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Thread: Ask a GM [10/16/08]: Shy Players

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    Ask a GM [10/16/08]: Shy Players

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    boulet asks,

    What techniques can a GM use to have the shy player at the end of the table play his/her role a little more?
    Robert A. Howard
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    Talk to your shy player and see why they are shy. Be tactful and don't challenge them as doing anything wrong. Just let them know that you've noted that they tend to sit back and participate less, is there anything you could be doing to encourage them to actively participate more?

    It might not be a shy player, but a bored player. Perhaps you aren't catering to their play style and they are just going through the numbers hoping you will figure it out? The easy way to find out is to just ask and initiate some open communication. Probably away from the actual gaming table -- you don't want to put them on the spot and create an awkward situation.

    Now, if they are actually just shy, talk to them a little about it and then start calling on them more in game for their input. Unless they indicate that this makes them very uncomfortable, it could lure them out into more active participation. As you begin to call on them with regularity they might develop a larger comfort zone and start to initiate on their own. It isn't likely to happen overnight, but it will happen -- provided you aren't making them uncomfortable.

    I think the keys to winning here are to be acutely aware of the person's response to your actions, and clean communication. If you are talking to them, and looking for points that they might be touchy on (and avoiding them) you should do OK.

    It's also entirely possible that they are just happy as is, which is why you should talk to them. There is nothing wrong with the enigmatic and silent hero type being played by an enigmatic and silent player. As long as it's not killing the fun for folks, it's not a problem that has to be fixed!
    Last edited by Grimwell; 09-21-2008 at 10:56 PM.
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    What I've generally seen used is to make that player the "leader/pseudo mastermind"-such as requiring that person having the Leadership feat-whether it be leading the party or a group of NPCs. Also, I would work on the person (or the party as a whole, to not "pick on" one person to do this) to create a background on their character, to maybe encourage some role play-like they were from Town A, and now the group is going there and the player knows someone at the Druid Grove that can help the party in general.

    For example-
    One campaign I was in, when I was realtively new and didn't say much, I was a leader of an evil group, where everyone in the party in effect my "advisors" and were a commander of a subgroup (like one was head our rogue/assasin group, another head of the fighters).
    There's nothing to fear except fear itself and, of course, the boogeyman.

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    If possible, make some situations that require the shy player's character to be the front person. Find something that only that character is able to do, so that the other characters aren't able to cover the needed action. With any luck, by having them be the one in the party that is able to resolve the situation, this will bring them around to being a little more proactive.

    Of course, another possibility would be to make shyness actually the way this character actually is. Just because someone is with a group doesn't mean that they are a person that is very outgoing. I'm just looking at the aspect that this is a role playing game. I don't ever remember reading that every character has to be very outgoing and always wanting to be noticed.

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    I think the key to encouraging "shy" players to more actively participate is giving them plenty of opportunities to do so. When the party is formulating a plan and the shy player is just sitting back and observing, take a moment to get them involved. Have the party discuss how their character will contribute to the plan and what their thoughts and opinions are about it. Ask them if there is anything that the party hasn't thought of or possible flaws that they didn't consider.

    Try to get each player engaging with the "shy" person (not all at once, but spaced out so as not to be overwhelming) through role play and by asking them for their input during the course of the session. This way, you'll help foster a better comfort level within the group and they may feel less intimidated about offering their active participation.

    Also, make sure the actions and decisions of "shy" players have meaningful and exciting results. By showing them that they can have a great impact on the game and the story, you are showing them that you want them to be engaged, that they are important. And try to give the player an occasional encounter or plot where they are the focus. The other characters are of course there to help out, but make it clear that it is the "shy" player's character whose decisions are the most important.
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    Handling shy participants in RPGs is really no different from handling shy people in any sort of social situation.

    There was an article recently on a website that offers advice for managers. Read the article, replace 'manager' with 'game master' and the advice is still perfectly useable.

    Here is the link.

    It's all pretty common sense stuff. Be a good listener. Respect them. Establish communication and try to make them comfortable. Get them involved. Set some clear goals.

    If they're having fun, they'll come around.

    Gary

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    Some players are not shy because they play a character who likes to stay in the background, but just are comfortable in the background themselves. I remember reading something about the "Watcher" playertype in the DMG of 4th edition.

    Maybe the person who is shy just doesn't like to play an important role, instead he is just here for the social event. In that case its best if you leave that person be . And you don't have to change anything.

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    That is a great question that I must comment on. As a DM for many years, I have, until recently, believed it was my duty to bring out the shy person.

    Recently, I have learned differently. People play our games for different reasons. Some love to act, some love the tactical aspects, and others, well some just love the math. But to each his own. The most important aspect of the game is to make sure people have fun.

    If the shy person returns to the table each session, they are obviously enjoying the game enough to return and play. They make great supporting cast for the players who are the hard core role players.

    The shy person is enjoying the acting that is happening in front of him or her. So let them enjoy it. Don't prompt them to get into the acting, just make sure that person has the opportunity to join in the acting. They will when they feel they need to be heard.

    My final comment here is there is such a thing as a shy character. So perhaps the shy player is simply role playing there character very well.

    If you insist on breaking the shyness, then there is always a good mixer. But that is another thread.

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    Just grin, bring them into the conversation with questions, low key it and listen to feedback. Some will open up when they get more comfortable, some you won't be able to shut up when they get their sea legs under them and some just like to sit and observe the confusion. Different strokes for all of us folks. Just don't try to make them be the kind of player you are if its going to be a forced issue for them. They won't like it and they will fade away. Some of the best comments and situations come from the quiet guy or gal who has been watching and thinking. Something I should do more often.

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    I agree, make them a part of the action. Encourage them to come up with a detailed character background and then use something from that as a major subplot.
    [comment about D&D 4E]I have to ask myself, am I just buying a name here? If I fell in love with a gal named Wanda ten years ago, does that mean that every new Wanda that comes along is going to be just as groovy?
    I like the old Wanda, This new Wanda looks like high maintenence.
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    I am extremely shy. I don't have a whole lot of tips to drawing me out, but here's what I know... It takes me a long time to become comfortable with a group. So early sessions, I'll probably hang back and just go along with the crowd. I have to study the rest of the group's interaction, see where I can fit in, and get used to these people enough to where I'm not afraid to talk and be myself. The longer the campaign runs, the more active I will become. So really, in my case anyway, the GM doesn't need to do much but give it time.

    The worst thing a GM can do is actually try to draw me out, by putting me on the spot (well, above what's necessary for running the game, anyway). When it comes to getting me to open up, I can spot a trick a mile away - I'll know if this was an attempt to get me out of my shell. If they're not careful, I will back off and become even more quiet, and it will take even more sessions before I start asserting myself.

    Of course, if you really want to help a shy player feel comfortable, encourage the rest of the group to show up naked. It kind of puts everybody on the same level, ya know? (Disclaimer: This paragraph should not be mistaken for actual advice.)

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    In the last couple of groups I was in that would have been a gruesome sight and justification for making it a play by long distance phone group, camera phones definitely off limits.

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    Shy Players

    I would first suggest that you find out more of what that person is interested in. For example, I might be a bit shy or timid are physics professors, but I would feel more at home around music professors. Roleplaying with all its rules and doctines can be intimidating if your not familiar with them. Move the game to include something that the person is very interested in and you will see the shyness go away.

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    I think most of it has already been said, but I might as well spill anyway.

    First. Is the player having fun? If so, then great. Does the player actually want to participate more? If no, wonderful. However, there may be ways to make the game more fun and make sure that they will tell you if it ever stops being fun or if they think of any ways to make the game more fun.

    Otherwise. What's the problem?

    Character concept. They accidentally made themselves a "strong, silent type" and are staying in character and can't figure out how to get out of it. Give the character a personality changing event (fall in love, bonk on head) or get a new character.

    New player in established group. Some people take a while to warm up to new people. Wait and it'll generally work out. You can make this player's character's Contacts, Favours and Backstory pop up a little more often than other players'. Recruit one of the other players to remember to ask "What do you think we should do?" when the group is in planning mode. If you know of any hobbies or areas of expertise that the actual player has you can try making these fields of interest relevant or prominent.

    Attention hog at table. If you have a player at the table who is particularly bombastic, or an overpowering personality, others, especially new players, may be avoiding a potential conflict. "Shut up! You're not even in this scene." might be a useful phrase. Similarly, never let a player dictate the actions of another's character. Ask the withdrawn player specifically; "Where are you?", "What are you doing?", etc.

    Not my favourite (genre/system/activity).
    Genre. The player might like science fiction. The game is fantasy. Maybe some steampunk elements might perk them up.
    System. There might be something in the mechanics of the game that is distracting, or irritating or confusing or off-putting or something else that is causing the player to become disconnected from the game. Converting the same story to another system might bring about a change.
    Activity. Player would rather be watching a movie or whatever, but, if this is what the group is doing, they'd rather hang out and do this than be at home alone. Not really much that can be done here, especially if the problem is with the base idea of pretending to be other people. Sometimes, experimenting with other genres can cause the player to take another view of the activity.

    Oh. And sometimes a little booze can help.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Farcaster View Post
    boulet asks,

    What techniques can a GM use to have the shy player at the end of the table play his/her role a little more?
    Kidnap them, let them find an important item or clue, and make them the focus of a high paced session. It worked for me...now she won't shut up. If that doesn't work, disfigure them. People never stay silent when you've just stabbed out one of their eyes.

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