The Dictionary of Fearless Gaming: A is for Awareness

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I run a lot of roleplaying games, at conventions and at home. There are some serious differences between running a game for strangers and running a game for your home crew. Differences like when you can use social shortcuts and when you must be explicit. How edgy can you be? How much PvP drama? It all depends on who is at the table. So as we move our roleplaying games to online conventions, basements and clubs, let’s start with:

A is for Awareness.

I’m specifically talking about being aware of the folks playing at your table with an eye toward making everyone welcome and the experience fun. I try to get to my convention tables early for games that I’m running. Early for small talk and breaking the ice.

Where you from?

Have you played this game before? Any games like this game?

How’s your con?

At home, we often arrive at our local hobby shop, eat and chat for a bit, catching up on the week, work, shows. Online, man, that’s a new beast! Especially in these shut-in times. I play with folks I’ve never met in meatspace. So getting a physical ‘feel’, a read on them is challenging. I’m paying attention to the answers. I’m listening 100%. I’m getting a feel for who I’m playing with. Who here is the bold extrovert player, who is the quiet thinker — and all the roles in between.

Yes, as GMs, DMs, MCs — we want to give spotlight time to all the players. I want to tailor my “what do you do” to the player. I want to meet my bold, high energy players with enthusiasm and drama. For my more timid, feeling players I want to engage them where they are comfortable, strong. I can only do that by being aware. By actively listening. I do this even as a player. I want to know if there are inexperienced, new players at the table. I’ll play to support those folks, that becomes a fun and challenging experience for me. If we’re all veterans of the game at hand then my playstyle is more bold support. Now I’m looking to hook into another player’s interests and troubles to create more fun drama at the table.

Awareness is good, but you gotta also take action. At home, after a particularly PvPish proxy fight in a Burning Wheel game, I made time after the session to talk about where everyone was with the game and their thoughts. I could feel the table mood was somber, weird during the game. We talked it out, cleared it up and moved on to several more sessions of that game. I was also at a con game when the table situation went south, in the context of a player misgendering a character…multiple times. I didn’t act quickly, I hesitated. Lucky for me, another person who was watching us play jumped in and deescalated the issue and got things cleared up. Be Aware, but you gotta act on it too.

I’ve seen folks mentally check out at the table. I make it okay, even easy for them to tap out. Not all games are for all people. I have even excused myself from tables where I wasn’t feeling it. Make tapping out easy for folks to do, and if you’re about to eject from a game — be polite, it’s free.

We are part of managing an experience. Being aware of our tables’ energy, its disposition is a big level up in fearless gaming!

Play bold, play fearless!