Have fun, it's contractual

Ye olde TL;DR - Be responsible for yourself, be considerate, and don’t be a jerk.

The concept of the RPG social contract has been done to death, but that’s because it is so fundamental to starting your game on firm footing. Basically, the social contract lays out the ground rules for getting and keeping the people in your gaming group together. Without this framework, the “game” part of your game probably won’t happen.

So yeah, we’re covering the social contract because it’s that important.

What follows are the expectations, distilled into five points, that have worked at the tables I’ve been at, as a player and referee. Before diving in, I want to give considerable credit to Seth Skorkowsky for compiling the RPG social contract that inspired much of my own.

1. Everyone is expected to show up prepared and ready to have a good time. A seasoned RPG player can tell you that, along with experience, you need an arsenal of equipment to game like a pro. The needs of the game system you are playing, and your group’s own style, will dictate exactly what heat you have to pack, so I’m not listing everything you might need. What’s key, though, is that everyone agrees to bring everything you agree to bring. Strolling into the session unequipped diverts gaming time toward looking for extra items or negotiating resource-sharing treaties among players. Without accounting for your specific group, at a minimum, you should bring

  • Dice,
  • Pencils,
  • Paper,
  • Character sheets, and
  • Reference copies of the rules.

In addition to actual physical equipment, you need to bring knowledge, whether in your brain or on a sheet. Most of this knowledge work falls on the referee. That’s just how it is. For those of you playing OSR games, their more player-driven nature makes referee preparedness that much more critical, what with full-bodied and consistent worlds to craft for players to exist in.

Players aren’t off the hook, though. For you, game prep means validating that all your game tracking sheets are up-to-date. If you leveled up or changed equipment, you need to make sure your sheets reflect that. Basically, if there is something you can do that your referee doesn’t have to verify, and that the other players would sit and watch you do if you did it at the table, do it before the session.

2. All players should agree to and uphold a consistent schedule. You can’t play if you can’t meet, and you can’t meet without a meeting time. The referee doesn’t have to schedule the game, but that’s usually easier. After all, they are the only player who can kill the session if they don’t show.

Choose your dates and times as far in advance as possible. If you can, pick a recurring time slot--whether that’s weekly, monthly, or something else--and stick to it.

Once you’ve confirmed a date and time, all the players need to confirm their attendance or absence ahead of time. If someone pulls a “no call, no show” you should consider kicking that person--it shows they don’t respect everyone else’s sacrificed time.

3. The host is expected to be ready for guests, and welcome them. Regardless of who the host is, that individual needs to make sure the space they provide is ready for other humans to temporarily inhabit. It should be clean and uncluttered enough that there is room for the game.

Once you’ve spruced the place up, be welcoming. Don’t scowl at them if they don’t handle your abode exactly as you would. Your friends are people, which means they can neither read your mind nor maintain surgical hygenity at all times.

4. Guests are expected to be gracious and considerate. When you convene to play a game, wherever that is, you are entering a space that means a lot to someone. This includes game stores: owners pour their soul into their shop so we have somewhere to play these weird games.

What does that mean? Don’t act like you own the place. Don’t make a mess, and if you do, clean it up.

Help out your host in some way while you’re at it. If your group is into snacks, bring some to share. Alternatively, offer to help set up or tear down.

5. Acknowledge that the referee is also a player, and that everyone is there to enjoy each other's company. Don’t take the antagonism that is inherent in the game too seriously. Of course, the referee has to throw challenges at you, but remember that they’re not out to get you. You’re all friends, and you’re there to have fun, so make sure that your referee isn’t left out of the fun just because their in-game goals may oppose yours--in real life, you all agree that RPGs rule.

That’s it. If you do those things, your game might work out--I never said gaming was easy. It takes more than these steps, but if you take them, you’ll be on your way to thrilling adventure in no time.


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