The DDXP 2012 Pre-Convention Post Part 2: Player Advice

Here it is: Part 2 of my pre-convention posts. Contrary to what I said in my last post, this is only going to be a two-part series, so this is it. Arguably, this is the more important of the two pre-convention posts, because while there’s only one DM at a table, there are four to six players.

The top three things that every player at DDXP should do:
1. Be nice to the DMs and marshals. Some may say this is covered by Wheaton’s Law, but I’m adding a corollary: don’t just refrain from being a jerk, go out of your way to be nice to these people. These are people who are volunteering their time to DM for you. Many of them, although they won’t say it, will be dealing with adventures that they received late (or five minutes ago, if they were moved from another event – less likely at DDXP than at other conventions, but still possible), and may be strained because they didn’t listen to my earlier advice about voice maintenance. Three easy ways to do this are:
A. Listen to the marshal. Most of these marshals have done this before. Odds are, if they’re telling you to do something, there’s a good reason for that and they don’t have time to go into lengthy explanations. The marshal needs to coordinate DMs, coordinate players, give directions to various events to players who are lost, distribute information from convention HQ, and do it all in a timely fashion so they can get to the tables they’re DMing to help those tables finish on time. If you don’t listen when they, say, ask you to send up one person from the table to get an assignment instead of the whole group, it makes their job harder. That’s no fun for anybody.

B. Trust your DM (unless it’s really, really important that you don’t). These DMs are some of the best in the country. They’ve also been doing this for a while. Odds are good that they know what they’re doing. Challenging every ruling the DM makes is likely to slow the game down, anger the DM, and reduce everyone’s game quality. Now, I’m not saying that you should never question the DM; they make mistakes, too, and they’re also spinning a lot of plates. But when you do so, phrase it as a clarification (“I’m not sure what just happened there; can you explain it more?”) rather than a challenge (“Are you sure that’s how it’s supposed to work?”). By seeking understanding rather than confronting, everyone’s nerves will remain calm.

C. Be helpful. One of the things I’ve learned about 4th Edition D&D is that the time between encounters is an *amazing* time to take a bathroom break or get a soda. Keep in mind, though, that while you’re getting a soda or chatting up your friend at the next table, your DM is getting the next encounter set up, and he or she likely doesn’t have a chance to get themselves anything – or even stop long enough to realize he or she needs something. When you get up to get yourself something, ask the DM (and the other players, because you’re already up) if they need some water or anything. A hydrated, helped DM is a happy DM, and a happy DM is (usually) a more efficient DM and less likely to try to kill you. Also, less likely to try to kill your character.

2. Stay Healthy. This is important for players as well as DMs. The only thing worse than sitting next to a person who’s hacking up a lung is being the person who’s hacking up a lung. While I have no advice to completely prevent the Con Crud from getting to you, this will at least help:
A. Sanitize. One of the most mind-boggling “news” stories of the 2008 election was the criticism of both presidential candidates for dousing themselves in hand sanitizer after every event. The news stories should have been praising them for disease prevention. Yes, hand sanitizer isn’t 100% effective, but there is evidence that it does prevent the spread of disease, both to you and to the next person you shake hands with. Even more important, wash your hands. All the time. Every time you eat, every time you use the restroom, every lunch/seminar break even if you don’t eat or use the restroom. Much like gnomes, the only way to stop the germs from spreading is to kill them.
B. General health maintenance  This was also covered pretty extensively yesterday as it’s a bigger issue for DMs, but lots of water, enough sleep, and not partying like it’s 1999 can do wonders for your immune system and for generally feeling better about yourself and the game as a whole. Also, because I know someone’s going to berate me for this if I don’t bring it up, shower. Every day. Eat. At least two meals, preferably three. If you eat, sleep, and groom appropriately every day of the con, you’ll walk out of the con happier and healthier – and so will everyone else (especially if you are driving/flying home with other people). I know this sounds small, but those little things can make a big difference.
C. If you feel sick, for the love of God take a slot off. I know you paid good money for this convention and each event, but a slot where you’re sick is wasted money anyways. A couple hours of sleep instead of a sick slot is better for your health and better for your rest of the convention.

3. Keep it moving. I know that many of the below ideas make me look like I’m focusing on combat, which I am. That’s not to say that I “roll-play” instead of “roleplaying”. Anyone who’s sat at a table with Carn, Friend Not Food and Herald of Madness, knows that I love the roleplaying side of the game. The secret I’ve learned is that finishing combats quickly gives me more time for roleplaying my character and the story. To repeat, the slots for DDXP this year are short – four hours exactly – and a couple of the adventures are hard to fit in that time. To make sure you’re not the group who doesn’t finish the adventure:
A. Be prepared. This covers character information as well as on-site planning. Know what your PCs’ standard operating procedure is before you get to the convention. If you’re traveling with a group, figure out your party level for each adventure. Try to anticipate whether you might level during the convention. Then, once you get to the convention, get to each slot early (like 15-20 minutes early) for mustering. If you need to take bathroom breaks or the like during the adventure, know in advance where the bathrooms are. Have your dice ready when you sit down. These are all a bunch of little things, but added up, they can give you 15 minutes or more of extra play time.
B. Pay attention. I can’t believe this needs to be said, but I know people who do this, so: when you are at the table playing D&D, play D&D. Don’t play Minecraft. Don’t play Pac-Man on your cell phone. Don’t check your e-mail. We have all these technology-related things that are great conveniences throughout the day, but they distract from play. Instead, try to figure out what you’re going to do on your next turn. Keep track of what abilities the monsters are using and who’s taken a lot of damage. Look for non-combat objectives of the encounter (for example, if completing this ritual or flipping this switch does what you need without fighting the monsters). Not only will this keep your table moving, but you’ll be able to play more effectively, make better play choices, and not need to ask a hundred questions when your turn starts.
C. Simplify. This relates to process as well as communication. The most efficient way to run your turn is to declare each action as you do it (“I use a minor action to Divine Challenge the orc leader, a move action to shift next to him, and a standard action to use Paladin’s Judgment on him”), roll your attack and damage rolls at the same time, and give the resulting details in logical order (“I hit AC 35 for 42 damage, 6 of which is radiant, and I let Joe spend a healing surge as an effect). Don’t over-explain; if the DM needs more details as to how you did what you did, he or she will ask.

I’d also love to hear what ideas others have. What have you found that players can do to improve their own (and everyone else’s) play experience at a convention?

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