When Players Stop Talking, You Start. But What Do You Say?

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0723

When Players Stop Talking, You Start. But What Do You Say?

What’s the problem: Work backwards from product referral, from GM doctor’s symptom prescription

When players stop talking, you start. But what do you say?

What’s the remedy: How does the GM doctor recommend solving this?

Do they need more information?

Do they need refocus? (Hints, prods, change thinking)

Do they need a kick in the ass (break down the door and start shooting)

What’s the promise: Promise something. Comfort, confidence, fun, smartness.

Faster Combats for intelligent fights

When players stop talking, you start. But what do you say?

Happy Friday %FIRSTNAME%

I’ve written about the importance of transitions before. There are many types of transitions. Mental ones, emotional ones, and physical ones. Today, let’s talk about one type of mental transition. If we watch out for it and improve upon it, we can become a game master who keeps players on the edge of their seats.

When players stop talking, you need to jump in to keep the game going. A session is like a shark. When a shark stops swimming, it dies. When your players stop playing, your session dies.

Some silences are healthy. Players are busy levelling up their character sheets. Or players are thinking hard yet productively. Or you are storytelling and making strategic dramatic pauses. So yes, some kinds of silences are great.

But when the game goes silent because the game has stalled, you need to jump in immediately and keep the session swimming.

You’ve got three core options based on what you diagnose for the silence:

  • Do the players need more information?
  • Do the players need refocus?
  • Do the players need a kick in the ass?

More Information

Are the players stuck or confused because you are withholding too much or the wrong information?

Often, you want to keep information to yourself. Secrets, knowledge about the villain, monster stats. But there’s a line you shoud avoid crossing where giving out too little information makes the game too random or difficult to play well.

In these cases, when your players stop talking, it’s time to give them a clue, hint, or prod.

The best way to do this is through events and NPCs. Make something happen in the game that reveals enough to get the party paddling again.


Analysis paralysis, red herrings, bad logic, and cognitive dissonance. The players are framing things wrong or are stuck in an unproductive train of thought.

Here, you need to guide them. When your group stops talking, show them other options or ways of thinking. Help them reframe their perceptions so they see things differently and get unstuck.

You can also do this in-game, but I prefer questions. Ask Why? or What? type open-ended questions to get them thinking along new lines. My favourite question is, What If? Pose a new scenario to get them diving into different waters.

A Kick In The Ass

As noire author Raymond Chandler put it, “When in doubt, have two guys come through the door with guns.”

Sometimes the game just needs sword and board to get unstuck. Great combats and action scenes fill the table with energy, get the characters and players moving again, and give everyone a break if stuck.

However, intelligent combats, when designed well, can offer you a whole lot more:

  • Add a roleplaying layer via your Combat Encounter Plan to grant players new information
  • Add a Combat Mission to make the group refocused
  • Use Monster Roles and Signature Traits to provide clues and drive the plot forward
  • Wield Combatscapes to get players unstuck and into opportunity thinking

I teach you all these things in Faster Combat. The key is to get out of grind mode and use combat strategically for storytelling.

Run faster, more intelligent combats and whole swaths of game time previously mired in dice contests now become an integral tale-telling tool in your GM Toolbox.

Give players a kick in the ass with an amazing combat or action scene, they’ll start talking again. Your game will thrive. It starts with noticing and diagnosing the silence. Then you start talking until the players are ready too once more. Transitioning like this will create amazing energy at the table, never giving players a change to leave the edges of their seats.