Disclaimer: I know backstories are good and necessary but here's the issue -

Two players have a joint backstory, and one of them is REALLY into it, and it's starting to disrupt game time because he keeps bringing it up. He'll pair off with his "partner" and do stuff just so they can start talking about their shared backstory to impress the other player - like ask him backstory questions he already knows the answer to, just so it gets brought up in front of the party... but there's no way they should expect 4 other players + a DM to listen to this for ten straight minutes (They split off from the party, so I have 4 PCs literally waiting to play).

I want their backstories to be the reason that NEW stuff happens, not the reason new stuff isn't happening.

Last session, the guy starts getting snippy at other players for not listening to him role play drinking a cup of tea while we're packing up cuz the session is over... I don't know how to politely tell him that nobody cares if his eyes turn a different color when he drinks tea. I just don't know how to politely get the game to move on without making him feel like I'm ignoring his backstory entirely, but the truth is nobody cares but it, and he's doing nothing to include the other players in his backstory.

TL;DR - Basically, he wants to write a book and have people read it at play sessions (but he's not a great writer).

So what do I do to make sure that backstory stays behind us, and campaign story stays ahead of us?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to rpg.se! Take the tour and visit the help center for additional guidance. To better answer your question it helps to add the system tag for the game you are playing. Though it may not seem important on roleplaying questions different systems have different expectations for how backstories play out at the table. You can edit the tag into your question. Thanks for participating and happy gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 8 '19 at 0:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ What game system and edition are you playing? \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 8 '19 at 1:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ To elaborate, the RPG and edition you're playing can significantly influence how much of a narrative influence players have, and what impact their backstory and roleplay has on the game. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast May 8 '19 at 4:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Answers are making game assumptions, I agree we need to understand which game you're playing. If you're playing freeform systemless that's useful to know too. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener May 8 '19 at 7:52

As the DM, when one of my players is being boring or distracting, I usually just interrupt and remind everyone about the plot. I'll turn to someone who's not currently engaged and I'll say: "Okay, so you've showed up at the museum, and it's pitch black inside, like someone's using darkness magic. Somewhere inside the building you hear a little boy giggling. There's quite a lot of blood outside the museum, but you don't see any corpses. What do you do?"

(I do this sort of recap frequently, even when nobody's being distracting. I feel that it helps to set the scene and keep the game moving, and also I really enjoy giving these two-sentence dramatic plot summaries.)

Most players take this pretty well -- they understand that it's the DM's job to keep the game moving. Ideally, when I remind my group of the problem they're supposed to be solving, it even gets the annoying player to focus on the problem instead of whatever side path he's focusing on.

It's also worth noting: it sounds like you have six players, which is really too many -- most groups are best with four, for pretty much the reasons you're describing. (When there are six players, each player only gets to talk one-sixth of the time, which is not enough.) It's probably not necessary to ask your problem player to leave, but if you did have to drop to five players instead of six, it would leave you with a better game.

You've noted in a comment that this problem "happens specifically when the party splits up (shopping days, separate inn rooms, etc.)". This leads me to another suggestion: don't let them do that. :) Much of the fun of a D&D game is in doing plot-related things as a group: exploring dungeons, fighting monsters, investigating eldritch magics. Very few players are playing D&D so they can roleplay going shopping, and basically nobody is playing D&D so they can listen to other people roleplay going shopping.

What I do for shopping and downtime is I ask my players to do it outside of the session, by emailing me (or emailing the group). This might work especially well for you: you can end a session in town and ask everyone to email the group with what they're doing during downtime, and if someone wants to send a two-page email describing what color his eyes turn as he drinks tea, that's up to him. Game time, when everyone is present, is used for advancing the story.

If the group gets separate inn rooms, I handle it like this:

A: "Okay, so we're getting rooms at the Yellow Dragon Inn. I'll get my own room, paying the extra three silvers."

B: "I'll room with C, and we can spend some time talking about my favorite topic: swords! I like shortswords and katanas and broadswords and scimitars and --"

DM: All right, you guys get rooms and sleep the night. Everyone take a long rest.
DM: The next morning you wake up and Farmer Macdonald is pounding on your door. He says two more of his chickens went missing overnight, and there's this horrible green thing where one of the chickens was nesting, and it's got at least five eyes and it gives him a horrible headache when he looks at it. "What's happening?"
DM: What are you going to do?

