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How to best deal with cliques at the table during "downtime"?

I'm not the GM, but would like to know what I can say to the GM to help resolve this.

I know that it's natural that some players will develop stronger bonds with other players at an RPG table. This is a natural course of both in-game role-playing as well as talking out of character (OOC).

However, I've come across a couple of tables, where pairs of players tend to role-play and chat OOC much more than usual, to the exclusion of other members of the party/group.

This tends to happen more during "downtime" where the party splits up in a town and they go about doing their own thing, e.g. doing errands or follow their interests such as going to an Arcana, or Curio or Venom merchant. It is worth pointing out that in both campaigns the "downtime" is carried out at the table.

The way this happens is that one will say to the GM "I want to go find some spider venom" and the other says "I'll come with you." Then a similar things happens with another pair. This tends to happen where there is an odd number of players, so that one gets left out. It's always the same pairs of players, but the player's left out have varied, i.e. not always the same one. The DM gives individual time/attention to each of the pairs and the ones left out get asked too obviously. There might be an element of "not being assertive" in that the player could say "I'll come along too" (which is what I would do) but it inevitably tends to happen with the player that are newer or more shy. They end up getting bored waiting for the others to finish all their fun things they are doing in downtime. In general I wouldn't see this as a problem if it was 10-20 minutes, this whole process can take up to two hours at the table! The pairs engage in lengthy role-playing, often involving the GM/NPCs- the others just chat about things totally unrelated to the game in the meantime.

In your answer I would really appreciate some helpful suggestions drawing on GM strategies and expertise to deal with this situation? I'd also appreciate pointing towards answers in other similar questions, or published suggestions on about how to best deal with this?

Bear in mind things that I could actually mention to the GMs.

Thank you for your knowledge.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You say that your downtime takes up to 2 hours, how long does it usually take? \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Feb 29 '20 at 11:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, I have found that varies, but in most groups I've been part of or run, I'd say around 20 minutes was the maximum. \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Feb 29 '20 at 12:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ You mention cliques, but is it always the same pairs of players and always the same player left on their own? A clique to me would mean intentionally exclusionary behavior \$\endgroup\$ – lucasvw Feb 29 '20 at 12:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ @lucasvw Hi - yes, it's the same pairs. The player's left out have varied, i.e. not always the same one. \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Feb 29 '20 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ETgothome Right, but that's not the focus of your question. You can ask that one separately, but this question seems to be about how to handle your perception of players looking like they're being left out due to possible clique behavior. If anything, the problem-player tag could be included. You are also sort of contradicting yourself with the downtime times. You say it can take up to 2 hours, but that for most groups it's been 20 minutes max. But again, downtime being too long would also be another question. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 1 '20 at 13:06
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Talk outside of table to the player before going to the DM

Since you are just another player at the table, I wouldn't generally recommend going to the DM about this before talking to the player. They may not want you to do this and it may exacerbate the problem.

If you see something, say something

But as another player at the table: if you see a player being left out, just invite them to join you in your downtime activities.

If they say "no thanks", then it might not be a problem at all and they just aren't interested in this part of the table play.

If they say "thanks!", then problem solved.

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Preamble

Many of my tips are written for GM's, not players. However, even if you are a player, you can still advise them to your GM if you think it's going to be helpful.

More experienced folks will likely give you far better options that work for them, options that I personally can't use because I am very inexperienced myself. But I will give you what works for me.

Shift focus from one player to another as often as possible

Players feel "left out" when they have to wait for too long to act again: it happens both in and out of combat. If necessary, use a stopwatch. A simple rule of thumb could be not to spend more than a few minutes playing with each of your guys, but another time limit could work better for your group.

If you follow this technique, your games will generally become more vivid and players will be far less bored, even those of them who only stop staring at their smartphone when it's their turn.

Don't split the party unless it's really, really needed

If you do, never spend entire sessions doing those "downtime activities while separated". When your five players are split as you described, you are essentially GMing three different games that are for some unknown reason happening at the same place at the same time.

Splitting the party creates many problems that you need to learn to solve or avoid. For example, let's say that the one separated character attacks a group of thugs, loses the combat, and gets abducted. How will you rescue this guy without your Deus Ex Machina being too obvious?

Don't spend too much time role-playing downtime unless your group really wants it

Something like buying a Wand of Cure Light Wounds can be played as simply as by saying "I want to buy it".

Or it can be a full adventure of wandering the streets in search of a person who will sell or craft it for you, during which you demonstrate having 750 GP on your person, the aforementioned thugs find out and attack you, and it starts a new whole story.

For some players, it's fun. For others, it's totally boring. It's OK to sometimes have activities that are boring for a certain player, but they should not take too long.

Try to reunite the party if a longer plot hook starts.

Ask your players if things are OK, better in private

Players, especially newbies, are often shy to speak up when things aren't fun for them. In such a case, ask them actively for feedback, and don't resort to guesswork. At the same time, there is a phenomenon called groupthink: after your first player to answer a feedback question says that it's OK for them, and the player from their "clique" says the same, and the other "clique" too, the last player may feel pressured not to complain and to hide their frustration.

That's why I prefer to ask for feedback in private. If you hear a complaint, you can ask them to raise it when the whole group gathers so that the problem can be discussed, or you can raise it yourself, or just fix it outright if you can and if you hear it from different people.


A note on the source of my claims

A lot of this knowledge I got as a player who organized a group of Pathfinder. Even though I was just a player, not a GM, it was my job to find players and ensure a positive atmosphere. If there were any problems that only a GM could solve, I redirected the group's concerns to him, and so the problem was usually solved.

So, if you are not the GM, you can talk to your GM and politely suggest them a course of action.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It doesn't sound like OP is the DM. And the party splitting isn't during combat, but downtime. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Feb 29 '20 at 13:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch Indeed, that's what my last paragraph is for (about the source of this knowledge). I might rewrite the post to be more role-agnostic, though. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Feb 29 '20 at 13:59
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You control the spotlight

Part of your job as GM is to ensure that each player gets equitable spotlight time. It doesn’t matter if the party is split up or not or how they are split up if they are.

Please note that I said ”equitable”, not “equal”. That means you have to offer each player table time: “Ok, you guys are talking to the silk merchant, Jack and Jill are going up the hill, what are you doing Jim?” It’s ok if Jim says “Nothing”.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @ Dale M Thanks, I'm not the GM. Can you update your answer to say maybe something like "It's the GM's role to..." I really like the concept of players getting "equitable spotlight" - this is something I can see being helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Senmurv Mar 1 '20 at 11:04

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