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I'm a relatively new DM. I put together a group of 5 all new players who all showed interest and we have a pretty good group. One of the players decided to play a cocky rogue type, which is absolutely fine since he always plays it in character and doesn't go OOC much at all. One of our other players was playing a stern serious paladin but recently he's been bantering with the cocky rogue type. Unfortunately for this he breaks character and does a lot of meta-referencing.

Despite my best efforts to try and calm them down so I can describe scenes or another player can make their turn they continue to force banter which is having a negative effect on my enjoyment of the game and the other three players. In our previous session I was essentially describing the scenes to the three players who take it seriously and the other two just tuned in afterwards and asked questions about the situation I had just described.

How can I politely nudge them into paying more attention and sticking to their characters?

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Pick Your Battles

Let some things slide. Decide if it's worth it to call him out each time. Understand that jokes are a part of every game. It's part of the social event of roleplaying. It means your players are having fun, and disruptions aside, that is a good thing. Let it slide if the action at the table is more light-hearted (e.g. having a drink in a tavern). Enforce serious roleplaying when serious things are happening (e.g. telling the evil overlord his reign of terror has come to an end).

Tell Him What You Told Us

Discuss it with your player. Explain why it's disruptive. Get him to agree to tone down the jokes. Do so one-on-one (praise in public, "punish" in private) so as not to embarrass him.

Jokes Are Sometimes A Sign of Discomfort

I've found that the players who joke the most are the most uncomfortable roleplaying. Jokes are a way for them to cope with how uncomfortable they feel expressing themselves as a character. This is particularly true in serious games, especially horror games. In the case of horror games, it may not be so much discomfort with expressing themselves, as it is discomfort with the subject matter. Both are worth addressing in your conversation with your player. Is he new to roleplaying? Is the subject matter of your game making him uncomfortable?

Have NPCs take him seriously

Essentially, to enforce roleplaying, treat every statement as if it was said in character. Have the NPCs respond to his meta-references as if he had said something really confusing. Don't harp on it, like having NPCs hold a grudge for something stupid he said, just have them always engage in character. Listen to the Adventure Zone. Although it's a light-hearted campaign, Griffin does a really good job of reigning the silliness in. The same techniques can be used in a more serious campaign.

Give Bennies

Find out what your rpg system uses as a reward, and hand those out as carrots to good roleplayers. In D&D 5e this is Inspiration. In Fate, this is Fate points. Only use things as carrots that you can safely use without affecting game balance. In D&D 5e, for example, there are ways to award XP for good roleplaying, but if you overdo it, you might level them up too fast. Inspiration, on the other hand, is fairly innocuous and only gives temporary advantage on a roll.

When players see what other people are getting rewarded for, they will behave in a way that gets them the reward. It's a good idea to hand out rewards as soon as they demonstrate the desired behavior so as to reinforce what they did right (rather than waiting til the end of the session). Of course, as good roleplaying becomes the norm, it should become more and more difficult to get those bennies.

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I have had this problem at my table.

I talked to the players about it before a game, explaining that I hate repeating myself. This improved the situation a lot, but there was still some chatting over my descriptions.

This party spends a long time on combat, something we are all aware of. We have instituted the rule, "On your turn you have 6 seconds to tell the GM what your character is doing, otherwise your character defends and doesn't move." Asking for clarification is included in the 6 seconds, so there is a big incentive to pay attention to the sitreps at the start of each round.

As a very blunt rule, I have considered the following: "If I ask you what you are doing and you ask me to repeat my description, I'll do so, but your character has spent their Action examining their surroundings." I think this is too much of a blunt instrument, and if I had to use it at a table then something has already gone wrong with the social contract.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ These are great suggestions, I'll try them out on a the group and see how it goes, cheers! \$\endgroup\$ – TinyBandit Mar 16 '17 at 0:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ The technique you suggest is a powerful instrument, but it only really works during combat. The problem would still persist during social scenes. \$\endgroup\$ – Baskakov_Dmitriy Mar 17 '17 at 9:37
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Not every scene should allow for Monty Python jokes, and not every scene is Obi-Wan dying. Sometimes players genuinely have a hard time understanding the difference, and you have to be very clear with them about which of those types of scenes is occurring.

One technique is to turn down the lights or set another very obvious visual or auditory cue so everyone understands, "Oh, this is a serious scene." Get agreement up front from everyone in your group that serious scenes aren't the place for jokes, and that the agreed-upon indicator means jokes aren't cool for a given scene. This does two things: it gets everyone on the same page about expectations, and it makes it very obvious when someone is running afoul of them.

You don't want to overdo it. Let them joke around when they're fighting the skeletons or making plans at the Green Dragon Inn. But like a great action movie, a great night at the table is a mix of humor, action, and drama.

I've found that players often respond well to the visual or auditory cue, and while some may make comments about it the first one or two times, eventually they really embrace it as a tool for helping the game move along.

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