So I'm playing a home brew scifi game where one of the players is playing a scientific character who collects a bunch of samples. That's all fine and good, but the problem is that he want really specific details. I don't want to just ignore him and the basic focus point of his character, but he keeps asking questions about the same thing for up to 20 minutes (literally). The other players are really annoyed by this, but since I told them the research provides bonuses to combat they seemed to at least be able to tolerate it. Is there a way I could make this either less annoying for them or at least move him along off the topic without making him feel unwanted?
To be clear, he's asking for details on these samples he's collecting? I would say if he's that interested in a detailed list, then have him make it up himself. You would have to approve, of course, but just say something like, "You collect a variety of samples to help with your research. Go ahead and make a list of samples that you think would be appropriate." It sounds like he would be the type of player that could really run with this creativity. Plus, it ties his character more closely to the narrative, and that's always a good thing.
When my players ask me for details that I haven't predetermined, which happens constantly during every session, this gets handled a few different ways depending on how many details and how important they are.
If it's truly unimportant, and not too complicated
Q: "What are the stairs made of?"
In a place we'll probably never return to, that's just a passageway from A to B, the stairs are made of whatever bubbles to the top of my head. They're wood. Or something. Whatever, don't worry about it.
If it's unimportant and complicated
Q: "What's it say in the book on ancient dynasties of Faerun?"
This sounds like the case you're asking about.
If they're satisfied with a vague sentence, like "It tells the family history of several great dynasties all across the continent, including ones in the Neverwinter area", then fantastic. Move on.
If they're not, then either tell them it doesn't matter or to make it up themselves. If they go to the effort of making something up and giving it to you, then apparently they're interested, so you should probably figure out a way to make it matter in the future.
It could actually matter, but isn't complicated
Q: "What are the stairs made of?"
In a place where they're about to have a fight, this might matter. Maybe one of the party members shoots fire, and they can burn wood. Maybe somebody can phase through stone. Stop and think for a second, and come up with a good answer. It's worth the time. Don't take too long, though. If you haven't planned your campaign out way too far in advance, then you can probably just accommodate whatever you think of, even if you realize it was dumb in retrospect. If they burned the tower down, then they burned the tower down. Unexpected events are often more fun.
It could actually matter, and is rather complicated
Q: "What does the control panel look like?"
Oh... right... I should have probably figured out what the levers do on this thing...
This is the tough one. The goal here is to whittle down the question to the part that actually matters right now. Maybe deflect a little: "Are you planning on using the control panel right now?" "Uh, no, we should probably check around outside first." "Okay. It has levers on it. Next question."
Now that you've figured out the part that needs to be resolved right now, you have plenty of time to figure out the rest of it before it becomes relevant. If it's so complicated that you're worried about the time investment, then recruit the player that's interested in the knowledge. Either they'll help you produce something better than you could've come up with yourself, or they'll realize what kind of time investment is entailed in their question, and say never mind.
For my game, I had a rule called "Downtime actions". Basically anything that was heavily one-on-one or didn't affect immediate gameplay got lumped into that category.
For example, the players are flying around, they find a sweet new pieces of tech. The tech-guy wants to turn this item into a new weapon using Engineering and other such skills. I tell tech-guy "Yeah that can be your downtime action", and the players resume playing.
A summary of Downtime Actions in practice
Anything that will take the characters many hours, or is one-on-one, happens during downtime actions.
These actions happened from the characters during all those gaps in the story. ("It takes 400 minutes to cross this solar system at 0.1 c.")
The player and I would meet before or after a session, or maybe even some time during the week, and RP the downtime action, doing all the rolls and doing techno-babble, etc.…
If I didn't know something, then I could do some research with the player, involving them far more actively than if I did it all myself and returned with it.
By the very end, they would get one of three verdicts:
- Success: The thing they wanted is possible and did happen.
- Failure: The thing they wanted is not possible.
- This could be affected by acquired more tech, more specimens, etc..
- Usually though it was because they wanted something totally not-possible in that Universe (Infinite magic death ray)
- Try Again Later:
- They botched too many rolls, but didn't fail outright.
- Taking too long in general (do this, and this, and this, and this...)
- Missing pieces (You want a faster torpedoes, but don't have any faster engine types.)
- This could lead for more cool things for the party to do, and was my favorite answer. (Yeah your death ray would work, but only if you had magic crystals... and those are over here. See you next week!)
Whenever a player wants detailed information on something that I haven't prepared and isn't directly relevant to the game at hand, I tell them that I'll have what they requested ready for next session. It does mean that they can't immediately use what they've collected, but if such a thing were possible anyway I'd have prepared it.
I suppose the difference to explain here as a GM is how the player is acting this out. Which of the following sentences is closer to how he is asking?
- "What is this rock like? What's the composition?"
- "I am going to examine the rock, and try to figure out its composition."
Is the player aware of the time his character will be consuming in his research? Is he playing the role of the nerdy geologist? Perhaps he can be encouraged to see the questions he is asking you as his character's inner monologue, and assured that until he says otherwise, you will assume he is being conscientious about his job of collecting samples, and will inform him if anything interesting shows up, or if the terrain warrants taking a different sample.
GURPS actually provided a useful role playing tool for this, as a character who engaged in this sort of overly obsessive behaviour could by GM fiat get dinged with an Odious Personal Habit or Compulsive Behaviour, or less draconian as a Quirk ("Likes to collect samples")