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Being a Good Audience

Fauchard1520

Explorer
When it comes to "spotlight moments" for other players, the conversation usually boils down to "let them have their moment." I think that's a good start, but there's more to being a good audience than not upstaging your buddies. This applies to exploration and character interaction just as much as combat. I think it's the mark of a good player to find ways to become interested in what the other players are doing. Games are better when we remember to entertain one another, and it’s a hell of a lot easier to get into that mindset when your audience is properly appreciative. I'm talking hype for someone else's cool moments. I'm talking a little light applause during that big crit. Leaning forward and listening intently rather than stacking dice when someone confronts their long-lost-whatever in the dramatic climax.

So what do you think? Do you ever struggle with issues of audienceship at your tables? Do you find it tough to maintain excitement through the initiative pass? Have you ever been dispirited to see your buddies buried in their cell phones during your talky scenes? How do you deal with it?

(comic for illustrative purposes)
 

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Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
As both a player and a GM the migration of phones and tablets onto the tabletop hasn't been a positive. I don't mind if the GM is using a laptop to do the adventure instead of written material...but I can't help but notice all the players who are using electronic character sheets and spellbooks also tend to check emails and send a few texts everytime they pick up and interact with their device. Then there is the guy with the memes always interjecting this funny thing they saw DURING the game rather than when we stop for a break.

But even before electronics invaded the table....there has always been the issue of small spotlight stealing. In the game world it makes sense for the cleric (or religious background character) to be the one to know the obscure holy symbol origin...and for the ranger to be the one to track an animal through the woods, etc.. In the real world what happens is players get bored and all want to roll for every skill check to see if they can out-cleric the cleric or out-sage the wizard. HAHA...my backwoods barbarian knew more about that book than your librarian!

My solution for small spotlight stealing is to just choose to not take part in any skill check or even in the story that doesn't make sense for my character to know or do. By not rolling at all I ensure that the cleric gets to make the cleric related rolls and succeed without having to hear from two other party members that they also knew the same info. This, to me, covers up a bit the strangeness that rolling a D20 can create when left to a single skill check and bad/good luck with the characters performing those checks.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
One-shots with pick-up groups can sometimes be a mixed bag, but my regular group is excellent at being an audience to the rest of the group. They're paying attention, throwing in the odd funny quip, cheering (or booing) the results of the dice, and otherwise solidly contributing. If someone is not contributing as much, it gets noticed and the group works to correct it. These are traits I screened for via one-shots before the player ever got an invite to a regular game. I don't invite just anyone to play in a campaign, even if they are friends.

It also helps that the pace of my games is such that you really don't have time to focus on anything else but the game. Even if you're out of the spotlight, you'll be back in it pretty quickly, compared to many games I see. As well, when I describe the environment, I'm embedding clues and telegraphing dangers in what I say. This incentivizes players to pay attention so they can try to glean some advantages by engaging with what I described.
 

jasper

Rotten DM
Yes be a good audience to fellow players and dm. And Dms need to be a good audience to players and occasionally let them monologue. But cell phones are just the current bug a boo for losing the audience. Back in 80s there was homework, necking, reading the latest dragon mag or fantasy book. ETC.
 

I'm actually the jerk, not that I ever mean to be. Fortunately we play on a VTT, so when I find myself starting to be that guy, I simply mute myself so my comments go unheard.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
To the surprise of no one here, I'm sure, I have in the past had the tendency to steal the spotlight just by virtue of being quick with a quip and a constitutional inability to shut my mouth when it comes to playing the dozens. I am older and wiser though, and I've learned how to play the yes and game (um, most of the time anyway). Improv has actually helped me a lot. Being a fan is a skill.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
As both a player and a GM the migration of phones and tablets onto the tabletop hasn't been a positive. I don't mind if the GM is using a laptop to do the adventure instead of written material...but I can't help but notice all the players who are using electronic character sheets and spellbooks also tend to check emails and send a few texts everytime they pick up and interact with their device. Then there is the guy with the memes always interjecting this funny thing they saw DURING the game rather than when we stop for a break.

But even before electronics invaded the table....there has always been the issue of small spotlight stealing. In the game world it makes sense for the cleric (or religious background character) to be the one to know the obscure holy symbol origin...and for the ranger to be the one to track an animal through the woods, etc.. In the real world what happens is players get bored and all want to roll for every skill check to see if they can out-cleric the cleric or out-sage the wizard. HAHA...my backwoods barbarian knew more about that book than your librarian!

