I have been playing D&D for a couple of months now, so I'm still a bit new on the whole being a GM thing. :)

Recently, I had an adventure with my regular group and we kind of fell into a discussion about using props, since I like to incorporate some of the ingame skills into real-life by administering some tests amongst other things. This is all in good fun of course, but one of the players has complained intensely about this, while the rest of the group didn't seem to mind and even more so likes it.

As example, I let them drink from really old goblets I bought since all of them drank a potion at some point (regular soda or juice or something), the bard in the story had to sing a song (since I know the player can sing in real life as well and isn't shy to do so).

Yet despite all of this, I got a lot of resentment and had to skip these things in order to save our adventure from being ruined...

So I guess the question(s) is / are:

  • Do I give up my love for pulling players into the adventure this way?
  • Or do I suggest the team to let this player go?
  • Can I pull players into the adventure in some other way which is preferred by most ?

I don't really know if using props is something that players usually like or rather avoid, I wanna make sure I do the right thing here.

If my question isn't clear or needs to be altered I'll be glad to do so, I'm trying to pose correct questions, so let me know if I'm doing something wrong here :)

  • \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon et al--since OP's indicated they're trying, and we can see by rep they're inexperienced, I suggest you go ahead and make a substantial-ish edit. Go ahead and show OP what you mean, and they can accept, improve, or reject. (See also this comment on Meta.) \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    May 31, 2017 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ And a Reminder: comments are for clarifying content, not helping solve the asker's problem, and problems include when they're labouring under a misconception. (See also How do we handle it when the asker's problem is just that they're confused?) \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can you be more specific on the types of things the player in question is having issues with? Someone not used to 'acting things out' will usually be uncomfortable with say, singing out to the group, or even physical contact with another player/GM. Also I'd like to mention physical and emotional limitations that individuals could have that would prevent them from doing some task or action. [This could single that person out] \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 15:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would remove the Dungeons-and-dragons tag... This question feels much more generic than game specific \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 15:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ From this question, it seems that props and having players do things/act things out, are two different problems. Is it the props the player complains about, is it the sing/act bit, or is it both? That is unclear to me. Also, how many players total are in this group? \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 16:42

6 Answers 6


One of the reasons people play RPGs is to (pretend to) do things that they can't in real life. If I picked up a sword, I'd have even odds of injuring myself more than the other guy; but, in an RPG, I can play a Fighter who wields a sword with aplomb. I may not be able to tell an enthralling story, but, in an RPG, I can play a Bard who can keep an audience enraptured for hours.

Player and Character skills are different. Requiring that players do "stuff" in the real world in order to activate their characters' abilities (aside from whatever the rules require) severely disadvantages players who are playing characters with strengths that don't overlap with their players'.

Note that this is different from encouraging the player to be specific in what they're trying to do. "I roll diplomacy against the guard" is different from "I try to imply to the guard that letting us through is for the greater good, even if it's technically against their orders"; the former is okay (for most people, at least some of the time) while the latter is great. The problem comes up when the GM requires the player to put that implication into words in order to roll Diplomacy (or uses the player's words to modify the result of the roll) - a player for whom subtlety is difficult shouldn't be punished for playing a character who can play people like fine violins.

I suspect that the player who is expressing resentment is feeling harmed (or, at least, limited) by having to try to do things in the real world in order for their character to do them in-game. You mentioned having the Bard sing a bit: I've got several friends for whom Bard would be entirely off-limits if they had to sing (well) to Inspire Confidence. If your resentful player wants to do awesome stuff in-game but feels that they can't do it well enough in the real world for their character to have a chance of succeeding, I can definitely understand their discomfort. I've run into that myself, especially in systems that explicitly reward stunting (describing the awesome thing your character is doing in order to get mechanical bonuses - the better the description, the better the mechanical reward). Every time I tried to stunt, I managed to get penalties because I couldn't explain what I was trying to do in just the right words for the GM to see it as a stunt; I hate stunting systems as a result.

