Last session (I GM Traveller, a hard science fiction rpg) I realized my lack of skills when I found myself willing to spend some minutes in playing a scene involved a 3 years old child causing trouble while in the spaceship and getting measles and passing it to all the spaceship crew.

It went this way: during the takeoff
Me: "The girl feels sick, she vomits your bridge."
Captain: "Ok, we get to clean it."

Result: no fun

later, while in jumpspace for a week
Medic: "Since she felt sick while flying I check her health status."
Me: "You find she has measles." "Everyone, roll to see if you get it too."
roll roll everyone but one is infected.
Me: "... Everyone feels weary during the trip..."

Result: no fun

after a week, exiting jumpspace
urgent stuff with dice rolls involved is going to happen Me: "After a week you are no longer ill but cince you are still weary you get -1 to rolls"

Result: lame

And I really don't know how to do this better.

Related to this but not sure how much is a scene involved the crew joining a Imperial Navy Officers (plus an Admiral) dinner.

It went something like
"You see it's a less formal dinner than you thought, the food's good, you start chatting and relaxing thanks to the wine."

"You, Chris (ex diplomat), meet an officer who serviced with your father back in the days, he remembers him fondly but did not sees him since years ago" Player: "Ah, good."

"You, Lucien (the medic), get to talk with the First Medical Officer, you star talking about medical topics and he tells you he'll like to show you the ship advanced infirmary"

"You, Vincent (the ship Captain and ex showman/artist) make everyone laugh and friendly with your charm."

It went more or less like this, with me incapable of make happen something interesting and causing me to skip this scene... while I would have liked to add some interesting moments.

And I realize that this kind of problem could happen many more times if I don't get better at this since this is a high-roleplayed campaign.

Be aware that I know I could give them hooks or useful information during this type of scenes, but right now I'm more interested on the mundane aspects of the scene.

Now I must point out two things: the first is that I feel partly is cause for my lack of experience of being a player (I've always been only a GM and I'm still quite newbie) so I don't really know how a mundane scene could be interesting for players.
The second is that I've very little to no time to prepare my sessions, and because of this I'd prefer answers focused in improvisation.

Question: how can I improve this kind of scenes making them playing worthy and interesting?



3 Answers 3


Involve the players

What strikes me as I read both of these situations is that the players seem only tenuously involved in the events that occur. The major action seems to be on your side of the screen, or in the hands of the dice.

In any game, this will tend to make players dissatisfied, because there seems to be little reason for the players to actually be there. This is why combat is usually very exciting: game systems bake in a formula that ensures everyone at the table is involved during the scene. The good news is that you can make some simple changes to your style that will put your players in a more active position.

Add opportunities for the player characters to shape events

A lot of the examples you presented were of the general form:

GM: The world is in [state]. [Consequence] happens.

Players: We address [consequence].

Setting the scene this way keeps the players only reactive to the game's events. You want your players to be proactive shapers of the game world. So give them those opportunities.

Worked example

GM: "The girl feels sick, she vomits your bridge."

Captain: "Ok, we get to clean it."

This example doesn't give the players the opportunity to address the situation in any more interesting manner. By the time they get to make a choice, there's already vomit all over their control panels. Instead, you should present opportunities to the players:

GM: As you start to take-off, you can see the girl stumbling back and forth between the control stations. [Pilot], this kind of reminds you of how the new guys always looked after their first session in flight school.

You can now pause just a second here to give the players the opportunity to comfort the girl. Maybe the medic gives her a sedative, maybe the party's friendly face sits down with her and talks about something. If they don't do anything to help the girl, then sure, let her vomit on the bridge and they'll clean it up. But they had the opportunity to avoid it.

Don't rush to summarize social exchanges

In the dinner party, you seem to quickly move past all of the opportunities for character interaction. Instead of immediately telling the players what happens, leave it up to them.

At the beginning of the dinner, tell each of the players which other guests they would recognize. Ask each of them to play an exchange with somebody at the party; it could be one of the people they know, or some arbitrary person who would be there.

Let the players discover leads organically, and maybe they'll miss some of them, but they'll have more connection to the ones they find. If there is a lead that you absolutely have to give to the players (and there shouldn't be more than one, or you'll have the same problem we're trying to solve here), have that lead rudely interrupt another conversation. If something is important to you, it should be important to somebody in game as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for actually playing out interactions with party guests. Best way to increase player roleplaying is to give them opportunities to roleplay! \$\endgroup\$
    – Tack
    Sep 20, 2014 at 17:49
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Agreed; Even a little bit of actual DIALOGUE from the NPCs will go a LONG way towards filling out these situations. Going from "She feels sick, and then throws up everywhere" to "I don't feel goooood..." gives the characters an opportunity to show some character by the good, old fashioned "How do you deal with a small child who feels bad?" test. \$\endgroup\$
    – Airk
    Sep 22, 2014 at 15:20

Every game has a different focus. If it's supposed to be roleplaying heavy, often those games succeed when both the GM and the players are pushing roleplaying. The players should be asking questions of NPCs, sharing their personal stories, or thoughts, etc.

