Skill in a Cooperative Game

In a cooperative game, you don’t often think about players being skilled. Even if a game doesn’t directly measure skill though, I think there is still a wide variety and range of strengths and weaknesses of RPG game players. In an RPG, a GM is often described as skilled or not, and certainly there is no doubt that one GM can be more skilled than another. In fact, the range of skill for a GM can be so vast, it’s hard for me to feel adequate to the job, and I can understand why anyone would be intimidated to try.

I think the same can be said for the players.

While there’s less responsibility on an individual player’s shoulders, groups of players can lead to very different, and vastly more or less successful games.  This is most obvious to me at convention games, where a single awful player can ruin a game session in spite of a good GM, or on the other hand, a single session is memorable because of the way one player approached the game.  Alexis has written a great deal on the skills involved in running, and playing in a game.  There’s a lot of insight there, but I thought I’d try to distill some of my own thoughts in a series of upcoming posts.

In the meantime, I’d like to see if anyone reading would be interested in writing their own bit as it relates to running or playing in an RPG.  Do you think player skill matters?  Do you think GM skill matters?  What are those skills?  What advice would you give to someone who had never really played an RPG?  What advice would you give to someone who played and wanted to improve the experience for themselves?  Is any of this worth taking seriously?

I think I’ll get around to posting some of my thoughts on these issues, but while I do that (and hopefully before I start posting), I’d like to see if anyone would be willing to share their thoughts on the topic – more than a few sentences.  What can the players do, and what can the GM do, to improve the shared gaming experience.  What do you think is the upper limit to the quality of the game?  What would be the characteristics of that high quality game?  Does it matter to you much to make an attempt to reach that level of quality?  How is the game like a team sport?  What would you practice and how do you get better?  What player skills compliment each other?  Does a group synergize better with players who have different strengths?

There are a lot of ways to approach answering these questions.   One goal I have is to include in the rules for Lost Worlds some discussion about the skills the game will require of them to be successful.  I want it to feel like more of a guidebook with transparency in the design and a clear message about what the “win condition” looks like and how to get there.  Still, I don’t have a chance to play much, so I feel a little bit more capable writing the GM advice in the guidebook, and reaching out to the readership here for some developed thoughts for the players’ advice.

3 thoughts on “Skill in a Cooperative Game

  1. Brian

    You ask if player skill matters. In a word, yes, it does. What skills matter then? Here are some that matter to me:

    1. Role playing ability (applicable to GM’s and Players) Can you get in character and stay in character? Are your interactions in the world believable and entertaining? If yes then I will appreciate you at the table a lot more than a lump just sitting and rolling their d20 every so often. Subtlety’s abound here – “I’m going to search around the room for something something” instead of “I rolled a 24 perception what do I find”, “Here I present his majesty Lyonis of Aberhelm, ruler of Talivan, bringer of justice, protector of the weak and champion of good” vs. “I announce Lyonis to the peasants”. The examples here are more relevant to players – but essentially the same can be applied to GM’s – acting out the crazy old witch complete with giving her a unique personality and voice is far more entertaining then just narrating the goings on of an encounter.

    2. Flexibility/adaptability – This is another skill that is relevant to GM’s and players. Can you think on the fly? Can you roll with the punches. There are going to be things that you just can’t expect or prepare for as a player or GM. The ability to take these and turn them into something memorable is another skill I value highly. With a collection of very diverse players at a table there are bound to be all sorts of random crap thrown your way. The reverse holds true as well – players at a table with a crafty/skilled GM must be able to adapt and overcome, to think critically and respond appropriately in a wide variety of situations. Appropriate here doesn’t always mean “right” just that we are responding in a way that makes sense and helps bring us deeper into the world.

    3. Imagination/Creativity – I think this is more important for players but I’d guess that it is important for a GM as well. I believe it is the job of the GM to bring the world to life. It is our job as a player to really put ourselves in our characters boots. Are you trolling through a dark damp dungeon filled with monsters…maybe you should sit back and close your eyes and try to drink in the smells and sounds and sights…Use your brain and BE your character IN that location. Too often we boil down encounters to a numbers game, but I think the fun is in the story so lets try to make that story as rich as possible. Feel your blade pierce the trolls thick hide, hear the sounds of battle, be afraid or be brave in the face of imminent death.

    4. Math – this one isn’t nearly as fun, but its important…know your numbers and know how to use them. For as much emphasis as I’ve placed on the abstract skills, there is something to be said about keeping the game going as seamlessly as possible. Having the appropriate skill level to know your various numbers helps to keep the game going.

    5. Rules – I think I’ll shed some light on my own personal experience in the skills department. When I first began playing D&D I had almost no idea what I was doing. Full round action – what is that? Move and a standard action…5 foot step and a full round action, swift actions, immediate actions, fort saves, will saves, spot check, spells, touch AC, flat footed, full defense…There was just so much going on and I was overwhelmed…I can now appreciate the vast assortment of choices and customization allowed by the complexities of the game, but the learning curve was pretty intimidating at the time. Especially being surrounded by others that knew the game well.

    Contrasted to today where I think I’m fairly well versed in the rules and know enough to keep my end going smoothly, and to help others in keeping the game.

    Then I have to ask myself – Is this a skill or is this just not being lazy? After all – it isn’t that the rules are hard to learn and it really doesn’t take much effort. Anybody that is willing and has the capacity to learn (pretty much everyone that would be playing anyway) can do this. I dunno…I’m inclined to leave this as a skill, because some players show it and some don’t.

    This being said I think that learning the rules and knowing when they apply is one “skill” that every player should have. We all sat down to Pathfinder together and have done a fairly good job of learning the rules. Is this a skill? I believe so- or at least it is related to a skill – being a quick learner is a valuable tool in a game with lots and lots of rules. It may not be necessary to know every single rule…we still sit and discuss and look up rules as we go, but knowing the rules (especially for your character) saves everybody a lot of time and keeps the game running smoothly which helps with the immersion.


    These are the skills I value, and the skills I want most in order to “win”. However there will be a lot of different win conditions in any given table. People are there for different reasons and those reasons may require a completely different set of skills. For a power gamer – perhaps it is much more important to have a superior understanding of character options and abilities in order to maximize their effectiveness at killing monsters, getting loot, and gaining levels. For others it may be something entirely different and hopefully you can get some additional input there.

    Whatever your valuation is I do believe that practice will improve any skill, and the best practice is doing it. Practice with your “teammates” is even better in my opinion, as you start to see the strengths and weaknesses of everyone else and adapt to them for a better overall experience. The team practice creates that synergy and I think it helps to raise the play of the “worst” player.

    Overall I would say that the game of RPG’s is a very unique one. There are multiple win conditions, players with different ambitions and goals, different skill levels and priorities. Yet despite this (or maybe because of it) we all can come together for an enjoyable evening of gaming.

  2. Pingback: Setting the Tone | Lost Worlds

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