5 Things To Do When Your Players Aren’t Taking It Seriously

From Robin Matte

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0048

A Brief Word From Johnn

I don’t know if this is a tip or a warning, but here goes. Last week I managed to kill off 4 out of 5 of the players’ characters. Despite the warm and fuzzy feeling in my heart (LOL), I can’t take credit for the kills.

In D&D 3E, when a character’s life is sucked out by a monster called a wight, that character will almost immediately come back from the dead as a wight, under the first wight’s control.

About mid-session I knocked off a PC with a wight and he was revived in wight form shortly thereafter. However, at the same time the other characters were just putting the finishing touches on the original wight, with their swords and spells.

I had a few options, but in the end I decided to let the wight PC become an autonomous monster after his masters’ death. I also let the player continue playing his character and unleashed him on the other characters.

Unfortunately, he was very effective. Soon, he had three of the PCs under his control as wights and he had the last PC running for his life!

The lesson I learned was that players are always smarter than the GM. It only took the players a minute to kill off the original wight, with only one casualty. But a player-controlled wight had nearly decimated the whole party in the same amount of time.

So, you can go two ways on my hard won experience here:

  1. Include more player controlled bad-guys in your game for truly formidable games;
  2. Have mercy and don’t let players cross the character-monster line.

Anyway, I applaud my players for having such a good time hunting each other down and going with the flow rather than taking things personally and getting upset. I really appreciate their gaming spirit.

Be sure to read the Reader’s Tip from J.M. this week, as he has some excellent advice about player-GM relationships (it also makes a great disclaimer for my GMing and Roleplaying Tips-Writing style, LOL).

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A special thanks goes to Robin for putting together this week’s tips. I have suffered from the same problem of a non-serious mood at the gaming table in the past–but it was usually my own fault:

  • NPCs that couldn’t be taken seriously
  • I made too many jokes and puns and wrecked the mood
  • A foolish story that couldn’t be taken seriously

So, before you get upset at your players for not taking the game session seriously, make sure you didn’t cause the problem in the first place.

Warm regards,

[email protected]

Have you ever spent hours preparing a game, with great attention to detail, and then DM it with players who just can’t take it seriously? Well, here’s how you can bring them back to serious!

(It was a big damn problem of mine, a couple of years ago…)]

Surprise Them With Great Danger

Try to bring something up that they would never think of. For example, the harem that your charismatic player just saved, is in fact a bunch of angry dopplegangers…

Place ’em in a situation that requires them to act quickly, and effectively. Series of traps and cursed weapons always work… Shock ’em.

Obligate Them To Think

Riddles, puzzles, mazes, and mysteries usually grab the players’ attention. They do not have the choice, since they won’t advance otherwise…

Place them in the front of really serious situations, but do not put something boring (like a political plot with no action), otherwise, you lose ’em for good. This solution may not work, though. If so, try no.3 😉

Try Some Hack’n’Slash

Sometimes, players just don’t want to think. They want action, fast and quick. Make them roll the dice: skill checks, attack rolls, etc…

Provoke ’em and do not hesitate to almost kill them. Do not spare them. In other words, be cruel for once (or again ?).

[Johnn: Hmmmm, I think Robin means be cruel to the characters and not the players here. 🙂

My players and I always respond well to Star Wars or Indiana Jones style action & adventure–but we don’t usually enjoy random combats, cruelty and overwhelming odds that require a hard-to-believe character rescue. So, as another strategy/style, give the players lots of action and then slowly re-introduce your plot hooks.]

Do Not Give Any Reward

You must not give any reward when players are not acting like they should. The main goal of the game is to incarnate the character well and make him act like he would. Give more rewards if they become serious, maybe they’ll understand.

[Johnn: as a game master, you have full control over in-game rewards. And the spirit of Robin’s tip here, I believe, is that you can bring players back on track by using rewards to encourage serious roleplaying.]

Just Tell Them

When you’ve tried everything and cannot do a thing, just tell them that you won’t continue your game in this ambiance. Stop DMing this game since you are not having fun with it, and players are having fun without the game. Propose to them that you all do something else, and play the game you prepared for another time…

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Thanks Robin. Not all of these methods will work for all groups. Sometimes a little nudge (Tips #1, 2 & 3) will do the trick. But, if the game table mood still isn’t what you’d like after a couple of attempts at changing it, communication (the real message of Tip #5) is the key.

