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Game is DnD 3.5, not that it matters.

So, yeah, she is playing an Elf Rogue and she is like a ghost during the game.

In the last session, the party was searching for a guy and some Halfling told them that they can meet at midnight and he will take them to this guy. They went to the tavern and waited until it's midnight. The Ranger went early and climbed a tall building to check the surroundings. Wizard and Druid went to the meeting point, and when I asked Rogue what she wanted to do, she said "I go to sleep". I was like "Okay, you go to sleep" and then she literally went to sleep. LARPing at it's finest.

It happened one more time too. There was a lot of talking going on for some time, with PCs tying up two suspected Necromancers and trying to figure out who was the bad guy, and she just went to sleep.

While talking on our Whatsapp group, I was telling the players that I thought of something new. After each session, every player will award someone XP for good roleplaying, being active, etc. And I joked about trying not to award those who fall asleep during play. She suddenly got sensitive about my joke. Anyway, after that, I told the group to throw the old character sheets to garbage because there was a lot of stuff to update. and she said "I don't want XP. I'm sleeping during play anyway. I also lost my old character sheet."

Even when she plays, she is pretty much disinterested all the time. During combat, when she rolls one or two bad attack rolls, she is like "Well, I can't hit anyone anyway" and it's like we almost force her to roll the die. Then she starts playing with her phone while others make their move.

That's pretty much it. She still cares to come to the sessions at least. I'm setting up a quest about her character's background. If that doesn't work, I don't know what else I can do. I don't want to kick her out of the group but things are going in that way. It just downs everyone else in the group and kills the mood.

So, how do engage an uninterested player? If all fails, how do you deal with her?

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8 Answers 8

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Is she dissatisfied?

Is she upset by this situation? Does she desire greater involvement, or would enjoy more if there were something different about the game? Or does she like her low level of involvement?

There is no way we can answer these questions. They are questions for her. Talk to her, ask her straight out. She may be just fine with things the way they are; her level of involvement may be all she wants. She may prefer to be there for the camaraderie and social interaction, to be a part of the group, more than for the game itself. Or, there may be very different things she wants from the game, which she doesn’t know how to bring up or is too shy/polite to do so. Those are important things to know.

Here, I strongly recommend the Same Page Tool. It’s a great way for groups to get, ahem, on the same page. It will help frame the question of what she wants and what the game is actually providing and how those things differ.

If she’s comfortable: does it negatively affect anyone else?

If she doesn’t want more involvement, is that acceptable to the group? Or does the character who is apparently silent and uninvolved most of the time occasionally piping up cause breaks in immersion?

Again, questions for you and your group. I, myself, for whatever reason just did not get very involved in a game recently. As a group, we decided it was OK for the character to “check out” most of the time, with me only adding in quirky one-liners and tossing out the occasional spell in combat. It fit the character, and the group was OK with it.

In a different game with a different group and as a different character, I may not have gotten away with that. I most likely would have dropped out graciously, since I just wasn’t getting into the game. She may as well, or she may agree to some compromise, to try harder to get involved.

If she does want more, can you reach a compromise that will give her more opportunity to engage?

If there are things she wants from the game that she’s not getting, can you offer more of them without disrupting the game? Or are they incompatible with the game that you and the rest of the group want to play?

Once again, questions for you and your group. Be upfront and honest here; no one wants to waste time on a game that is frustratingly not providing the experience you want, and it won’t improve your game. But if possible, assuming she is a friend/you enjoy her presence in the game, compromise is a good thing. It’s entirely possible that what she wants is easy enough to provide, or a good idea in any case, or something the rest of your wants as well unbeknownst to you.

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Last game, I tried to bring her into the game by introducing some elements from her backstory. It seemed to work, and she seemed immersed a little. But after a few minutes. She went to sleep again. Maybe that's just how she is, contributing when she feels like it and such. I just find an excuse to put her character out of the game when she loses interest anyway. I think her character will eventually be underpowered compared to rest of the characters and she will eventually leave the game. Not much to do about that. I already have other problems to deal with really. –  OnlyD20CanJudgeMe Apr 19 at 20:09
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@OnlyD20CanJudgeMe It was tangential to my answer, but I cannot stress enough how much I think “punishing” her for not being as involved is a terrible idea. It clearly isn’t going to work, since she’s ignoring it, and it will cause you serious headaches down the line as the level difference becomes significant. A single level in 3.x is huge. Two, massive. Three, basically a gap that’s just about unbridgeable, barring wildly different optimization levels. –  KRyan Apr 19 at 20:51

I've had variations on this kind of player and even have someone similar presently. Definitely try to have a conversation with this player - advice snippet #1 whenever player issues come up here. As why they are there, what they are looking for in a game, even ask if you or any other player is doing anything they dislike.

However! You and the game may not be the issue. One time I had a friend who frequently showed up to game and slept through sessions. He loved the saga, the people, the game but simply had so much on his plate outside of game that if he stopped moving he would start to doze. The game itself was big enough that it wasn't crippling and we were just happy that he didn't go AWOL.

Additionally, I've had the occasional player going through personal traumas and even showing up to game was an emotionally taxing or otherwise motivationally difficult. Being among other people was a way for them to not stay home and despair/obsess over their troubles even if their decorum fell short.

Regardless of the reason if a player tends to be unreliable as a presence within the game I plan the game for the full party numerically (scaling where appropriate) and keep stuff targeting the unpredictable player more optional in case they aren't socially present. This is presuming you can't find a way to make the game engaging for them. RP XP can be a great cornerstone but do make sure that you count it towards the player's ability. Almost every game I've attended from any role has had people that demand spotlight and others that try but have no idea what to do as an actual person to control their character. So perhaps if you do RP XP, use a growth column too. I can see how your player may have seen your offhanded comment as a snipe, and it may be worth clearing up with her.

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This is very similar to the experience that I've had recently. I enjoyed the game, the characters, the people, but just couldn't really get into it and frequently became distracted; simple fact of the matter was that I didn't have the energy to get involved due to real life. –  KRyan Apr 18 at 1:26

Lets start out with the good things: People don't go to sleep in hostile environments, it's evolutionary unwise to do so and basic survival is still in our genes. So if she does sleep at the table, she trusts you. Not a bad start.

There are a lot of reasons why people are detached from the success of their actions, but the most common reason is that it not their actions from the start. At work, people are incredibly invested in a project if you let them have a say about it. And they become frustrated and bored when their input is ignored.

I'll take a guess and say she is there with her boyfriend:

Then she starts playing with his phone while others make their move.

Make sure that she is actually playing her character. That means her character. And she must play it. All alone. I have witnessed all too many roleplaying groups where the girlfriend of a veteran gamer was present. He made an optimized character for her, he told her at every step what the best action was. But that's not roleplaying. That's watching your significant other playing a second character with your name attached. And if someone else plays a character thats not even your character to begin with, I'd probably go to sleep, too :)

Most of those gamer girlfriends became very interested once they actually played the game. It happens when their boyfriend is away or you are preparing a one-on-one adventure before she starts so she can learn the game or even if your whole group starts a new game and her experiences are as good as everyone elses. I'd say ask her about it and give it a chance. I don't think she's out there with you to catch some sleep.

I suggest you pick a game that is good for learning roleplaying. Most veteran gamers games are complicated and come with a lot of backstory. That can be frustrating and boring if all at the table know the details and you don't. Also, make sure she knows there is more than dice rolling, rolling good or bad should not determine if you are having fun or not.

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Haha, no that was just a typo. We are all friends there. Like, normal friends with no crushes or anything :) Sorry for the confusion. –  OnlyD20CanJudgeMe Apr 18 at 13:11

My wife does that. She doesn't really join the game to play. She's there because she likes the story and she likes the company. The character is just there as a camera.

You haven't mentioned her relationship with any of the other players. Is she someone's girlfriend or sister? Why is she even there? How did she get there? If you kick her out (or some similar 'punishing' action), it could damage the morale of another player. Her presence might still be good for the game, much like the soda and chips you bring into the game.

She could be a little shy. Don't force her to engage the game. A personal talk with her could help - maybe you can give her a passive plotline, like being a damsel or something.

If she wants to be a passive player, you can even develop that part of her character. A rogue you say? Encourage her to level up her stealth skills. And let her do nothing. She could just play that creepy character who follows everyone around and does nothing.

