Dear DovahQueen – Attention Hogs

We all have had that player get a little “too” into their character. Today we discuss how to keep the game from being derailed without telling your players to sit down and shut up.

Dear DovahQueen: I have players that like to get really into character which usually means going out of their way to do IC actions in the middle of combat or roleplaying scenes. I’m happy that they like their characters, but it’s sometimes distracting from the matter at hand and it takes a little bit to get everyone wrangled back in. How do I get players to tone down the disruptive behavior without coming across as a spoil sport?—Too nice to speak up

Dear 2Nice2Furious: First off, congratulations on having players that really get into their characters. Players being wholly invested in their creations means that you’re doing a good job as GM.

As GM, there are a few things that you’re responsible for. The most obvious of them is as arbiter of the rules and creator of the narrative. The second responsibility is almost as important; you’re there to be the players’ babysitter. Nobody likes having to keep excited players under control because it’s about as easy as herding cats, but it’s pretty key to maintaining a session in which all of your players get their turn in the limelight.

We’ve all ran into players who like to “hog” the attention, and it can be very derailing to a session. I doubt they’re ever trying to be selfish; they just get so excited that they don’t realize how much time is being taken away from everyone else. The best advice I have: be polite and direct. When player A tries to spend half an hour running personal errands around town, and players B, C, and D are getting visibly frustrated, you’re just going to have to tell them “Ok Player A, you do the thing. Player B? What did you want to do?” If they’re still impatiently being a distraction, it’s ok to tell them “Ok, I understand, Player A. We’ll get back to you, but let’s see what Players C and D want to do first.”

Even after all of that, I’ve had a new player who tried to spend a large chunk of session time running from NPC to NPC to have small, personal dialogs about their backstory. All you can do is tell them “Ok, listen. We’ll get to all of this with your character, but right now we need to move on. Go ahead and write down everything you’re trying to do here, and we’ll handle it together a bit later.” If they won’t listen to that, you’re pretty much left with no choice other than to put your GM foot down. “I’m sorry, but listen, we’re moving on.” This might not be easy when you’re used to being “too nice,” but it’s critical if you want to keep your game fun for all of your players. On top of that, you aren’t being any less nice by speaking calmly and firmly to guide your game.

That’s your option for players that use a lot of game time, but for players that are more expediently disruptive, you’re still going to want to tweak that strategy just a little bit. We once had a player who went out of his way in character to smoke almost everything and another character who liked to just ignore the mission at hand altogether to perform personality affirming behaviors that really didn’t amount to any progression in the story. For both of these kinds of examples, consider quickly acknowledging and moving on. As a GM, it’s hard to be upset at a player whose only crime is having fun and/or doing their best to be in character. Calmly and quickly tell them “Ok, you do that. Is there anything else you want to do in this round before its Player B’s turn?”

As GMs, it’s not our job to dictate how a player should play their character, but sometimes we do have to nudge them in the right direction. Completely ignoring them or allowing the game to be derailed isn’t really fair to any party involved. Acknowledge the action and move on. Be polite, yet firm. You can still be nice while maintaining control of your game. If a player refuses to accept that, then the problem may go a bit deeper than “heavily invested.” Also, keep in mind that putting up with disrespect is not part of your job description.

 

You can request RPG advice or send your questions by email to deardovahqueen@gmail.com or on Facebook.

Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.

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