Now, the reason most players might NOT be doing that is they may be stuck on "mission-based" gaming - where your interactions with NPCs are solely to pump them for information/clues on where to go next. If there's no real establishment, or even reward in doing so, these things just become speed bumps to "doing the real point of the game".

So, there's a couple of ways to help this, though they will probably involve minor house rules for you.


When players get immediate, regular rewards for character interaction, they create tons and tons of character interaction. If the game you're running has some kind of "hero points" or "luck points" that's a great way to go. Or, it might just be the classic XP/character advancement points.

Now, since most games are built on a rather slow growth rate, you may need to make "Roleplaying points" that trade in at a 5:1 or 10:1 ratio or some number that allows players to roleplay, get these points regularly, without breaking the system. You can have players be the ones to reward each other, too, just put a bowl at the center of the table with tokens and when a player sees good roleplaying, they can pass one to another.

This handles your players' side of things.


How to improvise? That's the tough part, right? Have the players tell you what is emotionally important to their characters by writing down concrete ideas - when you have explicit, laid out things to reach for, these are known as "Flags".

Once you know what the player finds interesting, you have the NPCs often deal with those issues and set scenes around it. You find ways in which one player's situation becomes a complication for another player's and see where it goes. A lot of improvisation is simply giving yourself simple but flexible tools that you can look at during play to create things on the fly.

What this could look like for you

So let's imagine some of the examples you've given, but if the players had Flags like:

"As the Captain, I'm responsible for everyone's health on this ship. Everyone."

"When my daughter died, I decided I wasn't going to waste time caring about anyone, again."

"My number one goal is political influence. My father was a failure, but I'm not like him - I'll socially climb and people WILL respect me."

"I've screwed up too many times. If I don't make an impression on this flight, if I don't get someone in my corner, my career is over. I'm going to have to play this smart."

You see what these do? These make the examples personally loaded for the characters. They have something at stake to which those examples would touch upon. Of course, in this case, I took your examples and back-worked Flags to fit, whereas, what you want is Flags from your players that you can look at during play, and say, "Oh, man, yeah, the most interesting thing would be if YOU had to take care of this little girl. She's totally poking around your quarters and she finds your late daughter's favorite doll..."

When the players are also being rewarded for finding juicy roleplaying, they start seeking out their own interactions and play off of each other.

The reason I suggest tying it into a reward system, is that it makes a simple, clear direction and helps break players who fall back into "mission only" habits of play. I've seen several RPGs out there do this, and people are always amazed at how much it changes their roleplaying experience and allows them to actually engage WITH NPCs and create interesting stories. (Examples include: Primetime Adventures, The Shadow of Yesterday, Lady Blackbird, Tenra Bansho Zero...)

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Games which introduced this concept to me: Shadow of Yesterday, Primetime Adventures, Burning Wheel, and Riddle of Steel. These all came out around the same time and had Flag mechanics, I put a name to it because it's a pretty solid mechanical way to drive play. \$\endgroup\$
    – user9935
    Nov 5, 2014 at 14:43

Especially when improvising social scenes I found it best to have one or at most two NPCs there to interact with. A larger social event (like a party) usually never takes more than two sentences from me because I found them to be bad for gameplay. The reason is that usually only one PC interacts with one NPC when many are there so I basically have to play the whole party once for each PC while the others are sitting there doing nothing.

That can be interesting if the player in question happens to be a good showperson himself, but tends to be boring like hell for the players that are not involved at the moment.

Instead I let them talk as a group to each of the people in question. Grubermensch provided a good answer for the girl-scene, for the "meet the crew"-scene I would go on a completely different path. e.G. they come aboard on their ship and are "handed" from one relevant person to the other.

You land your ship in the hangar and step outside, the security officer that greets you is the comrade of the father of the diplomat. (scene where the group talks to this guy) The scene ends with the security guy saying: "Its procedure on this ship that all new arrivals have to get a medic check, so please follow me to the medic." (Scene where the group talks to the medic, describe the fancy equipment to the players, addressing the medic one) ending in a scene where a relevant NPC brings in someone to sick bay for a broken finger or something and letting the Captain of your ship crack a joke making everyone laugh.

That way you always have the full group in action and involved.

If you want to play a party or something still have the group together. Don't split them up. Its not "You [Player], get to talk to [NPC]" but "You stand together talking as [NPC] approaches you." - Roleplay: "I've heard you have [stuff / equipment / social status], could you tell me something about it? Because [I/we] have [similar but inferior stuff] and it breaks down all the time." Or other queue that lets the players as group interact with the NPCs. This often causes the Players roleplay with each other and thus increase the overall scene quality.


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