21
\$\begingroup\$

After recently starting a new campaign with a group of players that I've had for separate groups before, I noticed that one of the players often struggles with the ability to interject when they want to. I often notice that she goes to, and then someone else starts talking or roleplaying the scene moves on and she ends up not being able to play a scene with her experience suffering in the process.

I know that she's autistic and I have similar problems as a player (the GM bonus of being able to just speak over people gets rid of this) due to this, and that these problems often don't form in the group they're from due to it predominantly being either autistic or people who are used to it.

I've had some success in causing scenes that end up being in initiative order despite not being combat, such as where times people are doing separate things at the same time, which works due to people having turns to talk. This wont always be available as an option.

How can I as a GM, or passing information along, help this problem?

Though they'll be taken into account; methods that would be expected of children are in danger of infantilizing players with autism which is common enough to become aggravating to said players, helpful or not.

\$\endgroup\$
6
  • \$\begingroup\$ Is this game in person or online? Is there video or just voice? \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2022 at 9:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is in person, hence why I notice it, but answers based on having less/more information may help other people finding/seeing this question in the future \$\endgroup\$
    – Cassie
    Oct 3, 2022 at 9:20
  • 7
    \$\begingroup\$ Our site works best when we focus on solving concrete problems with specific details, so it's best to focus on your specific case in answers here. Ironically being broader does not produce better results. If it doesn't apply to other people so well, they can ask about their separate case still. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2022 at 9:24
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Gentle reminder that solutions to the problem should be put in answers below, along with the support (eg. here's what we did, how it worked and how it didn't) to back it up. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 3, 2022 at 12:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Let us continue this discussion in chat. \$\endgroup\$
    – Someone_Evil
    Oct 3, 2022 at 14:08

7 Answers 7

21
\$\begingroup\$

Is this a problem?

It's not uncommon, IME, for a quiet person to still be having fun even if they're not contributing to every scene. Quite the opposite, actually: being forced to contribute can be stressful. It's probably worth checking in with your player - outside of game time - to verify that this is a problem.

It sounds like it is, and I'll assume it is for the rest of this, but it's often worth confirming.

Do the other players realize they're doing this?

I obviously don't know what the dynamics are at your table, but I've seen plenty of players (myself, unfortunately, included at times) who simply don't realize that they're dominating or monopolizing table time. If the "problem" (using the term extremely loosely) players don't realize that they're dominating screen time, mentioning it outside of table time can work quite well, especially if paired with a little GM attention to the quieter players.

If the "problem" (again, loosely) players are stepping on other players intentionally/maliciously - you probably need to have a conversation with them about not doing that. ... and, possibly, about dis-inviting them from the game, especially in the "maliciously" case. This is uncommon, IME, but is included for completeness.

What can the GM do at the table?

Many systems have explicit rules for entering initiative order for combat. As mentioned in the question, those systems can often be used for non-combat encounters.

... but, sometimes the initiative system is clunky for non-combat encounters or may have unexpected/undesirable consequences if used when battle erupts (eg., D&D3.5's surprise round or any effect that relies on a creature not having acted in combat yet).

Pseudo-initiative.

I've had good experiences - on both sides of the screen - with "pseudo-initiative". Basically, go once around the table before the clock ticks.

Navigating the wilderness? The clock might only tick once a day, but everybody should have the option of doing a thing that day.

Negotiating with the king? The click might tick once per point (which may include a little back-and-forth; pseudo-initiative is flexible that way), but everybody should have the option of doing a thing while that point is under discussion. For example: the dashing rogue may have a short dialog with the king while discussing payment for the king's request; everyone should have the option of interjecting with "that's far too low" or "I stab the king" before the payment is finalized and the discussion moves on to discussions about what resources are available before venturing forth.

In-person, this can often be accomplished by simply glancing around the table, making eye contact with each player; if anybody wants to interject, the eye contact is usually sufficient "permission" for them to do so. For some players, eye contact may not be desirable or sufficient; it may be preferable to augment or replace eye contact with a short verbal cue ("Jim? Sally?"). If "Jim" or "Sally" doesn't have anything to add, a quick "nope" will let the scene move along without feeling like there was an interruption.

In virtual settings, the verbal cue is probably required, along with a sufficient pause to account for a moment's thought and Internet lag. This can break up the scene a bit more, so you might want to ask them to...

