Underprepared D&D Players Miscast My Cantrips

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The longer I spend wading through the waters of Dungeons & Dragons on social media, the more I find being a Dungeon Master who makes preparations is a little more rare than I initially thought. Everyone has their own means of having fun, but I can’t roleplay comfortably without ample notes, spreadsheets, and clear understanding of a rules system. Lots of psychology to unpack there… but now is not that time! Now I must explore my commitment to D&D as a lifestyle game. I spend sometimes 8 hours writing for a session. Underprepared D&D players who come to the table over the course of months and still don’t know basic functions of their character, commonly used core rules, or which die is 8-sided really miscast my cantrips.

RPG game master player Underprepared D&D players lifestyle game
Preparing for your time at the gaming table is an important aspect of play to more than a few gamers out there. [Art by Olie Baldador]

Commitment and lifestyle games

I am willing to admit I probably take roleplaying games a bit too serious. I believe there is an unwritten etiquette that must be maintained at the table and work that needs to be put in between every session. Simply put, everyone should come to the table prepared. If you don’t spend time out of session preparing, you’ll slow down every session making up that lack of preparation, likely much to the dismay of your fellow table mates.

I’ve had a few conversations with friends, players, and fellow DMs about what this is and why it exists. After much discussing and pondering we came to the conclusion this is a difference in commitment. I would wager I have a much higher commitment level than most people with in the hobby. I mean, I nearly exclusively DM, often run four or more sessions a week, and heck, write articles about the hobby every chance I get. It’s probably safe to say that roleplaying, especially D&D, is a lifestyle game for me.

If you’re confused about what I mean by lifestyle game, the easiest way to describe it is with an example. Magic: the Gathering. That title should evoke everything you need to know about lifestyle games. Simply put, a game that can be the only game an individual plays. This can almost be any game, but there are games with a much higher chance to becoming a lifestyle game. Financial commitment requirement, complexity, and scale are a few variables that make it more likely to become one of these games.

I started my tabletop gaming life as a miniature wargamer with Warhammer 40,000 and while I’ve never stopped painting and collecting, it has moved down the rungs on my ladder of played games while D&D has shot up to the top. Like many, I play a lot of different games on different mediums, but none do I consider as engaging or important as roleplaying games. This leads me to have a much different level of engagement than the players who come to my table once a week just looking to roll funny-shaped dice and laugh. I want to experience more out of the game and this sometimes leads to both parties’ dissatisfaction.

Be prepared

lfiestyle gameUnderstanding my mindset and being flexible to newer players having no chance to share these feeling makes it a lot easier for me to open my table to many players. Rarely, however, do new players stick with me who aren’t already my personal friends. I tend to be intense about D&D and if it’s not the flavor players are looking for I try to make them comfortable, but they quickly see they’re out of their depth with my group and move on to another table eventually.

Sometimes though, I have players who just don’t have that introspective inclination and come to the table repeatedly without having basic knowledge ready to go. If you are in the hobby and even if you’re a player who doesn’t think about the game outside of session, you need to make an effort to learn. It’s an activity you will likely being doing for months, even years, and I feel anything you invest 20+ hours in, you should be good at. I don’t mean good like win or lose, but good as in the ability to facilitate the flow of gameplay and assist your fellow players.

This doesn’t mean you need to know everything, but if you’ve been to four sessions, spending likely 12 hours playing and you still don’t know what die you roll for initiative? You’re being disrespectful. And that’s really what it boils down to. Respect people’s time and drive for fun. If that means you have to spend 30 minutes studying a couple of pages in the core rules, then do your due diligence.

The marks of a player I will get along with is a player who shows up to session early. A player who engages me outside of session asking questions about the world, who their character is, and how that character connects into the world. The byproduct of a player who exhibits these characteristics is I tend to write more with them in mind. It’s not really on purpose either. If you’re talking to me and sharing your cleric’s hopes and dreams, that’s on the forefront of my mind when I sit down to write. Sessions where I’m able to infuse my player’s characters into the narrative have always been much more memorable, but this takes players who find it fun to talk about orcs and elves in a fantasy world on their lunch breaks.

We play within a niche of society and finding players who fit my style is a smaller niche within that niche. I’m happy I’ve spend many years struggling to find players because now those efforts have built up and I have more players who I love playing with than I can fit into a normal campaign. My happiness in the hobby came from being honest, welcoming, and discerning. I know what I want and I want individuals who share my vision and I implore you to do the same. Play and have as much fun as you can with the players you have but always keep open arms to new players who might fit your style.

What do you think? Do you care about commitment levels? What do you think your commitment level is? Are roleplaying games your lifestyle game, or closer to a weekly activity to unwind? Let me know in the comments below.

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Follow Jacob Kosman:
Child of the Midwest, spending his adolescence dreaming of creating joy for gaming between sessions of cattle tending. He holds a fondness for the macabre, humorous and even a dash of grim dark. Aspiring designer spending most of his time writing and speculating on this beautiful hobby when he isn't separating planes.

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