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Engaging A Distant Player

Isida Kep'Tukari

I have a somewhat frustrating problem with a player, and I'd like to solicit your advice. This player is very distant in the game, and it's very challenging to get her to engage and participate her character in the campaign at hand. I would really like to get her talking and more active in what's going on around her in the game. I like this player and I know she can be better.

I am currently running a Dawnforge (3.5 d20 setting) campaign. Characters in that setting are fairly powerful, and everyone's just hit 11th level. Generally the campaign is going well, the players seem to have fun and enjoy both their characters and the plot, but with one player that's somewhat disengaged, it is starting to make things difficult as we get closer to our main campaign goal.

This player is the wife of one of my other players (the rest of the group consists of a mutual female friend, my husband, and my father). I'll call my problem player "Jane." She's playing a dark elf ranger with a night hunter prestige class.

Let me do a quick list of problems I have with Jane:

1. Her character is a solitary hunter, and she fades him into the background so much that if it weren't for his damage, I'd never know he was there in the session write-ups.

2. Jane has a tendency to like hack-and-slash characters with as many attacks per round as possible, but has a very imperfect understanding of the rules. As a consequence, she frequently does more damage than she's supposed to, and gets miffed when we managed to untangle her math and point out she's really only allowed to do half that.

3. She's had flashes of brilliant role-playing in the past, but I'm having a hell of a time getting her to contribute to this campaign, even with putting specific things in there for her character.

Let me break down the specifics:

Jane does have a background for her character (I had everyone write theirs down before the campaign started), and it's not a bad one. However, it's somewhat at odds with the rest of the party. Our fighter is a bit crude and intense, our wizard is spastic, our psion is long-suffering yet wise, and our druid is clever and entrepreneurial. Jane's character is quiet and fades into the background. Part of this is that she created a solitary hunter.

However, even a solitary hunter can contribute to a group. Even when I ask her point-blank on how her character is contributing to the task at hand, I couldn't even get an attempt at an answer until I suggested something to her (and I did give her time to think, I asked her first, saw she was stalled, talked to the other players, then came back to her). Even when I ask for something like this during our off-week, I have never gotten a response. I've occasionally had to extrapolate from her background what her character would have done so I could move the rest of the plot forward.

Jane has only been playing D&D for a few years, and has clearly never even read the Player's Handbook cover to cover. Heck, I honestly don't think she's taken an in-depth look at how several of her regular class features and feats work. Her husband virtually makes her characters for her (this is partially due to time constraints, as she works more hours than he does, and he's more experienced), but then she doesn't learn how to use all her abilities correctly. This leads to a lot of time waiting for her to do math on all the possible variations on her attacks, and then realizing that they're wrong, and having to do them again. It doesn't help that her husband occasionally makes math errors in doing his own character.

I know Jane has it in her to be more than just a quiver of death-dealing arrows with this character. She's done some astounding role-playing in one of my games before, and I really want to see more of what she can do. For example, in a previous campaign, the group had to get this rare artifact out of a well-guarded museum. I honestly expected, due to the group's previous MO, that they would do some kind of caper. I expected a break-in and fights with the guards and a daring escape from the tower window.

Instead, her bard character, who had until now mostly spent her time in research, light schmoozing, and the use of deadly music against their enemies, talked to the curator. She role-played the most amazing Intimidate/Bluff con I'd ever seen, basically convincing the man that the artifact was cursed and he should give it to the party before the dragon that once owned it came back for it and destroyed the museum.

Jaws dropped. The dice rolled in her favor with an unspoken bonus from me as the DM for such a wonderful performance. The rest of the players gleefully wrote off the whole caper encounter without a thought for the XP because they knew they couldn't top that scene, and that was just dandy with them.

That wasn't the only time I've ever seen Jane engaged, but it's the most memorable. But such times are very rare and far between.

Contributing factors:

There are a couple things I can think of that could be contributing to Jane's disengagement. We game alternate Friday nights from about 6-10pm, and obviously Jane's been up early to go to work (as has everyone else). She frequently gets very fatigued in the latter half of the game. Unfortunately, changing the day or time is impossible right now. Jane and most of the other group members can't get to our house any earlier, so the time can't change. I'm only available every other weekend, and on that available Saturday, her husband DMs a different game that I participate in. Due to religious reasons, they don't game on Sunday (and since I'm on night shift, I'm never up before 3:30pm anyway). Gaming on any other weekday is out as most of the group gets up very early for work.

Jane does have an energy drink when she arrives, but it never seems to last long. Her husband has had to take over her character during the last half-hour of the game a time or two.

