I GM a World of Darkness group every other weekend, and I've come across what I like to call a "Bump-on-a-log" player. This player has been with my game since I started it up, and we're now transistioning from a post-apoc core WoD story to a more modern HtV game.

The problem is that I can't seem to get him to really invest himself in his character. Back in my last game, I would repeatedly try to get him to engage in conversation or action with his character outside of the bare bones that a character must do to the point where some of my NPCs are more three dimensional than he is.

I have tried making a session geared more towards his character's specialties, which at the time was improvised engineering (think MacGyver). He instead sits there like a bump on a log and waits for other players or myself to tell him what to do.

Now with this transistion, he looks at the purely immense character options that HtV provides, and he can't come up with anything. He doesn't really seem to be even trying that hard. He says he's used to playing spell and sword fantasy, but to me it seems more like a new symptom of the same issue.

I'm trying not to just say, "Well sucks to be you" and going on without him, but honestly, I'm running out of ideas on how to help. I have supplied full-character ideas of people I would personally love to play as well as recommended some organizations and supplemental material to look at. He's had over a month to work on it and still nothing. The game is this weekend.

I want him to be a better roleplayer, but I just don't know if that's feasible. Does anybody have any advice on how I should handle this?

I think he might just be following the stream of play more than making any decisions for himself. He seems to defer to other players to make the decisions for his character, even when its just him and one other person and the other person's character doesn't have any of the applicable skills for the situation. Acolyte - The problem is I can't get him to MAKE a character. I've done everything I can to get him with a character outside of stating one out and plopping the paper down in front of him saying, "Play this"


5 Answers 5


Maybe he's a Watcher

In the Dungeons and Dragons 4th Edition book "Dungeon Master's Guide" there exists some very useful advice for running the game that is applicable to nearly every RPG out there. One section of advice addresses different player personalities, including the idea of "the Watcher."

A watcher is a casual player who comes to the game because he wants to be part of the social event. A watcher might be shy or just really laid back. He wants to participate, but he doesn't really care if he’s deeply immersed, and he doesn't want to be assertive or too involved in the details of the game, rules, or story. He enjoys the game by being part of a social circle.

It sounds to me like this person wants to be a part of your group, but doesn't want to get involved in the game mechanics of character creation. Why not make a character for this player, and give them very explicit cues to use that character's abilities from time to time?

Instead of trying to turn the player into something he's not (a better role-player) you might just accept and be thankful to have someone willing to participate and find ways to accommodate rather than educate.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1! Additionally, consider what qualities and contributions a watcher can bring to the group dynamic; what are his talents and how is he comfortable participating? Maybe he's better at dealing with some of the table's social-contract elements like organizing the food or taking session notes. \$\endgroup\$
    – BESW
    Jun 18, 2013 at 12:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Ask him offline if he's enjoying himself. If he says yes, then Soulrift is probably right. If not, ask him what he would like to be different? If he isn't enjoying himself and doesn't come up with a way he would like things to be different, he'll probably quit soon anyway. (Not meaning to be sarcastic with the last part - he probably thought he was going to enjoy himself and now is finding he isn't, so quitting is a good option. \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2013 at 17:00

Is he interfering with others?

I think the biggest question is: Is he in some way interfering with some one's enjoyment of the game? And the second biggest is: Is he failing to enjoy the game himself?

If the answer to both of those is No, then I would just let it be. I would of course continue to offer his character plot opportunities and stand ready to help if he wanted to grow as a role-player, but I would let him carry on more passively if he wants.

If I may indulge in a personal anecdote, I was introduced to role-playing by a cousin that is a couple of years older than me and his friends were all older than me (and some older than him). When I was younger and played with them, I tended to take fairly passive roles. I enjoyed being there even if I was more following along than diving in and if I interfered with any of them they were gracious enough to tolerate it well. In fact, in a couple of late night sessions I fell asleep and they would wake me up if we got into a combat where they really needed my character's spellpower/firepower/etc. At that point in my life, "lurking" worked quite well.

Get the other players to help

If this is really causing a problem, the other players can probably help more than the GM can. Sure, having the GM throw a plot hook targeted at a player can help them get more involved, but so can having the other players turn to him and say, "Your character is best to handle this?" or even better "What do you think we should do now?" That can work better since it will feel less forced and show that the other players want him involved.

