Occasionally in games we find ourselves in a situation where the player characters might not want to co-operate even if their players do.

How do you handle the party coercing those characters into taking action to keep the story moving, without offending players or breaking suspension of disbelief?

Example: A group is in the Shadowfell, and several of the party members have fallen under an effect that causes them to believe that the domain they're currently in is the only domain in existence. We need to sail to another domain, through the mists, but the characters believe there is nothing there. How can the party convince them to face certain death?

This is not a question about coercing players!

  • \$\begingroup\$ Rich Burlew, the guy who does OOTS (among other things) put together a series of re-jiggered rules for Diplomacy, which after playtesting he decided was really more like "Persuasion" -- I haven't tried it, but it did strike me as a pretty robust/interesting. You can read his write-up here giantitp.com/forums/showthread.php?t=172910 \$\endgroup\$ – Joseph Weissman Jun 23 '12 at 6:30

From the player's seat

  • Offer something the other character wants. The player knows what to do here, and she just needs an excuse to do it. Supply one. A little bribe or rationalization is all she needs and you'll be off and running in no time.

  • Get the GM's permission to figure stuff out in-character. That means more than just knowing yourself, but rather having the evidence to convince others. Then you can be the Cassandra running around trying to explain how the universe is tricking everyone and that there really is no certain death beyond the mists, and they can choose not to believe you as long as that's fun to role-play. When the fun wears off, everyone can give your character a chance and escape. If it's not fun, the GM and everyone else is probably looking for an "out," anyway.

  • Prove you're right. Cross the mists and return with proof, or whatever applies to your situation. This might mean splitting the party briefly, but at least you'll be having fun while they role-play being bored in their single domain. When you cross the mists and return, you'll be a big hero.

From the GM's seat

  • Don't put the characters in a dead-end situation. The whole problem can be avoided if you always make sure that all player choices lead to something interesting, and that all failures lead to something interesting.

  • If you're going to try to own "the story," then there will be times when characters end up in a crappy situation. Hey, it's your story: you put them there. Get them out. Suspension of disbelief? Work around it. "The magical effect wears off in about a week. Now what do you want to do?"

  • Make every situation interesting. So they're stuck in this domain in the Shadowfell. Make it interesting. Set up some role-playing and exploration encounters there that slowly start to suggest to them that they're ensorcelled into believing there is only the one domain. Maybe let themselves play a version of themselves trapped in their own minds, struggling with monsters and demons and traps to get through to their "outside" selves. If they can get through to them, they can wake them up and show them that there are other domains.


First off, it is the responsibility of the player of that character to not kill the plot. It's known as a "no-yes" where they vehemently oppose the progress, but continue to allow the plot to move in that direction. They are the "voice of NO" loudly dragging their feet even as they come with the rest of the party. Its their job to oppose the direction without boxing themselves into a corner they can't get out of.

To the other side, the convincers, I'd ask:

How do you convince a child that a shot won't hurt? Or that brussels sprouts taste good?

  • be a person they trust
  • white lie through your teeth
  • make sure no one breaks face and hints that it might not be true
  • don't give them a chance to think too hard about it, keep talking
  • use distractions / other motivations ("There are free sandwiches on the ship!")

For inspiration look at: infomercials, pediatricians, parents, and how you explain certain things to your spouse :)

PS: I actually love brussles sprouts!

  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 I love it when someone writes the answer that I was planning to after I read the question. It's even better when they do a better job of it than I was likely to. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Oct 5 '10 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ After experiencing this sort of thing way too much in the 90's it is my fervent belief that it is incumbent on the players to ensure that they and their characters work together and move the plot forward. It doesn't have to be the DM's plot, but its gotta be some plot. \$\endgroup\$ – Pat Ludwig Oct 5 '10 at 17:12

I advocate for an out-of-game solution to such problems.

