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I DM for a group with a guy who always suggests leaving the dungeon, area, or wherever the party is. It seems like no matter what I try or do to the setting he just won't relax and play the game – he is always telling the party to run from everything and even to leave a dungeon because of a particularly tricky trapped door.

I don't know what to do about it and it would be a shame if the party broke up because he could not get into it. Is there anything I could try to get him interested?

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well I have been talking to everyone in the party, and it seems that the whole adventure got off to a rocky start, I had each player tell me about their characters and why they would take up the call. the only person who had no clue how to answers was my "problem" player, after we worked out why the character was there he seemed to be more interested in the adventure and and the character is now invested in the story. thank you for the suggestions they were helpful. –  Rent_ZHB Feb 12 '11 at 5:57

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When I run into this situation it is usually from a lack of context. The player doesn't feel his character has any reason to be in the situation they are in. The issue is more subtle than not liking the adventure's premise. The issue is that the player as his character doesn't feel any connection to the premise.

The way to overcome this is to give the player a reason for his character to care other than the obvious motivation of adventure, treasure, have been ordered too, etc. The way to do that is to give each character the context in which they exist within the setting. By working with the player and selecting background elements you give them natural motivations for going adventuring.

Think about the setting in which your campaign takes place. Come up with some ideas on the cultures (including those of different races), organizations, religions (the culture that surrounds the worship of a deity).

Then sit down with each players, including the "problem" player, and work with them on creating a background using the above as the context. It doesn't need to be long, a page of notes will be enough. Start this off with the player expressing in general terms what their characters wants to be and do. Then present alternatives from your setting that players can choose. Go back and forth exploring alternatives until both of you are satisfied that you have an interesting background. While you do this for each player individual as a whole manipulate the process so that there are natural reasons for them to be together.

For your problem player, this will provide not only compelling reasons to go on adventures but also natural allies for him to rely on and enemies for you to craft adventures around. Perhaps he associated with the Temple of Light and knows that if push comes to shove he can get a good rate on healing or even raise death.

Also by providing connections between the different players you have the players doing some of the work for you in keeping the problem players going in the adventures. In tabletop and live-action roleplaying I know several normally cautious and timid player do amazing things because a friend or shared goal was involved.

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Well, it's kind of a dirty trick, but you could always just let him run away, particularly if you think the other characters will not go with him.

If he decides to go it alone, he may encounter a trap or other hazard on the way out of the dungeon. Or he may get out just fine (the player then has to just sit around or go home while the rest of the party keep playing) and when the character meets back up with the others, they all get to show him all the cool lootz he missed out on. "Gee, this sword would have been PERFECT for you, man, but I think I'm going to keep it. I can't use swords, but I really like the cool design on the hilt."

Ultimately, the motivation for a player should be to play the game. If he's truly role-playing a coward, then that's great, and he's doing a nice job. But even the coward character, in-game, should begin to see that cowardice usually doesn't pay very well, in glory, treasure, or much of anything else. Same goes for player enjoyment of the game. So let him run and see how fun it is.

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Has this worked out for you very well in your experience? It seems like this relies on the other players being jerks, which may backfire in terms of getting the player of focus into the game. –  doppelgreener Oct 31 at 23:02

A few possibilities:

  1. Maybe he is playing his character? I have to admit, I've always wanted to play some over-the-top coward, especially if the other PCs were in on the gag and were over-the-top brave. I'd talk to the player about maybe "cowboying up" a bit.
  2. Maybe he feels that the party is tapped out, ready for a rest; and you (the DM) think they are ready to go. I'd poll the other players to see what they think the state of the party is. In a recent adventure I DM'd. I felt the players were walking all over the monsters I threw up in front of them, and they felt they were getting walked all over by the monsters (the players were unanimous on this point). The solution is to ratchet down the challenge or let them sleep and regain some HPs, spells, etc.
  3. Problem player is uninterested, or would rather be doing something else. By this I mean that either he is thinking "we shouldn't be in NY, we need to be going to LA to kill the Bad Guy of Horrendousness", or maybe he is thinking about a plot line that is more catered to him.
  4. After thinking for a while, it also occurs to me that maybe there is a style clash. One of you wants a very strategic/tactical game, the other wants a very dramatic and political game where there is the very real possibility that the dice get rolled only a handful of times by anyone in the party. I know in games where the other players explore their darker sides (which I don't want to play, period), I tend to try to muck up whatever the party is trying to do to derail the evil plot and work back towards a less than evil storyline.
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I can think of a couple possible things that could contribute to this.

  1. The player's just not invested in the game and is acting up or otherwise doing stuff just to amuse himself.

  2. You really are running a killer game that makes this behavior reasonable. If you're using "Grimtooth's Traps," for example, I'd leave the dungeon too.

  3. This is where the "older brother" aspect may be relevant, though you can see it from about anyone - he may be doing this deliberately to manipulate you into making the dungeons "easier" or otherwise changing the game to his taste.

  4. He is playing his character, and between him picking a character without good reason to be involved and maybe you not providing a good reason for his character to be involved, when the going gets tough he gets going. @RSConley explains this and what to do about it well in his answer.

As in most situations like this, I am not sure why you need to guess and get the population of the Internet to guess along with you when you could just ask the actual player. "Hey man, why does your character keep running off?" If he says "Because my character looks out for number one" it's the character investment problem. If he says "Your dungeons are just too hard man, it's not fair" then it's either really too hard or him trying to manipulate you into being a pushover. If he gives you a big ol' wedgie it's probably because he's just acting up to mess with you. Et cetera.

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Heh. I'm used to fearless PCs. My players are so used to D&D and have experienced so much character death, that it's damn near impossible to get them to run away.

Why is the group fighting? What are the doing in the dungeon? Have you given them a reason to kill something or did you just put a monster in front of them? If it's the latter, try the former.

Here's a dead simple example. Your PC is a fighter who grew up on a farm and whose parents were slain by orcish raiders. Now he has the chance to get revenge against the same tribe of orcs. This is personal. It's something that he'll most likely want to do (although there are always exceptions). Vengeance is a good reason for this character to risk his life in combat. Fighting for the sake of fighting is not. Give them a reason to kill.

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I am not sure if that is the actual reason why his character is the one that wont's to run, but it might be part of it he is playing a Drifter someone who looks out for number one. –  Rent_ZHB Feb 9 '11 at 5:45

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