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I was having a blast with my first campaign, but things got out of hand.

Four players in total: three were active and one was passive. Until one active player got in an accident and quit, so I brought another player. That player also turned out to be a passive player.

Passive players don't do much. It doesn't have to do with character motivation or their integration into the story. I think they prefer not to participate much and that's how they enjoy things.

When I asked them, they said they were having fun and hoped they could play longer. They do not care if other players roleplay more. I think it's unfeasible to demand them to adopt active playstyle. That may be fun and fine in some tables.

Problem is I'm not enjoying this and the active players are definitely not enjoying this. Active players mentioned that since other players were just tagging along, it seemed she was progressing all the story, opening all the doors and literally talking alone. And she said she was tired. She said my GMing was cool and she looked forward to next campaign, but she doesn't click with quiet people.

And I'm also feeling this is getting more like one-on-one or two-on-one sessions with audience. Some GMs might try more, so this is going to be an unpopular opinion.

I am not willing to make more drastic situations so players can react. I put enough effort and the rest is teamwork. I know it's partly my fault because I recruited first come first served and I really didn't expect some people would just sit there. I had misconception that everyone signed up for TRPG to talk.

Anyway, I can either wrap up early or just quit. Wrap-up means effort, but at least I would finish my first campaign properly. Quitting means I can prepare for the next campaign and have a more specific recruit description and hopefully have fun.

It's just that if I quit, I could say I'm busy, but that would be weird if I start next campaign. Or flat out dude we don't click? Seems a bit rude though, especially if they were having fun. The situation may seem repetitive to some people, but it's my first campaign and I am really just confused how to go from here.

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    \$\begingroup\$ A few question to understand your situations a bit better: How long have you been playing this campaign, both in Game Sessions and in Months/years? How good do you guys know each other, like were you friend before you played or did you just meet through the game? Are the quiet players aware, that their behaviour is negatively impacting you and the more active players? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20 at 10:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ 1) How much have you discussed with the problem players? Even if you don't expect them to change how they play it might make them more accepting of the situation if they understand that their being quiet is a serious problem. 2) It sounds to me like you're running online. Am I right? That might have an impact on what options you have. 3) When you have a better idea of how you want to end the campaign you might like to post another question asking how best to advertise the new one while (a) preventing quiet players joining and (b) upsetting the previous players. \$\endgroup\$
    – aantia
    Commented Jun 20 at 10:57
  • \$\begingroup\$ Definitely less rude than just starting the next campaign ;) \$\endgroup\$
    – DonQuiKong
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ It's almost been two months. We don't know each other at all. I've been dropping hints , but quiet players are not aware. Honestly, I have no idea how to proceed because this isn't a 'hey your behavior is uncomfortable. can you fix this?' but a matter of preference. I just asked them if they wanted more spotlight or would like to speak up. They said no. And they admitted their reaction was slow. I don't think their attention is elsewhere. They're just slow. As for starting new campaign, kinda awkward, but we honestly don't know each other that well. \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Commented Jun 20 at 11:36
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are they participating in combat? Do they make rolls when prompted? \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 21 at 21:54

4 Answers 4

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Let them know it does not work for you

You've already made up your mind that you want to end the campaign.

You are not sure you should tell the passive players that you do not enjoy playing like this and would want to end the campaign, because they seem to have fun and your are concerned this may be socially awkward. I'm not sure that would be a problem, if you keep to messages that it is not a fault of theirs, but it does not work for you and you are looking to play with more active players. I think this is the simplest, and best solution.

I am not sure that ending the campaign and then starting a new one would get you around this awkwardness. Imagine you do that, and these two players, because they had fun, want to join in again. Then you still have to tell them "Sorry, but for this new campaign, you can't join, because I am only looking for players that more actively participate." You still tell them that no matter if they enjoy it or not, you do not want to play with them. Likewise, if you just not let them know, and find some other players next to your active ones, or other players entirely, it still will be awkward if they find out - why would you not ask the people you already played with, first? So you probably will have this conversation either way.

If you don't mind putting in a little extra effort to drastically shorten the campaign arc so you all can have closure for the campaign, I would recommend to do so in a manner where the players can win or successfully resolve it. A GM-engineered total party kill that is not their fault feels unfair and is not enjoyable for the players, and would end it on a down note.