Remind the player in question that the old mantra "It's what my character would do!" should never be allowed to lead them into anything that's less fun for them (or for the group at large). What their character "would" do is entirely within the player's control, and both can and should change if it stands in the way of real people having fun.

Work with them to find a change of heart or perspective for their character that both serves the needs of the game and sits well with their view of that PC.


You need to "keep the story moving"? Isn't the party breaking down and potentially splitting up part of keeping the story moving? (See also: the fellowship's disintegration in the Lord of the Rings.)

However, that's just glib. Many RPGs, both as written and as played, encourage the group to work together to solve a given problem. In, say, D&D, splitting up the party tends to be a recipe for a TPK. And while some people think that's okay, it fails to match up with the fiction that inspired D&D and many of it's players. A single character being obstinate can lead to an un-fun stalemate. So what do you do?

Avoid it in the first place. If you're playing this sort of game, everyone should build characters willing to work together. A lot of these problems are caused by someone creating a character with the "I would never" blockages built in from minute one. I've done it myself, because it seems like a cool idea that you see in fiction all the time. However, the needs of fiction and a party-based RPG are very different.

Metagame. If you feel trapped by your character and are causing the stalemate, just be blunt. "Playing true to my character will just lead to not-fun for everyone. So I'm going to quietly ignore it this time so we can keep going." Metagaming isn't as terrible as people make it out to be. If metagaming is the bridge between not-fun and fun, cross it!

Ask your GM what he's thinking. The GM tends to have an idea of a solution. If you've reached the land of not-fun, the fastest route out might be to get some advice. In your example, presumably your GM created the effect causing the problem as well as the situation requiring going into the mists. I doubt his plan is, "Aha, now they'll spend the next few sessions arguing over it, and I can catch up on my cat videos on YouTube!" He thinks it's a solvable problem. The problem may be as simple as your overlooking something that to the GM seems painfully obvious. (As a GM, this happens all the time.) You might only need a small prompt ("Hey, do you guys remember that church you visited two months ago. The one whose high priest specialized in curses?") or a big one ("You can get the curse lifted, go see High Priest Bob.").


You can treat it like an interesting plot hook, of course - you need to do thing A but you can't because of character B - what now? Do you need it bad enough to leave him behind? To abduct him, A-Team style? Or does another way present itself? As a GM I'd view this moment of crisis and potential conflict as an excellent time to provide that third way - the need can still be met and the stubborn guy satisfied, but at great expense in time, blood, or treasure. You won't just be sailing your boat through the mists, you'll need to carve a path through the Aetherial Empire of Kragnar or whatever. Is it worth it? Do you like the stubborn guy that much? Maybe you'll split up and meet on the other side? Good stuff.

A metagame approach would be to ask the player of the stubborn guy to just work it out. "Look, everybody including Gornak is getting on the boat, because that is what has to happen, so you tell us in what interesting way that occurs."


The Same way you manipulate anyone

Either manipulate the flow of information, feelings and desires of the character, OR Use Violence either as a threat or actual means of coercion (pain is an effective motivator).

Distracting the uncooperative players, or keeping the sail project hidden is an example of manipulating the flow of information.

Using Charm Spells, appeals to comradery, logic, greed or long term goals is an example of manipulating their feelings and desires.

Threatening to Tie up, or stab the offending player is an example of a threat of force (argumentum ad baculum).

Actually tieing up, knocking unconscious, or otherwise forcing the player is an example of using actual force for coercion.


You can use the individual motivations of the PCs to push them in the direction you want them to go. For example, what would their Deity expect them to do? How can going in that direction advance their personal quest for power or revenge, or perhaps to reunite with family and friends?


Follow what happens in real life. You distract the uncooperative PCs with something that needs their attention, meanwhile work behind their back to sail where you need to go. At least that's how my gaming group typically handles it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ It works for the A team when they need to get BA soemwhere by air. ;) \$\endgroup\$ – Spikey Oct 7 '10 at 12:20

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