Regarding the props: in my experience, a small handful of props can be really neat, but they reach the point of diminishing returns pretty quickly (your mileage may vary greatly on this one, though). If they're there for atmosphere, great; if they're there so that the players have to do "stuff" with them for their characters to do "stuff" in-game, they're typically a distraction at best (major exceptions exist, especially maps, and pre-printed copies of the riddle/puzzle's rules; riddles and puzzles are a whole 'nother kettle of fish, though). The more skill a prop requires to use, the worse its effect on the group will tend to be - goblets that the players can drink from are probably neat; a puzzle box that the players must open is likely to become more and more frustrating as its trick eludes the players (who wonder why the rogue, who's been opening locks left and right, can't just open this box, too).

Side-note: I think you're confusing metagaming with LARPing.

Metagaming is an "out of character" action where a player's character makes use of knowledge that the player is aware of but that the character is not meant to be aware of. (Wikipedia definition)

In this sense, metagaming is when players have read the monster manual - or even the adventure module or GM's notes - and act accordingly (eg., they know which lever to pull because they read ahead, not because of a skill roll or figuring out the puzzle; or, despite not recognizing a fey as such in-game, they reach for the cold-iron weapon that they've been carrying around for the last 3 levels because it'll get past their DR better).

There's another sense of metagaming in which the players will go to absurd lengths to support the underlying assumptions of the system (eg., that the party will stay together indefinitely, that the Paladin will put up with the Rogue's not-really-good-but-not-horribly-evil antics, etc.). It's the implicit social contract that the rules assume exists without explicitly stating it.

[LARPing (Live Action Role-Playing)] is a form of role-playing game where the participants physically act out their characters' actions. The players pursue goals within a fictional setting represented by the real world while interacting with each other in character. (Wikipedia definition)

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    \$\begingroup\$ This x 1000. You don't ask your barbarian player to demonstrate how effectively they would use their weapon, so don't force a bard's player to sing \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    May 31, 2017 at 16:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ I absolutely agree with your answer. Maybe you can add a word about the goblets to your answer. I think they are great props because they require no skill at all. So there's no-skill-props, which are great and skill-based props, which many feel bad about. \$\endgroup\$
    – nvoigt
    May 31, 2017 at 16:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the issue you have identified is that the GM is taking away player agency, but not agency of their characters, but of themselves. It's worse than "your character has to do this", it is now "you have to do this". That's bad. That would be all I can think of to add to this question to make the idea stick, since you've got a lot of text and few anchors. The 2nd paragraph is a good one. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ Wow that is really helpful! and I try to make notes of what the players like IRL and only use those things if thy match their character (i.e. the girl sings in a band on her sparetime and loves singing in front of people) so I figured she would like it, but apparently didn't. I do understand better how things can get tacky, so thanks ! And I suppose I can't judge people as good as I thought so maybe it's easier to simply leave out the LARP'ing ^^ , again thanks for the response it was extremely helpful ! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2017 at 11:27
  • \$\begingroup\$ PS.: I would never force one of my players to do anything they don't want, so I didn't force her either ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2017 at 11:29

The issue here seems to be one of contrasting playstyles - you and most of your party enjoy lots of roleplaying with props and whatnot, and the other player does not. As seems to be the case with most questions containing the Problem Players tag, the first step should always be to have an open discussion with your group to see whether or not people actually like or dislike this style of play before making assumptions on their behalf.

If the "Problem Player" is the only one who objects to this style of play you're left with the admittedly not-fun task of having to let him go. Different people have different styles of play and nobody's style is any more or less valid than anyone else's, and if you and your player have different preferences that does not mean that you can't be friends, just that it may be more fun for everyone for you two to play in different groups. Vice versa if you're the only one in your group who enjoys it.

If it's a fairly even split, or if you or the "problem player" are willing to compromise, you're going to need to find some way to strike a balance between roleplaying with props and killing monsters which may not be ideal for everyone. In this situation I'd recommend starting to cut back on your use of props until you find a balance which nobody gets upset over; I can not say what that balance is for you and your group, as it is different for everybody.

