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GM's Corner Field Notes

Quiet Players and You: How to Handle the Less-Outgoing Among Us

We’re Having Fun, We Swear!

I’m a shy, quiet introvert, which might raise the question of why I’ve sought out hobbies that require speaking in real-time and having any sort of human interaction, such as, for instance, roleplaying. Excluding the things that are absolutely never factors like peer pressure and FOMO, TTRPGs are just fun. They appeal to my love for character-building and storytelling, and they create an opportunity to hang out with some pretty cool people. But they can also feel a little uncomfortable or even anxiety-inducing at times because I don’t always know what to say in an activity that requires, well, saying stuff. 

And GMs, often through no fault of their own, don’t always know how to deal with players like me. So here are a few hot tips to help your quiet nerds get more presence at the table.

Create a Safe Space

This is one of those “duh” points, but bear with me: setting up a comfortable environment from the get-go can do a lot of heavy lifting. Give the players a chance to get to know each other, and the quiet ones may very well open up on their own over time. Observe how they interact like the creepy mastermind you are; if you notice that outgoing players dominate the discussion, loop back to the softer-spoken ones so their thoughts aren’t lost.

And when the quiet ones do talk, listen! If a player says they’d prefer to have a less soul-crushingly depressing session next month, maybe lighten things up a bit so they know you’re paying attention. If your group gets really into a bardic encounter and wants to do an in-character singalong and one player seems close to internal death at the prospect, maybe don’t force them to participate. Respecting players’ feedback and preferences creates a better experience for everyone, while ignoring them can make them feel disempowered and less likely to take part.

Suggest Goal-Setting

RPGs are serious business, and businesses require goals, or so I’ve heard. Developing concrete goals for a character gives a player direction for roleplay and can help quiet or passive players take action. It sounds obvious, but it’s surprisingly easy to overlook, so prompt your players with questions like:

  • “What does your hero want in the short term, over the next session or two?”
  • “What do they want long-term, over the course of the campaign?”
  • What do you want for your character? How do you want them to change, if at all?”
  • “What do you want for yourself? Do you want to explore a certain facet of roleplay?”

Sometimes we can get too caught up in the character’s past and present and forget to consider their future. If a hero has a fleshed-out backstory, what story hook elements can you play off of in-game?

Use the “Yes, And” Approach

If a shy player musters up the courage to act, a flat-out "no" can feel like a slap in the face. If you’re unsure of what they’re aiming for, ask for clarification before shitting on their idea. (Also, don’t shit on their idea.) If it goes against what you envisioned, seek a compromise. Or if it just sounds dumb as hell, try to pick out an interesting facet or suggest an alternative course of action. 

Rotate the Spotlight

No GM intends to sideline players, but in the heat of battle or when the party splits up (because of course it’s going to split up), you might lose track of who’s had the most airtime. Remind yourself to include everyone with an on-screen initiative list or an on-desk sticky note, or add bonus interactions; if it feels organic, for example, an NPC could defer to a hero who hasn’t said much, or a trapped room could tailor to a less-active hero’s talents. If one or two characters get left out of the action due to the situation at hand, engage their players in other ways by asking them to describe a new NPC or even brainstorm challenges for the more active heroes to face.

Try to provide opportunities for ownership on a broader scale, too, by giving players input into facets of worldbuilding like landmarks, factions, and notable events. A quiet player might feel more engaged if they helped create the setting, and will certainly appreciate that you paid attention to their ideas.

Offer Clarifications and Alternatives

Sometimes a quiet player is quiet simply because they have no idea what’s going on. I’ve had my fair share of poorly-timed zone-outs where I manage to miss the most important five seconds of a quest-giving NPC’s explanation or the exact moment at which a fight’s layout is described, and I’ve gotten better at asking for a repeat when that happens. Be sure to offer up an opportunity for those questions, especially if a player looks like a wide-eyed kid who just got called on in class while doodling. Avoid shaming players if they need recaps or reminders.

Imagining a described scenario can be troublesome, too. Even if you’ve given an in-depth breakdown of enemy positions and doorway placements, players might lose track, and the quiet ones might feel nervous about interrupting the action to ask where that “pile of corpses” obstacle is. Try using visual aids or maps, especially for those complex BBEG fights.

Communicate Between Sessions

During a game or even a post-game hangout, a quiet player might still be absorbing events or figuring out the right words. Prompting players for their thoughts between sessions gives them time to reflect and to pinpoint the source of any messy emotions that arose during the game. You can talk to players individually or as a group after they’ve decompressed, asking questions like:

  • “What did you like the most?” or “What did you have the most fun with?”
  • “What did you like the least?” or “What could’ve gone better?”
  • “Was there anything you wanted to do that we didn’t get to?”
  • “Do you want to see anything different next time?”

Of course, this doesn’t have to happen between every game, nor do you have to stick to broad topics; if you sense a specific problem, aim for a more targeted discussion. Listen and take notes, and try to avoid defensive or dismissive responses that might discourage quiet players from speaking up in the future. Offer kudos, too, for anything from an inventive use of a spell to an unexpected method for puzzle-solving. Build up that previously-established safe space with communication and positive reinforcement. 

In Conclusion: Nudge, Don’t Shove

An aggressive (or passive-aggressive) approach to engagement can be off-putting. When a GM turns to a quiet player and says something like, "You've been really quiet," it can have undesired results, including but not limited to making the player think, "No shit, thanks for pointing it out," or sending them into an invisible fit of anxiety and/or embarrassment. In other words, we’re likely very aware that we’re being quiet. 

It’s much more comfortable for us (and for you, probably) if we’re brought into the fold organically through collaborative roleplay in a respectful environment where we know our input matters. Give us time and encouragement to tell our stories and we will, eventually. 

Though you might have to lean in to actually hear what we’re saying.


Nothing a little blood sacrifice can't fix.

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