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I was a player in a group that all took things seriously and roleplayed our characters to the best of our ability. That group unfortunately fell apart and I've started up a new game with a different group of friends, this time as the GM.

Unfortunately, while my last group was full of people who really wanted to roleplay, this group has more of a beer and pretzels mentality. While there's nothing wrong with that kind of player or campaign, it's not the kind of game I want to GM, and I'm hoping to find some way of dealing with it. I've thought of a few solutions myself but wanted to put this out there to see what comes up. The solutions I've thought of are listed below.

  1. New group

    I could set up a new group with players that I know want to take things a bit more seriously.

  2. Cross the streams

    Some of the players from my old group could come and mix with this new group. The GM from my old group (who's much better at this than I am) could run a campaign, and the more serious atmosphere might rub off on the new players. Roleplaying is rather embarrassing after all, and seeing that the other players are into it can help overcome that feeling.

  3. Channel the gaming

    The players don't want to seriously roleplay, creating characters with joke names and absurd backstories and motivations. People play tabletop RPGs for a number of reasons, and while it's more complicated than this, for the sake of the question I can boil that down to players that want to play a role and players that want to play a game.

    These players want to play a game more than they want to play a role, so I could run a campaign with a more gamey setup. There's an XCOM campaign I've wanted to run for a long time now, and I could use that to get them engaged. With lower focus on characters and an explicit combative tone to the campaign. If roleplaying doesn't engage them, a serious and uncompromisingly difficult enemy might. The players might joke around and make a squad full of "Rod Thrashcocks" in the beginning, but when they realise that the aliens are taking things seriously they might do so as well.

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This may have been mentioned on this site before:

Talk to the Players

Gaming is a social activity and like all social activities people participate with differing goals and objectives. You need to establish if yours and theirs are compatible and, if so, what level of compromise each of you needs to make. The time-honoured method people use for this is called talking to one another.

You need to establish:

  1. If your players are even aware that the game can be played seriously. They may consider it make believe (which it is) and therefore childish (which it isn't, or at least isn't necessarily); it may not even be on their mental horizon to take it seriously.
  2. If they want to try to play seriously and, if so, to what extent. Its perfectly possible to play a fully serious campaign with characters who have silly names: I adventured for many years in a serious campaign beside a monk named Jesus "Crusher" Christ II - he was really serious; especially when he punched you in the face.
  3. If there is common ground to be negotiated: yes to silly names, no to big red noses and seltzer bottles.

Ultimately there are two groups of people here, you and the players, and one of them needs to change. Which one of those two can you force change on?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer apart from the penultimate sentence, which I think could be improved by more explicitly covering the possibility of compromise with both sides meeting somewhere near the middle \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs May 30 '16 at 14:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ I have had some conversations about it with the players, but I'll definitely be talking things over before I start the campaign. I'll mark this as the answer, as I've gotten some good ideas from various responses to this question, and the average person asking this kind of question would probably find this answer most useful. \$\endgroup\$ – Space Ostrich May 31 '16 at 3:39
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I think that the main thing is to manage the game in such a way that the players are gently encouraged to invest more in their characters. The fact that they give them joke names etc doesn't necessarily mean that won't take it seriously in the long run and looking at it objectively 'Swordly McAxeface' may not necessarily be less silly that 'Azkar of Noth'Kardod' form a certain perspective.

One aspect of this is that fantasy RP games can be get a bit bound up with somewhat tired cliches which some people may find hard to take seriously if they aren't already into it. This is no to say that a typical fantasy setting cant't be creative and interesting but newcomers may associate it with lazy and poorly thought out tropes from cinema etc.

One way to address this might be to create a setting which is more appealing to your players. If they find it hard to take taverns and goblins seriously then why not try something more contemporary ? Perhaps they could be CIA agents or a biker gang or mercenaries.

Or you could look at other fantasy settings like zombie apocalypse, or use a comic book or TV series stetting.

If people don't want to roleplay characters they have no affinity with then perhaps give them the chance to act characters they can immediately relate to. You could even set up a game with characters based on versions of themselves. For example you could create characters with fairly balanced stats and ask them to list what they consider their best qualities are (and apply stat bonuses as appropriate) and get them to provide a list of the items they would grab in the event of a [zombie apocalypse].

they may also be more comfortable interacting between themselves out of character, at least at first, so the closer the PC's are to them the easier it will be to ease them into a more RP based approach. Even if people enjoy and get invested in the game trying to force uncomfortable character stereotypes onto them will only make your job harder.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good advice. The XCOM campaign is looking more likely. It's contemporary and the setting can handle some unusual behaviour. \$\endgroup\$ – Space Ostrich May 31 '16 at 3:34
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One thing you can try is play seriously yourself.

