I've started playing in a Pathfinder campaign with some friends and we are all newbies. Despite this our gamemaster (who's running his first campaign too) is doing a good job of getting us all involved and creating the atmosphere.

Problem is, 3 out of us 5 players are really, really hard to get out of their comfort zones, and they often end up laughing at everything. Even plot points that should be dramatic or serious ended up with them quoting stupid Game of Thrones memes... It's like they just don't take anything seriously for fear that they might be judged, and as a player I don't know how to encourage them to actually roleplay since I think it's the thing that makes role playing games different from board games.

I myself am not against some jokes here and there, and I don't want to came across as the "no fun allowed" guy, I just don't want the whole thing to become a massive joke since it's not even fun anymore in the long run. A joke is okay but then I want them to get back on track.

As I said our master isn't expert too so I want to help him in this, advice aimed at both players and gamemasters would be great!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you asked and confirmed with the players that they WANT dramatic and serious? Some people are afraid of roleplaying all out, but some people also just want to have a laugh with a roleplaying game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Erik
    Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 18:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Erik Yeah, they were all hyped about RPGs giving you the chance to live a an exciting adventure, it's just their awkwardness that stops them and makes them fall back to the "laughing attitude" to avoid uncomfortable situations. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 20:32

2 Answers 2


Well, this is another of those messy "interpersonal relationships" questions in which the short answer is always "Have you tried talking to them about it?"

But to break that out a little bit:

  • First, talk to the GM; It's going to be tricky to make much happen without their buy-in. Tell them you'd like it if sessions had a slightly more serious tone and ask if they agree. If they don't, you're probably going to have to content yourself with Game of Thrones references unless you want to go form your own group. If they DO agree, you can proceed.
  • If you've got buy in from the GM, either you or they or better, both of you, need to have a little talk with the rest of the group (I suggest setting aside a few minutes before your next session). Again though, at this point (As Erik suggests in his comment) you're trying to gauge preferences, not set rules. So this conversation is going to sound more like "So, folks. We were talking, and realized that we'd like it if the game had a little bit of a more serious, roleplaying centric feel to it. Is this something you'd like to try?" than "Okay, no more GoT references, sorry." If you can get at least a "We're willing to try" from the rest of the group, proceed.
  • At this point, you can just start having a discussion. Start with throwing the question on the table: "How do we make this happen?" because what works for one group might not work for another. Usually it's enough for folks to agree to make the effort, and give others permission to remind them when they step out of line. Ideally, this means that the next time someone starts to say "You know nothing, John Sn..." the rest of the table will go "Ah! Ah! No GoT references! Stay in character!" and the original person will grimace, say sorry, and get back on task. This has the advantage of allowing you to, well, allow stuff if no one is bothered - if someone delivers a great one-liner and everyone laughs, you can have a little diversion and then get back on track. Another option is to have a sort of "slap on the wrist" penalty for people who break the "rule". This needs to be pretty minor - we're looking for a "Put a dollar in the swear jar" sort of feeling, not real penalties. I suggest a little XP bonus at the end of the session for everyone who DIDN'T break character and need to be corrected.
  • You might find this isn't working out - some people just aren't interested in staying serious "all the time" (it's almost never REALLY all the time, but people will tend to represent it that way) and that's fine. You'll need to back down, or restructure the group so that the "serious roleplayers" have a game and the "beer and pretzels" folks have a game. You could even alternate week to week between your "lighthearted" game and your "serious" game, and people could join either one, or both, or whatever.

But mostly: Yeah. Talk to folks. Find out if this is a thing they want to try. Discuss what sounds like a good way to implement it. Try it. Iterate. :)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer! The master is totally with me on this and the other player who is not one of those 3 is too, what I meant in the question is not that I don't want some jokes here and there (I'm pretty fine with that), but that doesn't mean that the whole session has to turn into a massive clownery. I'll start with talking to them about it as you say! \$\endgroup\$ Commented Sep 13, 2017 at 20:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah; That was sortof why I included the comment about "You can choose not to remind them if you want" - it's just important to get their buy in so you have permission to say "Okay, let's get back on track here..." without seeming like the Wet Blanket. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airk
    Commented Sep 14, 2017 at 1:26

Laughing and references don’t have to break immersion

For decades, I’ve been running a table full of amateur comedians. Chiding the players or punishing the players never discouraged the antics. Many players feel like having a good laugh is the point of getting together with your friends.

Telling some folks not to laugh and joke is basically telling them not to have a good time.

Assume popular fiction is in-game fiction, too

Instead of letting laughter and references stop the action, just fold them right into the campaign.

In your example, Game of Thrones could be a hugely popular work of fiction in game. So a player makes a GoT reference while speaking with an NPC, the NPC will simply understand it, or at least understand the PC is referring to popular stories, and the dialog can continue normally.

Role-play will actually improve dramatically when you make it possible for players to express themselves referentially. Easy conversational shortcuts (that people use in real life, every day) become possible in game.

It really doesn’t matter what story players are referring to, don’t let it stop the dialog. Real-world history and fiction set in the current day (or future) can all be “fantastic stories” in the game world.

Laughing in the face of death

A classic technique that never quite did the trick for me was to assume laughter and and odd comments by the players were also said by the characters — and then to “punish” the characters who did not take the situation seriously. Again, this just stopped the action, and pulled the players further out of any immersion.

If, on the other hand, you assume that NPC’s expect heroes sometimes to laugh in the face of death, the conversation can continue. Instead of getting offended and going off in a huff, the NPC responds in a way that allows the conversation to continue (but guides it in the desired direction).

When appropriate, the NPC’s can mildly chide PC’s to take issues seriously, by saying something like, “I’m glad you are not afraid, but a lot of people’s lives are at state. I need to know you are hearing me.”

NPC’s who accompany the party into danger can also help set the mood, by responding with appropriate fear or other emotions.

Reward the players who are displaying correct behavior

When one or two players are just busting a gut at a really busting a gut at an inopportune time, the DM can just focus on the players who are more engaged. An NPC can assume boisterous players have had too much to drink.

Review the Rules of Improv

All of this advice follow Tina Fey’s Rules of Improv, which are always a good read for folks who are having trouble role-playing.

  • \$\begingroup\$ About the GoT bit, after more than one year of playing I can definitely confirm it's bad advice, or at least it was for our group. Randomly acting as if completely OoC interactions make sense in the game, only had the result of making the world seem less defined and less credible, making it all look even more of a parody rather than some credible fantasy adventure. In the end the sessions where we were more permissive about it only gave some "yeah this game is so silly even dumb jokes become real" vibes. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Dec 26, 2018 at 8:02

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