  • \$\begingroup\$ Well actually we WERE at 7, and I know 6 is still too many, but we're managing pretty well. Your advice about "recaps" definitely seems worth the try though, I'll give it a shot and see how it works out! \$\endgroup\$ – user55326 May 8 '19 at 1:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ IMO, this would be a stronger answer without the editorial comment about group size. Six players may or may not be too many, depending on the GM's skills, the group chemistry, and what kind of experience everyone wants to get from the game. (I've personally run nine-player games with no problems and no indication that anyone involved thought it was too many.) \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman May 8 '19 at 7:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman If you look, you can see where OP agreed with me that 6 is too many players. This is in a comment two above yours. It's the first comment on this post. \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B May 8 '19 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am downvoting this because you make a few too many assumptions about the way other people play. Especially since there is no system on the question. "six players, which is really too many" - it might be too many for you, but having less players does not automatically make a game better as you suggest. "nobody is playing D&D so they can listen to other people roleplay going shopping" - My players love shopping, they get to haggle and bargain and meet heaps of interesting NPCs. Your advice is good but too biased to be a great answer. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 9 '19 at 3:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanB - Six players may be "too many" for you, and it may also be "too many" for the OP, but it is not "too many" in any general, absolute sense. Many groups (not just mine) run perfectly well with six or more players. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman May 9 '19 at 7:18

This is a great opportunity to use the incentive of Inspiration. Tell everyone that you are awarding inspiration points to any and all that help keep the story moving. I use inspiration points as re-rolls as opposed to advantage, for instance, and I allow players to save up multiple inspiration points if they like. In this way, you are not the only one telling them to stop but are encouraging others to talk over them and play forward through the distraction.

I was GMing for a group of 4. One of the players ran a wizard that would continually get in trouble during the course of the fight because she wasn't learning her spells. Every fight was either Bigby's Hand with fireballs or Wall of fire with fire balls and the group used no tactics. The cleric wasn't using her healing word as a bonus action spell. At the end of one of the sessions I encouraged everyone to get to know their characters and use their imaginations to solve their problems. The first time I saw the wizard cast fly in the beginning of the round to avoid being lunch meet for lindworms I gave her an inspiration point. Similarly, when the cleric decided to use healing word as a bonus action I gave her an inspiration point. After a few sessions I could pull back from awarding inspiration points because this way of playing became the norm. They learned the way of playing that I was trying to direct them towards and they adopted it as their own.

Similarly, as you encourage your players to assist in moving the game forward this will become their new way of playing as this behavior is reinforced and the other is discouraged.

I must admit that I have not had to use inspiration points for behavior problems. Although I am a teacher and use reinforcements for my students to learn replacement behaviors. There is plenty of peer review case studies on that

  • \$\begingroup\$ The first part of your answer it a good idea, but you need to support it with evidence or experience. Have you tried this in game? How did it work out for you? The second part of your answer isn't great and TBH detracts from it, though I agree with the sentiment it doesn't make a good answer. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin May 8 '19 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ LOL as much as I'd like to... No the main thing that's at issue is that it happens specifically when the party splits up (shopping days, separate inn rooms, etc.) so there's really nothing I can do without straight up cutting down on their play time. And again, I encourage all backstory, but when you just want to tell us the backstory and nothing else, just write the novel yknow? \$\endgroup\$ – user55326 May 8 '19 at 1:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have used inspiration points to encourage players to come up with clever ideas to solve problems instead of just brute hack and slash. It has helped. I must admit that I have not had to use inspiration points for behavior problems. Although I am a teacher and use reinforcements for my students to learn replacement behaviors. There is plenty of peer review case studies on that. \$\endgroup\$ – Bryan May 8 '19 at 1:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is OP playing a game where inspiration points are a mechanic, or is this a homebrew you're recommending? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 8 '19 at 3:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think nitsua's question is because OP hasn't specified a system, so things like "inspiration" and "advantage" don't have context. I've guessed which system you're playing, but it might not be useful to OP unless it turns out they're playing the exact same system and edition as you. (Your answer is still more helpful than the "lose two friends" answer above, though.) \$\endgroup\$ – gatherer818 May 8 '19 at 12:45

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