Raise your hand.

It's cheesy, but everybody knows that someone whose hand is raised wants to say something. Remind your players of this, and reinforce its use by moving to the person whose hand is raised as quickly as practical.

Some online products support raised hands explicitly, but not a lot. Most voice chat apps and virtual tabletops have a text chat capability; putting "✋" or something in the chat can work if somebody's paying attention.

Regardless: like with pseudo-initiative, the raised hand's owner should be able to interject before the clock ticks. If that requires some slight ret-conning, well, that happens some times.

\$\endgroup\$
2
  • \$\begingroup\$ "Is this a problem": yes, it's not because they dont want to interact, it's that in trying to play they get interrupted/stop to allow other players. the other suggestions have been tried, or for raising hands (or similar) I'll try in the next 3 or so sessions with the other suggestions \$\endgroup\$
    – Cassie
    Oct 3, 2022 at 20:56
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ "eye contact may not be desirable or sufficient; it may be preferable to augment or replace eye contact with a short verbal cue ("Jim? Sally?")." An autistic player may not even notice when someone is looking at them specifically. Maybe, maybe not. So the auditory clue is good to have (as you say). \$\endgroup\$ Oct 3, 2022 at 21:56
15
\$\begingroup\$

"Thomas, you've already done a couple things here, let's let John and Peter try some things."

My DM said this to me once when my character was dominating a particular scene. It made sense narratively that my character would be prominent in the scene, but making sure everyone at the table is having fun and having a chance to engage trumps "the narrative makes sense", and it didn't not make sense for the other characters to jump in. But this gentle nudge to step back for a moment allowed John and Peter to engage in a scene that they otherwise would not have. And this is a good thing. My DM wasn't rebuking or scolding me, he was just managing the game so that everyone could have fun.

As the GM, you have to watch out for everyone and make sure everyone is having fun (everyone else does too, but the GM usually has more tools for doing so). If that means you give some players a little nudge to let someone else engage, then that's what you have to do. Everyone should be looking to make sure everyone else is having fun, so no one should have a problem with you helping others to engage when they are having trouble engaging. It doesn't have to be a big deal. If a player is being quiet during a scene, just ask them directly:

Alice, is there anything you wanted to do or say here?

Or as mentioned previously, you can address the player(s) who are already engaging:

Thomas and Pete, let's see if Alice has an idea here.

This isn't a big deal, so don't make it a big deal. Doing things like this let's all the players know that you have their back, so to speak, when it comes to making sure everyone can engage with the game.

\$\endgroup\$
8
\$\begingroup\$

I often notice that she goes to, and then someone else starts talking or roleplaying the scene moves on

"[Character name], how do you respond to the orc declaring he's done listening?"

Everyone should get a fairly equal share of 'spotlight time'. If someone's character isn't getting the same quantity as others, there are a number of ways for a GM to refocus the spotlight on that character. The simplest is to ask what they are currently doing, or how they react to an event, or whether they are prepared for the current circumstance (eg if a thief has a lantern that they would light), pretty much anything to give them a lead in to say or do something and focus the table's attention on them.

"The strange tall metallic man shuffles over and sniffs the air, before focusing his shiny-eyed gaze on [Character name], holding out a creaking hand on which sits a strange brass key."

Another technique is to give the character of the player having trouble gaining spotlight time Narrative Focus. The plot points towards them for whatever reason. The goblin shaman decides they are the leader of the group, they find a strange device half-buried in the mud of the room while everyone else is arguing about how to check for traps, or they spot a tiny fairy creature peeking at the party from inside the bushes as they walk down the forest trail.

This is all the same as the first thing, but instead of OOC asking for the character's opinion or action, you are IC having an event occur that implicitly only they can react to (even if they react by immediately bringing it to the attention of the party). Effectively, this is giving them a narrative offer same as if another PC had said '[character name], what do you think' but from a NPC or world element.

"[Player name], was [character name] going to say something?"

Directly requesting is the final tool in the refocusing arsenal, in that you forcibly shift focus to the player by giving them the opportunity to speak in character. This is also one of the more straightforward methods, and often will indicate to other players that they need to make more room for that player to speak, or make more narrative offers to them.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

It's the GM's job to determine what happens in the game world. This includes tracking what all PCs and NPCs etc are doing, and they all exist and can be doing things at the same time.

