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Don’t Just Sit There!

If you’re not going to DO something, you may as well be a potato.

You’ve worked hard prepping for a game with some interesting investigation scenes, cool action sequences, and plenty of opportunities for roleplaying. Bringing it to the table, most of the players dive right into it, but during what you thought would be an exciting scene, one player shrugs and declares, “I can’t do anything here.” Good GMs work hard to provide opportunities for everyone at the table, but unfortunately, you can lead a player to the action, but you can’t make them do anything they don’t want to.

This is player behavior I began considering recently after running two games at Origins. In both the games I ran, there were varying degrees of players failing to engage with the scene or the game as a whole. One of those games was particularly frustrating for me because the character failing to act had been pivotal during the playtest I ran.

Before I go any further, I want to caveat that players failing to find something for their character to do isn’t always their fault. Good GMs seriously do need to plan and run their games looking for ways to get everyone involved. You’ve got to balance the session or the campaign around making sure everyone gets to do their thing during the game at least some of the time. Bad or weak GMs may not consider the characters in play when designing their adventures or even may squash people doing things they don’t expect.

All that said, it is ultimately up to the player to find ways to get their character into the thick of things. Not every scene is going to be suited to you doing that one thing your character is really good at. But just because you can’t do that one thing doesn’t mean you just sit there or go wait in the car until everyone else finishes up. Well, you could, but what fun is that?

This whole situation was really brought home by the one game at Origins. I had run a playtest a couple weeks beforehand, so I could make sure I understood the system (at least passably), be sure the PCs worked, and that the scenario itself was solid. In that playtest game, a reporter with fae leanings was played by a player who got her deeply involved in the investigation and made her essential for the resolution of the problem they were dealing with. At Origins, the exact same character did no investigating and had to be prompted to do anything. And even when prompted, the player struggled to come up with something for the character to do.

Don’t be that guy. You know he loses in the end.

Not long ago, Senda wrote a great article [1] talking about the difference between proactive and reacting gaming. This was something else completely. This wasn’t a difference in preferred play style as much as it was a difference between players understanding HOW to get involved in a game. One player took a look at the character and saw all the opportunities she presented. The other player took a look and only saw the character’s limitations.

Some of this difference could be chalked up to experience. During the playtest, the character’s player was someone who has been playing for years and is someone I count on to always dive headfirst into whatever game or character he’s playing. The player at Origins seemed very hesitant and uncertain and somewhat inexperienced with roleplaying games. While I did what I could to coax her into getting involved, trying to run the game while also doing that was … difficult.

It isn’t always a problem with experience, though. I’ve seen otherwise seasoned players do the exact same thing when they’ve gotten themselves into a repetitive rut with their characters. They’re so used to doing the same thing over and over again, they fail to start thinking creatively about what they could do when they can’t do that awesome thing.

So, what’s my point with all of this? Players, just DO something.

Yeah, maybe you can’t do that one thing your character is really good at, but you’re still there in the scene. Not being able to do your shtick doesn’t mean you can’t do anything:

You’re in a game, you’re playing a character. Get involved and just DO something. That’s what we’re all at the table for, so dive in and get involved!


6 Comments (Open | Close)

6 Comments To "Don’t Just Sit There!"

#1 Comment By Shawn H Corey On July 6, 2018 @ 6:28 am

A couple of problems at cons. A player may only be there because her boyfriend is. She’s not into RPGs but willing to go along just to be involved. A player may not identify with their character or any of the pregens. They’re just playing because they signed up for the game. Both of these can result in lackluster performances.

What to do about this? Be an entertainer. At a con, the GM is more an entertainer than a guide and referee. Learn to do improv; adapt your performance to the audience. Concentrate on giving the players a good time and less on the game.

#2 Comment By Angela Murray On July 6, 2018 @ 12:02 pm

That is a good point, though, I would argue that RPG is still supposed to be an interactive experience. If I’ve got some players at the table involved and one that is hanging back for whatever reason, I’m going to have to put my energy into focusing on the ones that are involved. There definitely needs to be a degree of performance when running at a con, but the relationship between players and GM should still be reciprocal.

(And yeah, at cons I’m all about the game’s story rather than the game’s mechanics. I’m sure that annoys some players too, but it’s the game I’m looking to play/run.)

#3 Comment By Shawn H Corey On July 6, 2018 @ 1:40 pm

Yes, the relationship should be reciprocal but too often, attendants at a con view the GMs are part of the staff. That means they except to be entertained by the GM and may not put much effort into getting involved. On a scale of 1 to 10, GMing at a con is a 15. 😉

GMing in general sometimes requires unsubtlety but given the time restraints at a con, the GM may have to be boldly explicit. Saying, “Someone has something on the character sheet that may help in this situation,” and staring at the player may be to subtle for some players. The key thing about involving players is that the first time the make the effort, fudge the dice rolls and make them succeed.

I tried once to GM at a con but the pressure I felt diminished the pleasure I had and I’m sure my performance diminished the players enjoyment.

#4 Comment By Jerry On July 6, 2018 @ 1:26 pm

This is also the fault of the other players. As a player, you can’t make the GM do all the heavy lifting. If you see another player fumbling, looking bored, or openly admitting that they are lost: get in there and drag them back into the story.

-do something that involves their character
-suggest actions
-play on the hooks they’ve already revealed
-make your own character a little vulnerable and ask for help
-ask for assistance
-create a situation for everyone

To use a common GS term, be a Rainmaker!

#5 Comment By Roxysteve On July 11, 2018 @ 2:18 pm

I see this as partly the player’s style not working in the game, and partly inadequate playtesting. Don’t playtest scenarios for cons with expert players. I can’t tell you how many problems with games (RPG and board) I’ve seen that have obviously been the result of everyone eliding some facet or taking something as read that isn’t then made obvious in the game itself.

Playtest for cons with experts to set the pacing and get good feedback by all means, but also playtest with newbies so you get to see all the warts and wrinkles (and places where a player might disengage at the level you need) in your carefully constructed game before crunch day.

It happens though. I have a player who always picks the potentially most interesting characters in he group but cannot think round corners or tale very broad verbal hints by me that would see that character shine off the combat grid.

#6 Comment By Angela Murray On July 12, 2018 @ 9:12 pm

That’s all nice in theory, but I don’t have an endless supply of gamers of all flavors to call on when I need help playtesting a scenario. Usually the call goes out and I get who I get. At that playtest table where a mix of skill and experience levels. Most had never played the system before and at least one is a newish gamer.

Another ‘nice in theory’ aspect is playtesting more than once. Sure, if I’m playtesting a game I’m designing, I’m going to playtest the hell out of it, but a scenario for a con one-shot? One playtest is what most people are going to have time for.