PS. How do I encourage a passive player to engage with the story? and How to deal with a group of passive and non descriptive players? may also be of interest to you.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This simple, adult response to the issue would benefit from giving them the chance to change their behavior. If nobody has told them that sitting passively is causing a problem, then why on Earth would they do otherwise? Talk to people, not about them! If you're running the game, it's part of your job to try to fix problems, even if it feels awkward - that's just life. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20 at 11:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ @JasonPatterson I agree, but if I may add on, when I was new to roleplaying, I was pretty passive. Mostly because I was new. It worked because more senior (both with more RPG experience and literally older) players were quite active, but I saw no problem with it and if the others did, they said nothing. I changed because I got older and more experienced, but for some people, directly telling them its a problem is likely to help. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20 at 18:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman And that makes perfect sense, and the attempt to get them to engage should be done politely and tactfully. Imagine if your DM had simply encouraged you to speak up the next time you were uncertain about whether to engage or not - to just give it a go. And here the alternative seems to be simply dumping the passive players. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 20 at 22:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ K i just asked them to open doors and actively progress the story stuff like that and dead silence greeted me. \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Commented Jun 21 at 1:18
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Just shutting those players out isn't very nice

You say, about the prospect of making a new campaign without those passive players:

Seems a bit rude though, especially if they were having fun

And I most certainly agree. Starting a new group, just because you don't like a certain person would be really rude. And I would strongly advise against doing that, as that will just be the catalyst for more social problems between you all. I must also add that you are only playing together for 2 months, that is like no time at all in a TTRPG campaign. If your goal is to get together a long-lasting group, you will need to develop the social and organizational skills to be able to keep a group together for far longer than that. I mean, if you make a new group and another problem comes up after two more months what will you do, start a third campaign and hope that that one will work out?

Social issues are a natural part of group development

You say:

I was having a blast with my first campaign, but things got out of hand.

And it seems like you are surprised by that. I understand you, as a new DM this might be a first time for you, but you should know that it is absolutely normal and healthy for a group to run into problems after a short while. In the bussiness world they call this: "forming storming norming performing". Which basically means that at first a group will work alright, because everyone is new and polite, then people will start to more or less get on each other's nerves, because they start to show more of their personality (this is the phase you are currently in) and then the group's job is to find solutions to those issues, and if they have been resolved the group will be able to work together better than ever.

What is the real problem?

You have tagged your question [problem-players], as you feel that those two being less active are being that, but in reality they really are no problem players, they aren't acting bad out of malice or negligence, they are just playing the game differently than the other people and your expectations. In fact those two are loyal, happy players, that would like to keep playing with you and that's great.

What I want to say is: Your real problem is not those players, you have a problem with your [group-dynamic] (which is why I added that tag). You have one side of your group that wants to play the game one way and one side that wants to play it another way. Neither of those ways are better or worse, they are just different and you need to figure out how to resolve that.

Work on it together

You tried talking to those passive players indirectly, which isn't a bad start, but they didn't fully understand what you meant. They are having fun and thus don't feel like they should change anything about their behaviour. This leaves you with only one option: Tell them directly how you feel about their playstyle, but of course without being rude and/or putting blame on them.

To me it feels like the best approach would be talking about this as a whole in the group. But do not make those two players feel like they are doing something wrong. Again, they are just playing the game and having fun, not knowing that their behaviour is irritating the others. If you have such a discussion, whatever you do, do not let this became a blame war, where everyone tells the others what they don't like about each other. Make this an open discussion for the group and turn it into a problem that you all must solve together. Maybe you can say something like:

"I wanted to talk with you because I currently am not feeling well about our campaign. I know we're all here to have fun and I don't want to blame anyone, but I feel like our group isn't really feeling like a cohesive whole, at least not yet and that we need to figure out together how we can solve that as a group, before we can really start playing our game in the best possible way."

Be open and tell them how you are feeling, but again without projecting blame. Then give all the other players (passive and active) the opportunity to also openly say how they are feeling, while actively moderating that discussion, so it stays positive and on point.

How it might resolve

There are a couple of different outcomes that can come out of such an open discussion, I will list those that come to my mind and give you advice on them:

