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Role Playing Tips - By Johnn Four

5 Things To Do When Your Players Aren'T Taking It Seriously

Copyright 2000, Robin Matte www.erneor.com (Site is in French)

Have you ever spent hours preparing a game, with great attention to detail, and then DM it with players who just can't take it seriously? Well, here's how you can bring them back to serious!

(It was a big damn problem of mine, a couple of years ago...)] Surprise Them With Great Danger Try to bring something up that they would never think of. For example, the harem that your charismatic player just saved, is in fact a bunch of angry dopplegangers...

Place 'em in a situation that requires them to act quickly, and effectively. Series of traps and cursed weapons always work... Shock 'em.


Obligate Them To Think Riddles, puzzles, mazes, and mysteries usually grab the players' attention. They do not have the choice, since they won't advance otherwise...

Place them in the front of really serious situations, but do not put something boring (like a political plot with no action), otherwise, you lose 'em for good. This solution may not work, though. If so, try no.3 ;)


Try Some Hack'n'Slash Sometimes, players just don't want to think. They want action, fast and quick. Make them roll the dice: skill checks, attack rolls, etc...

Provoke 'em and do not hesitate to almost kill them. Do not spare them. In other words, be cruel for once (or again ?).

[Johnn: Hmmmm, I think Robin means be cruel to the characters and not the players here. :)

My players and I always respond well to Star Wars or Indiana Jones style action & adventure--but we don't usually enjoy random combats, cruelty and overwhelming odds that require a hard-to-believe character rescue. So, as another strategy/style, give the players lots of action and then slowly re-introduce your plot hooks.]


Do Not Give Any Reward You must not give any reward when players are not acting like they should. The main goal of the game is to incarnate the character well and make him act like he would. Give more rewards if they become serious, maybe they'll understand.

[Johnn: as a game master, you have full control over in-game rewards. And the spirit of Robin's tip here, I believe, is that you can bring players back on track by using rewards to encourage serious roleplaying.] -----------------------------------------

Just Tell Them When you've tried everything and cannot do a thing, just tell them that you won't continue your game in this ambiance. Stop DMing this game since you are not having fun with it, and players are having fun without the game. Propose to them that you all do something else, and play the game you prepared for another time...


Thanks Robin. Not all of these methods will work for all groups. Sometimes a little nudge (Tips #1, 2 & 3) will do the trick. But, if the game table mood still isn't what you'd like after a couple of attempts at changing it, communication (the real message of Tip #5) is the key.

Roleplaying is a game that requires the enthusiastic consent of the GM and all the players present, for everyone to have fun. If things aren't going as planned, try not to get upset and be vindictive (i.e. Tips #3 & #4 abused). Take a break and have a meta-game discussion about your thoughts and listen to theirs.

How have you handled nights where the players just don't want to settle down and play serious (assuming your game is meant to be serious)? Your advice and experience will help the other game masters on this list: feedback@roleplayingtips.com

Have more fun at every game!

Johnn Four

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In 1E yes, in 2E no
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