Like I said, 2014 is a year of being a good wingman. I will do my best to be one, and I’ll preach about the virtues to my players non-stop until they make me shut up about it. My players don’t really deserve the harsh tone I write this in, since many of them are excellent in this, but it’s easier to talk about important life lessons in an uncompromising way.
noun: wingman; plural noun: wingmen
“a pilot whose aircraft is positioned behind and outside the leading aircraft in a formation.”
The term these days has more to do with bar life and picking up girls than wild battles between airplanes, but the basic meaning is the same in either case. It is doing the crucial job of helping someone else stand in the spotlight. When it comes to roleplaying games, we are wingmen to others most of the time.
The Mithral Rule
One of the self-imposed rules on New Horizon’s Agenda sheet says that as a GM I should: “Make everyone around the table look awesome and be the number one fan of the characters.”
Sounds like a simple enough task.
Some people still see the GM as the guy in charge of creating and running the opposition in the game. But I’m not working against the players when I’m hosting a game. No GM truly is. My role as a GM has a lot to do with moving things forward at a good pace and making sure that everyone gets their share of spotlight, and that when they’re in it, they shine. I am there enabling the players, even if it means I have to let go of the beautiful plans I had and the scenes I had prepared.
It’s not my game. That’s the first truly hard lesson every GM has to learn at some point. One way or the other.
It is the painful truth and that one hard lesson. And now you, the player, have to learn that as well. It’s not your game. We play RPGs together. It is our game. You are as much responsible as the GM. And as a responsible person, here is a good guideline for you to start with as well: “Make everyone around the table look awesome and be the number one fan of the characters.”
Make Everyone Look Awesome
Now. Take a deep breath. This will take some getting used to if you’re not on the level with me already.
You have an obligation to each and every person around the table. Yourself, the other players around you, the GM. This responsibility comes from you having huge amounts of control over the course of the game.
You already without question, do some of the things that come with this burden – you play by the rules of the game, you follow the genre conventions, you portray your character with consistency.
But it’s much more than those. You have control over so many things. You as a player have many questions you should be thinking about during a scene. How much space does my ego take in this scene? How does my focus on certain elements of a scene affect the direction and flow of the scene? Are my actions enabling the other players or limiting their options? What do the others in this scene want to do and how my actions relate to that? It is easy to assume that yours truly, the GM, will take care of all these things, when I probably can’t do anything about them without your co-operation.
Your actions as a player determine how everyone comes off looking. Look around you, remember these people you’re playing the game with. These are awesome people. Make sure they too get the chance to be that.
You don’t have to talk at every turn. You can easily steer the spotlight to your fellow player who hasn’t had a say in a moment. You can focus your attention on things that are important to others as well. You can pass the ball to the GM (I’m at the table as well) if the opportunity arises. You can leave the situation in such a place that the other players have actual choices on how to act and react. You can let them make those without telling them what they should do. You can trust them to be awesome.
That’s the core of it. Everyone is awesome. You can let them have room to be awesome. And you can trust them to be awesome.
And remember that “everyone” includes you as well. You are awesome too, and when someone gives you a chance, be just that.
Be the Number One Fan
Being mindful of the other players just requires some attention and insight, but being truly supportive to the other characters is hard.
It requires that you make a sacrifice. You need to make and keep your own character flawed, so that the other characters can have the opportunity to do the stuff they excel in. A good wingman is the one that says “I have no idea how to do this.” when there is someone else who actually knows. It’s the one who can’t pull the foot out of their mouth so that the Voice can take over. It’s the technophobic one who manages to lock the team satellite phone so that the Techie can come and save the day.
And when I say this is hard, it’s because it’s easy to do wrong. You can appear supportive, but in fact be the opposite. Singing praise to the skills of others is still the sound of you singing and hogging the spotlight. And if you make a character help yours and then point out that your character really could have handled herself without the help, you’re being a condescending jerk. Or if you try to set up the situation where another character gets to do their stuff, but because you’ve set it up and planned so completely, the “moment of shining” is just a dice roll and nothing more.
To be someone’s fan is to enable them to do what they’re great at – Taking a nasty punch in the face so that the scrapper can come and beat the hell out of the guy who assaulted you. Or locking yourself in the cold storage so that the cat burglar can get you out. Saying flat out loud how you have no idea how to defuse this bomb. And pointing out that someone has to make that daring leap across the chasm to save us all.
Enabling doesn’t have to even be that drastic. You need to embrace and love what the other characters are about. If you understand their essence, it is easy to stay out of their way when they do wonderful things or ask for their help when they can do something better.
And be a fan of your own character. I know I ask for the sacrifice, but it’s easy to be a fan of a flawed person. Enjoy being bad at something, and let it show. And when your character gets in a situation that they’re born for, let the spotlight feel as hot as a thousand suns and enjoy the brightness with every cell of your being.
It’s a Two-Way Street
Now, the reason you need to start paying attention to this right now, is that if you are a good wingman to others, you are also opening up the opportunity for them to be a good wingman to you. If you’re willing to let your character take one for the team so that others can shine, it is easy for them to return the favor down the road, and that leads to better dynamic around the table.
And when I say you need to start paying attention to this right now, I mean from next game forward. For Alpha Team that’s the day after tomorrow, and for Bravo Team it’s in less than a week. And for you, random reader, it’s probably soon as well. So stop thinking like it’s your game and remember that we’re all in this together.