member, 154 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Tue 26 May 2020
at 09:46
Advice: Passive Playstyles
Some general advice needed here. To me, the fundamental point of being GM is making sure everyone gets a decent play experience. Contented players = the content shines, right?

However, from time to time I've encountered a species of player whose motivations are entirely opaque to me: they're persistent about wanting to play, they want to do more than spectate (I have learnt not to try and shove spectator types into the limelight) but they don't do anything unprompted.

Conversely, they often do anything prompted, even if it's clear that would be a bad idea in-universe. Which when you're primarily a horror GM is especially hard, since you don't want to pick on this PC but, say, they just said "sure" to Nyarlathotep the first time he asked if they wanted to hang out, whilst the other PCs are openly out to eliminate all associates of the cult, sort of thing. Which could be awesome if that was something they'd try to hide and develop nefariously for their own ends, but without willing to even conceal that deal unprompted? Problems. I am big on player agency and realistic consequence, so I can't suddenly ignore the effects of that one character's decisions, but the alternative is not giving them any choices to mess up and keep them out of the action, which isn't fair either.

Now, sure, I understand that some people are all about the roll play and see characters as a kind of hat rather than an in-universe person with hopes and dreams and will to stay alive, but as I see it (knowing there might be reasons I can't see, but I can't even imagine them, that's why I'm asking), the only reason you'd join a game with that attitude would be to collect in-game rewards, e.g. clues, loot, and these players don't even seem to seek those out. I'm at a loss. I ask for goals and motivations, I get the character sheet or my own game intro read back to me, as though hooks relevant to the former haven't been offered or their only motivation is 'being in the game'.

My theory is these players come from a roll-heavy, highly linear play background - find ogre, kill ogre, loot, yay, you win - and are trying to branch out into investigative and less rigid games, but even if that's the case I don't know how to help them, and effectively playing their character for them, nudge by nudge...that's not great. Ideally I'd assign them as a sidekick to another PC, but not talking or sharing information unless prompted makes sufficient bonding to keep them with the active player hard. So...

- Are you such a player? What do you want from a game? How do I give it to you?

- Have you had such a player? How did you handle them? What worked best for everyone?

- Is this playstyle simply unsuited to more character-driven, non-combat-heavy games? If so, how should I find out and/or warn them at the pitch stage?
 member, 4 posts
Tue 26 May 2020
at 10:14
Advice: Passive Playstyles
I suggest that if characters are submitted as you have described, namely no hooks, no character of their own, and just echoing the rtj introduction, you exercise GM discretion with a polite "no thank you". If you have slightest sense that someone just needs a nudge or a hint, try to work with them, but if what you get back doesn't look like progress, don't let them in the game at all.
 member, 155 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Tue 26 May 2020
at 10:49
Advice: Passive Playstyles
Oh no, this is in game - maybe a downside of my incorporation of hooks into the RTJ. As in, they fill in the backstory motivation slot with something like "village burned down by local baddie; wants to avenge his father" and then when I say "...and in this village there's Susan the carpenter, Sanji the sage and Shady Steve who once rode with Evil Samantha The Hanged...what would you like to do?" Passive player responds "whatever the party are doing" unless I say "would you like to...talk to Steve?"

...whereupon I may well get "hi Steve, give me information", and because Steve is a bit-part but also treated like an in-world human being, he stares at the PC and goes "...what?" Or possibly to go elsewhere and procreate. Extreme example but I've had something very like that once.
 member, 1116 posts
Tue 26 May 2020
at 11:24
Advice: Passive Playstyles
This is quite tricky. On the one hand, it makes the game really tough. On the other, ultimately we want people to branch out if they want to. I'd start by talking to them about your issues. If they confirm that they're used to very linear games - like maybe some old DnD modules for example, and they're trying to branch out, tell them whilst you're willing to help them branch out, they have to help as well. Point out the hook is not just to get them in the game. Point out that to thrive in these kind of games, you really need to connect with their character.