My solution for small spotlight stealing is to just choose to not take part in any skill check or even in the story that doesn't make sense for my character to know or do. By not rolling at all I ensure that the cleric gets to make the cleric related rolls and succeed without having to hear from two other party members that they also knew the same info. This, to me, covers up a bit the strangeness that rolling a D20 can create when left to a single skill check and bad/good luck with the characters performing those checks.
One of the great tools for the knowledge example, and many others, is for the DM to simply say, “Torman, as a cleric of The Garrion Church, you know a bit about this, give me a Religion check to see how much.” And say no when the PC with no possibly relevant skills asks to roll as well.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Cheering and groaning good or bad die rolls (particularly in combat) shows two things: you're into what's going on even if it's not your "turn", and you care about the outcome.
One of the great tools for the knowledge example, and many others, is for the DM to simply say, “Torman, as a cleric of The Garrion Church, you know a bit about this, give me a Religion check to see how much.” And say no when the PC with no possibly relevant skills asks to roll as well.
What I often do in a situation like this is get the Cleric (in this example) to roll normally, and get some other player to do a group roll - usually at much worse odds - for everyone else combined. This covers off the slim but not zero chance that someone other than the expert just happens to know some relevant bit of information, which IME happens in real life surprisingly often.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
Cheering and groaning good or bad die rolls (particularly in combat) shows two things: you're into what's going on even if it's not your "turn", and you care about the outcome.
This. So much this. Plus it's an easy in for people who find social interaction a bit sticky, so it's a good place to start. There are enough neuroatypical people playing RPGs that this is actually a pretty important topic. RPGs can be a great safe space to work on your people skills.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest
One of the great tools for the knowledge example, and many others, is for the DM to simply say, “Torman, as a cleric of The Garrion Church, you know a bit about this, give me a Religion check to see how much.” And say no when the PC with no possibly relevant skills asks to roll as well.
Personally, I don't like to block PCs out of skill checks - particularly when there's no specific reason that something should only be doable or known by someone with proficiency in the skill. What I do is try to deliver the information in a way that's relevant to their different backgrounds or classes. And if the cleric blows the check to recognize the obscure holy symbol, I'll still try to give them some info about it such as the portfolios implied by the imagery. If another character, like the rogue with a street urchin background, makes a luckier roll - I'll imply they learned the info in a way that would fit - perhaps seeing someone in an alleyway with the symbol and hearing scuttlebutt about what it's for. Or, if I'm the player and the DM isn't very detailed about that, then I will couch it in those terms. "Oh, yeah, I heard a story about that once..."

This way, I don't rely on rigid niche protection, but I don't blatantly overshadow the character who's supposed to be good at it but didn't roll as well.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
One of the great tools for the knowledge example, and many others, is for the DM to simply say, “Torman, as a cleric of The Garrion Church, you know a bit about this, give me a Religion check to see how much.” And say no when the PC with no possibly relevant skills asks to roll as well.
Thats kinda sorta basically how I do it. I'm always happy to allow a player to advocate for their character having a shot at it, and have a pretty low bar to let them roll. I'd say my table is about 60% likely to let the primary character have the first crack at it, though, and then they hop in and ask to roll if the first character did poor.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
But even before electronics invaded the table....there has always been the issue of small spotlight stealing. In the game world it makes sense for the cleric (or religious background character) to be the one to know the obscure holy symbol origin...and for the ranger to be the one to track an animal through the woods, etc.. In the real world what happens is players get bored and all want to roll for every skill check to see if they can out-cleric the cleric or out-sage the wizard. HAHA...my backwoods barbarian knew more about that book than your librarian!

My solution for small spotlight stealing is to just choose to not take part in any skill check or even in the story that doesn't make sense for my character to know or do. By not rolling at all I ensure that the cleric gets to make the cleric related rolls and succeed without having to hear from two other party members that they also knew the same info. This, to me, covers up a bit the strangeness that rolling a D20 can create when left to a single skill check and bad/good luck with the characters performing those checks.
Right, players don't get to decide if they are making ability checks. Only the DM may do so after hearing the player describing what he or she wants to do.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
It's interesting to see how different people handle the spouting of lore in their games. In the case of our good friend Torg, I'd probably give him some exposition without a roll, just because he asked, and I want to give it. He's got the right skill, I don't need a roll for that. If he wanted to try to recall additional detail, then I'd make him roll. I don't generally gate basic exposition behind a roll though. Either a character knows it, or I can deliver it via NPC or found document. I like to use the basic exposition to give the players some handles to work with when it comes to asking more specific questions and digging deeper.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
Right, players don't get to decide if they are making ability checks. Only the DM may do so after hearing the player describing what he or she wants to do.
I keep seeing this verbiage come up. It's not how we play. We have never played D&D this way...and my group has been playing D&D for almost 20 years now.

One example: We have what we call the "Door Routine". It is assumed that the rogue (or rogue substitute if there isn't one) is going to check EVERY door for traps, and listen/peek through to the other room. We don't state it. We assume it. The GM has already rolled for the rogue and when the players decide to interact with the door the detailed description of the door includes the trap status AND peeked/listened to information added. The exception is when the players specifically say they AREN'T doing the "Door Routine".

Players are welcome to combine a stated action with a skill check roll total in my game. At best they saved me the time of having to tell them to make a skill check that they already knew they would have to make, and at worst I ignore skill check portion of the statement.
 

Sabathius42

Bree-Yark
It's interesting to see how different people handle the spouting of lore in their games. In the case of our good friend Torg, I'd probably give him some exposition without a roll, just because he asked, and I want to give it. He's got the right skill, I don't need a roll for that. If he wanted to try to recall additional detail, then I'd make him roll. I don't generally gate basic exposition behind a roll though. Either a character knows it, or I can deliver it via NPC or found document. I like to use the basic exposition to give the players some handles to work with when it comes to asking more specific questions and digging deeper.
At our table it goes like this usually....