For example, if they goof off in front of NPCs, let the NPCs react realistically. Say, you've got an NPC that has a quest for the players. He wants the players to do something important like rescue his family. So now the players goof off, do weird things and generally don't seem trustworthy. So now have the NPC pull that quest offer back. Or even have him call your equivalent to the police and have them arrested for apparent public drunkenness or something. If there are consequences to what they do, they will start playing more seriously.

I had a round where the players didn't take one quest seriously and started a tsunami by accident, which killed a few hundred thousand people. This changed their attitude almost immediately and it worked out great.

But at times it's not bad to give them what they want as well. There are a lot of times where goofing off is not the wrong thing to do either. If you alternate light-hearted parts with serious parts, both will be augmented by the contrast.

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It has been my repeated experience that if you want to set the tone for a game, then "easing into it" is exactly the wrong way to go about it. If anything, you want to be very clear about your expectations from the start and (if you have buy-in from the players) very firm in your guidance up front.

I have found it to be much easier to get everyone mostly moving the same and the right direction up front, so that everyone can develop the same good habits at the same time and reinforce each other, and then relax a little later. The other alternative is to start out with everyone going in the wrong direction, gathering momentum and reinforcing each other, while you desperately try to get them on track.

This does not mean steam-rolling the players and brow-beating them into your ideal vision of players of your game. You will not achieve anything that your players do not want to achieve. It does mean talking to your players, and is a plan of action that does most of the work up front rather than trying to string it along through multiple or many sessions.

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Suggest a single night campaign

Offer it up as an experiment to the group (and don't drop it on them the night of the campaign).

I've developed a one night scenario and I want to do an experiment in which everyone plays in character (or everyone is immersed in the game or whatever criteria you want to impose). Who's in?

If someone is definitely not aboard, then they can sit out that night (assuming you have enough players). Maybe, those who play will love it after they've tried it and the word will spread to anyone who didn't attend.

After the fact, you might get a shift in game philosophy (ideally for you) or people might want to alternate, play "serious" some nights and "silly" others (compromise) or you might have to decide if you like "silly" characters because that is where your players are happy.

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My choice would ultimately be #1 - Find a different group. Ron Edwards' GNS theory talks about Gamists, Narrativists and Simulationists. Everyone sits somewhere a little different on the scale, with some people being extreme towards one end. For example, I'm a hardcore narrativist with a side dash of simulationist. I play for story. I care nothing about 'winning' (gamist) or the internal mechanical consistency of the world (simulationist), although I do try to make sure that my characters at least 'fit' within said world.

It sounds to me like you sit somewhere between narrativist and simulationist, and these players are more gamist in nature. The silly names are a strong indicator that they're not interested in being immersed in the world so they don't have a strong simulationist drive, and if they're goofing around instead of taking the story seriously, they're probably not strong narrativists either.

There's nothing wrong with any of the ways people play games - But you have to be careful when you mix playstyles, because sometimes they just don't mix. A narrativist is going to say "My character does X, because narratively, it makes for a great counterpoint". A simulationist might then say "You can't do X, it doesn't make sense in the context of the world". And then a gamist will say "Well, roll the dice on your skill and see if you do X"

If your players really are wildly divergent to you in desired playstyle, then finding a new group is your only option - But in order to know that for sure, you'll have to talk to them. So talk to them, find out what makes them tick and why they play RPGs. Only then will you have all the information necessary to make a decision - as a group, even - on how to move forward.

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Just because they're having fun, doesn't mean they aren't taking it seriously.

From what you're written above, and I don't mean this to be harsh, the core problem actually seems to be you. You want to play a serious, by the book campaign with consequences and foreboding. They want to play a light and comical campaign that's about social interaction.

Ultimately, you have to decide if this is the right group for you. You seem to want to play a little more hardcore than they do, and if they're the majority, you're kind of in violation of the social contract to which they're all de facto signatories.

So, I would recommend speaking with them about what they want from the game. Find out what kind of adventure they want to have, and you'll know what kind of world to create. It does you absolutely no good to have a group that says, "Absolutely no vampires, I hate them," only to have you drop them into Ravenloft.

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