I'm new to DMing. Of the many, many problems I anticipated I never expected to have players not do anything at all, and I'm not sure what to do with that.

Its a small group with only 3 players. We've played three games so far. The first couple games seemed to go fine, everybody was interacting and doing things, fighting monsters and exploring and talking to each other.

But last game, they split up. One player followed some action that was happening. The other two didn't, and they spent the entire game just sitting on the beach doing... nothing. I kept checking back in with them throughout the game, and asking what they wanted to do. I expected they would go explore some other part of town when it became clear nothing was happening on the beach. That they would go look for some of the NPC's they'd already encountered, or look for someone or something to fight or just roleplay with each other on the beach. I would have been good with anything they decided, but they just ... did nothing, and didn't even talk to each other.

It turned into a game almost entirely about one player, because they were the only one playing.

I don't know what happened. Did I do something wrong? Was it just an off day and people were tired and they'll be interested again next week? Was I somehow supposed to make them do something? If so, how? I don't want to railroad anyone and if they don't want to play I'm ok with that too. We're only doing a game for fun, but none of them said anything to me after the game, and I don't know how to react or fix something if I don't know what the problem is, or if there IS a problem. How do I work with silence?


closed as unclear what you're asking by MikeQ, goodguy5, linksassin, Miniman, Sdjz Jan 21 at 8:45

Please clarify your specific problem or add additional details to highlight exactly what you need. As it's currently written, it’s hard to tell exactly what you're asking. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.


I'll add my two cents, as there are many ways to approach this situation and many great answers already.

Firstly, it's nobody's fault, here.

One, as a DM, I would never want to restrict my characters. I've found that Dungeons and Dragons is a game that has as playstyle for everyone, and I don't see any reason to say, "You can't split up","You can't sit on the beach all day," etc. On the other hand, some players might not exactly know what they could be doing. Perhaps they walked to the beach to lounge, just for the sake of lounging. Or, perhaps they went there thinking they might find treasure, but not know how to go about looking for it. Maybe they went there to have a nice relaxing beach day, but being the clever DM you are, you unleash a mimic in the form of a treasure chest on them, or an army of crabs.

As a DM, you have the important, difficult, and tedious task of keeping everyone engaged and happy, but that includes yourself. It helps to have talks with your group, and discuss what each player is looking for out of each session, and to communicate what you as the DM wish for your campaign that you are running.

There will always be unforeseen circumstances, and the players and the DM can be taken off guard by things that weren't planned for. The best you can do is attempt to make the most fun out of every situation. Perhaps it started pouring rain on the beach that day, forcing them to return back to town, and quite possibly back into the group.

It's a challenging job being the DM, but it's a very rewarding task to have.

As a group, we always had a 3 hour long session, sometimes a little longer if in the middle of a battle, and sometimes shorter if we needed to call it early, but we always invited everyone to an "after-session" where we could all talk about the session and how it went; any concerns; any plans for bettering a future session; any things we really liked about past sessions. This was time we just kinda hung out, but it helped us to talk about our sessions, and drove them into a direction we all enjoyed a lot more.

An important thing to remember is that it's not your fault or theirs if things start to go a little on the boring side. Some people do have off days, and their creative juices just aren't flowing. If the party splits up, that's okay. Just make sure you delegate enough attention to each player, and perhaps explain to the group what splitting up the party does, so that they might think twice before doing it in the future. However, it happens.

Carry on with Dogor the Half-Orc fighter as he walks through the back alley to confront the drug smuggler, but remember that Orin the Elvish Bard is back at the tavern trying to schmooze his way up to the daughter of a wealthy aristocrat. And if Helen the Human Sorcerer is just waiting on a beach doing nothing, when it comes time for her attention, ask her, what are you here for? Would you like to inspect the water or go for a swim (keeping your shark attack secretly tucked in your sleeve)? Would you like to build a sand-castle, who knows, you might find treasure in the process (it's an item that leads to a new quest)? You arrive on the beach, but notice smoke off to one side of the beach, and a faint sound of drums (a goblin beach party, anyone?). Some player's thrive better when they have things thrown at them to react to, as opposed to coming up with the idea themselves.

Try to entice your players into having fun when you think they are at a loss as to what to do. But, always make sure every player feels like they're getting a fair share of the time if they split up.

The most important thing is to have fun, regardless of what happened in the situation and how it went. Everyone plays different. But you can all have the same amount of fun.