GM: The party steps through the door and you see before you a strange symbol drawn in blood on the floor. Make a religion roll.

Rogue: Self censors and doesn't roll.

Fighter: Self censors and doesn't roll.

Cleric: Rolls and gets a 17. (DC was 20)

Wizard: Self censors and doesn't roll.

GM: You remember something about a beast cult who lived in this area hundreds of years ago, but not more detail than that.

Wizard: I have the Sage background....can I make a roll too?

GM: Sure, go ahead.

Wizard: 23.

GM: When the cleric mentions a beast cult to you it makes you think back to when you were studying about lycanthropy. Thinking about it a bit longer you recall that there was a group of werewolves who worshipped a daemonic beast that resembled a 15' tall werewolf with flaming fur that used this as their battle sigil. Cleric, you know the daemonic god of werewolves is GRRRRSHANK THE BLOODTHIRSTY although you have never seen this particular design before.
 

iserith

Magic Wordsmith
I keep seeing this verbiage come up. It's not how we play. We have never played D&D this way...and my group has been playing D&D for almost 20 years now.
It really depends on which game we're talking about.

In D&D 5e, there's nothing that says anyone but the DM may decide there is an ability check and nothing suggesting players ask to make one (though they may ask if a skill proficiency applies to an ability check the DM has already called for).

In D&D 4e, the Rules Compendium says players often ask to make skill checks and the DM almost always says "Yes."

I don't recall how it was described in the D&D 3.Xe rules (and I gave my books away), but certainly the most common approach I saw had players asking to make skill checks or declaring the same.

If you're playing D&D 5e and players are asking to make or declaring they are making ability checks, you're just playing it with the D&D 3.Xe or 4e approach. But notably, the issue of players trying to roll "skill checks" because one person failed is resolved by not doing it like previous editions of the game and by having a meaningful consequence for failure on a failed check, which is a prerequisite for the DM calling for an ability check in the first place.

But of course, do it however you see fit.
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
Supporter
@Sabathius42 - Yeah, my games work a little differently. I probably wouldn't call for roll before asking the players what they do. I'd also probably decide before hand if the symbol was something the Cleric would know about or not (usually yes, that's why he has the religion skill, right?). If he asked me, do I recognize the symbol? I either say yes, and given him some basic exposition, or just call for a check. Once we're rolling dice the other PCs might chip or not, depending on their character and skill set.

We get to the same place in the end, which is what matters. I have some strict self-imposed guidelines for running games. I try to never call for a roll except in response to player declarations and actions, and when I do call for a roll, it's usually directed at a specific PC, not the group. Even initiative in my game is more often called for in response to a player declaration, not a monster or NPC action or appearance. My process lets me move the spotlight around a little before I start resolving things if I need to, and decide in the moment if a roll is really necessary or not. Everyone has a different process though. YMMV, naturally.
 

doctorbadwolf

Heretic of The Seventh Circle
Personally, I don't like to block PCs out of skill checks - particularly when there's no specific reason that something should only be doable or known by someone with proficiency in the skill. What I do is try to deliver the information in a way that's relevant to their different backgrounds or classes. And if the cleric blows the check to recognize the obscure holy symbol, I'll still try to give them some info about it such as the portfolios implied by the imagery. If another character, like the rogue with a street urchin background, makes a luckier roll - I'll imply they learned the info in a way that would fit - perhaps seeing someone in an alleyway with the symbol and hearing scuttlebutt about what it's for. Or, if I'm the player and the DM isn't very detailed about that, then I will couch it in those terms. "Oh, yeah, I heard a story about that once..."

This way, I don't rely on rigid niche protection, but I don't blatantly overshadow the character who's supposed to be good at it but didn't roll as well.
At my table, it depends on the check. If the knowledge is specialized enough, it requires proficiency or some story reason a PC might know it. If it isn’t specialized but is just something not everyone knows, I’ll allow a group check from everyone interested and give a nod to the highest check.

In general, I don’t like the rogue knowing more about religion than the priest, so I often give the priest automatic knowledge. All characters just know all sorts of things because of their class, background, history, events in the campaign, associations, etc.
 

Eltab

Hero
One way to keep players interested even when they have low skill ratings is ask, "Could your character go Help him out?" It fights 'I am useless just now' syndrome. And gives a +2 bonus to the Skilled guy's roll.
 

Fauchard1520

Explorer
Then there is the guy with the memes always interjecting this funny thing they saw DURING the game rather than when we stop for a break.
Under COVID, most of my games have moved to Roll20. We use Discord for voice, but there's also the text chat. And it's interesting to me how posting funny junk where everyone can see it seems to work better than doing the same in a face-to-face game with a personal device.

In a weird way, commenting on the game with relevant memes seems to work in that kind of environment, showing that the player is interested and engaged with the action. I guess maybe it has something to do with being in a separate digital space than the Roll20 tabletop. It easier to partition "funny asides" and "the actual game" that way.
 

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