Of course, you should talk to him, but talking to them and asking them to help get him more involved will probably work better.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. I had a player like this, and she made me tear my hair out the whole campaign as I tried to throw cool custom situations at her character. When the campaign died, she was the saddest one and tried the hardest to revive it. Clearly I had misjudged how well she was enjoying herself! \$\endgroup\$ Jun 18, 2013 at 16:48

Divide and Conquer

When I have encountered a player without initiative and that does nothing that he is not told to do, I try to separate him from the rest of the group and leave him alone to resolve the conflicts.

Putting the character in a situation that only he can solve forces the player to take action. You can ally to the other players so they don't tell him what to do.

This approach can slow the game a little if the player is actually not able to take action, but if you have success (which I don't guarantee) you can slowly make him more independent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a side note, I borrow this technique from what I used to do when I was a scout master. When a child is shy and is often shadowed by his stronger character companions, we try to give him roles in the activities that didn't allow him to "hide" behind others. This was usually very successful and the child became more participant as he gains confidence on his own judgment. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flamma
    Jun 18, 2013 at 11:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ From experience, this approach can be disastrous with certain types of player. If they really, really don't want to or for some reason can't take the initiative, this is the fastest way of making them feel deeply uncomfortable and singling them out in front of the whole group. \$\endgroup\$
    – Wibbs
    Jun 18, 2013 at 11:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Phil, if you fear that, you can play some scenes apart from the group with the excuse of not giving some information to the rest of the group, if your group fashion these things. Or you could let he and another player run a scene that it only affect both while you play something with the rest of the group. If the player seems uncomfortable, you can switch to another scene with the rest of the group, giving him more time to thin. If he is still unable to resolve, make something happen that takes him out of the situation. But hopefully, with slow exposure, you can help him to adapt. \$\endgroup\$
    – Flamma
    Jun 18, 2013 at 15:59

Offer him plot hooks. Make NPCs address him instead of addressing the whole party. Give him a solo goal. Give the party a goal that is best solved his abilities or expertise. Write a plot based on something from his character's background (assuming he has one).

Then stop. Some players are on the fence about roleplaying. They might get into it and they might not. The items above have all worked for me for goading players into being more active. They've also all failed for me. If you've tried each of these things in earnest, you're only frustrating yourself and your player. If you've determined that he's a bump on a log (or warm body as I tend to call them) and unlikely to change, focus your creativity on the players who will appreciate it.

Of course talking to him can help too. It's a healthy part of any gaming group. But you have to be aware that what a player wants is often different from what he thinks he wants.


This is a failure to communicate best solved by having an assertive conversation. Tell your player that you perceive a problem, that what you expect out of the game, and your goals to "try to make him a better role player". Now, the trick is to do that without alienating the player in question. Do not monologue but let them clarify things, respond, and speak their mind. Maybe they are shy so make sure they get to speak. Ask questions whether they are leading or not so he feels (read: knows) that you are interested in his opinions.

What do they expect from the game? Why are they playing in your game, and in other games in general? Is your GM style for this game the right style for him? Is he shy and aloof? Is he afraid to look stupid? Would some one-on-one sessions help? Why is he not engaging with the world? With the NPCs? What can you do to make it easier for him? What can you change in your style to make the player feel more at home?

Change goes both ways. You and him are going to have to find some common ground on which to build the game. Both of you need to find enough in common to enjoy the game.

A fair few of my players did have extra games issues which the above conversation helped bring to the fore and resolve in game, sometimes even helping them outside the game. The main issue generally was an unfamiliarity with their characters' skills and/or the setting.

Fundamentally, you cannot (read: should not) manipulate people to shape them into more of what you like. If he is genuinely interested in your game, style of play, and whatnot, then there is a myriad of things you both can try to make it better. Otherwise, if you cannot reach an agreement, it's time to part way. It does not mean you cannot be friends, or play in a different game. Just that this game is not for you -- pronoun left vague by design: it can be either the player or GM.

Several times, I have had people leave and I left games because we fundamentally wanted different things. This is fine, as long as there is no accrementitious feelings and communication solved this. Acting in a mature way did help a lot.


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