And, that means that if one player seizes the "conversational initiative" to say various things happen (even if they only say that their character does and says various things), the GM should ensure that any/all other agents and facts in the situation also get to make appropriate input.

In the case of players who don't speak when others are talking, the GM should take time to ask what each of the other players are saying or doing, and not let overly dominant speakers have more effect than they should, just because the player is talking first and loudest.

Once the GM knows what every PC and NPC is trying to do and say, then the GM can fairly determine what actually happens. Not only does this give the quieter players an equal chance to participate, but it also tends to train the louder players that they can't control entire scenes by speaking first and loudest, nor by asserting that events will happen as they wish.

This, like practically everything in RPGs, is a style choice. It may frustrate some players who are used to being able to dominate what happens in games by aggressively asserting what happens. But unless everyone enjoys and prefers them to do that, it tends to be for the best. If people DO like where one player is leading everything, they can still go along with such a person's suggestions - they just also get to say so, as well as a chance to contribute themselves.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

My wife is a facilitator-consultant for meetings and conferences. Her job is to keep the flow of views civilized and productive. She has two main "tricks" to help all views to be heard. The first involves a Talking Stick (a prop that is passed around. Whoever has the stick has the floor and everyone else waits their turn)

The second gambit may be more conducive to an RPG. Each person gets a half-dozen poker chips. To speak requires the person to spend a chip. Over and over again, apparently, the Big Talkers dominate the conversation at the beginning, but then find themselves out of chips. They apparently come close to writhing in agony keeping their yaps shut while the Quiet Ones all have their say uninterrupted. (She's not here to ask, but I believe everyone's chip supply is refreshed when the last one is spent.)

I haven't attempted to use this in an RPG, so keen to hear if it works!

\$\endgroup\$
1
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for the talking stick. I was about to suggest a stuffed pumpkin which would play the same role as a talking stick. \$\endgroup\$
    – Abigail
    Oct 5, 2022 at 22:11
1
\$\begingroup\$

As the GM, you've got all the power here, facilitating the game isn't just about being the NPC's, monsters and designing the maps, it's also sometimes about being the person who moves the flow along or gently directs a scene.

If you sometimes opt to describe a journey rather than have characters roleplay a days walk, or ask if anyone has anything they'd like to do during a long rest; that feels to me similar to occasionally interjecting to make sure players get their say.

Something my DM uses when we're in danger of going too far off on one is

[PC Name] What are you doing/thinking/etc?

Which prompts that person to engage or just to speak, and everyone else to shut up for a minute. As a party we've played together for so long now that we're pretty good at picking up each others cues, even me (I'm also autistic, like your player) but it doesn't hurt to drop in from time to time.

\$\endgroup\$
0
\$\begingroup\$

(My answer overlaps a bit with Blaze's, but I think it is worth a separate answer.)

I use a pool of tokens. Everybody gets a certain number of tokens (one when there are many players, but I go up to 3 with systems like Pathfinder 2 or Rule of Cool where PCs typically get 3 actions in a round of combat.

Every time I say "what do you do?" to the group, I give everybody their token(s). Once someone told me what they do, they handle one token (or several if I consider it was enough to "spend several actions", but that really depends on the system you are using).

A player without any token left is supposed to stay quiet until everybody spent theirs (you don't have to be strict about it: there are legitimate reasons to interrupt someone and you should be able to decide which ones are ok and which ones aren't depending on your group dynamics). When all the tokens have been spent, you give new ones to everybody, and start again (this is the moment I generally use to describe things that are out of the PC's control).

Sometimes a player will have leftover tokens and no real plan to use them. It is important that the situation doesn't devolve into "everyone starts to tell the last player what they could do with this last token", so you should be a bit stricter with the "be quiet if you don't have tokens" at that moment. If after a moment this last player really doesn't know what to do, just proceed to the token refill, so that everyone is again at their starting number of tokens.

I tested letting players carry their unspent tokens over refills, but it usually doesn't really work out: some players will just hesitate an finally choose not to do anything to have more options later.

I use this technique in all the games I run that have 6 players or more (it makes things incomparably better), but I also experimented it with more classic games of 4 players, with results good enough that I wouldn't hesitate to start using it in the middle of a session if I feel like some player(s) have a hard time speaking.

\$\endgroup\$

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .