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(Preamble: I recognize "just talk to her" is the default right answer for questions like this, but since the transgression is really small and the player is really new, I'm specifically looking for ways to either communicate indirectly or make a direct communication easy for the player.)

The situation itself is pretty straightforward: I've been running a session for about a year, and two out of four players at the table are completely new to TTRPGs. The game's been going well and people have expressed they're happy with it. However, the problem is that one of the new players tends to talk over people. This is NOT an issue with long monologues - she doesn't hog too much time - but she does interrupt other people's moments with her random ideas.

After some feedback a player just told me this is bugging them. They'd like more space and to not have their moments stepped on. I think they'd be happy if the offending player talked the same amount, but kept their comments for "their turn", i.e. know when to let someone have their moment and when it's okay to speak up with your ideas.

I would not classify the offending player as a Problem Player. She's nice and respectful. Since she's new to the game and just started getting excited about it I want to be sensitive and not single her out or make her feel reprimanded. If she doesn't take the advice then I'm happy to escalate and be confrontational, but for now I'd like a subtle/gentle way to address this. I think maybe she just hasn't considered it's important to give people space to shine when it's their moment - she's excited and having fun and could just use a bit more awareness (I think).

So how can I politely bring this up and help her have a bit more "improv etiquette"?

Edit: Emphasis on the "subtle/gentle" part. I'd like help thinking of indirect ways to bring it up. Or, if "just talk to her" is the only way, how to make that conversation less personal and easier for her. I want to err on the side of changing the behaviour without making her feel like she's done something wrong, if possible.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Out of curiosity, is there anything about the RPG system you're playing that might address this? (For instance, some RPGs might be more strictly turn-based, whereas others might be more freeform and allow for anyone to jump in at any time – and many might fall somewhere in the middle.) \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Jun 20, 2023 at 22:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's 5e. This behaviour comes up during freeform non-combat scenes and turn-based combat ones. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2023 at 22:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you running your game in person or online? Online a slight drop in connection could be perceived as a gap in conversation. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 12:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ You say that "After some feedback a player just told me this is bugging them" - does this interrupting player interrupt them only, or are they just the only player who mentioned they have a problem with it to you? \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 21, 2023 at 13:27

9 Answers 9

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Just talk to her

People can’t change behaviours they are unaware of. Make her aware of it.

“I want to be sensitive and not single her out or make her feel reprimanded.” Fine, except you have to single her out because she is the single individual doing the interrupting. There’s certainly no need to reprimand her nor is there a need to do the singling out publicly.

Of course, I’m not entirely sure why the player this behaviour is bugging has not raised it with her themselves. It doesn’t seem to be bugging you so I’m not sure why it became an issue for you to deal with.

Notwithstanding, it either gets raised with her or the “bugged” player just lives with it. That’s how social interaction works.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, and would give more if I could. I was the player with this exact problem a few years ago, and never realised how annoying it was for other players. The DM told me in private after a session that this was an issue, and I was glad they did. In the end I started paying more attention to this, and occasionally the DM would quickly remind me if I was falling back into this habbit during games, until I somewhat got over it. Can't do better than talking things out plainly, in my experience. I was about to make an answer, but this one encapsulates it perfectly. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jun 21, 2023 at 6:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RGregStacey: FWIW I've seen that attempted in corporate environments a number of times: there's one problem person, but a meeting gets held to discuss a general policy. And it always comes off bad and cringey. Everyone knows who the one problem person is, but in lieu of the manager having the courage to have the one direct conversation, they're instead wasting everyone's time, making everyone engage in doublespeak, and vaguely accusing all instead of one. And the one person lacking meta-awareness usually misses the subtle point anyway. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 8:34
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DanielR.Collins Not all group dynamics are the same though, in particular corporate group dynamics is often built on the patent lie that you're all working towards a common goal. Whereas in a ttrpg group that statement is true. A further lie in these "corporate policy reiteration" sessions is that unwanted behaviour is caused by ignorance of those policies. As opposed to this case, where there is a good chance the behaviour is indeed caused by inexperience and unfamiliarity with the concept of spotlight. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ That being said, if you do decide to talk to her directly (which is always preferable if you trust each other enough), don't just go "don't do this", try to find out why it's happening and offer solutions to their problem. It could be for example that they're just afraid they'll forget it, in which case writing a quick note-to-self or setting a similar physical reminder could help. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Be sure also that if you talk to this persona bout this issue, do so privately. There's no need to bring this up during a session or even with any of the other players present. And be willing to listen to her as well - there may be a reason why she sometimes interrupts other players beyond just being unaware, and working through that is important for both of you. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    Jun 21, 2023 at 13:24
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Try not to reward her

