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I am sure this has been asked already, as this is probably a very common problem, but I didn't find anything.

I am playing in a campaign I made myself using homebrewed rules based on a German pen-and-paper RPG called Das Schwarze Auge (DSA; The Dark Eye in English).

I have a problem with a few of my players who tend to get very creative, but take a lot of time while the rest of the group can't do anything.

  • Once there was a cook who spent hours running from shop to shop haggling with vendors to buy supplies for the group. At first this was tolerable, because everyone had something to do (supplies to buy, armor to repair), but he kept running to each baker, fisherman, butcher, herbalist etc in each town/village to look for rare ingredients for his delicious meals and was taking a considerable time haggling.
  • Once I had an assassin, who tried to kill a few NPCs he didn't like while the group was on a ship. He took quite some time to sneak around, prepare traps, check for any witnesses and kill these guys without anyone noticing him while noone else could do anything as they were sleeping.
  • Once my group was exploring an old villa and they lifted the smallest of them on the second floor through a hole in the floor. He then proceeded to explore everything in detail, but the rest was standing beneath the hole waiting for his return, which took quite some time.

I don't want to restrict the actions of these players, as they are often the most dedicated ones and roleplay every of their moves and are often the most fun to interact with as the DM, but the rest of the group often gets bored and frustrated, because they can't do anything. In most of these situations I could neither ask the players to do this between sessions nor could I find anything meaningful to occupy the rest of the group in the meantime.

How can I find a fair balance without restricting these players too much?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already. This seems like a really good question! (...Though it may or may not have been asked before; I haven't checked.) What RPG and edition are you playing? This may or may not inform people's answers, as there may be ways to address it built into the RPG system. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Dec 29 '18 at 1:38
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  • \$\begingroup\$ I am playing in a campaign I made myself on home-brewn rules based on a german pen&paper called DSA (Das Schwarze Auge), so i doubt that any basic rules will apply here, which was why I chose not to be any more specific. I will look into the thread about assassinations. That one seems to adress a quite simular problem. \$\endgroup\$ – Azzarrel Dec 29 '18 at 1:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify: Are you mostly worried about the characters taking a lot of in-game time, or the players taking a lot of out-of-game time? If an answer came that gave you a solution that took much less table time for your players to do their cool activities but didn't reduce in-game time, would that solve your problem? \$\endgroup\$ – DuckTapeAl Dec 29 '18 at 5:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am worried about the characters taking a lot of out-of-game time, which makes the rest of the group lose interest in my campaign, because they lack anything to do. \$\endgroup\$ – Azzarrel Dec 29 '18 at 19:34
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Speed things along by letting it ride, make worthy opposition. don't ask players to roll unless there's a chance of failure.

  1. In your first and last case, players take excessive time on what should be a simple skill check. He wants to buy rare components for his magical meal- why should that involve you roleplaying out every nitty gritty detail?

I don't read German, but the English copy of the basic rules notes this.

Haggle: If possible, haggling should be played out between the Highlord and player instead of simply resorting to a Haggle Test. The Highlord may take the hero’s Haggle TP as a guideline as to how easily (and how far) a merchant can be beaten down. If pressed for time in a game session, on the other hand, you may find it preferable to roll Haggle Tests instead. In this case, the haggling player may go for a lower price by setting an appropriate Difficulty Increase: +0 for a 5 % discount, +1 for 10 %, +2 for 15 %, and so on.

Simply have them create a shopping list of whatever items they want to buy from a town and do a roll, and let that one roll count for all the minor stuff like beans. There's no need, and it's no fun, to roleplay out every activity. Perhaps for a key herb they can haggle it out, but for the vast majority, roll once, that's the discount they get in every store. If they argue, simply state "You go to every store you can, but that's the best price you can get here."

  1. For your second situation, if he is competent enough to easily kill him, let him do so. If they are vastly more powerful than their enemies make that clear, and let them kill them in five or so minutes. If not, make the opposition dangerous enough that it's a bad idea for one player to go off on their own, and give them several talent checks to pass. Adventuring is dangerous, and a lot of people die, or are incapacitated so their friends need to rescue them.

So, you can either be like "Yeah, you successfully set up traps, sneaking around perfectly. They stand no chance against you. How do you kill them?" Or you can instead say "Roll your engineering talent, your sneak, and your perception." And then spend five minutes roleplaying out the conflict with the individuals they want to kill based off that, perhaps leading to a loud fight their companions need to rescue them from.

  1. In the last situation, you have someone spending ages on a simple perception check. If there's no time pressure and no really impressive opposition, they're gonna find everything. So, after they go up there to search the room, simply tell them everything important that's in the room. If they pressure you on it, simply state "You spend hours poking every inch of the room, taking things apart, and you at the end conclude, nope, nothing else in there of importance."

If there is some opposition, then you have a situation where the other players, again, are needed. Perhaps there's a hidden door that a spell could reveal or a strong man or woman could break? Perhaps somewhere hiding upstairs is a monster that will leap out and attack the player who wandered off, one who is too dangerous for a single player to handle, forcing the others to scramble up to protect their companion.

To summarize-

If they want to make multiple checks, make a single roll and let that roll ride through every encounter which is similar. There's no need for a haggle check for every can of beans they buy.

When facing dangerous situations, make their enemies worthy and dangerous enough that there's some risk of failure.

If players are exploring a place and there's no time pressure or major opposition, simply give them the results they want. If you don't want this to be true, make worthy opposition or put them under a ticking clock where each action costs them.

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Gaming should be fun for everybody.