Jane does knit while we play. Though I know people who do things with their hands say they can knit, etc. while listening to something else, I do consider it slightly rude, and I do get the occasional, "Huh? We're doing what now?" when I ask Jane what her character is doing. (Though this is slightly irksome, it isn't a deal-breaker for me, however.)

In Conclusion:

What can I do to help Jane participate more? How can I draw out more of that great role-player I know is in there? Side quests? More individual attention? Asking her if she needs more help with her character? Asking her if she wants to play a different character? Help a DM out!

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First Post
Yes, ask her.

Ask her if she wants to play a different character. Ask her if she needs help. Pull her aside and tell her you have these concerns. Give her the short version of all this stuff you put in this post -- how you were floored by her previous RP with the bard, but how she seems so disconnected now, at least in your perspective.

Tell her as the DM, you feel it's your job to keep all players equally involved, and so your perception of her detachment is making you feel you are dropping the ball when it comes to your own job within the group.

If you actually like this person, as you say, then actually talking to her as a friend about your concerns and exactly WHY they are concerns (based on past experience) may actually lead to some positive change.

This is definitely one of those situations where I think the caring and direct approach is the right way to go. If your attempt to appeal to her one-on-one goes nowhere, try talking to her husband as well, laying out your concerns, and see what HE has to say.

Does he even notice this?


Well, that was fun
Staff member
I think the first thing you need to do is to find out if she's enjoying herself - that's the most important thing; secondly is her being in the background as opposed to the fore making you and the other players enjoy your game any less?

Your job isn't to "make all the players contribute equally" as though it's a job with requirements and standards; it's to "facilitate an enjoyable evening for everyone". What's enjoyable for one person may not be for another.

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
Similar to what Dumb Paladin was saying, ask her if there's something that she wants out of the character that she's not getting. Maybe she wants to play the silent character who stays in the background. If she likes how involved her character is, I'd continue to give her opportunities to become more involved but wouldn't dwell on it if she doesn't jump.

And I think it's very fair for you to ask her not to knit at the table. GMs put lots of extra effort into creating their games. The least a player can do is give their undivided attention for the session.

Isida Kep'Tukari

I think the first thing you need to do is to find out if she's enjoying herself - that's the most important thing; secondly is her being in the background as opposed to the fore making you and the other players enjoy your game any less?

Your job isn't to "make all the players contribute equally" as though it's a job with requirements and standards; it's to "facilitate an enjoyable evening for everyone". What's enjoyable for one person may not be for another.

True. But I play in two other games with her currently, and have played in several more with her in the past. In the others she is or has been more engaged, which is why I'm somewhat worried about her in my game. And some of the other players have also noticed Jane's lack of engagement and spoken to me about it in private. Hence this post. :)

DumbPaladin and Wednesday Boy - I am trying to work up the best way to talk to her (I'm going to have to bite the bullet sometime!). I am hoping to put together my arguments better with imputs from my fellow gamers, so thank you for responding!


People have fun in a lot of different ways and maybe she's having fun in a different way than you've seen her before.

Ask her quielty away form the table if she's enjoying the campaign. Point out that you're having a hard time teling as she seems more remote with her current character than you've previously seen.

If she says "Yes." then accept her answer and leave it alone. Come to terms with the fact that for this campaign and she's going to be more quiet than you'd like.

If she says "No." then explore what is keeping her from further enjoyment. It may be something faxalbe; it may not.


First Post
Talk to her. Be guessing what she wants you'll get no results. Take her aside, and talk it through. From your text, I suspect she may be REALLY tired. Something you and I cannot do anything about. But you can ask for some attention. I know I don't like it if people ignore or miss things I say.

Also, she may be slightly irritated by the fact that she's constantly being double-checked. If she makes a mistake, point out where she made the mistake, and how it's calculated correctly, also refer to a chapter she may want to read. Reading the PHB from cover to cover isn't necessary. However, she also may have chosen a slightly more complex character to play.

Anyway, just ask HER all this. If you are friends you can sort this out, simply by talking. It may have to do with her being very tired. If that's the cause it's simply her choice, and she probably enjoys the company of her friends. Also, maybe you may want to shorten your gaming session slightly if it is 2 hours plus... that may work.

About the knitting, ask her to stop. It's not very polite. You guys are roleplaying, not texting on mobile phones, or playing computer-games... same goes for knitting.

Wednesday Boy

The Nerd WhoFell to Earth
I am trying to work up the best way to talk to her (I'm going to have to bite the bullet sometime!). I am hoping to put together my arguments better with imputs from my fellow gamers, so thank you for responding!

