Grim’s Tales: Making your Players Comfortable

(Requested by @sarahdarkmagic on twitter)

Comfort is an important thing at the gaming ‘table’ (a lot of people play online now or without a table, so it’s important to not give the impression that we only talk about sitting around the table). Not just physical comfort, which I’ve covered tangentially elsewhere, but also emotional comfort. That basically means a sort of unofficial ‘social contract’ between the players, the Games Master and – often neglected – the people around you.

Short Term Things

You don’t always have the time to establish a relationship with people that you’re going to be gaming with. Maybe it’s your first day at a gaming club. Maybe you’re at a convention and you just don’t have time to get to know everyone. It’s always better if you can get into a ‘groove’ with your gaming buddies, but you don’t always have the opportunity and event gaming and one-offs can be very intimidating.

  • Be explicit about what the game is about: some people have issues with ‘x’, where ‘x’ can be spiders, blood, cheese or just about anything else you can think of. Ideally you want to minimise elements that upset someone at the table but if you don’t know them, you need to be up front from the get go on the game sign up sheet or in your introduction. Yes it’s spoilery, but it saves causing a problem. You don’t have to remove all these elements but you can skimp on the descriptions, fade to black or reduce their importance as a GM. As a player if you have anything that really upsets you, take a deep breath, remind yourself that it’s only a game but inform your GM before it comes up. Freaking out at the table will insult the GM and make them resentful of you. If you’re not sure how you feel about a game, ask and don’t play if you can’t handle it – but don’t denigrate other people’s fun.
  • Take time out to socialise: Even if you’re never going to see these people again it’s worth taking a quarter-hour or something to chat about games, about the convention, about your favourite characters or games, what was on TV or what cool dice the GM has. If you’re getting food, talk about it and consider sharing between each other – it’s cheaper and it’s a good excuse to talk. Don’t dive straight into the game cold to each other, try and get a basic feel for each other before you dive in.
  • Have a comfortable space: You can’t always manage this but you’re going to be sat down for a few hours at least so make sure your seat is comfortable and that you’re in a place where you can get at least a little bit messy. Sheets, dice, books and pens tend to look messy, even if they’re easy to clean up and sometimes a spouse, mother, housemate or similar will freak out at what they see as an invasion of their space. Speaking of which make sure that whoever else is in the area knows there’s a game on, will give you your space and won’t freak out or get annoyed.
  • Why so Serious?: Let people have a little fun, make bad jokes and pun, even if it’s a serious game. It’s a good way for people to relieve tension and relax.

Long Term Things
If you’re meeting with the same group day in, day out, regularly for games it’s a hell of a lot easier to get to know them and to get into a comfort zone with people where you know what you all like and don’t like. Don’t let that lull you into a false sense of security though, like any relationship your game-group relationship takes work.

Be reliable: If you say you’re going to show up for a game, show up and if you can’t, don’t leave it until the last minute to tell people you can’t. Always double-check that you have your dice, books, game notes, character sheets and so on as, usually, you can’t go back to get them.
Don’t push buttons: If you know what squicks people out within your group, remember those things and avoid them. This needn’t be gross things necessarily, it might be particular hackneyed plots or kinds of villains. Everyone needs to compromise but there’s usually one thing that someone can’t stand. Don’t step on that.
Change things up: You’ve got an established group, relish and use that opportunity. If you normally GM, let someone else do it. If you normally play, try GMing. Play characters and tell stories that you might not normally play, but make sure everyone’s aware of what you’re doing and willing to take the ‘risk’ with you.
Step outside your comfort zone: It’s just a game and with an established, trusted group that’s a great opportunity to examine those things that you can’t normally deal with or cope with. It’s a way to explore, in your imagination, things that you might find difficult. Even things you’re pretty sure you don’t like. Just  make sure people know you’re cool with it and ask when you want it to happen. Sometimes – also – you need to take a hit for the sake of the team who DO like the things you don’t like. It’ll be appreciated and you’ll get concessions in return.

Care and Feeding of your Players

  • Give everyone some time in the spotlight.
  • Appreciate what your players want – make them work for it, but give it to them in the long run.
  • Let everyone have a say in what you play and how you play, even if they’re in the minority, give them their turn OOC as well as IC.
  • Reward players who include and relax the other players, who help bring the game together as a whole.

Care and Feeding of your Games Master

  • Appreciate your GM and the work that’s gone in.
  • Couch your criticisms and disappointments in gentle terms, without the GM you’d not have a game at all.
  • Make sure the GM knows what you like.
  • Feedback, feedback, feedback. Talk about the game.

Care and Feeding of your Host

  • The people who own or look after the space that you’re playing in may not be gamers themselves. You need to appreciate whoever else lives in or maintains the space, you need to respect them. They might be the spouse or partner of someone from the group, they might be parents, if you rent a space people might not be sure about what it is you’re doing in the first place so it’s damn important to make sure they are – or get – ok with what you’re doing and with having you in their space. If someone handing around has their nose out of joint then it can cast a pall over the whole game and make things very, very uncomfortable.
  • A gift doesn’t hurt. Flowers, chocolates, letting them join in when you order food to save everyone money. All good.
  • Give them their space. It’s not your place, make sure you don’t get in their way.
  • Don’t outstay your welcome. When the game ends, don’t hang around too long. Make sure you can get home and reasonably promptly. If you need to decompress, head off to a pub, bar, diner or something rather than stink up the place with your gamer-aura.
  • Clean up after yourselves. It’s a little thing but if you don’t do it, it becomes a big thing.
  • It’s their place, try not to resent their presence. They’ve as much right to be here as anyone. Yeah, having non-gamers hanging around makes things uncomfortable, but at least they’re interested and you have somewhere to play.

Follow these guidelines and things should go a lot easier for everyone involved.
Be open.