If one gamer does something which angers the others, that is as much a social problem as it is a rules problem.

If the other gamers are OK with these solo scenes, then there is no problem. Perhaps they are amused by the antics, or admire the acting ability, or whatever.

If the others feel that one player takes an unfair share of the play time and GM attention, and if that happens time and again, talk to the players. No different from a player who shows up late or not at all, or forgets to bring stuff, or starts talking about the latest TV show, or argues game mechanics when the others want to go on with storytelling.

But if you want to steer things more subtly as a GM:

  • Design the adventures so that each character has a time in the spotlight. Introduce obstaces or challenges that can best (or only) be solved by one character.
  • Give yourself and the solo player a deadline in real time. You do not have to tell him in detail, simply switch to the rest of the players if you think they are getting bored.
    • The assassin is sneaking off while the others are sleeping. After five or ten minutes of real time, have the captain call all hands on deck, or have somebody knock on the cabin door, or whatever. The focus changes to the new scene, the assassin is told "you're still checking traps, right?"
    • They lifted the smallest guy to the upper floor. Well, after five or ten minutes real time there will be a door that one character cannot open alone.
    • As the party walks across the market, they encounter someone else who is significant for the plot. They have the opportunity to talk with/fight with/follow the non-player character, and that's the scene you will play next.
  • Make things on these solo missions go wrong every now and then, in a way that is humiliating to the character (and by extension, to the player). You should not be "picking" on one player, but it is fair to drive the lesson home that backup can be a very good thing. As the GM you are allowed to cheat.

    • Instead of a closed door in front of the scout, make it something tumbling down behind him -- and a serious foe in front.
    • Make a victim detect the assassin and fight back, while the others are sleeping. The victim made that detection roll because he has a classified magic item of alertness, or because he ate spoiled food and wakes up, or whatever.
    • Have villagers accuse the cook of witchcraft or something like that -- why else would he need all those herbs?
  • Keep in mind that gaming is both cooperative and competitive. The players want to show each other how strong and clever and charismatic their characters are, and they want to "beat" the puzzle that the GM has set before them.
    Many gamers will accept solo antics of individual players if that brings the party closer to a successful solution of the adventure, not if it merely wastes time. So give opportunity for meaningful solo scenes every now and then.

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If people can take as long as they want, they will want to take as long as they can.

Or, a bit more specifically, if there is no cost to getting a skill result you don't want outside of "oh well, try again", people will just keep rolling skills.

This was actually solved, for certain levels of solved, in the first Dungeons & Dragons, where performing most dungeon-meaningful actions outside of combat used up a dungeon turn, after which the DM would roll a random encounter check. But as the game's scope widened and it became less reasonable to tie random encounters to out-of-combat actions, this balance was lost.

So, you need some kind of scoping mechanism, some reason to say that a player can't just endlessly roll skills until they're satisfied. And the good news is that you've got one!

...maybe.

DSA 5E and Cumulative Checks

If you based your homebrew off of the rules available here (or here in German, I think? Not 100% on the site logic.) then you have a scoping mechanism in the cumulative check:

The GM decides how many checks must be made, how long the entire task will take to accomplish, and how much time must pass between individual skill checks (called the check interval). These intervals can be defined as actions, combat rounds, minutes, hours, days, or even weeks, depending on the task.

So with a little partitioning on your part you can make that idea do some work. Your homebrew is obviously going to inform a bunch more choices here but here's my hackwork based on your descriptions.

The cook is doing a cumulative check to come up with a new dish, at intervals of one month for a reasonable restock, or immediately in a new city. Or maybe just trying to stock some bonus quality for a later check out in the field? Either way, same cooldown.

The assassin is doing a cumulative check to try and assassinate. Whatever they do, each step takes 2 hours, and they'll get four checks total, at special modifiers of -1, 0, -1, and -2 to represent relative wakefulness as the night wears on.

The little guy can do a simple check to see if anything's obviously dangerous, but actually comprehensively searching the attic for valuable things is a cumulative check, and unless they bring up the rest of the party to help, they'll take a cumulative -1 modifier in addition to any cost of failure, because there's so much to search they'll wind up looking in places twice without realizing it.

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In addition to the other answers, here is what you can do yourself:

Make sure every player gets the same spotlight time and communicate this openly.

Be disciplined to yourself and be strict, fair and transparent. Example: When your cook runs off to buy stuff, indulge him for 10 minutes and play normally. Then cut him off and go to the next player. You can even tell him something like:

"Dude, you were in the spotlight for 10 minutes, now surely the other players deserve their 10 minutes each, don't you agree?"

Be friendly, but be strict and be on time for the spotlight switches. This is your responsibility and yours alone as a GM.

Resolve the actions of the next player for 10 minutes. If more than one player is in a group of PCs and you handle them together, this group gets 10 minutes of DM attention for each player. If you keep these time intervals at around 5 to 15 minutes, you can prevent the other players from zoning out.

Personally, I like to play dungeon crawls, and I use this technique to handle split parties. When I switch spotlight, I tell the "benched" players to plan their next move or discuss their plans with each other while out of the spotlight. Usually, they appreciate the time to plan.

When you keep enforcing this, players will speed up play by themselves, as they want to achieve something before they get phased out, at least in my experience. This also helps curb the solo players sneaking off. Just be fair, communicate openly and maintain your discipline (use a smartphone timer if necessary).

Hope this helps.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your second point reminds me of Matt Mercer's style of GM'ing in the web-series Critical Role \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 2 at 20:46

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