If a player interrupts while you're having a solo scene with someone else, try saying something like: "hold on one moment, I'll get to you when I'm done with this scene."

Try not to have long solo scenes

I've played in games where the DM ran long solo scenes. (One of my DMs called them "spotlight scenes". It sounds like you call them "moments".) I found it boring. When I'm in a D&D game, I want to actually play D&D, not sit quietly and listen while someone else does something I'm not involved in.

In one of those games, I could tell that other players were bored as well. The way that I could tell was that they were constantly interrupting other people's scenes, much in the way that your player is doing. Eventually we reached a point where the DM would never end a scene on their own, and the only way anyone could do anything would be to straight-up interrupt someone else's thing with their own unrelated activity.

(I left the game not long after that.)

It sounds like your game hasn't reached that point yet. But my advice to you is the same as my advice to my other DMs would have been: try to run more group activities, and try to avoid deliberately shutting people out of scenes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 Thank you! Just to clarify, the moments I'm talking about aren't full scenes. The interruptions are along the lines of Person B wanting to Send to an important NPC, only to be cut off by Offending Player saying something like "oh! we should identify that wand soon!" So the interruptions often don't pertain to the (short) moment a single player is having. But I take your advice and will watch for these moments getting boring for other players. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 20, 2023 at 22:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ @RGregStacey Not to diagnose someone secondhand over the internet from a single remark... but is it possible your player has ADHD? She reminds me of, well, me. I got a lot better at sitting still for the whole duration of an RPG session after I was diagnosed (at 35!) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 9:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GlennWillen: 100%. And knowing you have ADHD, you can let other players know. And tell them you'll try to avoid the problem, but if you get excited and do it anyway, you won't take it as an insult if someone points out what you're doing. That's something I've done in social situations, or more often just as part of an apology when realizing I've overstepped in some way. It seems to help people not take offence and defuse any tension they had over bringing something up in the first place. (In my case, I was diagnosed with ADHD when I was 7 or 8 years old.) \$\endgroup\$ Jun 22, 2023 at 2:34
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Don't be indirect, or subtle

Subtle or indirect attempts to broach subjects like these often fail. Your players are not mind-readers and should not need to read tea leaves to understand you.

That doesn't mean drop the hammer on her in public or in private, of course.

I would definitely opt for a private talk first over a public one. I would definitely frame this as something coming from you, rather than a personal complaint you're passing along from another player, whether you identify them or not.

But after removing that information, what, in the problem description you post above, do you consider to be impolite? I don't see anything there that's impolite.

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Ask the player to talk with her first

Really, this should be the first step. If the other player is the only one that feels what she is doing is affecting her enjoyment of the game, then he or she should share this with her, probably in private, to help her understand. As you say, she is unaware how this affects the other player, and the simplest solution to that is if the other player makes her aware.

