Good Players vs Star Players

Like every time I attend any gaming convention of any quality, I always come home feeling so grateful for the thing we’ve built here. And being reminded once again of the big gap between Good Players and Star Players, and how they’re totally not the same thing.

Good Players:

* Are aware of the temperature of the table. That means respecting tone, pace, and energy. Simple awareness of those things is its own skill. Basically it’s the ability to get out of one’s own head.

* Work with the other players to help them be awesome. This isn’t about providing procedural assistance to help pass important tests. This is about helping other players really show off their thing, whatever it may be. I think that includes encouraging quieter players into the spotlight, at the table as well as diegetically (!).

* Understand the rules at an intentional level, not just a procedural level. Being a rules lawyer doesn’t make you a Good Player, understanding why rules work the way they do does.

* Integrate their efforts with the GM’s intent, if there’s a facilitator type person involved. In nearly every implementation of the GM role, one of the most important functions is continuity and pacing. They aim the camera and necessarily decide what is and isn’t important. How they come to that decision is different from person to person and game to game, but however it’s done, Good Players will work with the GM to help them be awesome, too.

Star Players:

* Put on a great show. I mean, who doesn’t want to watch someone be dramatic, use an accent, exude charisma?

* Pick up the slack and create momentum. I think Star Players are easily motivated by boredom avoidance. It is so useful for someone to make bold play choices, to come up with challenging, strong new directions for the GM to adapt to.

* Demand and frequently receive more than their fair share of spotlight time. This is the crossroads of boredom avoidance and stagecraft, yeah?

Tables need both, but they’re frequently mistaken for each other. They’re two roles. Players who embody both aren’t unicorns but they’re pretty rare.

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37 thoughts on “Good Players vs Star Players”

  1. In addition to technical and social cue challenges, there’s a thing about much online AP I’ve seen where good play becomes all the more important (and difficult) and star play becomes the more likely focus. Often to the detriment of the medium.

  2. This post has a built-in trap question : in what category would you say you belong ?

    Tongue-in-cheekery aside, this is pretty much spot on.

  3. Hopefully good more often than not, occasionally star under the right circumstances (although I’m probably deluding myself; literally nobody has ever complimented my playing, whereas I get plenty of attaboys for running).

  4. As averse as I am towards watching other people roleplay, I really want an instructional video about how to be Good Players. Even if it’s a canned recording similar to day one job safety videos. A la “Always put the forklift in park,” “Lift with your legs, not your back,” or “Don’t dip your fingers in the fry oil.”

  5. Adam Day, I thought about doing a “How to Roleplay Gooder” session. I thought about structuring it with examples (or like a choose your own adventure book) so that you could run through the answers and get pro’s and con’s of them. Still, going to be hard to get the people who actually NEED the seminar to go to the seminar.

  6. Man, I have so many thoughts about this. I was a professional actor for about 10 years, so, you know, I have a whole other gear I can throw it into at the table. For awhile I enjoyed putting on a real show and people seemed to dig it. But then I started to get more interested in what everybody else wanted out of the session, I guess on the theory that I could usually get my jollies when I needed to. Also, I started challenging myself by playing other sorts of “parts” at the table. I can do you a Wolverine-style smartass in my sleep, but what else can I make work for me?

    So I think I focus on being a Good player now, and I’ll push toward Star if the story comes toward my character organically, of if, like you said, the boredom starts to happen. (At least that’s what I think I’m doing. Maybe I’ll pay attention to this at BigBadCon in a couple of weeks.)

  7. Why split them out like this, Paul Beakley? I feel that a lot of the Star qualities fit nicely under the Good too.

    There are obviously differences in peoples’ ability to put on a good show but having folks that prioritize other people at the table puts you about 80% or more the way to a great game, I think.

  8. Paul Beakley I hear you. In my experience, praising a player’s style is something that remains pretty rare as a whole in RPG circles (although this right there is a wildly anecdotal statement). Feels like it’s way too rare, at least. I try to praise good/star players as much as possible. I don’t think of the good/star divide as categories ; more like meta-roles that often fluctuate from game to game.

  9. Nicholas Hopkins I split them like this because they’re frequently mistaken for each other (ime like the rest of my posts). I think it’s not only a mistake to do so, it’s to the detriment of improving the table experience.

    Specifically: consider the player who thinks they’re good because they have such a dominant and visible role at the table, but cannot fathom stepping back and helping another player. Or think they are above needing to know the rules and why they’re being used. I’ve experienced many stars who…aren’t good.

    Or the reverse, good players who think they’re stars. Super supportive but also total wallflowers and exude unhappiness because the gm isn’t psychic. EDIT: More to the point, I think being good is under-recognized and underappreciated when you’re not a star.

    I need good players because everyone’s game is made better. I need stars because that’s where the energy comes from. Different roles.

