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Quite recently, I replaced a friend as DM for a D&D game. During that game, I came across something I did not expect: One of the players was just too good.

When I am saying "too good" I am not talking about his character being overpowered, but the player himself having the time of his life roleplaying his bard.

Now I have no problem with someone enjoying roleplaying, quite the contrary, the problem came from the fact that the rest of the party (3 players), weren't quite on the same level of intensity.

This disparity caused the game to basically devolve into a 1 on 1 with the bard. Usually on that kind of situation I tend to give more attention to the withdrawn players, by interacting with them a bit more often. But in this case, whenever I did that, they almost always found a way to give the spotlight back to the bard.

A simple example:

At one point the group witnessed a girl being annoyed by a group of ruffians, so I asked one of the other players (a paladin) what he was going to do, his answer was, word by word:

I think we should let the bard handle this.

This is the kind of answer I got for almost every problem I threw at them.

Another example:

The adventure is heavily puzzle based, with combat encounters being pretty rare. So the DM had prepared a dungeon with custom made puzzle for each class.

  • 1 puzzle for the paladin, where the goal was to identify which object between several was wicked.
  • 1 puzzle for the ranger, where the goal was to guide the party through a labyrinth that took the form of a forest
  • 1 puzzle for the cleric, where the goal was to reconstitute a story from fragments, related to different deities
  • 1 puzzle for the bard, where the goal was to sing the correct song to a creature to put it to sleep

Of all these puzzles, only the paladin did his puzzle without asking the bard to do it for him. All the other puzzles were basically done by the bard, on demand from the other players.

So my question would be:

In that kind of situation, how can I prevent a single player from hogging the spotlight, when all other players always refuse to be in the spotlight?

PS:

This problem has also been noted by the usual DM of the group, and he did not find a solution either.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Please remember that even subjective questions like this need to be supported. The stack isn't for idea generation and any solutions should be backed up. Answers that aren't backed up should not be upvoted and may be removed if they aren't supported. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 25 at 13:49
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The best way I ever dealt with this is by enlisting the player's help. Explain the problem to them and ask them how they (and yourself) could work how to alleviate the perceived problem.

Why perceived problem? Do the other players mind? If not, you are trying to solve an imaginary problem. Did you ask them? Is everyone on the same page about the game they are playing? If so, do not worry about it. In nearly all cases, unless I ask, I am rarely told and trying to fix a problem that only I identify as a problem will result in animosity.

Note that splitting the party works once or twice but gets really tedious if done often as everyone loses screen time. Ditto for system tweaks (rewards/penalties), none of the myriad I saw ever worked past once or twice. For example, giving out XP/Fate Points for "better" role play always led to a drop in quality as the reward is based on progress so the lower one starts, the greater the rewards.

So, how did I get the player's help?

I asked them and the solutions we use generally fall into several "tropes". The screen hog players generally still wants attention so needs to have an outlet for it. However, they should understand that others need screen time too! The following do not work all at once, at least I never had to result in all of them at once!

  • "But I have no idea how to do that?!?" -- Just because the player is good at something, does not mean his character is. While bards are good at social interactions, it does not mean they are good at dealing with criminals, nobles, or orcs chieftains. All the games I play are systemless, so we do have this as a basic set up: not all characters have the competence of their player. The reverse is true but beyond the scope of this question.
  • "Yeah, I won't be doing that!" -- Go through a forest? Dude, there's icky animals there. No way. Just because I can do it, does not mean I will. I mean, really? I am the bard. I sing. I dance. I talk. I do not flounder through forests, identify item, or mediate between factions! Mostly, this added banter to the group play, which forced the other players to role play their reactions and try to convince the "bard" to actually help. A nice side effect was that other players took the lead to "show up" the reluctant hero -- and maybe embarrass them a little.
  • "Let me help you with that…" -- Mentoring. I ran a Witcher game where one character was the master of the other. The master had more experience but wanted to make sure the apprentice learned so would deliberately not deal with stuff. If you aim to teach the other characters (not players!) how to do it, they have to practice.
  • "Let me get into trouble for you." -- Remember Dandelion in the Witcher? Most of the side quests involving him are about getting him out of the mess he created for himself. This works wonder when the player actively seeks to cause trouble. However, this can get annoying quiet quickly. A number of my games ended up with said character abusing this and ended up either killed or abandoned to their fate. In small dozes, it works wonders.