Yes, it is one of the many hats you wear as DM to try and manage the social dynamics of the group to make it a good experience for all, but in this case, escalation to you stepping in can still happen after the affected player tried to resolve this person-to-person and that did not work.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Success of this strategy is highly dependent on the ability of the "bugged" player to discuss this issue in a clear and effective manner. In my experience, people harbouring a continued annoyance are rarely capable of this. But it all depends on the specifics of the group, the experience and personality of the player, and it's impossible for us to judge that from a distance. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 21, 2023 at 9:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop Yes, agree, depends to some extent on the maturity of the group - I would not do this with children, but would ask them to talk it out while present to help guide it. But with adults this should work, like in the workplace, where it is SOP to first ask people to try and resolve differences directly before you step in as the manager. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 21, 2023 at 10:43
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Communication is the key to good communication

As several users have already suggested, direct and clear communications regarding the problem is almost always the best way to handle it. Explain the problem, ask the player if they understand the problem and agree on a way forward. Dialogue and agreements are how societies of any size are built.

Don't be afraid to say no

If you have already discussed the matter and agreed on a solution, and the player reneges (probably inadvertently), remind them of the discussion and turn back to the player they interrupted.

In extreme cases, use a talking stick

I was gaming in a group with a person with bad hearing who was also on the autistic spectrum - unfortunately, the combination (along with their personality) made them very prone to speaking out over others.

After a number of corrections proved futile, we resorted to a "talking stick", a relay baton of sorts which was handed out by and returned to the game master.

The rules we used were fairly simple:

  • No player can speak in or about the game without the stick.
  • Raise your hand if you wish to indicate a desire to speak.
  • When a player has finished speaking, the stick must be returned to the GM.

Important corollaries turned out to be:

  • Whenever the stick is returned to the GM, if your hand is raised, make sure you remember what you wanted to say and start thinking of how to phrase it. If you don't remember, lower your hand.
  • Making a brief note is a good way to remember why your hand is raised.

If you can, find an item that correlates reasonably well with the gaming world, but anything works, really. Preferably something of which only one copy exists in the gaming room, to prevent potential mix-ups.

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    \$\begingroup\$ In my family we used a throw-pillow as a "talking stick". Because even while holding it, sometimes the only way to stop someone else from interrupting you is to hit them with it. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 23, 2023 at 15:01
  • \$\begingroup\$ Hmm, sounds like my idea of a "talking sword" would be bad, then. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chuk
    Jun 27, 2023 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chuk Well, you could use the sheath - in fact, a dagger sheath is what was used in my case. The GM kept the dagger. \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Jun 27, 2023 at 20:59
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I would recommend just telling her (in private), that you like her enthusiasm and willingness to engage. I would then ask her to please be mindful to give everyone a chance to finish stating their ideas/dialog before throwing her own into the mix.

A simple explanation like: " Hey I really enjoy how interactive you are with the world and how you are not shy about role-playing. It really helps me to bring the world to life. I do however, have a small request. When a dialog or interaction arises that opens the situation to ideas, tactics or thoughts from the players, could you allow whomever is currently speaking, proposing an idea or acting out their characters' reaction, to finish what they are doing before proposing your own ideas or speaking your own reply or acting out your own characters reaction? It is perfectly fine if you are the first to speak sometimes but please try to fully consider the idea's and recommendations of the other players, have a discussion between your character and theirs, etc. I think it will make everyone feel as though their ideas are also equally valid and who knows, after you hear everyones' thoughts on a situation and they hear yours and the party has a discussion, maybe everyone will come up with an even better course of action.

One guaranteed effect of doing this is that you will be helping me to really bring the events of the adventure into focus. It will also help keep the players engaged in the story of the adventure by building relationships between the characters based on their personalities and goals that begin to shine through after repeated dialogs where everyone gets a chance to fully act out their character."

I think this should be helpful to you in your attempt to tell the player to allow everyone their time to shine. It praises them for their willingness to engage, makes them feel as though their activeness is not a bad thing and in fact helps to bring the world to life, while also giving her the clear message that you want everyone to have their turn to shine. Finally it wraps up with a request for the players assistance to help engage the other players so that the adventure seems more real and the characters feel more alive. Treat -> Stick -> Carrot...so to speak.