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I've seen this in practice as well, and it can be ok as long as everyone is on board with the situation. –  C. Ross Apr 18 at 12:47
    
Well, the thing is, she isn't even paying attention to the game. She is not even using her character as a camera. I see her playing with her phone when an important discussion is going on, and when I take a peek, I see her playing some stupid game. Not only it kills my motivation, it kills the mood for the players as well. When I look back at all the greatest sessions we had, I see that the players were immersed only when she wasn't at the table. –  OnlyD20CanJudgeMe Apr 18 at 13:16
    
Ha, ok, misunderstood the situation then. Maybe it's best to remove her from the table if it is killing the mood. –  Muz Apr 18 at 14:11

So to add to some already great answers, here are my 2 cents.

Talk with her

The first thing that you should do is to talk with her. Through this conversation you should get the info about both why she doesn't show interest while also getting the sparks that you'll need in order to adjust the game more to her liking. It doesn't mean that you must take those steps, but you have to know them first.

It is also a great opportunity to show her that you care for her enjoyment. Many a player that I've encountered shows similar ways of behaving when their GM (me or others) didn't show enough attention to them for their liking. Maybe by helping her to know that you care enough for her enjoyment she will start to show more interest.

The last benefit is that she may tell you about problems and the like that she's too shy to tell near the other players. Maybe she feels that you don't hear her, or that they overshadow her or that they're telling her what to do and she doesn't want to tell it when they are present. This is a great opportunity for her to do so.

Look at the group dynamic

That last paragraph leads us to this section: Look at the group dynamics. By that I mean that you should look at who is taking charge and about what comments are being addressed more or more commonly hear. Many female gamers that I've encountered felt that because they were female gamers the male counterparts felt that they should help her to get the mechanical maximum of her character, many a times up to the point of controlling her character. To counter this problem, many of them showed behavioral habits that derailed the game down, just because they couldn't cope with this player agency problem.

More than that, it is possible that if she wants something completely different out of the game than her counterparts want, she won't show much interest in the other parts of the game. Part of the group dynamic thingy is to see where each and every player shines, where each and every one of them shows the highest amount of interest. Then, you can make more of these moments.

Show other facets of the game

Maybe your game has too many combats, for example. Sooner or later the other players will feel uninterested too. By showing them other facets of the game you both rewind the game, bringing new opportunities to shine and the like, while also helping the players to find what parts of the game they like best. Try to have in every session 3 to 4 completely different types of encounters at the very least and I truly believe that you'll immediately see differences in the levels of enjoyment of the entire group. At least in my groups, it made everyone more interested in the games, as even those who only liked the battles appreciated them more (thus, enjoying them more). More than that, some of them even found that they prefer NPCs interrogation scenes, for example, more interesting than those battles.

Think about what type of the game you want

At the end, this is also something that you should consider. Even if she wants something else from the game, unless it fits the game and what the entire group wants out of it, you should consider just saying to her that you can't really change the game and maybe she should not play within it. If you have the time, the will, and enough players with the same drives, maybe start a new group where she'll be able to play the way she likes, the way that interests her the most.

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You are doing good as a DM by trying to do stuff that interests her. It sounds like she doesn't want to participate in the game anymore, ask her about it. Usually talking about it with the person involved helps towards a solution. If she doesn't want to play anymore, don't force her to. You can easily integrate the character's departure into your adventure.

Good luck!

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Well, the opening question was:

So, how do engage an uninterested player? If all fails, how do you deal with her?

Breaking in two parts:

So, how do engage an uninterested player?

Learn there interests first off. I think that is simple enough to state but can be difficult to carry through with. You need to know why that person is coming weekly/biweekly to the game and what they are getting out of it. I've run games for 20+ years and I do not cater to any one player because it ostracizes other players; this removes group/team effort. However, you do want to include every player as we all know, so find out why that player is coming to the table. They may just be there to support a friend, and if this isn't detrimental to the game then so be it. However this sounds detrimental to the game if it is distracting other players and it is wearing on you; it takes a lot of energy to run a long campaign, or even a 4-6 hour game so don't sell yourself and your time short.

If all fails, how do you deal with him/her

I expect my players to Bring IT, IE play the character. I will provide hooks/events/reactions and the world at large, but if you are not playing your character then we aren't role-playing; I might as well read some Clash of Kings to the table. If the player is not interested in the game, ask them to find a game they are interested and have fun there. One of my friends coined a phrase I commonly use now "Welfare Hobby System". I am not a welfare hobby system, if you do not like what the group has decided to do, and you cannot commit yourself to a compromise, then please find another game you do like and don't ruin ours. I've asked players in the past to "step it up" or reconsider why they are coming. I've brought up concerns and how they may be negatively affecting the game, and adult reactions usually occur. When childish reactions occur, you suddenly learn something about a person you may have overlooked or didn't want to see. Either way, my hobby time and the time of my friends is not a welfare system to be suckled on by others. Some friends and I play DnD, others play Warhammer, others play Deadlands, it all depends on the circle. If the DnD people are not enthused to play Warhammer, they dont show up and mope around or distract people rather they see the Warhammer people during BBQs or other social events and we do other stuff.

