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I am GM in a custom universe I created (medieval fantastic), and a player asked me if he could create a mute character. I refused because I was afraid it would be too hard to manage, and not fun for him to play. Not to mention that the system I use is very basic and does not handle such a case, so I cannot rely on it.

By mute I mean a character who cannot make sounds with his mouth/throat. There is no universal sign language in this universe.

More specific concerns:

  • I am afraid the player will not play as much as before. He is a good player with good experience, but he sometimes thinks that RP restrictions forbid him from acting in some situations (if he is not the most skilled person in the group in a specific issue, he will not participate in it). How could I encourage roleplaying of the mute character (just like you would encourage a warrior to do things by putting battles in the story)?

  • As a GM, creating a place in the story for that kind of character seems almost impossible. He won't be able to discuss his feelings or ideas with the other PCs and NPCs. As the stories I create are generally based on ethical discussions, information gathering from other characters, and are generally socially focused, I don't know how to give the mute character his own piece of the cake. How can I give the player challenges and rewards while he is unable to do anything that involves discussion in a mostly social story?

  • A character who cannot express its ideas in the group is a sad character. What means do I have as a GM, and does he have as a PC, to communicate with the group in a easy and direct way, to make it immersive yet enjoyable?

  • Finally, if possible, I would like to know if you have any experience with this. I would like to let the player try, but I don't want to ruin a whole campaign because of that decision.

EDIT : Regarding the answers

I accepted the answer because it displays the most practical advice, and experience, while covering all points of my question very carefully. The other answers here are still very good, and I suggest you look at all of them is you are in the same position as me.

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5 Answers 5

up vote 15 down vote accepted

I'm in a campaign with a mute PC named Kira (not played by me), and many years ago I played a mostly-mute-by-choice character of my own, named Secret. Generally, both PCs function(ed) well in the group, and their inability/unwillingness to speak never hurt the game. In fact, I feel that both characters made the game more interesting by introducing alternate RP experiences created by the lack of talking.

To address your main points:

Communication and Character Expression
The biggest hurdle with mute characters is basic communication with other PCs. Kira keeps paper and writing utensils handy, and often pauses to scribble notes. This means she's sometimes several steps behind the conversation when she does get her note written, but just as often, since her player says that she's doing so, the rest of us stop to wait for her. In combat, she uses basic gestures like pointing or shaking her head.

With Secret, I made liberal use of describing gestures and facial expressions. She wouldn't ask "What?", she'd raise an eyebrow. She wouldn't say, "Look over there," she'd just nudge and point. Despite my character being largely mute, I as a player usually ended up speaking as much as, or more than, the other players.

You say your player is "good", so he might already be prepared to do something like this. If not, it would be easy to suggest to him.

Discussions and Social Stories
Both Kira and Secret exist(ed) in roleplay/social-scene-heavy campaigns. As long as your player is willing to actually play his mute character (instead of using the character's muteness as an excuse to not participate, in which case you should find out why he doesn't want to play in the first place), then the character's lack of a speaking voice will not matter much. He'll find ways to communicate where necessary. And if he doesn't, then that in itself becomes a roleplaying opportunity.

For example, if the PCs have to decide whether to save the barkeep or the baker, and the mute player chooses not to participate in the discussion, then it's going to create a problem for him if the party chooses differently than he'd prefer. But if he chooses to interject with a "no no no!" gesture, or even just a skeptical look and a frown, then he can participate in the discussion just as well as the other PCs.

Large-Scale Social Scenes
How the mute character handles large-scale social scenes depends heavily on what type of character he is. Kira and Secret were both rogue/assassin types, which meant that it was expected by the other players and the GM that they would not necessarily be the ones doing the schmoozing in large-scale social scenes. That was left to the characters who'd chosen to play talkers/diplomancers. Then Kira and Secret could focus on doing things that didn't require speaking - although the fact that they weren't speaking didn't mean they weren't participating.

For example, Kira is perfectly happy - and it's in character for her - to simply smile politely, hang around at the edges of the crowd (or hide in the rafters without being "publically" there at all), and tell the GM that she's watching quietly for any threats or suspicious behavior. If/when she sees something, she'll then move to take action about it (such as warning the other PCs via a note, or simply dealing with it herself). She shapes the situation through actions when necessary, rather than by talking.

Secret was more likely to at least pretend to participate in a social gathering, although she, too, usually stayed out of the spotlight. She preferred to interact mostly with the other PCs, who already understood her "language" of gestures and facial expressions. For example, she'd let the other PCs talk to the important NPC, and make quiet insight or sense motive checks on the NPC or others in the area. Then she could relay the information via subtle means, such as a headshake, raised eyebrow, or simple hand signal, to the PCs who were doing the actual talking. When Secret did need to interact with NPCs, she could get a lot of mileage out of gestures and facial expressions without ever having to say a word. She charmed more than a few NPCs with the silent-and-mysterious schtick.

