Friday, January 10, 2014

Dealing With Too Much Chit-Chat In A Casual Game

Out of Character conversation is tricky business. Some players only attend roleplaying games for an excuse to catch up with friends on a weekly basis, protecting the time slot behind a truthful defence of "But my friends are relying on my character to be there," which won't rub with a boardgame night, card game night, or movie night. Such players might still enjoy the game, especially if there are wacky hi-jinx or exciting combats to cut their teeth on, but it's not the main reason they're there. The conversation that surrounds the game is the point. Some games are built around this principle with the players and GM coming together to play something a bit more chilled which provides a chance to joke, chat, and get things done.

There's nothing wrong with that style of play though sometimes, even there, the chit chat can get to such a point that the GM is helpless to so much as run a combat as they have to constantly corral the players into acting during their initiative (which is exhausting), have to repeat their descriptions (which is galling) and even summarise the past turns to each player individually so they don't get confused about which enemies are still alive (which is apalling).

In these instances you're better off pointing out that the players are making the game too hard to run. Chat as much as they like but chat around the game not through it (metaphorically speaking). Perhaps even chat about the game so they can stay tangentially focused on it.

As a player, remind yourself and the other players that there are ways to talk during a game while keeping enough attention on the GM that you can at least have a rough idea what's going on. Basically, you keep it to running commentary, movie references and mock IC jokes rather than having a long conversation on any other topic. You see, with a proper conversation you start thinking in terms of the twists and turns of it, in what you want to say and where you want it to go, and on what new information has just been introduced to you. Five minutes can vanish in a heartbeat in a conversation. With your basic chit-chat, you can still have a lot of friendly fun but as it's tangentially about what's happening in the game it encourages you to pay attention to it.

As a GM, remind your players of the aforementioned player tip and if that doesn't work you'll need to get firm. Be tactful about it and friendly. Make sure to give them a few reminders over a few sessions first to keep their attention on the game and pre-warn them that it things don't change, you'll need to try a firm tactic or risk burning out of the game. The firm tactic means no re-explaining the situation or corralling the players. Figure out the ground rules with them so that you bring them onboard. It might be that you don't mind repeating descriptions, or calling the player's initiative twice in a row, but you won't wait five minutes for someone to announce their turn due to distracting conversation and won't summarise the past rounds events if it's due to player inattention.

Don't do this as a punishment! Use it as a tool. It's tricky to balance conversation with gameplay. It's not your players fault.

Unless you were all on board to play a game which relies on immersion, focus and a higher degree of GM and player investment. In which case, you'll be staring down the barrel of burnout in no time at all. It doesn't feel good to be talked over repeatedly and then judged on the lack of immersion, complexity and sensibility of the game. It's not fair at all.


  1. This is maybe a particular risk with groups who don't get to see each other much. I'm quite lucky because the groups I play in see each other a fair bit anyway (partly because they overlap) so there's less urge to chat away. We also tend to schedule in a bit of time pre-game assuming there'll be general chatting.

    The old 4E campaign I was running suffered from this a lot, though, because half the people moved away, so sessions were sporadic and they intrinsically doubled as catch-up time. That was definitely a distraction from the game at times, including actually getting started at all. No blame to anyone, I wanted to catch up too.

    I think the main suggestion I'd make is scheduling in breaks if possible. Having a chance to move around and natter to everyone over food or whatever lets you deal with anything you really wanted to talk about, and hopefully concentrate on the game when it comes back up. I tend to do this anyway as a GM because concentrating solidly for four hours is a bit much for me, and also because it's less likely people will get sticky fingers all over my books and minis!

    1. Absolutely, that is a big part of it. My Pathfinder game had much better focus because we chilled out for between 30 - 60 minutes pre-game. After the first six months of regular weekly games, it settled down and we started jumping into game a bit quicker at times. The game itself went for about 2 hours as it was a weekday afternoon.

      My Dystopic game's trouble is that it doubles as catch up time but because all of the players have to arrive at different times due to various other conflicts, they don't get a chance to really mingle beforehand and a few of the players rarely meet outside of game.

      I think this is a really good example that GMs and other players should bear in mind. There's often perfectly reasonable and valid justifications for problematic behaviour which is why it's important to see the problem as a puzzle that can be solved rather than as a crime that must be punished. Not to say many GMs do, but the temptation is most assuredly there.... ;)