Dealing with a Mopey RPG Player

So you have a moody or unengaged player at your tabletop roleplaying game (RPG). He* sits there. He fiddles with dice. He fiddles with his character sheet. He doesn’t look at the table. He takes frequent bathroom breaks and takes his phone along.  What are you going to do?

Now, I assume that you have already done the obvious thing and looked up online all those earnest articles or posts or whatnot that counsel you, as a gamemaster (GM), to make sure that all of your players are happy and engaged. Let me guess: they suggested that you talk to your players, one on one, and ask them what they want, right?  Counseled that you make sure to incorporate elements that your players would be interested, yes? Gently chided you to be good about giving everybody a chance to shine? Reminded you that roleplaying is an interactive process, so everybody needs to be on the same page as to expectations and themes?

Yeah, it’s all great advice. Seriously. But it didn’t work with this guy. So now you need to figure out what to do next.  Well, that’s why I’m here.

First off, you can simply ignore it. No, really, you can ignore it if nobody else at the table cares.  If the dude wants to sit around and mope instead of doing something cool with his half-orc barbarian, let him.  It’s not your fault. You tried, right?  We’re all adults here. Heck, maybe the guy just has one of those faces that don’t really show emotion much and he’s enjoying the heck out of the game and he just has a weak bladder or something. The point is that, if you’ve asked if somebody is OK and they don’t give you a straight answer, well, that’s on them. If you can work around them, do so. You have my permission, if it helps.

If that doesn’t appeal, heck, try pandering.  Maybe that’s the guy wants!  He wants somebody to notice, every so often, that he exists and that his feelings are important.  …And don’t dismiss this until it’s actually happened to you. Many people are lonely, and don’t know how to express it well. Some of those people even end up playing RPGs. shockingly (note: this is not actually shocking). If you can cater to that from time to time and it does no harm to the rest of the table dynamic, then do so.  Again, you have my permission.

But let’s say that you think that there’s a problem that the guy is having, and you think that it’s maybe a legitimate one. You just don’t know it. Maybe the player doesn’t know it. So what do you do? Well, there is one thing that you can try: get the dude to be GM for a while. Give him the whiteboard and GM screen and the dry-erase markers, and let him go to town.  Pay close attention to what he does, and what he concentrates on, and see if you can figure out what he hates.  If any of that stuff isn’t being reflected in your campaign, well, try to include some of it when you take p the GM reins again. It may help — and, at the very least, you’ll have gotten a few game sessions in where you got to be the sullen guy with the half-orc barbarian, etc. etc. etc.

Last, but not least? Oh, heck: if the guy’s sullen and morose and he’s disrupting the game, why not ask him to leave?  As gently or as forcefully as would be appropriate, bearing in mind that it’s wicked to be mean to people without cause.  This probably isn’t high school or college; you should be able to get a replacement. If the guy doesn’t groove to the game, he doesn’t. Maybe he just needs a tasteful hint to nudge him into finding one where he’s a better fit…

…Yes, I know. The idea can be… distasteful, to people who remember their earlier days of being socially ostracized. But, again, we’re all adults here.

*On the one hand, this could all apply to a female player. On the other hand, I’ve never actually encountered a female player who moped in this way. On the gripping hand, you might have, so substitute ‘she’ and ‘her’ where appropriate.

(Artwork created using multiple images.)