2020-12-18 Player skill

What skills do you like to see in players at the table? This is what @Judd asked on the latest episode of his podcast, Daydreaming About Dragons.

As a player I wish to have more conversations about other players’ characters. Like: are you going to visit your parents now that we have come back to your hometown? For this to work, players have to be open about their secrets. I must be able to ask the questions that turn the conversation towards interesting things they have in mind for their character. Having thoughts about our characters and communicating them is the first step to being a good player. Put them on the campaign wiki for all to see or mention them at the table every now and then.

I tend to find things bland and boring quickly and I like to ask questions so people can fill in details. Players should be prepared to answer questions about their character, about the people in their character’s life (parents, spouse, kids, teachers, enemies, friends, everything), about their character’s feelings regarding the current situation. I also try to throw out invitations to other players to ask me the same questions. References to my wife and children. Anger, boredom, curiosity, admiration – let the players know how my character feels so their characters can react to that, if they want to. These are small things. The way my character reacts to them is me trying to tell their players: I care about this! Feel free to ask me questions. So the second skill I’d like players to have is asking questions and having answers. 😃

I guess my number three player skill is active spotlight sharing or pulling others into the scene: ask other characters to come along, ask other players if your character may come along, and ask other characters for their opinion in-game. That is, I want players to not just say “I tell the others about it.” I prefer to have my character walk up to another character and address something about them specifically. If I want to report some fire devils I have seen, I might pick the wizard or the fighter. I might ask the fighter, “Yo, I think I saw three magma devils on the road ahead. Think we can take them? Is your sword thirsty?” Invite them to be a fighter, invite them to talk about their weapon, or their bloodlust, or to struggle against it, whatever. Something!

It sounds a lot like Burning Wheel’s beliefs, if you ask me. Except free form.


The number one skill I value in players is being able to come up with and work towards ambitions for their characters. I’m terrible at writing good adventure hooks and have never liked the kind of world-threatening stakes required to force characters to engage or die, but without these it can be hard to run sandboxes. (Few things make me roll my eyes as hard as when an action movie ups the stakes to the entire world unnecessarily. Die Hard 1 was a single plaza, but the latest two involve plots that would destabilize the entire planet! But I digress.)

When players commit to a plan - especially the kind of hilariously ambitious ones they often seem to favour - it makes it much, much easier. You just have to tell them what they need to do next, but they’re still the ones picking what they’re doing and how, so while you can guide them to the stuff you want to run they’re still in control of the situation.

– Malcolm 2020-12-19 19:46 UTC

Oh, such a great point! Of course! In a sandbox, that skill is essential, agreed.

– Alex 2020-12-19 19:55 UTC

I’ve really been burned as a DM by too strong, world-shaking Maguffins. That can get in the way of players staking their own course.

– Sandra Snan 2020-12-21 10:58 UTC

Please make sure you contribute only your own work, or work licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. Note: in order to facilitate peer review and fight vandalism, we will store your IP number for a number of days. See Privacy Policy for more information. See Info for text formatting rules. You can edit the comment page if you need to fix typos. You can subscribe to new comments by email without leaving a comment.

To save this page you must answer this question:

Just say HELLO