Your style of gameplay is not less valid than playing without props, nor moreso. Different people just have different gaming preferences, and different people have different ideas of fun (and D&D is a game all about fun). Regardless of what the party's thoughts are I would also highly recommend a session 0 using the Same Page Tool or some other similar checklist.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with all of this, and perhaps suggest an addition of player expectations. Meaning exercises like The Same Page Tool or other social contract exercises can inform the players of what type of game is being played. Props and 'larping' within tabletop gaming can be executed very well, even for players that dont really like to 'roleplay' but in those cases it CANNOT be a requirement of their actions in the game, unless this was stated early on or at the very least discussed with everyone. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 15:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a diplomatic way of working out how to prevent one player from being a downer to a whole group. But that seems to be the core problem. (A bit unclear so I have not answered, and probably won't as you've covered most of my thoughts). \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 16:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Valid points, reasonable, I think that's something I'm gonna do as well, need to simply be open and talk about everything without anyone holding back... Thanks a million! ^^ \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2017 at 11:30

Since you are new to GMing, I will first congratulate you on your bravery... The situation you face is one that presents a number of challenges, but one that can yield great results.

You need to realize that not all players are comfortable and interested in too much of that. Use of props can greatly enhance the session, but they can also become a distraction from the real game, from the story. You have to give and take here... Here are some ideas.

  • Use high-quality props. Nothing destroy a game atmosphere like pulling out some cheap, orange plastic goblets from the dollar store. They bring a cheap laugh but they do not enhance everyone's experience.
  • Scale back the use props, use them when they are crucial to the adventure and when they add a lot to what's going on.
  • Don't force them on the players, some will love it and some won't. Getting the reluctant player slowly involved will greatly reduce his interest.
  • Not everyone is interested the same stuff. You mentioned your bard player singing, that's cool but not everyone is interested in that and some people will push back before they are put on the spot like that. I know people who would clam up if forced to speak out loud like that.
  • Run a different game once in a while, something either that is "all-props" or one that is "without props". That will appeal to that player. -Change it up. That way you have the most chance of drawing your players in.

Letting go of a player, especially one who does not cause problem should be a last resort, and one I would recommend you avoid if at all possible. Adapting playstyle to suit everyone is something that requires some willingness to adapt.

Good luck!

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    \$\begingroup\$ While this is a good answer in a lot of ways, advocating the accommodation of someone dragging down a whole group feels counter productive. Not an easy problem, given social things in groups. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 16:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ I like a lot, but I wish you'd not used the phrase "distraction from the real game," (emphasis mine). It seems to me that the crux of this porblem--and your answer--is recognizing that different people have different fun. I think that one loaded word kinda undercuts your point, though. \$\endgroup\$
    – nitsua60
    May 31, 2017 at 16:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @nitsua60 I would maybe add/argue that sometimes props can take up more time than is desired. Time management is a continual and critical problem for a lot of groups. I myself have a hard time getting to the group only once a week for 3-5 hours. Even then, we never accomplish what we want to in that time due to dilly-dallying and general "fun-having". The props CAN be part of the fun-having, but if it's not fun for one player, from that player's perspective , it's a waste of time. I think maybe clarifying where the point of view is from might help the problem you've pointed out. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 17:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks as said in a comment up there , I'm gonna talk it out and see what's what and who has a problem with what exactly, to see if we can find a mutual place where we can all enjoy the game to the fullest, thanks a million for the advice ! :) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2017 at 11:32

You didn't mention what the one complainer is complaining about. I'd start there. Listen to the complaints and acknowledge that you heard and understand them and that you get that they are important to him and you would like him not to be upset.

Then think if there is a way to indulge his complaints that also lets you and the others have fun with props. For example, he might prefer not to roleplay that way himself, but not mind if the others do, as long as he can just stick with 3rd person words to describe what his character does. See if you can negotiate a solution that works for everyone, and if not, decide where you want there to be compromises, which could be anything from no props to no complaints about props. There's no one rightest answer to how you choose to do that.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Always upvote the "talk to your players" answer. \$\endgroup\$ May 31, 2017 at 17:04

Props are great when...

