. I can look at gamers that play many games and bring strong RP and a sense of the story being more important than mechanics. I can look at 3.5 players who often really embrace the crunch. I can see differences between the RPGA players and the persons that come from (Meetup tend to be older edition players or play a wider selection of RPGs). None of theses stereotypes are always true, but there are some patterns.

    That exposure to different gaming demographics has been really valuable to me. Our store has few RPGA players and thus I often get a very different experience. It isn’t better or worse, but refreshing. It has helped renew my batteries the way that playing another RPG like Eclipse Phase, Shadowrun, Spycraft, or Legend of the Five Rings often does.

    D&D XP will really be cool. It will be fun to see how (and who) you guys pick for the contest. I know some really interesting players and they have been invaluable in showing me what is possible with RPGs.

  3. While it’s good to be inclusive and learn things from different viewpoints, I think it’s important to remember that it’s a game we play in our free time. If someone in the group is preventing others from having fun, the GM’s only “responsibility” is to make sure the problem is resolved. You don’t have to view all sides, or make a fair decision, or expand your worldview. You just have to get back to the game.

  4. I’m very interested in seeing how this goes. Pickup games at cons usually fill me with a gnawing dread, but I keep forgetting that I’ve had countless more positive experiences with new people than negative ones. Negative focus espoused by the news media unfortunately bleeds through to my gamer life.

    If all goes well at DDXP, is it possible to do a similar event at PAX East?

  5. Runeofdoom says:

    As a piano / violin teacher, Micah’s point about fun being the main responsibility struck an interesting chord (…!). I often deal with parents and students that get upset when we move to something more difficult or out of style with what they perceive as their tastes in music. I have dealt with many parents saying “my child is here to have fun” and I really go through great efforts to make sure my students do enjoy what they are doing. But sometimes, in order for them to have greater enjoyment and fun and to grow as musicians they need to try things that are challenging or initially unappealing. I know that many are just as passionate about their hobby as I am about teaching music. I see Shawn as having an attitude on gaming similar to mine as a teacher. Just like my arguments in my studio don’t always reach every student, Shawn’s won’t land with everyone but those that take it to heart might find that they grow to have a richer enjoyment of playing rpgs.

    In the end, I tend to have a similar attitude to Micah because as someone who has loved rpgs for 20 years but never (ever!) had a consistent group of people to play with, I’d just be happy with a regular, amicable group. But I definitely understand the potential value of what Shawn is saying here =)

    P.S. On a weird side note, my best friend in middle school was named Shawn Merwin!

  6. I consider myself very lucky to have a great group, having been without that in the past. So, anything that would possibly break up that group is a major threat in my book. Since many groups fall apart due to infighting among members, I’m kind of nutty about screening people and only including the ones that fit with the rest of us.

    If it ain’t broke…

  7. You cannot resist the combined might of **The Dave’s**

    So you all might as well go to the show.

  8. Dave C powers unite!

  9. Shawn Merwin says:

    @CharlesRyan: I couldn’t have said it better myself! (And didn’t).

    @Alphastream: As always, you are right on the mark. I played in a game at a local D&D Meetup a couple weeks ago where this difference in gaming styles based on generation was so very apparent. The players who had been around since AD&D were interested in spending money on creating a base of operations in a lair that we had cleaned out, while the younger players were much more interested in getting on to the next combat.

    @Micah: I would never argue with what you are saying. I am definitely not trying to say that home-game groups should try to include others at the expense of their own fun. There is definitely much to be said for making sure the game runs smoothly. I just wanted to point out that there might also be some fun–and a lot to be learned–in sometimes gaming with other people as well.

  10. Shawn Merwin says:

    @Wombat: It seems that the people who are most likely to eschew public gaming with strangers are the people who have never done it, or who might have done it once or twice and had bad experiences. It is certainly understandable that these people would choose not to game with strangers. As long as they understand that there can be some fun to be had with it, they’ll get no quarrel from me. In terms of doing this elsewhere, I want to see how it goes first at DDXP. If we get good results and happy customers there, we’ll look at expanding to other large conventions.

    @Rune: Your example is very relevant to what I am trying to say. Being an erstwhile writing teacher, I completely understand what you are trying to say. One of the things I tell me students is that if you want to be the best writer you can be, read everything you can get your hands on, even if you don’t normally enjoy it. Every work you read teaches you something. And as far as the middle school thing goes, I was probably cloned or something. 🙂

    @Dave C. and Dave C.: I bow before your complete Dave C.-ness.

  11. Great article! This is exactly why I love playing in LFR, and of course, before that, LG. Do you think that smaller local conventions will make a comeback, and be as popular as they were in LG, or do you think that the “everyone can play every mod” rules have squished the incentive for players to travel?

  12. Shawn Merwin says:

    More information about “The Most Interesting Roleplayer in the World” tournament is up at the DDXP website. We’ll be releasing more information as DDXP approaches:

  13. Shawn Merwin says:

    @Brian: The question of whether small conventions were hurt or if players’ incentive to travel was quashed by the format of LFR vs. LG is way above my paygrade. I do not have a problem with how LFR handled adventure play. Logic dictates that people are less likely to travel if they have no incentive to travel. Looking at it the other way, people who are forced to travel to get a full experience are less likely to seek out that experience. I think LG appealed to a smaller number of more hardcore players because of its format. I think LFR appealed to a larger number of more casual gamers because of its format. Which is better for WotC, for the players, and for the hobby in general is certainly open to debate. Me personally, I just want to play games and have fun. 🙂


  1. […] Kicking off our Spoooooky Edition, Vanir over at Critical Hits gave a nod to the holiday by talking about childhood nightmares, and adding horror to your game.  Shawn Merwin also wrote a Critical Hits article about the merits of playing with strangers. […]