  • The passive players become more active. If those players realise, that they are unknowingly disrupting your game, they might take it to heart and change their behaviour, maybe just a bit, but you should really thank them for their efforts and let this change continue developing.
  • You and the active players change your expectations. Currently you are expecting the others to change. Maybe after having an open, whole-hearted discussion you realise, that they really weren't the problem, you just need to learn to live with it better, as again those really aren't bad players, just ones different from what you expect.
  • You learn how to better incorporate the passive players. After talking you learn why the passive players were being passive. Maybe they are just trying to be polite, thinking that the others are having fun taking the lead or maybe the game just doesn't have the elements in it that would really make them engage. You as a DM have a lot of tools to incorporate players and if you learn how those passive players would like to get involved, you can use those tools to achieve just that.
  • One or more players leave the group. It might be that after the discussion one of the players, be it from the active or the passive side, decides to leave. That might be sad and shocking at first, but that doesn't actually have to be a bad thing for your group. If you as a group map out how you want to continue your campaign moving forward and a player realises this isn't the campaign for them and decides to leave of their own volition, this leaves you with a group that fits together better than before, even though it's smaller at first, because all the remaining members are still here because they want to adhere to the guidelines you laid out together. With this newly shrunken group you can set out to search for 1-2 new players, in a search that is more likely to give you someone that fits your group, because you now know better what you as a group want and don't want.
  • You don't feel like you are getting anywhere. Maybe the discussion isn't that good or the others don't really collaborate. In that case it might be best to take a break for a couple of weeks, especially if you are not feeling well about running that group. Give everyone time to think, calm down and refresh their energy for the game, and then after perhaps a couple of weeks, call everyone together that still wants to play and tackle this topic again.
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 I rarely think "wow" when I read an answer, but: WOW. :) I think you've covered all angles in a balanced manner. I really enjoyed reading this and found it very helpful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Senmurv
    Commented Jun 20 at 21:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ I am impressed with this answer and other answers too. \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Commented Jun 21 at 0:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think this is a good answer, and it is largely the approach I would have advocated. I would add one element, though, which is that it is okay (and in my opinion, necessary) for the OP to express their own needs and desires as a GM. In this case, I absolutely understand the need to have a majority of "active" players, because that's where the energy and creativity comes from, for me. And so I would suggest bringing that up in discussion as well-- politely, respecfully, of course. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Commented Jun 21 at 1:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ This answer is overall good, but I would like to point out if the "passive players" aren't actually doing anything, they.... aren't really playing the game. I don't think it's fair to change the expectations that all of the players actually play. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 22 at 22:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AndrasDeak The ultimate goal of any TTRPG is that everyone is having fun. This can be achieved even when passive players are present, as long as not everyone is one. I recently had a session where 2/5 players were taking the lead and the rest were just "there for the ride" and everyone was still having a blast. It's weird at first, but it's just how group dynamics function. Matthew Colville (a DM who has way more experience than me) made an amazing argument about this topic in the first minutes of this video about different kinds of players \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 23 at 12:35
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You've already gotten some excellent advice in other answers. Some of my comments reinforce others' messages, some offer a slightly different perspective.

Finish if you can

If you can bring things to a tidy conclusion, that might sit well with you in the future. It's nice to be able to look back on a "completed" campaign.

But if you don't have it in you, that's okay

If you need to draw things to a more rapid conclusion, if you just don't have a more lengthy conclusion in you, then give it the closure you can, and move on.

In my experience, many campaigns end that way. Things happen. Life gets in the way. Focuses change.

Some alternatives

Don't end the campaign, end the "arc"

I was in a campaign once with a very similar problem. A few players just weren't active. The campaign was played remotely, and it was as if they were actually doing something else most of the time. The passive players said they were having fun. One of them missed every three or four sessions, too.

The DM foreshadowed a significant boss fight in the next couple of sessions, and announced a new "arc" after that, and an opportunity for new characters, if we wished. (Really, changing characters was always an option.) At the same time, the DM announced an additional player would be joining, and that they (the DM) were looking to make the new arc action-packed and energetic, with lots of opportunities for all of the players. They then discussed individually with the passive players that everything has been great so far, but going forward we're looking for more player interaction. I didn't witness the conversations, and I think they took place over several different conversations, but the result was that the two passive players didn't move to the new arc. A third, somewhat inattentive player changed their play style significantly.

Same thing, but new campaign

Or maybe wrap up the campaign, and announce a new one. Again, emphasize play style.

The difference between the two might be how much you want to change the setting, and the story, and if you want players to continue with existing characters.

Either way, consider a session zero

Talk to the group about their expectations. Tell the players as a whole you're looking for opportunities for everyone to engage.

A trick that may be useful is to focus less on what you don't want ("you just haven't been engaged"), and focus more on what you're looking for in the future. ("I'm looking for the new arc to be energetic, with lots of opportunities for players to roleplay.")

Consider a published adventure

I'm not sure homegrown vs. published adventure has anything at all to do with your problem, but my observation is that sometimes a published adventure is easier for players to be more active in, perhaps because there is more setting background material they can read.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This suits me. More because my campaign was gonna end anyway after the current scenario. \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Commented Jun 21 at 0:21
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Put the campaign on pause while you recruit more players. That's no different than starting a new campaign, except instead of saying "I have 1 player so far" you can say "The campaign is going pretty well, I have 4 players, but 3 sit back and do what everyone else decides so you'd have a lot of input". The second sounds slightly better to me. The only drawback is if potential new players only want, say, "silly Western CyberPunk", not what you're running now. But that's not a drawback if you're already running the type of campaign you want.

It's nice to have a bigger group if you can do it. And it sounds as if these "passive" players show up on time, know which dice to roll and so on. A game with 3 players making plans but 6 players in fights sounds fine.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I thought I couldnt handle all of them, but next time I m def getting a larger pool. \$\endgroup\$
    – cat
    Commented Jun 21 at 0:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ The larger the group the more valuable having a few passive players is! \$\endgroup\$
    – aslum
    Commented Jun 21 at 20:57

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