It sounds like you might be (purposefully or not) running a "sandbox" game, which is to say, a game where you the GM provide the players with a detailed environment (a sandbox) and it is up to them to figure out what interesting things there are to do in that environment. But I'm not sure this is the case.

One thing that makes me think this is that you mention trying not to railroad the players, and railroading is the polar opposite of the sandbox campaign. One thing that makes me not so sure is that you mention one player following some action, but there aren't enough details to help. If the action was just something that was happening near him, without him having a personal stake, that might also be sandbox-y.

Sandbox games are a perfectly valid way to set up and play a game, but they aren't for everyone. Some players (and I am not ascribing a moral stance to this in either direction) simply want more plot-- they don't want to be railroaded, but they want a plot to follow or an obvious problem to solve or a personal connection for their characters to the problem. It sounds like they don't have whatever it is in this vein that they're looking for.

So my advice would be:

  1. Ask your players, "Yo, guys, what happened that last session? You didn't seem like you were having fun, because you didn't really seem like you were playing. And that's no fun for me. What's going wrong?" It's perfectly fair to ask leading questions that arise from reading this and other answers, too, as long as you main focus is on figuring out how to help everyone have more fun.
  2. Try getting your players to flesh out their character backgrounds, and work with those. Not every player will be into this with new characters, but many are.
  3. Realize that having a plot is not the same thing as railroading the players.
  4. Related to that, have a plot where the characters matter and if they don't act, the world in some way gets worse for them. (The orcs burn the village, whatever.)

If your players are willing to ignore the 4th point and just sit idly by as the world burns, they probably aren't into the game at all.


A good general rule is to not let the players split the party. I've had success just telling them straight-up not to do that:

A: "Well, we need to protect Duke Greengrass, but we also need to go deal with the zombie threat. How about if two of us stay in this tavern and three of us go check on the zombies?
DM: "You can't split the party, because I'd only be able to narrate stuff happening for one group at once, and the rest of you would be bored. Let's just agree that Duke Greengrass will be safe in the tavern, and you guys can all check on the zombies or whatever else you want to do."


A: "Back to town after a long adventure! I want to hit the tavern and see if there's any news about the Red Hood gang."
B: "I'm going to hit the merchant quarter and sell these swords we found. I'll wipe off the goo, so they don't look like they're cursed."
C: "I want to go talk to the Count about what we found in that temple. He needs to know those guys aren't his friends."
DM: "All those things are pretty close together, and I'd rather we not split the party. How about we say that you all go check out the tavern, and then you all hit the merchant quarter, and then you all go talk to the Count?"

If you make sure that all your players are in the middle of the action, and not just hanging out on the beach, then if they do decide they want to do something, they won't feel like they can't do it because they're too far away.

Another good rule is: you have to provide the motivation.

It sounds like you've been asking them "what do you want to do?". Some groups will do better if you make up a quest for them. Present them with a problem and have an NPC ask them to solve the problem. The problem should be something that will require investigation, discovery, and eventually fighting something.

It might be that your players are thinking of their characters as not wanting to do anything foolish. Why risk their lives doing something dangerous when they could sit on the beach being safe? For these players, you might need to provide either a monetary reward, or a threat to their safety, before they'll feel their characters are motivated to act.

  • \$\begingroup\$ That is a really good point. I know one of my players certainly feels self conscious about their decisions and is worried about doing something foolish (oddly enough that was the player who actually did participate), but giving them a job with some stated reward or threat, would provide a planned direction and they might feel better about that then an open ended arena. Thanks! \$\endgroup\$ – Betfun Jan 21 at 4:37
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ While I feel like not splitting the party would have helped some of OP's issues, I don't think it addresses the core of "why did this happen" well enough, and I don't agree that refusing to let them split up is necessarily the best way to get people more interested in roleplaying \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 21 at 4:49

You most definitely need to be talking to your players. You are the DM, but you are also part of the gaming group, the experience. The way they are playing(or lack thereof) is negatively effecting your experience as well.

Tabletop is a cooperative game that requires immense amounts of bilateral communication. If there is an issue then you need to hammer it out with your players. Find out what it is they are attempting to accomplish by not doing anything. If they refuse to discuss it with you, you may need to decide if continuing the game with them as players is worth it to you.

Do everything in your power to establish open communications with them and try to get across to them that the way they are playing is not enjoyable to you and that you would really like them to get more into the experience. Ask them what you can do to entice them and make it more enjoyable for them as well.

Everyone needs to WANT to be there for tabletop to work at its fullest potential. If everyone isn't having fun, then something (or someone) needs to change.


Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.