If you have the time and inclination, you could offer to run them through a tutorial of how that kind of game works, before they join the main game, but I understand you may not have the time for that, and even if you have time, the motivation is only there if they're going to work with you.
 member, 59 posts
 There is no truth. There
 is only perception
Tue 26 May 2020
at 11:25
Advice: Passive Playstyles
I am glad you brought this topic up, I have been struggling with it for about a year now. My game doesn't relay on rolls as it is a freeform game, but with that said it needs PC interaction within group settings.

I put the needs in such dramatic form because I am not sure everyone who joins a freeform game understands that, I have one PC that I literary had to tell them if they didn't post they'd be removed from the game, I had to explain the game is "based" on reality, so in game decisions or actions will have consequences.  They push to play all sorts of things in the game and then watch from the sideline, but asks other plays to go off to do a "scene" with just them.

I decided my best course was to be direct, and monitor the player, if they continue to be the silent bystander I am going to be forced to eliminate them from game.

I have offered to help, I've put them in an area where it was just friendly talk and still the PC just remains silent or worse one sentence reply with no open dialog for the others with the PC.  I have a small game so it really depends on the ongoing dialog to remain alive.

I am not sure that was advice or me getting some frustration out.  Maybe the later, all I can say is to be direct to the player, it makes your role as GM harder for sure but I have laid down the consequence to the player of some of their actions, I maybe need to just come out and ask what they want from the game and maybe that might help me to help them.
 member, 5 posts
Tue 26 May 2020
at 11:46
Advice: Passive Playstyles
I think you're right Lauriebear; part of the problem is a certain kind of shyness - or apathy, or whatever the cause it - that leads people to have no agency when playing.  If it's face to face, you can generally nudge people along with a bit of peer group pressure, and anyway, if they get what they want out of it, it's easier to insulate the rest of the group from an over-passive player.

Online you get two problems that you don't get the same way face to face.

1) Two-hander pieces where a perfectly good player gets stuck with a lame duck, and can't make headway
2) Conflicts where you need to know what everyone is doing or intending before you can resolve.

The answer to number 1 isn't easy; it includes avoiding putting anyone in that position until you've established that all members of that group can pull their weight.

The answer to number 2 is more brutal.  If they've indicated that they are basically supine, kill them off.  A conflict which is social could result in ostracism (IC responses to a character being completely absent or utterly useless).  An economic conflict doesn't favour those who aren't taking the needed decisions when they are needed.  And of course in physical conflict, the result of freezing in combat (or being particularly uninspired) is typically death.

And don't let the player back in.  Not until they have demonstrated (preferably in someone else's game!) that they can bring some imagination and agency to the game.

I have (in the one game I'm running on this site currently) visibly different styles and levels of agency, but all of the players in that game push things along to different degrees.  I'll bend over backwards for someone who I think is trying, and struggling, but someone who is just a lump needs - like most lumps - to be excised.

This message was last edited by the user at 11:49, Tue 26 May.

 member, 826 posts
 My hovercraft
 is full of eels
Tue 26 May 2020
at 12:26
Advice: Passive Playstyles
One possible solution to a passive player is to throw the PCs a situation where the passive player has the requisite skills to solve the issue. Maybe a rogue needs to open a door, a tech needs to hack a security system, a bard needs to charm a beautiful yet stubborn maiden. This is their time to step up to the plate and do their thing. If they are unwilling to engage then why are they bothering to play? If they decline this opportunity then cut the player and offer the PC to a new player, or NPC them until you can remove the character from the game. If not you risk other players getting fed up with the lack of interaction and they may themselves leave.

Edit - I should say that it might be best to try to speak to the player first to understand their passiveness. You could even discuss a potential scenario that lets their PC step up. If they are unwilling to speak to you OOC in a PM then I would say donít waste your time.

This message was last edited by the user at 12:28, Tue 26 May.

12th Doctor
 member, 163 posts
 Laugh Hard. Run Fast.
 Be kind.
Tue 26 May 2020
at 13:40
Advice: Passive Playstyles
Does the PC know that they are expected to be proactive rather than reactive? You might try spelling it out for them. I've participated in games where the GM shut down anything that didn't fit into their specific mold of how they wanted their game to go, from character interaction to PC decisions to relationships, and others where the GM said nothing at all, so no one had any idea of what was expected or allowed. You might also site examples of what other players have contributed that you've found helpful. Mainly though, make sure the player has a clear line of sight to the guardrails, so they know exactly how much they can get away with.
 member, 156 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Tue 26 May 2020
at 14:49
Advice: Passive Playstyles
@ willvr: Thanks for the reminder about "tutorial" spaces - next time I have something active that's likely to be long-term I will definitely use that.