Props are great when they are useful to the players and/or help the story in some way. Visual aids like maps drawn on parchment paper, notes scrawled in fake blood or written using a fountain pen, or replicas of period costumes or equipment can really boost the players' understanding of what's happening in the world. They can help convey ideas much more concretely, accurately, and rapidly than a simple verbal description. Pictures of real historical places like cathedrals, castles, or caves can do wonders to set the tone and more completely describe the setting.

Note that these are props. Nouns. Not things the players must do; not verbs.

Props are not great when...

Asking someone to sing or to drink a liquid isn't a prop. That's an action. You're moving from nouns to verbs. Your players may not be comfortable with moving from sitting at a table talking about a fictional thing to actually doing that thing.

If your players aren't comfortable with the thing, then tone that thing down. Or find out what their level of comfort is, and play to that level. For example, "Your players find a flask like this," [set out a prop flask with a label on it] "containing a potion." If someone picks it up, they can read that the label says "Healing!" or "Strength!" or whatever. Or they can ask what the label says and never touch it at all.

If your Bard player wants to sing a song then that's great. But ask, don't require. "So you want to inspire the team via song?" [Player breaks out with 'We are the Champions!' by Queen] "Cool!" but saying "You have to sing a snippet of a song for that to work..." isn't cool.

Also, requiring players to do things their characters are good at doing isn't the same. The PC may be an expert locksmith with near-supernatural skills. That doesn't in any way mean your Player has those talents. So handing them a set of lockpicks and a padlock and then making them act it out is probably not going to end in success.

I ran a Call of Cthulhu session where the PCs had to maintain a spell over the course of a night. That spell was a chant, intended to banish the monster. So long as at least one person was chanting, the spell was still going. The monster was trying to disrupt the spell. To set the mood, I found a CD with Buddhist monks chanting. It sounded perfect. So while we role-played out the various attacks, I had the chant CD playing. After a couple of minutes, the players asked me to stop the CD because the chants were too effective. The horror mood was too horrific, and they were freaking out a little. So we stopped the CD and went on with the game.

Timing is everything...

Another angle to explore is whether the props save time or take up time. A picture of a mural can be much more efficient (and accurate) than a text description. Or a picture of a monster. Or a map of a building, or whatever. But asking your players to act out an action like a potion or a bard's song may be slowing down the game without much benefit.

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    \$\begingroup\$ If I could downvote your players who didn't groove on your chant CD, I would. :-P This answer is a good illustration of the pros and cons of props. Nicely presented, and particularly your last word on timing. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 1, 2017 at 13:56

If you are getting resistance from some or all of your players, that is a sign to think about backing off. But if you are getting actual resentment, that is a very clear sign that you should very very seriously consider backing off.

Games should be fun. We don't resent things that are fun, and we almost never convince people that something is fun after they've decided it isn't.

This sounds like a case of "mandatory fun" to me. Mandatory fun is a slang phrase for activities that are enforced, and that people must pretend to enjoy (or at least pretend not to hate) because someone in authority enjoys them. Sometimes, even things that might genuinely be fun when voluntary become "mandatory fun" (and thus very annoying) when mandated.

So to be blunt, yes, I would seriously curtail my love of props and command performances, at the least restricting them to those players that do actually enjoy them, and not rewarding them specially nor penalizing the non-participants.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Just to be clear, I didn't force anyone to do anything, the scene with the singing came up, she refused I went to a back-up plan and made the bard roll ingame without any resentment coming from me, I was a GM so I acted like one by staying calm and fun and happy.... All I am trying to do is figure out where to go from here and what to do in the future. Secondly, this girl loves singing karaoke with us, sings in a band and isn't shy at all so I figured she loved it, that's all.. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 14, 2017 at 11:35

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