I have a friend who wants to be introduced to RPGs. We played a campaign in a game system of my own creation that went pretty well, but I want to show them a variety of systems so that they gain more familiarity with RPGs in general, and also to bring in other people so that they get more of an idea regarding how RPGs typically go (i.e. not one-on-one campaigns). To this end, I have some people and we are gonna play Pathfinder for our 'generic D&D stuff' game. Unfortunately, this friend is autistic and becomes nonverbal for extended periods of time (6 hours to several days) when exposed to intense negative stimuli. They can still communicate via typing, writing, and mewling most of the time, but they can't talk. They also don't know very much sign language, so we'd prefer not to rely on that (we're considering using this anyways, as it would be a good method to motivate language learning, but we'd prefer a better option).

They have been nonverbal for several months now, on account of an ongoing campaign of systematic discrimination against a minority they are part of on the part of the county in which they live and their resultant paucity of resources. Despite state opposition to the campaign, given the current federal political situation, it seems unlikely any legal progress will be made in the next several years, so I'd prefer to not just wait until they are able to talk again, which had been our plan previously.

While running online games is a possibility, that medium fundamentally changes the experience of an RPG and I want to run in-person games in addition, which means we need some way to engage in in-person RPGs where one member is unable to talk. How can I enable them to participate in the game without being able to speak?

Your answer should explain how the techniques/tools/etc you propose have worked in practice for you or someone else and should be reasonably expected to be at least as effective as ASL pidgin, at a minimum.


4 Answers 4


A friend of mine once had an oral injury that made speaking more than a couple words at a time impossible. As it was going to take a couple more weeks to heal when we started a new campaign, he asked if he could simply make his character mute. None of us had any problem with it. Since no one knew much ASL, we decided any form of universal sign language didn't exist in the game world (it fit well enough with the setting that it wasn't a big deal anyway). The GM made sure he was familiar with his character's background/statistics before the start of the game like he did with everyone else.

For player communication, his character motioned/signaled/grumbled at the rest of us as he normally did while injured and our characters had to figure out what his was saying. Since his best friend was quicker at understanding his nonverbal cues than the rest of us, we decided to make their characters familiar with each other at the start of the game, so his BF's character could translate for his character on the easy stuff or if it was taking too long for the rest of us to figure out what he was saying and someone was growing frustrated. Once or twice, he just wrote his BF a note and we pretended his character knew what the mute character was saying. It all became part of the gameplay and added a fun, additional element to the campaign.

He wrote quick notes to the GM when he had questions or was going to try a complicated series of actions. Otherwise, he gave quick motions that were easy enough to figure out. He would motion throwing a knife before an attack roll, block his face if he was blocking, or gesture a 'wizard wave' if he was casting a spell. The in-game situation usually made it clear which spell he was casting and the GM would double check to make sure they were on the same page before continuing. Just a quick 'you're casting detect?' or the like before seeing what he rolled and then working the results into the narrative as usual.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I could see this being fun to work into a campaign. One additional suggestion is to have the player have a series of notecards on hand that have prewritten actions on them. When the player wants to perform an action, he simply displays the card. This'd be for things like "I attack with x weapon", "I cast y spell", "I use Manyshot (PF feat)", etc. That way you don't bog down combat with trying to figure out which spell is being cast / attack is being used (though some actions would be obvious via miming like shooting a bow, if they're using a feat or special ability it can confuse things). \$\endgroup\$
    – Doc
    Commented Sep 15, 2017 at 22:49

I've had some similar experience with this. It is not easy. The simplest methods are ones you've already listed.

Written Communication

You could have them write out what they want to say or what they are having their characters do and either pass it to the DM in a note or hold the page up for everybody to read. Typing and texting are also an option if everybody has a phone. It would be simply enough to start a group text that will send messages to everybody in the group. Of course, if the mute individual has a smart phone there is another better method to consider.

They could use Text To Speech

Instead of sending written messages for everybody to read your player could download any of the available free text to speech apps to their phone or they could find a site online that will convert text to speech. From there they can type what they want to say in the app's text box and the phone will speak for them.

Laptops or computers could also be use but take up much more space than a smartphone and sitting around a table in person there might be limited room for things like that in addition to the books, dice rolling and anything else game-related that may be on the table. Smart phones or tablets are small and alot of people have one or the other these days so even if the person does not have one they could temporarily borrow one from another group member or space could be made for a larger device.

How did these suggestions work out in practice?

That member remained with the group and easily participated in our various campaigns. He was even the DM of one. With use of the text to speech he managed to participate in the conversations without much pause needing to be taken for interpreting what he was trying to say and all in all it was as though he were actually talking with the group.


I did not see it used in gaming, but for some short period of my life I had the same problems as your friend -- I could suddenly lose my ability to talk, retaining ability to type/write/use sign language. I used typing for communication, it is very fast (provided that you have good typing skill), and if your GM actively uses a computer, typing can be used to declare things privately.

Text to speech can work well, but, for example, not with my native language (Russian) -- I presume, there are many more languages that are not so good for usage with text-to-speech programs. The reason is that words in Russian can have their stress at any part of the word, and programs need to have huge dictionaries with stress marked to be able to read words correctly, or your text-to-speech program needs you to mark stress manually for each word. This artificial speech sounds ugly and robotic. Yes, you can make a cyborg character whose speech is ugly and robotic in-game, but that doesn't fit a D&D Wizard very well (in my opinion).

Passing notes could work just as well as typing, but my personal handwriting is very ugly, so I rely on typing much more.

If you want to use passing notes, I want to support the already suggested idea of having cards for routing actions like attacking with a said weapon -- they are an offline analogue of roll20 macro that had a lot of positive playtesting hours. :)

This is not related to RPGs, but being affected that strongly by any negative stimuli could be a ground to change something in the life of your friend. If needed, perhaps, a county, if the situation is that bad.


I'll admit that I have no experience with this issue in role playing, but I did know someone who has nonverbal autism and I got to see how he communicated in his everyday life.

Maybe your friend can find a single system of communication that works for everyday life and role playing too.

High Tech

His setup was expensive: an iPad which hung around his neck, loaded with an app he used to talk with. I believe the app was Proloquo2Go ($250 USD) as this seems to be the most popular app of its type. It does text to speech via typing but there's more to it: there are grids of common words or phases (often paired with pictures), so it's quicker than typing and also more accessible, such as to young children who have trouble reading and writing. If you're a kid where I live, then your school will spend the money to get you this setup if you need it.

Low Tech

And there's another similar option that anyone can afford: Just do it on paper. Your friend points to a square with a word on it and you read it. The bottom of the aforelinked Proloquo2Go page has some general purpose printable sheets, and another page shows how they can be assembled into a tabbed binder for easy access (and also so you don't lose your vocabulary — the critical flaw of flashcards). You can find more examples if you search autism communication board or similar. (This is also the option that's most friendly to a wide variety of languages. You can translate the sheets manually.)

But what about role playing? (No, I didn't forget.) This can be made much easier by specially making a grid of phrases that your friend is likely to need during the game. Have "Attack with sword", "Dodge", "Dash", all the actions the character would want in battle. Add some options specific to their personality, such as "looking for danger" and "alcohol" for a character that's a paranoid alcoholic. Include some blanks and fill in the names of important NPCs, items, and what-have-you as it becomes relevant.


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