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I am running a game with 3 players, and we're about 5 sessions in, and everyone is beginning to feel comfortable. This is fine, this is where I want my players to be.

However, with a comfort zone, a collection of crude humor and sassy jokes has also arrived. In everyday conversation, this would normally be fine, I too can have a bit of a laugh at a terrible joke, but when I'm trying to create an environment, and a certain type of character, it's very distracting.

For example, after the party saved a celebration from being mauled by zombies, the next morning, an NPC approached them to hire them, and make use of their talents.

You step out of the tavern, and you immediately spot a rather fancy carriage across the road. The carriage driver appears to be watching the entrance, and as soon as he spots you, he crosses the road to meet you.

In a rather well refined accent, the carriage driver announces himself; "Good morning, sir and madams. My master wishes to speak with you, in private. Would you care to follow me?"

This is where the group immediately started with "don't take candy from strangers in vans" jokes. Eventually, they calmed down, and agreed to enter the carriage.

As you all sit down on the available seat, you get a proper look at the man the carriage driver was referring to. From a quick glance, you can clearly tell that this an is rich, if not a noble. A red velvet jacket, a crisp white shirt, and shined black shoes. His long brown hair greased back into a ponytail.

"I thank you for joining me."

And immediately the group once again started with the abduction humor, and even escalated to possible sodomy.

When this carries on, I let most of it slide, but if it continues, and is holding up the game, I eventually take it as PC chatter (with appropriate warning). Sort of like the "in-character lamp" technique. The players understand this, and accept it.

In all honesty, I did my best to try and have this NPC remain "shocked" in response to all this, but after a short while, I began to get frustrated, because they weren't taking the situation seriously. I considered throwing them out for their "disrespectful behavior", but if I did so, the party would likely get upset because they are only having fun, and the game would effectively be brought to a halt.

Additionally, I'm not exactly a "quick thinker", so coming up with an alternative way to trigger the planned story line is a bit of struggle for me.

I don't want to force them to change their sense of humor, or "reel it in" at all. I feel that would stifle the fun. I have no problem with their jokes, only the way that it doesn't fit with my role playing.

Is there any way that I could handle this situation a bit better, in terms of role playing, or perhaps creating encounters that may be a bit more accommodating to the group's sense of humor? I don't want to ask them to stop, I just want to keep the game going more smoothly than I have been.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes the players joking around can impede the game, as you say, but sometimes it provides an easy opportunity for the DM to check their notes for the next section and mentally prepare for that, or start writing down stats for the next combat encounter so there is less setup time when it actually starts. I'm sure you can use at least some of these situations to your advantage. \$\endgroup\$ – Cody Jan 25 '17 at 18:03
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There is a time for chatter, there is a time for role playing. And usually these should be reasonably separated.

Talk

Make sure your players know that you don't mind their sense of humor, but at times it makes your GM work harder. Tell them why, when and how. Some people might not realize just how disruptive extended chattering can be to the story. Let them know that you are all for the joking around, but that they need to rein it in if the story is ever going to get anywhere*. Conversation is the key.

Indicators, aka yes, go get that lamp

Some parts of the game will have a lot of off-character talk. Especially with rather new players, who need help with game mechanics during fight, or with skill checks they don't yet know how to use. And some parts don't. Some parts benefit from the uninterrupted narrative.

If you are new GM, or they are new players, or simply you are new to playing with each other, physical token might help. Actual stylish lantern sounds good. If there is a physical act they need to do to "legally" go off character, like reaching out and turning lamp off, it will work as slightly deterring agent. And they will know in which scenes you actually care about that, without the need to say it each time.

Last but not least, if you will punish them in-game for what they say when lamp is on, they will not feel cheated. This separation helps both you and them to avoid mistakes, misunderstandings and "bleeding" between them and their characters. It's always clear who said this, was it Joe the Player or Khan the Character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 For just talking to the players. Some people might not realize just how disruptive extended chattering can be to the story. Let them know that you are all for the joking around, but that they need to rein it in if the story is ever going to get anywhere \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz Jan 25 '17 at 18:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ The lamp idea is actually a really good one, OP should try it. Back in my LARPing days, all players were required to wear a token (usually worn on a thin chain necklace) that indicated they were players in the game. It was intended to visually separate players from random people since we played in a public space, but covering that token with one hand became an unspoken signal for "I'm speaking out of character." Drawing attention to the token also provided an easy way for players who wanted to minimize OOC chatter to let others know they should get back on the wagon, so to speak. \$\endgroup\$ – Steve-O Jan 25 '17 at 21:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ @D.Spetz Exactly. That's why I made it first point. Mind if I edit some part of your comment into my answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Jan 26 '17 at 9:54
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Mołot Go ahead, use anything that you think is useful/relevant \$\endgroup\$ – D.Spetz Jan 26 '17 at 19:07
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A) NPCs that can take a joke

You have made it clear that you do not wish to change the players or the athmosphere. You have a hard time remaining in-character because your NPCs are so different from that athmosphere. Introduce NPCs that can take a joke. It will not necessarily limit the diversity of NPCs either. It is possible they are just carefree. Or they might be putting up a front and frowning inside. In the case you mentioned the noble seems to be in a position of power over the PCs. He could have a laugh, then turn it around and respond with a veiled threat, like

"I could abduct you all, couldn't I? * chuckle *"

Did he joke? Was he serious? It is up to you to decide and a good Insight roll to figure out.