I hope this helps.

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Indeed from how you describe it, this sounds like she's not a problem player, it's just part of her learning process. I think most of us WERE once this player, I certainly was and it took me time to get it.

I'm also going to assume that you've already ruled out talking to the player directly as your opening move.

So maybe you can speed the process up by being more explicit about who's in the spotlight.

I can imagine creating a situation where the spotlight is made obvious, like a powerful NPC wanting to question them one by one (but with all of them present), start with her, so she could do her thing first, then move on to someone else and then if she still interrupts, the NPC can "tell her off" instead of you.

And then in a post-story group debrief (if that is something you do), you can mention the concept of spotlight, explain how it works and how you were trying to play around with it. (But not necessarily why, after all you don't want to single her out.)

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I would suggest a private chat, not a public one. Generally, something towards the end of the session (or after play has stopped, as people are packing up to go), starting something like "Hey, Alice, can you hang back for a few minutes?". Make sure you have a friendly tone, and be reassuring about it.

The conversation should be fairly short (a few minutes, at most), and contain a suggestion, rather than a directive. Here is an example of an opening for this situation: "I can see that you are enjoying the game, which is great. I hope we all do. I did notice, however, that you were making some suggestions about general future tasks when something specific was going on. The suggestion wasn't a problem, but the time you made it wasn't ideal. Maybe make a note, so you don't forget, and bring it up once the scene is done. Please don't lose the enthusiasm, though - it's great to see you getting into the game." If the interruption wasn't in the middle of a conversation between characters (PC or NPC doesn't matter), it would have been fine. You do need to make sure your player knows that. (Yes, I know that if it wasn't interrupting something, it isn't an interruption, but just talking.)

The important part here is to be friendly, not confrontational, because you want enthusiastic players. You just don't want them to blurt out every thought they have when someone else is interacting with NPCs or the DM. You also want to shut down problematic behaviour before it becomes unbearable and people leave because of it. In this case, it's timing, not content, that is the problem. Correct that, and everyone should be OK.

Overall, if this is the worst problem you have, then you have a fantastic group, so let them all (including you) have fun.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I won't comment on the rest of this answer but I'd warn everyone against prefixing such a conversation with "Hey, Alice, can you hang back for a few minutes?" In many people this immediately dials up their anxiety to 11, no matter how hard you're trying to dampen it with your tone. Being more specific can avoid this problem, "Can I give you some advice on roleplaying?" is also terrible but it's the kind of specificity I'm thinking about. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 23, 2023 at 14:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ @biziclop I'll admit it isn't the best way to start it, and I didn't consider anxiety when I started this answer. As you said, it tends to dial the anxiety up, not down. I will continue to advise private, not public, though. How you get the time without other players is up to you. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkorvaks
    Jun 23, 2023 at 22:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, private is definitely the way to go if you can manage it. I think you've covered all the angles well, except maybe mentioning that concentrating on the future rather than the past often helps. Sure, bring up specific examples of the past (they MUST be specific, like in your example, "you keep doing X" won't cut it) but don't dwell on what was wrong for too long, explain how it can be improved in the future. \$\endgroup\$
    – biziclop
    Jun 24, 2023 at 0:31
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Do a "Stars" and "Wishes" post game review

This gives everyone a chance to say something they really liked about the game (Stars), and something that they would like to see in future games (Wishes). This can give feedback to the DM and the other players regarding things that are fun and things that are less fun.

This can be really subtle and effective, as it is ostensibly for the players to give the DM feedback on what to do more of, and what the players want. But thrown into the mix there could be a "Wish" saying "I wish we didn't interrupt each other as much as we did tonight". A player or a DM saying this as one of around 10 other comments (assuming 4 players and a DM giving 1 star and 1 wish each), doesn't single out your player and also helps them to know that everyone has room to improve the game experience, and everyone has the responsibility to make the game more enjoyable.

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