There’s usually one in every group–the player that isn’t really there to play, he just wants to hang out with his friends. Sometimes he’s the joker who simply can’t take anything seriously, other times he’s the wallflower who will go along with anything the party wants to do, as long as he doesn’t have to take center stage.
Socialites aren’t necessarily new players who are still trying to get a handle on this “roleplaying thing” (though they might be). Many of them have been playing for years, always in the shadows, often paying more attention to the contents of your book shelves than to the game itself. They just want to hang out with the group and since the group likes to game, well, here they are. Usually you don’t have to worry much about these players; just let them maintain their backseat position and they’ll be happy.
Unintentionally, this player type may make you feel like a bad GM. No matter what you do, you can’t get him engaged with the group or game. He doesn’t mean to cause problems—in fact, causing problems is the last thing this player type wants to do. Rest assured–it’s not you or your game; the Socialite is only here for the company. You may wonder where you’re going wrong when, in truth, nothing you do or don’t do will make him more involved in the game. If your Socialite keeps showing up game after game, no matter how much of a wallflower he is, your game is probably just fine.
If you have any doubts, a quick conversation with the Socialite will usually put your mind at ease. If not, you’re dealing with a frustrated player of another type, rather than a true Socialite.
This is the easiest type of player to deal with on-the-spot. Just leave him alone. Let him peruse his comic book or stack dice, or just listen to what’s going on. Touch base with him occasionally throughout the session: have him make a skill check, or just ask what his character is doing in that particular scene. Just don’t get upset if he responds minimally. While it can feel like your GMing isn’t reaching him, it’s more likely he’s just here for the company, especially if he only contributes minimally when invited to do more. Let him do some dice rolling, but don’t force him into role-playing a scene or taking a major part in a complex operation. With this player type, you’ll only make him uncomfortable by trying to get him more involved.
Virtues and Flaws
You’ll never hear a Socialite complain about feeling left-out or upstaged by another player. He’s not going to get into a rules argument with you. And he can often round out the party with a needed character type no one else wants to play. You’ll also never hear him complain if him character dies. He’ll happily take over an NPC or create a new PC, especially if one of the other players helps him.
The biggest problem you’ll have to deal with this player type is the distraction factor. Having some at the table reading can draw other players’ attentions. Socialites have tendency to start side conversations on non-game-related topics. He may also frustrate you and the other players by needing constant reminders about where the party is and what dice he should be rolling now. Don’t expect a Socialite to spend any time or effort learning the rules.
Dealing with a Socialite
Out of character
Let him slip into the background. Don’t try to force this player type into the lime-light. To help speed up play and avoid you having to tell the Socialite how to roll for initiative for the seventh time tonight, pair him up with another (patient) player. Pick someone who can guide him through the game with suggestions about what his character could do in a given situation and what dice to roll when. You may need to rotate this job among a handful of players, so no one gets stuck “babysitting” all the time.
Socialites make good reality checks. If the group gets into a heated argument over something related to the game, this player type can often be the voice of reason, providing a calm, reasoned opinion or observation that puts the whole issue into perspective.
He may be also willing to role-play NPCs or party henchmen/companions, if needed. Most Socialites I’ve known don’t mind switch-hitting to play a character other than his own. He generally has no emotional investment in his character, which means he’ll also be more than happy to round out the party by playing a needed character type no one else wants to play.
The best way to deal with a Socialite in-character is don’t. That sounds harsh and I don’t mean you should ignore him completely. For example, combat’s breaking out and you’re going around the table asking people what their characters are doing. Don’t skip the Socialite as well, even if he’s leafing through a magazine. On the other hand, don’t make plot line that features his character.You’ll just make him uncomfortable and he may even stop playing all together.
The Merry Lark
The merry lark is usually an engaged member of the game group. You probably won’t even realize she’s a Socialite—until something bad happens to the PCs. Then you find out the Merry Lark can’t take the game seriously. TPK? The Merry Lark will laugh and make a comment like “Well, that was a hoot, wasn’t it? Anyone up for Munchkin?” To her, it’s just a game—she’ll approach roleplaying with the same emotional investment she would a game of Crazy 8’s. She honestly won’t understand why the rest of the players are so worked up about it.
This is player who just can’t stop cracking jokes during the game. Frequently, this takes the form of puns, but may just as frequently be sexual innuendo or other form of humor. While every game needs a good laugh now and then, the Wisecrack takes it too far. At the funeral of a good and much-beloved king, the punster will be the guy dancing around with the lampshade on his head, trying to get people to “lighten up.”
They often view the game as one long setup to a punchline, which they’re happy to provide if no one else does. If you call him to task about it, he’ll say something along the lines of “Aw,cummon, it’s a game, right? It’s supposed to be fun.” He just can’t see that after awhile, the constant joking wears really thin.
[This is an excerpt from the GM’s Field Guide to Players, the up-coming book from rpgGM.coml.]
- Forging Unexpected Connections: Putting PC Dossiers To Work (campaignmastery.com)
- How to Find Your Perfect Player (rpggm.com)
- Dealing with Problem Players: The Munchkin (rpggm.com)