You don't say what class the mute character would be; I'm assuming something not focused on diplomacy/talking. If he's playing something sneaky, then these methods would work just as well for him. Likewise, if he's playing some kind of fighter type, then it's also easy to get away with being "strong and silent", and using skills or gestures to intimidate or otherwise influence NPCs by his physical presence rather than his words.

Working Behind the Scenes
Alternatively, and depending on how you as a GM feel about it, the player could have the character operate as more of a solo agent. For example, Kira often slips away from the group while the rest of us are talking, and handles small side matters that the rest of us may not have known about, like capturing the spy that was following us. Secret would occasionally walk away from a discussion about how to deal with a problem (such as whether to assassinate a corrupt noble), go deal with it her own way (assassinate the noble), and then return to where the other PCs were still arguing with proof of the problem being dealt with (the noble's severed head). This type of play, in turn, provided significant meaty RP opportunities for the group as a whole, as what had been a heated discussion about the ethics of assassination became an even more heated discussion about a) the ethics of assassination, Secret, what is wrong with you; and b) crap what do we do about it now?

GMing for a Mute Character
Basically, don't. Just run the game as you normally would. The player was the one who suggested playing a mute character; presumably this means he's got a plan in mind for how to do so. Don't try to accommodate his muteness - he either works around it, or you get to roleplay the ways in which it causes problems. And don't assume that his inability to speak means he can't play the character. Speech is not the only form of communication, and a good roleplayer can convey just as much (if not more) through other means.

TL;DR: Trust your player, don't pander to his muteness, and remember that communication does not only mean speaking.

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Thank you, that was very instructive. You did not detail the way you communicated with social heavy scene and NPCs (like a reception in a Mansion with 100 people...), where discussions are quick, and very complex. Did you face that kind of challenge ? –  Saffron Jun 17 at 8:07
    
We've experienced that a bit. I'll add a description to the answer. –  thatgirldm Jun 17 at 8:10
1  
@Saffron Added; let me know if that helps. Mostly, it sounds like you need to let go of the idea that speaking out loud is the only way to participate in a scene, and trust your player to find other ways to join in. :) –  thatgirldm Jun 17 at 8:35
    
I accept this answer because it displays the most practical advice, and experience, while covering all points of my question very carefully. The other answers here are still very good, and I suggest you look at all of them is you are in the same position as me. –  Saffron Jun 18 at 8:16

Very interesting question indeed. I experienced that (both mute and blind), although it was not decided by the player but set as a divine punishment by the god they annoyed (I was the DM, mythological universe).

So here is how I dealt with the consequences:

Blind

The player couldn't read anymore, he got a permanent debuff on sight-related skills (fighting, spotting). We discussed how we would roleplay that with all the players, it was agreed that I would describe everything as usual, and relied on him to ignore what his character could not know.

We considered the important things were told/described to him by the rest of the group without having to play that part (although they sometime played that part when it was funny).

The interesting part was when he was alone, where I'd make him to several sensing/hearing rolls to really highlight the fact that without his friends, he was severely suffering from his blindness. Also, the way NPC reacted differently to him (how depends on the NPC) and it was really interesting.

For the progress, he trained blind-fighting and recovered a part of his fighting skills (but by spending xp on it, by spending time), also I authorized him to gain more hearing skill that average human could (but again, he raised that skill over time). So in the end-game, he was not so underpowered compared to his former self and the rest of his party.

Mute

I simply forbade the PC to talk to other players or to NPC, until he bought ink, quill and paper. Here again, we decided not to slow the pace that if the situation allowed him to write things down, he would simply talk to other and we would consider he wrote that down. I just considered the time was passing way faster when they had complex conversation. If the player didn't know how to write I wouldn't have allowed that.

When he didn't have time to write or couldn't, I just made him do gestural signs or describe how he interacted with the environment to make his point. Having someone else with good psychology or skills related to understand corporal language could grant him the opportunity to give some hints about his goal. This was very funny and since he had paper most of the time, only happened at the right moment, when this action was fun or decisive and without slowing the pace too much for less 'important' parts of the game

EDIT: For the challenge and reward part, here is my opinion: having a social role and expressing oneself without talking is the challenge. The reward should be, with time, he gets more skilled at observing body language. Also, a mute won't reveal his secret under classical torture, and will be more easily trusted to do the dirty jobs (or anything that involves secrets, like someone's confession) especially if he hides the fact he can write, therefore, a mute character could "unlock some dialog options someone else wouldn't have".

Side note

I'm a mean DM, I don't care about rule equity so I only answered for the RP side of the coin, also in my case it was really a punishment, so I won't comment on the "take hindrance a char creation to get bonus point somewhere else" side.

EDIT: Just saw the update of the post, concerning the last point of ruining the campaign. Before accepting, think about how you could "cure" the character, and do that after discussing it with the player if it turns out it goes the wrong way.