If you want to change the mood for a bit, you can still say that an NPC reacts unfavorably to such comments, and the response does not have to be violent or agressive either. Seeing that they have reduced a young maiden to tears might quell the jokes for a minute or two. Your players might be more willing to have a serious scene too if they can indulge in others.

B) Situations that impact the characters strongly

We have a guy in our group who makes lots of OOC comments and jokes and this troubles us too sometimes. I have noticed that when he decides his character feels strongly about something, the jokes stop. When discussing how he wanted to get revenge against some monsters, his tone suddenly went all serious. It is possible that, like him, your players have trouble thinking as their character and a more extreme state of mind in-game might help them grasp the character.

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This answer doesn't describe a solution in terms of roleplaying or encounter-building , but it's focused on social part of RPGs and based on personal experience in a similar situation.

Talk about campaign mood expectations.

Jokes are great and they add a lot of positivity[1] to the game table. But as you said yourself they tend to kill seriousness of the situation. And that's not a problem per se.

The problem is in expectations. You expect serious roleplaying game with awesome heroes struggling in epic adventures. And then your players start to joke around and ruin all the epic mood.

That doesn't necessarily mean that they don't want serious game. They just in the mood for jokes and got a bit carried away. And that's why you should talk with them about what you expect from the game and about what they want from the game in terms of mood.

I run Dungeon World game for my group and players have a great deal in a world-building in this game. In a first session we started to discuss world details and of course there were jokes during discussion. But one of the joke started a whole train of absurd and crazy ideas. Everyone had a laugh, but this wasn't a thing I wanted in the game. So, I said to them:

Listen, guys. These ideas are really funny, but I expect that our game will be epic and that's what I want to do. I can allow all this ideas in game, but I warn you that this will make this campaign crazy trash. If you want it, I'll roll with it. If you are like me and want epicness, than we must throw away these jokes and think about something else.

Whole group agreed that campaign should be serious and we all tuned in a right mood for it.

So, talk with your players. I'm sure they just had a fun mood and they won't mind to be a more serious. Or maybe they persuade you to take it more lightly. You don't have to be ready to accept joke campaign as I were. But you must at least explain your vision to your players.

Important note. You should not just declare your expectations, but also listen to your players and discuss it together. That will fix and prevent many issues based on misunderstanding.


[1] - I don't consider offensive and rude jokes here, especially targeted against one of the players. Even though some group may accept such jokes and find them funny.

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The table-talk IS the game.

(Sort of)

Very few people want to play poker with friends simply because they love ad-hoc statistical calculations. If they did, they'd just play Matlab. When you get people together for a social activity, you generally expect to have a certain atmosphere. What atmosphere that is depends on some unknowable combination of group and activity. This holds true for just about every social activity.

So, before everything else, congratulations! The social activity you're running has people joking around and having a good time! It may not be going the way you envisioned, but it is objectively a success, and you should feel good about it.

However, everyone else having fun is cold comfort if you aren't. You say (paraphrasing) that the social environment around your group's activity makes it hard for you to create the environment you want for your game. I'm sympathetic! I've been there too, and it can definitely be frustrating. Fortunately, there are basically only three paths forward:

First, if you and they are all enjoying the wisecracking, DON'T CHANGE ANYTHING. This isn't a job; there's no such thing as badwrongfun; no RPG police will come kick your door down for insufficient dourness. You're playing to have fun with friends. If you're all having fun, keep doing that. Mission accomplished!

(Though, you might also want to consider migrating to something lighthearted like Paranoia to match the mood, or to something grim and dark like Warhammer to maximize the opportunities for buffoonery.)

Second, you might be all having fun short term, but you also want to get some role-playing done and no-one else is interested. You're not wrong for wanting that, but you should recognize that you're the odd man out in this scenario. In this case, I recommend thinking hard about whether your happiness would best be served by joining in or by getting them to join you. There isn't a right answer here, and the question is both deeply personal and deeply situational. If you want to join in, go to the first answer.

If you decide you want to bring them around, realize that you're essentially suggesting a new social activity. Previously, they were doing some crazy fusion of RPGs and MST3K, now you want some other game. You will almost certainly benefit from the Same Page Tool, and you will certainly benefit from having an honest conversation about it. If you are the motive force behind this activity (and as GM you almost certainly are), martyring yourself to its success will burn you out quickly and will drive a wedge between you and your friends.

