Player Advice: 7 Characteristics of Great Players

Almost anyone can play a role-playing game, but some gamers are far superior to their fellows. Great players share certain characteristics that make them welcomed at almost any gaming table…

By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Yesterday, I blogged about the 8 characteristics of great GMs. Today it’s the players’ turn!

Good players have many characteristics. A list of such could be long and exhaustive (and boring). Instead of listing dozens of such characteristics, I’ve listed the ones below I view as the most crucial for success. Do you have them all?

  • Attentive: A good gamer listens to what is going on even when he is not in the spotlight. Knowing what your companions are doing means you can be more effective. Similarly, asking for the third time how high the ceiling is or what weapon the enemy is using is going to cause the GM to repeatedly head butt the table in frustration. It’s also rude to not pay attention to your friends.
  • Creative: Role-playing is an incredibly creative hobby. Before the game, you design a character including his background, personality motivations and so on. During the game, you must defeat a range of opponents and situations. To do so, you can employ literally any strategy you can imagine. You’ve got to do this week in and week out. As a great player, you are also contributing to a group story – your actions and reactions shape it as surely as do the GM’s machinations.
  • Cooperative: At its heart, role-playing is a cooperative game. The best players work together to win. If you like to “win” a session at the expense of your fellow gamers you should consider switching to wargaming as a hobby where that kind of behaviour is a virtue.
  • Good At Maths: Being good at maths is crucial. During a game, the average player must make dozens – if not hundreds – of calculations quickly and accurately. Being bad at maths slows the game down, which means everyone has less fun.
  • Organised: Gaming is a complicated hobby. You need to remember to bring loads of stuff with you to the game and you need to know your character inside and out (as well as the rules). Turning up without your character sheet, or not knowing your character’s abilities slows down play and negatively impacts others’ enjoyment. Consider setting up a gaming kit so you never forget vital supplies.
  • System Mastery: Knowing the game you are playing is rather handy. A lack of game knowledge causes the game to grind to a halt and frustration among your fellow players. Know the game you are playing.
  • Honest: I’ve saved the biggie for last. If you are going to cheat, I don’t want you at my table. It’s that simple. Sure, everyone makes mistakes but deliberate cheating is bang out of order.

Help Fellow Players!

In your opinion, do great players have other characteristics I’ve missed? Share your thoughts in the comments below and help your fellow players game better today!

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Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

17 thoughts on “Player Advice: 7 Characteristics of Great Players”

  1. I’m not sure if this is a characteristic but what I feel makes a great session. Players that are there for fun and there not going to ride your a*** about a rules mistake or haggle or belittle other players or GM mistakes. I find I have my best times with fun and enthusiastic players and GMs alike.

    1. I’d second “enthusiasm” – that can make up for any number of deficiencies in the other areas.

  2. You might have it covered under co-operative, but the best players i know are supportive of the other players, especially new-comers. Not just by helping them with maths, tactics, or system expertise but also letting their voices be heard and allowing them to make the sub-optimal decisions (when its not suicidal) rather than dictating what is the ‘right’ solution.

    I’d also say the best players are flexible in terms of what and how they play – that encourages creativity from both GM and other players.

  3. I’m not so sure about the ‘good at maths’ and ‘system mastery’ elements… those seem like far lesser elements of fun than the other bits. Then again, most systems I like are not heavy on math and the systems are really quick to learn.

  4. I agree, with all of these, for the most part. The part about math (or maths) is unfortunate because some people are just not good at it (but at least they should try). I think that part can be somewhat mitigated by careful planning, i.e. writing out may of the bonuses ahead of time.

  5. I would suggest “system competence” rather than “system mastery”. It’s very true that an understanding of the game system helps make a great player, but I don’t think a player needs to understand all of the possible interactions of the rules that mastery implies.

    Know how Combat Maneuvers work in general (grapple, etc). Know how your abilities work and commonly used mechanics. That level of competence does more to expedite play than knowing how every rule interacts with every other rule.

  6. Wow, my own list would be very different. I deffinitly agree with attentive, organized, and creative. The other ones are far less important to me though. System mastery and good at maths can be easily made up for by your fellow players and the GM, so these are less important in my opinion.

