The Standard Table Contract

Greetings all. I'm sorry I've neglected posting for a few weeks, but as always Qantm has gotten in the road. Between making games, QAing games, writing games and running games, I have little time left to talk about games, unfortunately. But the end of Qantm is in sight, and afterwards my work will shift me into a phase where blogging will be apart of it. So, YAY!

Anyway, onto the article.

The Standard Table Contract

Note that I’m using this title because it spells out STC or Standard Template Construct. I love STCs, so deal with it.

RPG group social contracts are a must, in my opinion – whether they are explicit and outlined before the group truly forms, or implied and enforced via peer review. They keep everyone at the table safe and happy, and let everyone know what they can and can’t do to protect the feelings of everyone around them.

As a GM, it is our job to enforce this contract when problems arise, but it is also the player’s duty to learn it verbatim and to follow it. Like any contract, breaking it should come with warnings first and actions later (so long as the breach is serious enough), but it is ultimately the GMs job to pull someone up when a breach has been made.

So what are the general rules that should be followed? I separate them into three categories: Away From Session, META, and In-Character. Each category likewise has a section for GMs and for Players, but it is a good idea for both sides to be aware of the other side's concerns as well.

Away From Session Clauses

The Away From Session clauses detail conduct that GMs and Player should adhere to between sessions regarding a game. This is usually only a problem when the RPG group is also a group of friends away from the table - but many of the rules should be followed regardless.
  • For GMs:
    • Never Expect Anything From Your Players; players have lives too and are often busy during them. Give them plenty of opportunities to send you extra information about their characters, their side-quest actions, or journal entries, or pictures they've drawn for your game. But never badger them for it. Sure, let them know that if they don't do anything regarding those sections outside of game nothing will happen inside of game, but that is their choice, not yours. They are allowed to play your game as much as they want or as little as they want.
    • Never Play Favourites With META Information; GMs often want to discuss in-game situations with others outside of a game, and they definitely should, as it will work through many problems. But a GM must never favourite one person and tell all problems to this player. They should spread their concerns amongst the group, or to a few people (usually the most experienced RPG players) so that they get a wide and unbiased account.
  • For Players:
    • Never Leave It To The Last Minute; everyone is late, sometimes, and this usually can't be helped. However, if you're going to be late, let your GM or a fellow player know so they can pass on the information. Let them know as soon as you're aware that you may be late. Often GMs like to work to a schedule to fit everything in, so waiting for a player can often throw this out. If they can go onto things that don't concern you first and catch you up later, that is better than nothing.
    • Always Respond; if your GM or another player asks you a question between sessions, or sends out an announcement, etc, make sure you respond (even if it is just a 'Like' on Facebook or a "Message received"). This will prevent confusion among your group members and they will be comfortable everyone is aware of whatever issue is being raised.

META Clauses

The META clauses detail conduct at the table that is not in-character information, such as dice rolls, META arguments and the like. These are some of the most important rules in the contract and should be followed to a T to prevent problems and to allow the game to run smoothly.
  • For GMs:
    • Always Say "Yes, but..."; I do not believe in the rule of "Yes" completely. Some things shouldn't be allowed by GMs, and for good reason. Often they simply make no sense and defy all world building that the designers, players and GMs have done. Often they break some other rule on this very contract. However, I do believe in the rule of "Yes, but...", where in if a player seriously wants to do something, the GM should work with them to find a way to make it possible.
    • Never Touch Another's Dice Or Sheets; this is a loose one, but some people are picky about it. Don't touch another person's dice or sheet unless you ask first. But, that's a general rule of life and really doesn't need to be stated again.
  • For Players:
    • Never Press A Question Of Canon; if something comes up which disagrees with your understanding of continuity, then raise it once with the GM. If the GM decides to handle it later or makes a judgement call - move on. Nothing grinds a game to a halt faster than a player and a GM arguing on matters of canon. GMs have a hell of a lot to think about during a session - they don't need to add conflict into the mix.
    • Roll Your Dice In The Open; roll your dice openly and with enough time for everyone who is looking/paying attention, to notice what you rolled. No one likes the player who rolls and picks up the dice so fast that no one at the table could read what they said.
    • No Tech/Pay Attention; if it isn't your turn, try to pay attention to what is happening anyway. Likely, the actions you will take in your turn will depend on what everyone else has done, and re-capping the last five minutes to a player because they were playing with their phone is a big annoyance to GMs and players alike. Put your phone in your pocket and play the tabletop game.
    • Think Before Your Turn; try to plan out what you're going to do during your turn before your turn comes around. Most groups will have enough players that anyone has more than enough time to plan their next action between turns, as well as enough players that if each takes an extra 5 minutes to do their turn, the game will grind to a halt.
    • Never Complain About Your Rolls; dice are random. Get used to it. That is the point of having dice in a roleplaying game - to add an element of chance. If they don't go your way, switch dice or perform your chosen luck ritual. Don't complain to the GM that you're not rolling well enough - you'll just sound like a child to everyone at the table.

In-Character Clauses

The In-Character clauses detail conduct at the table and in-character. They are usually things that do not cause lasting problems, but can disrupt play when they occur. Some groups may be fine with breaking these rules, but it is best to discuss them before you break them. Better safe than sorry.
  • For GMs:
    • Never Kill A Character Who Isn't Present; even if your group agrees that characters whose player's aren't present are with the party (but in the background), you can never kill, injure, harm, mutate, or affect a character whose player isn't there. Under extreme circumstances, you may contemplate it, but make sure to contact the player before hand and discuss it with them. A player should always have agency over their own death, so tread carefully.
    • Never Break Chekov's Gun; if you show a super-powerful sword to your players, you better let them swing it at some point. Give them every opportunity to get a hold of it. If they still fail to get it through some means, then that's fine - that is how the game works. But never create something which is completely out of their reach.
  • For Players:
    • Never Attack Another Player Without Warning; if two characters are arguing, make sure to talk out of game first about the possibility of inter-party combat. You should never attack, steal from, or harm another player without warning, as this breeds bad blood between players. If there is a good reason for it, however, talk to your GM first and get their approval. But it better be a good reason.
    • Never Steal Loot; if there is an item of loot which you really badly wanted, but another player received, do not steal it from that player. If it is something you desperately feel your character needs, talk to the GM and they can probably work something out for you. Once again, inter-party conflict at this level is a bad thing.
    • Always Fade-To-Black; if your character is getting into a situation which would make others uncomfortable to be there were it in real life - maybe you shouldn't bring it to the table. Fade to black and let the GM carry on with the rest of the story - your part is implied and doesn't need to be specified. Don't go on and on about it - just let it go. We all know what happened.