In short, don't sacrifice a good game for one person. Find out why they are showing up, what they want out of the experience, and if what they want is compatible. Then you make the decision of compromise or excuse them from the game.

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First, kudos for a fascinating question.

Game is DnD 3.5, not that it matters.

Actually, it might.

Another responder linked a newbie-friendly roleplaying question. It's possible that the mechanics of a game may get in the way of a player's expectations or such. I can see how the mechanics of, say, Hasbro's latest tabletop-"MMO"s get in the way of my having fun, so perhaps it's possible for something similar for 3.5 and her.

... and when I asked Rogue what she wanted to do, she said "I go to sleep". I was like "Okay, you go to sleep" and then she literally went to sleep. LARPing at it's finest.

There might be two ways to approach this. One is for the other players to not be so independent and to talk as a group and do things together. It sounds like they are quite experienced. The other is for you to ask (something like) "are you sure?" or make small suggestions to inspire her. Maybe she just doesn't know what to do. It does feel like she's not really in her character's head.

I'd hope that the other players pull her in with their plans more often and for them to feel just as responsible for one another being engaged as you do. It's really not all on you.

And I joked about trying not to award those who fall asleep during play. She suddenly got sensitive about my joke.

You were mean. Pulling her to the side on a non-gaming-day and talking with her may have been a better way to communicate what you feel is her lack of participation.

I've done xp based on participation, where every player really had to fight for their xp. It was fantastic because it engaged us all, and although we never knew what other people got for xp it did give us a superiority-thrill. I definitely wouldn't recommend this in an environment where some players are less active than others.

Even when she plays, she is pretty much disinterested all the time. During combat, when she rolls one or two bad attack rolls, she is like "Well, I can't hit anyone anyway" and it's like we almost force her to roll the die.

This is part of the hassle of roleplaying for newbies.

I know some people who are lucky all the time, and some who are lucky in specific circumstances. It's odd. For what I've seen, what really catches people's attention and makes them pay attention to their rolls is the fight between predicting what they're going to roll based on trends and what they actually roll. I know some players who are amazing with hit rolls but crap with damage rolls. We joke about that all the time.

Does she own her own dice? If not, hand her a (new!) set as a gift. There's a perception of a personal bond between a player and their dice. I don't know how to explain it, but I've seen this help players work out their issues with luck.

Then she starts playing with her phone while others make their move.

This is difficult to say no to, but it does have to stop. I don't think I'd recommend banning it, but this would definitely be a useful sign to see how engaged she is at any particular moment.

That's pretty much it. She still cares to come to the sessions at least.

I think that's a positive sign.

I'm setting up a quest about her character's background. If that doesn't work, I don't know what else I can do.

I don't feel that would work. It feels like there's some undercurrent which needs to be addressed. Try it though.

I don't want to kick her out of the group but things are going in that way. It just downs everyone else in the group and kills the mood.

In my elitest days, the environment I ran would have had her either quietly drop out or ragequit. I don't like the old me. Her bringing the other players down is horrible, and the strongest reason to remove (or improve) her. Still, she deserves a chance and a chat.

So, how do engage an uninterested player? If all fails, how do you deal with her?

"deal with her" is probably your biggest hurdle.

Maybe spin the problem as "I have a player who isn't engaged like the others, what can I do?"

--

I also want to mention how deep-rooted my bias is regarding female roleplayers. I'm quite aware of it, and working on it, and this question made me struggle a great deal. Others asked about her relationship status to others in the group. I didn't even realize that was in the back of my head before reading those comments. Hopefully my spinning the problem at the end here shows how I perceived it.

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Edition/system warring is likely to drive your questions down; we don't care for that much here, even when they are on-point, accurate, and relevant, which yours are not here. Even if we buy that it's accurate to describe newer editions of D&D as "tabletop-MMOs," it's not really relevant here. I suggest removing it; the rest of the answer is quite good. –  KRyan Jul 23 at 14:27

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