Third, you might be all having fun short term, but also ALL want to get some role-playing done. If so, your question really reduces to "Stack Exchange, teach me comedic timing." Great question! You want to learn to roll with the interruptions, then smoothly return to the story. That is an excellent goal. Unfortunately, it's also a tall order, and I'm not good enough to teach it (certainly not through text). However, I can give you a few tips:

  • When someone tells a joke, do not automatically pause for laughter.
  • When the audience reacts strongly enough to interrupt (i.e. when they laugh), DO pause for laughter.
  • When you pause for laughter: stop narrating (mugging is maybe okay, but keep it rare), wait for the laughter to peak, and continue immediately after the peak from where you left off (i.e. don't wait for laughter to die down, just for it to start dying down).
  • The secret to a good farce is playing it straight. The set-up is weird, but everyone reacts to it in an internally consistent way (watch Doctor Strangelove for a good example, though the title character is the worst example in the film).

And a few other tips to go along with the comedic timing:

  • Play with stereotypes. If your players think this guy is Moe Lester of the White Van Gang, play that up a little: Moe will end up more memorable because of it. Then, whether you later play him with or against type, he'll still be memorable and the contrast or confirmation will help give Moe a defined character. He doesn't necessarily need to be a caricature (though it's actually fine if some characters are).
  • Joke time is a great time for foreshadowing. If Moe is secretly the villain, and your players start cracking jokes about him being shady, play that up! You have a golden opportunity for him to canonically say/do things and have your players overlook it. Normally, they will hang on your every word, and ascribe extreme significance to any scene elements you mention. Anything that happens during joke time can slip right through, but still be obvious in retrospect.
  • It's hard to pull off, and very hard to set up, but if you can time a betrayal to hit right when you would normally continue after pausing for laughter, it really hits harder. Now, you have a very limited number of betrayal plots you can run with the same group (depending on the game; I'm looking at you, Call of Cthullhu) without it turning silly, so you won't have many opportunities, but it can really work well.

Otherwise, you might look at classic movies for examples of good timing. Offhand, my touchstones would be Cary Grant's Bringing up Baby and Arsenic and Old Lace, Noises Off, and the Pink Panther movies (but looking at the characters around Clouseau).

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I've been role playing for more than twenty years, but feel really weird when I try to role play staying in character, usually I'm more of a god that controls my character, telling him what to do, what to kill and giving it an overall idea of what to say to people.

The only times i've felt confortable staying in character has been those I had a big help of the atmosphere, in a scary Cthulhu game, with little light, candles, audio support and a master deeply involved with the game faking voices and stuff like that.

So if you have the time and/or space you could set up a game in a serious environment that helps you stay in character.

In my early games we did the rule that everything you would say were in character but the games were not as enjoyable as it were before so we just assume we were a group that just played for the story and not for the world building.

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So based on the information you've provided it seems like you need to have an in-game consequence to your players' characters conversations. It sounds like their extended table banter has been equated to in-character dialogue based on what you've provided, so it seems it may be reasonable for an appropriate NPC reaction.

I'm not sure what game you're playing, but 5e DnD has some recommendations on how to develop NPCs a little bit more thoroughly which you might want to consider pulling from. Things like goals, motives, ideals, flaws, etc. should at least be roughly drafted for any major NPC. Since you aren't a 'quick thinker' this will help give you a road map to how the NPC would react to this sort of a behavior.

This doesn't make sense to bother with for every random guard, indeed some guys are just trying to get in their 8 hours for the day. However, suppose the players are working with a noble and they've spent 10 minutes in his presence joking about how he's kidnapping them for sodomy. Around minute 5 you skim through the ideals for this character and recall that this person takes how he's perceived extremely seriously.

These people are now suggesting that he would stoop to kidnapping and rape and have been for 10 minutes in his presence. It is entirely possible they impugn him far worse when he's not around. This character may well throw them out of his carriage and take his business elsewhere.

Now for the fallout. This is the sort of thing that messes up the flow of the game and now it's time for a social challenge to properly apologize. In this way, you let the players recover, but you make them pay a price of sorts. If you track the NPC's mood, perhaps it's been knocked a step lower; if money was to be considered, that amount might be lessened; if assistance was to be rendered, maybe the amount of assistance has been reduced.

In this way, you haven't impeded your overall story. If your story is running on hidden rails, I get that you don't want to have to come up with another hook on the spot. Instead, you throw a bump into the path and keep the train running in the same direction.

As an aside, this can work the other way, too. If the players are interacting with more uncouth individuals, they might very much enjoy this time of banter and the delay of business in lieu of innuendos (in your endo!).

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