    Cooperative is an iffy one at some of my favorite games. I have been in some great games where there was quite a bit of in fighting, back stabbing and the like, and it was a lot of fun. It has to be kept in character though, and it is important to make sure every one is having fun, even during those situations.

    Honesty isn’t really all that important to me. Having a fun time trumps it. Some people are miserable when they are losing, and their idea of a fun time is succeeding more often than not. Others try ridiculous things that are incredibly heroic and the die rolls just could never support it. Those players I have no qualms about fudging die rolls any more than I have problems with a GM fudging them. It’s all about creating a great story with everyone there. I do prefer they keep it low key though, if they are being obvious about it, I’ll call them on it.

  7. Hi y’all, two points:
    Those with mental challenges sometimes have difficulties with many of those listed attributes. Probably a golden boy ‘he’s welcome at my table any time’ would have high marks in all the fields you listed, but we do need to keep our hearts and gaming tables open to the people who sometimes need a little extra to really shine. So a real brainstorming of an article about compensation or coping with things that people sometimes bring (or don’t bring) to the table might be a good idea.

    #8 Honesty: I’m probably not a good enough writer to get this across properly but here goes. AFAIK there are two reasons someone is dishonest. 1. they are naturally dishonest (and Rp’ing might attract these because people who are good about not being themselves have an advantage theoretically since Rping is about not being yourself). 2. There may be unacceptable (to the player not the character) consequences in the meta of a failure. I flub alot and can take the ribbing from my character jumping two stories and landing on the car door (damnable 1’s) other players not so much. I also think that there are results that help the story that the player is trying to tell with their character while I am exploring the story with the character through the dice rolls so a failure, a series of failures even a hilarious comedy of errors is not truly terrible to me or my characters story. But it could be to someone telling the story of their hero.

    1. How the DM handles people determines what kind of player and behavior works. For me, I found that I can handle large groups of teens, over a dozen, or adults, but mixed groups for me are a nightmare. I also know big groups that socially hang out beyond gaming. The people who co-DM that group are a former orderly in a mental hospital who has better medical career now, and someone with a mentally ill family member. Not everyone can handle these types of players that come into the group and disrupt it. I was a weekend supervisor of a group home. That was sometimes easier than the variety of issues you may see at a roleplaying session. The 3.0 version of D & D was blunt about it. Don’t game with people you don’t like. It’s a social activity. Most of my gamers are at least treasured buddies. I am interested to know how other DM’s feel about this.

  8. Gaming is very important to me as it is usually the only time I am away from work and family responsibilities. I try to be attentive and prepared for the games and am usually one of the few who are paying attention to the whole game. It is frustrating when players have to ask what is happening to take their action.

  9. Most RPG groups i have either gamed in or been DM in, are centered partly around food. A good rule of thumb is, bring something to share if you can, when you order food either share or pay what you owe, or bring a few bucks for your own meal. At one point I volunteered at a busy game store, and we got to know which kids would come in with money and still try to mooch. Not cool. Ever. In our groups when players didn’t have money other players either paid for their meal or shared ; Chinese food you can get the combo meal with extra rice and eggroll and we had paper plates to sahre our entrees. With pizza, don’t hog all the slices. Take a few slices, and eat those before grabbing all you can get. I have seen players go after pizza and stack it on a plate like it’s a Jenga tower. If you ever see that happen, get it on YouTube, then explain why there is a two slice on the plate limit! ****Just sayin’.

  10. I can’t say I’ve ever thought of being “good at maths” as a major prerequisite for a player, okay so in most games you might have to add a few numbers and a dice roll together or work out the number of successes in a dice pool but these are hardly complex math equations.

  11. Scheduling and Punctuality . . . use them. If you’ve been invited to a game at 11am make sure you get there on time, if not 5 minutes early. Do’nt be wasting other’s valuable adult game time. If there’s been a scheduling SNAFU you need to call the GM ASAP; whether it’s a cancel and reschedule or you’re going to be MORE THAN a few minutes late. We live in the day and age of telephones, cell phones, e-mail and the internet. Communicate; do’nt be leaving people hanging and guessing where the hell you’re at !!!!!!!

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