I wouldn't build it up too much. It's a fair concern to have and it doesn't have to be a heavy conversation. As a player I always feel good if my GM expresses concern about my enjoyment of their game.


Obviously talking with her is the easiest thing to do and makes the most sense. But beyond that... here are some other things to consider moving forward.

1) She possibly made a solitary hunter specifically because she doesn't want to be actively involved.

It's quite possible that she keeps coming to the game because her husband enjoys it... but she is ambivalent about it. As it's not a horrible way to spend an evening, she doesn't mind attending and listening to the others play, and she gets to knit a bit at the same time... but she might not actually care one way or the other whether she plays or not. So she made a character that didn't need to be a focus. She can just look up from her knitting when someone tells her to roll some dice, she'll do it, pass on the results, then go back to her knitting. And she's fine with that. And no amount of coaxing on your part will change that.

2) The great roleplaying she did at one time might've just been a perfect storm of situations where she just happened to be fully awake, fully invested in the story, and just happened to think of some cool ideas... but that is not the norm.

It's possible that those few times that it's occurred, you've all just "lucked out" that these things all came together for her and produced these fantastic moments of roleplay. But truth be told... these are not things that you should expect each and every session, because the situations have to be uber-ideal for them to be repeated. So despite your desire to try and replicate it... you've not going to be able to. It'll only happen as a happy accident, not through anything you try to do to facilitate it.

3) If her character is really nothing more than a damage-producing machine... don't waste your and everyone else's time in trying to get her damage "right".

If she doesn't really care enough to worry about getting her character's attacks right... you shouldn't either. All she's giving you is nothing more than numbers to subtract from your monster's hit points... so who really cares if they are "exact"? It's just math. So spend as little time on it as possible. Take the damage results she gives you at face value... or if you truly think she overstates the damage she does... just knock 5 to 10 HP off each attack of hers when you subtract numbers on your sheets behind the screen.

No one's going to be checking the table's math at the end of the game to make sure you all rolled, added, dictated, and subtracted the precise numbers for every battle you have. So if her numbers are off by a little bit... it's not worth slowing down your game.

Best of luck!


The other suggestions above are fine, but I do disagree on one point:

Don't ban knitting at the game table.

I speak here as the husband of a serious (and very skilled) knitter. Unless she's doing some very complex color-work that involves high levels of concentration on the knitting itself, frequent references to a pattern and so on, it's very likely that the knitting HELPS her concentrate on the game. I've educated myself about my wife's craft, and there are apparently studies that show certain brainwave patterns that can emerge from certain repetitive tasks (like knitting) that clear the mind and help with focus.

I truly believe that knitting is not like other table distractions - again, assuming that it's a simple pattern that doesn't require much active thought. If the player's mind is still on the game, the knitting is not a problem. Now, it does sound like this particular player's mind is NOT on the game, but I'm doubting that it's because of the knitting.

In any case, be wary of bad-mouthing knitting; you don't want to bring the wrath of the Yarn Harlot or Ravelry communities down upon EN World!


First Post
If she doesn't have something to do then give her options like following other players, or something that you think its obvious.

Also, if you see her thinking about it more than a moment, suggest something before she realizes she doesn't know what to do. Once you start not knowing what to do, it sticks for the rest of the game (at least for me).

Try positive encouragement...out of game positive commends/bonus exp/fame or infame for the character etc. If she feels she can do things, she will do them sooner or later.

In my group where I was player, one other guy was like that...a ranger not talking to anyone,, just following. When we switched dm the new dm turned him into a chaotic evil monster...[we had to drop him to negatives to stop him :p (we TPKed ourselves btw)]

I am not sure how he did it, but I think its all about encouragement. And taking advice from a Quasit. Either one.


First Post
I'm definitely in agreement with OnlineDM on the knitting. I've had knitters in my groups before, and it's never really been a problem. I think it's just something to do with your hands. Some smoke incessantly, some build dice towers, some knit.

As to the rest of it, I'm curious, does she normally play male characters? I'm just wondering because I've seen some fabulous roleplayers freeze up when trying to play the other gender.

When I've seen this happen, sometimes they just clam up and don't do anything for fear of getting it wrong. And sometimes they play a bundle of walking stereotypes. Perhaps she is using the "strong, silent, and stoic" stereotype and doesn't know how to move outside that box?

Anyhow, I hope your talk with her is fruitful. Best of luck!


First Post
I agree with Lamia and Online DM. We have a player who has knitted in the past during games, and it did not at all interfere with her ability to participate or lessen her involvement in the game in any way we could tell.