As a conclusion, you should only agree to this with an experienced player with whom you already played, and you should make it clear it will be a strong debuff and the 'cons' will overcome the 'pros', but if he's interested in it then why not? If you are interested in this idea, try to prepare some special events/NPC which will allow this character to shine: even the rest of the group will be proud if their companion's hindrance turns out to be an asset in some situation.

You should also discuss with the whole group about how far his hindrance should be ignored when he has a way to overcome its main consequence. In my mind, the key is: if it's important or during a fun roleplaying scene, pay attention to his hindrance; for the rest, ignore it.

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2  
Muting a mage = ouch! –  BЈовић Jun 16 at 14:41
    
It really depends the universe, but I guess when it's crucial it's like chopping the hand of a fighter.. don't unless you know what you are doing. But this should rather go in a "how to handle PC mutilation" thread... –  Dargor Jun 16 at 15:13

First let me say that one of my best friends is deaf/mute in real life, and I've played Dungeons and Dragons and other RPGs with her on several occasions. We speak sign language, but a lot of the time she writes, draws or acts out what she intends to do. It actually adds a wonderful element of physicality to the game, and our sessions get pretty intense. If my ACTUALLY deaf friend can constructively participate in the game, I'm sure your player will have no problem pretending to be mute.

It sounds like your player is asking you this because he is looking for a new roleplaying challenge. If that's true, he's probably already put some thought into how to play a mute character. Letting it happen definitely won't disrupt the game, and will likely provide some interesting story hooks and roleplaying opportunities. I say go for it. It sounds fun.

How you handle it as a GM depends on how much you want to lean on the rules, and how much you want to focus on performance.

If you want to lean on the rules, it's fairly easy to use bluff, innuendo, sense motive, or some similar observation/communication based skill to simply allow the player to speak to other players with a high enough roll. This will get tedious and boring really fast, though.

On the other end of the spectrum, you can disallow the player from speaking at the table altogether, and have him write any words or deeds that he can't describe in pantomime on a pad of paper. This might take too long, especially for routine situations like combat.

Your best bet is probably somewhere in between. Use a combination of writing and charades in communication situations, and allow the player to describe his actions when game mechanics are involved.

I'd definitely sit down with the player, find out how he wants to handle this, and ask him some questions about his character's past. Why is he mute? How has it effected his psychological development? This will help you come up with plot hooks that will involve this character and potentially make him useful.

Basically, yeah, do it! It'll be awesome!

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I've played two mute characters on different occasions for a long time (both about a year with nearly daily plays), but both were textbased RPGs (one in a forum, the other using a chat). So I've got some experience playing one, and perhaps can tell you a bit from the point of view of your player.

Try it out
The first thing I'd suggest is that all of you (you and your players) sit down and try it out for a few game sessions. Since the game is from all of you for all of you I think it should be okay with all of your players. They could be biased and if one of your players is uneasy playing with a mute character you and the player should think about making another character.

Communication
The main problem while playing a mute character is the communication. While writing the actions of a character it's relatively easy to hide the intentions of an action within the narrative, it's way more difficult to get them across with just facial expressions and gestures. On the other hand you have facial expressions and gestures which sometimes tell way more than thousand words.
Besides gestures and facial expressions you can communicate with written words. That's cool and since you're playing in a medieval setting paper can be hard to come by. So that's a good way to limit interaction and giving the player of the mute a challenge. But if they aren't staying in an Inn or in a town there is still mud/earth and some twigs to write ;) (Bonus Points for NSCs who can't read)

Interaction
It can be difficult since sometimes the possibilites to communicate are to few. Imagine a dungeon with stone walls and floors, the inkwell broke after a fall and you have no plate of slate for writing. How should the character interact with others? Short answer: He can't.
BUT (and that's the fun part) he can after some time. Imagine your whole playergroup decides to take him along and everyone is paying attention. They grow together and the mute builds his own sign language the others of the group understand. Once that is done, they're all closer (ingame at least ;) ).

My own experience
From time to time it can be frustrating playing a mute character. Both wore their feelings on their face, so to speak, and weren't beyond kicking someone if he didn't understand what they were trying to tell them.
But it was also fun as hell. Since I was writing their responses I could incorporate their thoughts that were ironic from time to time. That and the actions (one of them was kind of a jester) were fun to write and fun to read for the other players. Its possible to do that without writing, but a bit more difficult.

Conclusion
If you trust your player you should all try it out. It can be rewarding for him to tackle such a challenge, and it can be rewarding and fun for all of you.
It's difficult, yes, and that's why you should think carefully about it. But don't dismiss it directly.

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I have played a mute character before, albeit in a Play-by-Post game. The GM and I handled it by my posting the gestures the character was making with his intended message at the bottom in an OOC bumper and then using the Innuendo DCs for a Sense Motive check for people to figure out what he was saying. There was no Bluff check because he wasn't really trying to hide anything. It relied on the players separating character knowledge from player knowledge since I had the script at the bottom, but it ultimately worked for us, and I personally found it very interesting to try to convey myself for more complicated messages.

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