As for getting such players to engage in dialogue...on the one hand, that is very sensible, a good reminder for one case and the right thing to do, on the other, oof, that hurts my hopes for a longterm personal project that ran into one of these types like an iceberg. That's a whole 'nother post for elsewhere, but there are folks out there who think that an NPC remembering when you insulted said NPC and everyone like them is "railroading". Yep.

*ahem* @Lauriebear - I hear you on the small/niche game thing. Makes it really hard to drop rocks on people! Your one-sentencer sounds salvageable, though: teach them about the Conversation Ball or at worst stipulate on pain of banishment that every post needs to have something others can interact with and maybe you'll get a result. I might actually try the former on my current problem, since that's probably their biggest hurdle to useful interaction. Incentivising emotional indicators doesn't seem to have any effect - which is definitely a problem in a horror game, since if I don't know what makes a PC scared I can't make the player understand the stakes and y'know, have fun with spooks!

@Manywydhan - for 1) I generally try to get an NPC in there: that helps a bit for the other PC, though it still means me doing most of the work.

As for 2) I don't usually have the turnover (niche games, y'know?) to just go splatting folk, and I don't like to do that to characters, either - even abandoned PCs in my games get an equal opportunity among other NPCs to live or die by a dice roll rather than a whim. I don't want to punish active players whose characters have tried to bond to (or are just travelling in close proximity to) the passive PC by inflicting trauma for their efforts. I could work around that a few ways, but...last resort, for sure.

I would think that a lump wouldn't know they were a lump, or would have some reason for their lumpishness I wasn't picking up on and might be able to help with if I did. I'm a weird and awkward creature myself, so I don't want to exclude anyone for coming in at odd angles if I can help it.

Still, I am hopeful someone who plays like this might answer here - I saw one such player talk about their playstyle ages ago in a thread that got off-topic but never found it again, especially annoying as the poster after them had actually asked "what are you after?" and I didn't get around to the reply (I think I was sulking at having to explain basic intersectional decency to someone who should know better at the time).

@Jarodemo - Alas, this may work on shy players but not in any of the instances of passive playstyle I've encountered. Heh, at worst, I had a PC with high Persuasion skills start a dangerous physical fight in a delicate, Persuasion-needed-neon-sign situation I'd set up specially because they decided an NPC protecting a hostage from others in the hostage-taking group was lying (they weren't) without any kind of motive detection rolls and violence was required. I rolled with it well in the circumstances, but hm. Need to make sure that kind of case has the stakes for limelight but not so high it causes me a huge amount of background cleanup if they muff it spectacularly.

Ah, to have the player pool of popular settings. I will try to get my present issue something that favours their skillset, though, and then explicitly point them at it. Perhaps success will prove an encouragement.

@12th Doctor - They should do! I'm not always as clear as I think I am, so I could try again, but I'm very much not a railroader (throw tomatoes at that first example GM of yours, ugh) and often check in to be sure people aren't stuck/remember their items and skills/generally help. My hard stops and content expectations are visible at the RTJ stage and were agreed to, so...maybe it's too much choice for someone used to conveyor belt "hit this, get that", is all I can think of, but...like I said in the original post, reducing options to "A or B?" just seems to get a response like "yes" or picking every option I've drawn a circle over, sometimes mutually exclusive ones or ones in defiance of the information I have to go on about how their character should react (take Social-weighted PC above, for instance).

Any thoughts for catching these types when setting up? I doubt they'd be much of a problem in games with a different focus - I'd say they'd have more fun, but I have no idea what 'fun' consists of to these folk, so.

edit: language sounding less mean (I don't want to drop rocks on people), more heavily anonymysing (sp?) examples.