  10. I complimented a woman at a 7th Sea game this weekend (I was also playing) for her commitment to an accent and principled character play. She got self conscious and a little embarrassed, but otherwise took it well and had a smile on her face for the rest of the event. Costs nothing at all, other than the tiniest bit of emotional labor of getting out of my own head.

  11. “Boredom avoidance” really hits home. I aim to be a Good Player, conscientious of my communal responsibility to the game, but if play mires in fidgety detail or I sense the other players are being passive, I’ll Star-Up, push to make things happen, bring the scenario towards conflict. Shamelessly seizing the narrative like that probably makes the game better overall, but I always sooner or later end up feeling guilty that I may have shoved aside the other players’ potential contributions.

  12. E.T. Smith oh that’s me in a nutshell. Occasionally I’ll feel a strong creative impulse I really want to put on display, but more often than not it’s more about stirring something up. Getting some kind of action.

  13. Great stuff! When I first read it I thought these were tiers (like good player is level 1 and star player is level 2), but that’s just my misnomer interpretation of the titles.

    In conversation I’ve been saying “players who know how to share the table” (good players), “players who drive the story” (I guess that’s sort of star players).

    I like that these are two different things to work towards, as it’s the balance of them that really makes someone shine at the table… knowing when to let someone take the reigns as a star player (and go into back-seat but good player mode, or drive some good content through star vs star action), and also when to accelerator into star mode cause the table or narrative is lagging (and when… sometimes a quiet scene can be appreciated or necessary).

    Also, blabbing aside, this let’s me follow the thread…

  14. Paul Beakley I love this quote, and it was how I saw the post at first. “_I need good players because everyone’s game is made better. I need stars because that’s where the energy comes from. Different roles._”

    My brother has always been a Star Player, but not quite so often a Good Player (outside of his absolute favorite RPG system).

  15. I feel the pull of these two poles inside myself at the table a lot of the time.

    Sometimes they can work well together, but not always. Figuring out which to do and when and why is a big issue.

  16. Then of course there is the question: which do you want to be? I wish I had the improv abilities, etc. to be a Star player. I always feel like I wasn’t particularly useful for the game when I am surrounded by Star players. I guess I am probably a Good player? Though I don’t know, it is pretty rare that I get invited to games – generally I have to kick them off/run/invite myself…

    (Yes, this is something I struggle with vis-a-vis self-esteem – why do you ask?)

  17. If star player compliments are thin on the ground, good player compliments are non-existent.

    It’s a thing. Wish I had more advice than to, you know, let players know you appreciate them. Especially the good ones.

  18. Oh fuck yes, that’s such a thing. I know a lot of good players who get very little recognition.

    Actually, most good players I know get next to zero recognition.

    Gonna have to get my head on right about that and start giving out good player praise. (Other than just the default, for me, of “I keep playing with you.”)

  19. This is something I’ve been trying to be more conscious of at cons, where the combination of getting to play rather than GM, getting to play with incredible players, and getting to game non-stop multiple days in a row can conspire to bring out my always-there Star tendencies. (Also, I do accents. A lot 😉 ) At Dexcon this year I tried pretty hard to stay more in the Good end of the spectrum, although I’m not going to judge how well I did. I think I could have done better, because self-assessment is a cruel mistress.

    I think at least once I used Star stance in the service of Good: at Bill White’s High Frontiersman playtest at Dramation 2017, the game was going fine but the threads were all kind of…disconnected. So I compelled “The USSR is about to start WWIII” on my moon-based KGB Station Chief, then sat back and let the other players race around trying to decide if stopping it was what they wanted; but it brought all of the plots together for the last hour, and I made darn sure to get agreement from the table when I did it.

    I don’t regret some of the star turns I’ve made, especially Brother Armond in Jeffrey Collyer’s Dreamation 2016 Witch, which was really profoundly wrenching for me as a person. I do regret some others, though; they are the reason I’m trying to be better.

  20. Catherine Ramen Yes, I agree: in that game, your bravura made the game come together in a way that I wasn’t going to be able to do as GM, affording the other players an opportunity to make revelatory and interesting character choices. Compare that with your George Stoker in the Stoker: First Blood NBA game I also ran for you: with the Irish accent and Victorian mad scientist mores, it was totally fun to watch, a marvelous act of role-playing: but self-contained, almost hermetic ;-), in the sense that experimenting in your room with the vampire head didn’t give other players a lot to bounce off.

  21. Bill White Oh, right, I remember that now! George was fun to play, but yeah I agree with your assessment. Fortunately that table was already well in hand, so my scenery chewing wasn’t as deleterious as it could have been. (I got to cameo as George in Lisa Padol’s 1880s Dracula Dossier game. He was still crazy.)

  22. Thanks for the inspiration. In the decompression and post-con hangouts at Big Bad this reminded me to thank a “good” player for their goodness and highlighting that I noticed and appreciated it.

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