Roleplaying is a game that requires the enthusiastic consent of the GM and all the players present, for everyone to have fun. If things aren’t going as planned, try not to get upset and be vindictive (i.e. Tips #3 & #4 abused). Take a break and have a meta-game discussion about your thoughts and listen to theirs.

How have you handled nights where the players just don’t want to settle down and play serious (assuming your game is meant to be serious)? Your advice and experience will help the other game masters on this list:[email protected]

Tips From Roleplaying Tips Game Masters

Have a roleplaying tip you’d like to share? E-mail it to [email protected] – thanks!

Player-GM Relationships & Campaign Logs

Tip Player-GM Relationships

From J. M.

First off, I really enjoy the newsletter and appreciate your hard work…[one] thing that worries me is the way you portray the player-DM relationship. I personally hate it when players/DMs think it is a me vs. you type of game when really it isn’t.

Sure the DM is trying to put you against challenges that you must overcome, but a good DM should never be mad when the players have thwarted his plans and should not be happy when the players all die in his “trap of save or die”.

On the other hand, a player should not be mad when things go bad for his character and shouldn’t be happy when his actions bring the campaign to a screeching halt just because he was in a wacky mood. Neither one is constructive or entertaining. I have been a player in a campaign where the DM would get pissed when we did something that “ruined” his encounter that was supposed to be tough and he would come up with ridiculous ways to punish us.

In a lot of cases, a DM has to look at what the players’ habits are to come up with a good challenge for them. I also understand that the players should continue to be innovative and creative when coming up with strategies. I think the players should do this because they want to advance as players, not to “screw up the DM”.

I think DM’s should use the players’ habits to create challenging encounters, not to “finally show those smartass players who’s the boss”. I hope my writings don’t sound hostile, as I don’t intend them to be. I just thought I would throw in my 2 cents (which quickly became 2 dollars).

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Tip: Create A Campaign Timeline/Log

From Rinian Theveste

One common problem I have in the campaigns I GM (mostly Star Wars) is that the players often lose track of time and get sidetracked on a ‘dead end’ mission while the bad guys are putting a fast end to the characters they were supposed to rescue or actually using the techno-plans the PCs were supposed to steal.

A great way to remind the PCs (and yourself) that yes, life does go on, even in an rpg, is to keep a universe log. This can be relatively simple, or complicated, depending on the level of detail you want in your rpg. You should cover, at least weekly, the major actions and locations of your major characters.

For example, here is a sample log where the characters Alexar, Sitar, and Deak are the PCs:

Standard time: 8-22-12 Alexar, Sitar, and Deak are with Mara Jade on Yavin, planning their next move. Other events: Kyp Durron arrives on Yavin. Kyron Ral heads for Galamian. D’nthar kidnaps Jaina Solo in Huttese sector, using Orion machine. Luke Skywalker leaves his Jedi academy to search for Jaina. Leonora Tavira makes deal with Denkar’s men to strike the nearest New Republic Space station in return for the death of Boba Fett. Talon Karrde is convicted of treason on Coruscant. Lando Calrissian waiting for Mara Jade’s message on Kessel.

And so on. An ideal log might mention the whereabouts and actions of ALL the NPCs. Then, no matter where the PCs decided to go, or what they decided to do, they would have a ready-made situation waiting for them upon arrival. For example, if our 3 heroic NPCs headed for the Huttese Sector, they’d have a shot at getting blasted by (or blasting) the Orion Machine, if they headed for Coruscant, they might be able to rescue Talon Karrde, if they headed for Kessel, they could discover the important message Lando had for them.

Though this form of play can be frustrating for GMs who want all of their plots used, it’s important to remember that plots can be recycled and appear in different guises later on. It’s a great way to have a ready-made plot with little preparation beforehand. And if your log is very thorough, it can be an almost foolproof guard against PCs messing up the GM’s game.

Note though, that you MUST keep the universe log in your top-secret GM notebook. It is NOT for players’ use! (Truly horrible things can happen if a player gets his hands on your log and decides to metagame).