This message was last edited by the user at 15:43, Tue 26 May.

 member, 1583 posts
 Captain Oblivious!
Tue 26 May 2020
at 17:28
Advice: Passive Playstyles
Even in a sandbox style game, there need to be clearly defined objectives.   That group of first level characters might not be strong enough to kill Smaug, but what about when they're fifteenth level?   In my experience, players tend to be passive because they don't know what to do next.
 member, 389 posts
Tue 26 May 2020
at 18:06
Advice: Passive Playstyles
I've had some success with proactive players, so I'll throw in my two cents!

Passive play styles are just that, a play style, it's a habit they've developed, it's something they'll have to be nudged away from, either directly or indirectly. Keep in mind that giving a hard no will strongly push a player back towards being passive.

Tools to Promote Proactive Players:

Clear Decisions: Following up with what Hunter mentioned about clearly defined objectives. Some GMs will really dislike how I'm going to frame this, but I've found it works pretty well. Lay out the player options. Almost like a choose your own adventure novel, something like the following example:


Punch Him In the Face: You punch George in the face. He deserves it anyways. (Roll Attack Check)

Sneak Around George: It's not worth the fight, lets sneak past him. (Roll Stealth Check)

Set Everything on Fire: You're a murderhobo, embrace it.

The key with this model is to offer distinct options. Some GMs feel this method is too gamey, but I really don't see that as a negative, we're playing a game after all. When players feel like everything is an option it's easy to fall into analysis-paralysis, laying out options like this can take a lot of pressure off the players. Just make sure the options are distinct and keep in mind an option is meaningless if the player doesn't have some sort of idea of how things will go. (So saying "You reach a crossroads, do you go left or right?" is a pointless post since the two options that sentence are identical. Saying "Do you go left into the dreary swamp where there are rumors or ghouls or right into the mountains where a lot of climbing will be required" suddenly gives them a meaningful choice.

Don't make every single post a decision post, that would be a little much! But sometimes for complicated scenarios lay out options. And even then, still allow them to try something that wasn't laid out, or add their own wrinkle to it. If the choices are different enough it avoids feeling like railroading.

Guaranteed success: Jarodemo already touched on this, but not every encounter or approach to a problem requires a roll. If whatever they're attempting is going to succeed then just tell them that. "Yup, that'll work! No roll even required, you're awesome at persuading, describe how your character goes over the wall." This empowers the character to enjoy some narrative control.

Just keep in mind, the more proactive a player is encouraged to be the more narrative control is being given to them. Depending on how structure/unstructured the game is that's being played this could be good or bad.
 member, 157 posts
 Hopepunk with a shovel
Tue 26 May 2020
at 21:47
Advice: Passive Playstyles
Trust me, I do those! (but thanks, they're all good things to note.)

When on here I hate hate hate long spiels of OOC text in IC threads, though, so...I genuinely wonder if letting NPCs give out the options sometimes muddied the water some for one of the previous instances whom I don't think saw any characters as people. That would explain some of the more insane decisions, if every NPC was looked at as the GM in a hat rather than in-world people who're going to have their own objectives as well as a plot function. Not sure how to get out of that, though.

Even in a sandbox style game, there need to be clearly defined objectives.   That group of first level characters might not be strong enough to kill Smaug, but what about when they're fifteenth level?   In my experience, players tend to be passive because they don't know what to do next.

In the example given I'd have an NPC casually ask what the party had been doing and go "Oh, you defeated the Dread CR17 Critter? Quite a feat! Our village would reward you handsomely if you went and killed the local dragon for us..." Thing is, aside from working with Investigators (or just plain random people sucked into Things Beyond Mortal Experience) rather than Adventurers, in between fighting running away from feeple with shovels or tentacular critters trying to eat your face I rely on personal motivations for momentum/subplots in longer projects.

If Smaug gets defeated and Thorin just...stands there because I haven't reminded him it says on his sheet his main motivation was reclaiming the Throne Under The Mountain this post, and he gives the hoard to the first orc elf* who wanders up and suggests the option of surrendering the gold whilst the rest of the party are busy counting, that's my problem.

That all said, I do need to work on my pacing, loose-weave though my structure is (a necessity in anyone-can-die environments), and a better grip on that might help.

*These players can usually notice Team Bad hats if very obvious, but often forget the groups their character should be traditional enemies with.