Can you and your player come up with more? Probably, and those will be better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ To be maybe clearer: we don't need game logs or recordings or proof to back up, what we want is to hear about some of the times you have done it and how it turned out. Your word is good enough. The reason for this is that any body can say "do this! It sounds great!" but the best answers are the ones that say "Do this! It worked for me in X case where I got X result." Since we require answers to be backed up somehow that is what we expect from subjective answers. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 25 at 18:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ And it seems you have done that successfully here, so thank you! \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jun 25 at 18:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS It all looks good. Thank you for doing this, it is much appreciated. \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion Jun 26 at 12:17
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I'd mirror a lot of what has already been said on this, but but the main thing you need to do first is find out what your players really think and feel about the bard taking a lead. If they are enjoying the game then I wouldn't focus too much of your time on trying to fix something they don't see as broken. I'd suggest speaking to them all out of the game to find out if they are enjoying the game this way, or if they feel like they 'have' to let the bard do it just because he's 'better' at playing the game than they are.

To give an example of this I did once have a player who was new, and playing a rogue. Another player was constantly telling her how to play it, what skills they should use etc. Personally I would have hated that and I was going to pull him up on it. Fortunately I asked the player about it first, and she actually said she enjoyed it, and that's why she sat next to him at the table because he helped her learn the rules, and how to get the most from the number.

If they do want to gain confidence then do maybe think about duet games, or sessions where only two players go off on side quests, but as has already been said don't over do it. I have run some D&D duet games with new players and that has helped them. My wife was one such player and she seemed to hate the game but it turned out she just felt intimidated by more experienced players. Doing the one on one sessions meant the next time we played as a bigger group she felt she understood how to interact with the NPC better (playing one on one meant she had to, but in safe environment).

Do you know how the bard's player feels about this too, does he enjoy taking over or is he actually getting a bit tired of always having to go up front?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the site and please take our tour to learn more about how things work here and what makes us different from a standard forum. One thing I do want to highlight is that answers need to be supported. Can you back up your ideas? \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 25 at 13:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this answer has really benefited from you adding your personal experiences. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Jun 26 at 8:53
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Is it a problem?

Everyone takes their pleasure from the game in their own way. The guy with the vacant look on their face who says 5 syllables every session may see the game as the highlight of their week.

By all means solicit feedback from each player individually about this issue (among others) but don’t phrase it as a problem until it is a problem. “Hey, I’ve noticed that your character is hanging back in the RP - is this the way you want it or is there anything I can do to give them more limelight?”

Don’t think the way you like to play is the way they like to play.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This is so true. I just started a game with my bro and his wife and friends on roll20. Bro and his wife barely talked the first session. I was worried. Their response after the session was "THIS WAS THE MOST FUN WE HAD GAMING IN OVER 5 YEARS". We then talked about feedback as a group and gave honest and constructive criticism. \$\endgroup\$ – Anthony Genovese Jun 26 at 17:49
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As others have pointed out, first make sure it is actually a problem. If all your players are having fun, and you are too, there may be nothing that needs fixing.

As others have already suggested solutions for your current campaign, I'd like to share a solution that worked really well for our group when we started a new campaign. In our group we have one player who is far more experienced than the rest of the players. This resulted in their character consistently overshadowing the others in both mechanics and roleplaying to the point where some sessions turned into 'watch the warlock do their thing, since there's nothing we can add'.

After discussing the situation in the group we finished up the ongoing campaign and started a new one. The experienced player made a character that was deliberately bad at various things, such as refusing to use a weapon and fighting barehanded (he's a cleric), and being a gruff, non too diplomatic airship captain. In actual gameplay, this ends up causing the experienced player's character to really need others to pitch in and actually do stuff. They're still awesome at roleplaying, but this now naturally includes asking others for help and/or badly failing at attempted tasks and needing aid from the other characters.

Essentially they have voluntarily taken on a handicap. The experienced player is having tons of fun playing the blustering character and the rest of us has tons of fun watching the character's antics - and jumping in to get things on track or keep them under control.

You might be able to work this into your current campaign by changing the way the bard is roleplayed, though that is definitely a choice the bard's player should make.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I was going to make this suggestion myself, and "me sometimes play that character." I would add that the experienced player's character does not need to be bad at everything - just enough things to provide a natural time for your resident power gamer to step out of the limelight. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant Jun 26 at 18:02

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