Involving apathetic PCs

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I'm DMing a new campaign, we're three sessions in so far.

One character in particular is a pain in the butt to try to motivate, and his player and I have been in almost constant discussion about his interests, tendencies, and philosophy.

He's a shardmind ranger. He's motivated by a philosophy that he should work to make sure the world is working as it should. (I know, real descriptive, right?) It's a pretty sketchy, situational ethic- something bad happening may be just part of life - fine, let it happen. It may on the other hand be unjust - punish it. But he's not lawful by any stretch - laws are only good if they actually uphold his sensibilities of how the world should run.

Who does he like? Nobody really. What causes does he believe in? Keeping the world turning. Why should he stay with the party? Because he knows the DM has only prepared so much material today, and he can't just leave.

I'm really trying to work with him on backstory and trying to find something there that can motivate him to stay with the group long enough for me to develop the plot of the BBEG and pull him in. We've figured out that he and his kin were incorporeal, and could choose to take on bodies as a one time, no going back decision. He chose to do so to rescue a fellow shardmind from a demon. Demons have nothing to do with anything else in my world, and while I want to stretch and include, I'm already doing that for other characters and it's kind of becoming a mess.

I'm at the point where I just want the BBEG or someone to cut his arm off. Maybe then he'll be interested in the story.

I'm not really as bad a DM as I sound, I'm just frustrated because our conversations go like this - "Hey, here's 20 different reasons your guy could be part of our party long term and give a damn about the world around you"   "Hey, here's 20 reasons why those don't work."

Blegh.
These are the kinds of moments where the player has to meet you halfway or bow out. Playing a roleplaying game is agreeing to work together to have fun and share a story, and if someone is stonewalling that, well, its hard to motivate someone who isn't interested in playing.

It really sounds like a player issue rather than a character issue. As a player I came into an existing campaign cold and was given a pre-gen character, a half-elf chain fighter who was afraid of sheep. That's it. And I ran with it and he became one of my favorite characters.
Don't give him answers; ask him questions.

Try something like "As the creature dies it looks directly at your character and says something that causes a disturbing resonance in the crystals that form the back of your neck. What did he say?"

Or, "One of the figures in the room is known to you. Who is it?"

He might push back against this, but he might give you at least something to work with. If he does, accept it, and add on to it - or, better yet, ask him more questions to see if he add on to it. At least at first, DO NOT use the information to make life hard for the character unless that's where the player seems to be taking it, because that will just make him close back down.

Do this with your other players too, at least a little, to show that you can accept and build from player input, and build trust (which seems to be lacking) with this particular player and your other players (which never hurts).

People are most interested in the things they create themselves, rather than what they're told about. For instance, as bland as it is, I bet this player knows all about his character. Play to the things this player creates, rather than things you tell him, and I think you'll find him more engaged.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

Centauri, I wish I could sit in on one of your sessions. Every time I read one of your posts, I think "that's so totally unlike what I would normally do." But its intriguing, and with this campaign especially I've been trying hard to push my boundaries and shift into a much more cooperative style of DMing. My players aren't used to it either, and I'm still not a total convert, but I've seen some good results so far.

I'll give it a shot
Centauri, I wish I could sit in on one of your sessions. Every time I read one of your posts, I think "that's so totally unlike what I would normally do." But its intriguing, and with this campaign especially I've been trying hard to push my boundaries and shift into a much more cooperative style of DMing. My players aren't used to it either, and I'm still not a total convert, but I've seen some good results so far. I'll give it a shot

Good luck. It doesn't have to be anything major, but it's something to try when you're stumped, which you clearly are with this player.

[N]o difference is less easily overcome than the difference of opinion about semi-abstract questions. - L. Tolstoy

More descriptive than what I get...

Here are the last 20 characters by one of my players:

A big guy who wants to "chop stuff up with his great sword"
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.
Worse.. I sat down with the player to help him achieve the ultimate character to chop stuff up... helping him make his barbarian with a great sword a living breathing character that epitomized the pugilistic philosophy the player craved for his character. Even the sword his character began with had a long and storied history that culminated in his character's father coming back dying from a bloody but glorious battle with a nearby mountain clan, saying "this is the sword that took the hill, my son... with it... you shall take the world!" .

At the end of a long session of varied encounters of chopping stuff up... the player says "I want to make a new character. One without a background story". And he proceeded to make a character with exactly the same stats, feats, equipment, etc. The only thing different was, the new character was utterly non-descript, another lone wolf orphan character.

I learned my lesson, though. Now, the only interaction I actually have with the player during gaming sessions is when I ask him what AC he hit. I do this even when there are no enemies to attack... he rolls his "attack" tells me how much "damage" and he goes back to whatever he does between his turns while the rest of us plan our strategies to convince the king to aid us materially in an important quest that is beyond the extent of his borders and yet still in the interest of our country. He seems content and the other players get more time to discuss character details, such as why the rogue refuses to drink Zhizarrian white wine, why the wizard has a blue handkerchief tied to his staff, what the priest plans to do once his quest is completed
(or what-have-you).

Asking questions is a darn good way to find out what they want though. The socratic method, very effective. I usually start with what they look like... if they say scar, I ask how. If they say they keep their gold hidden in a secret compartment I ask why. If they say barbarians killed their clan, I'm often more interested in the clan than the character they killed, but I generally ask who the leader of the barbarians was, what he looked like, etc.

Questions lead to more questions, but the answers are often exactly what you need to engage the player.

Write the stuff down and use it not just for the character, but for the whole world. If barbarians annhilated one clan... there may be others who suffered the same fate of this powerful menace.

Oh...  I also ask other questions such as "What is the coolest thing this character has ever done up to this point? If this character were in a movie, what would be the most important scene to tell you why the character does what he does? The most interesting scene?"
A rogue with a bowl of slop can be a controller. WIZARD PC: Can I substitute Celestial Roc Guano for my fireball spells? DM: Awesome. Yes. When in doubt, take action.... that's generally the best course. Even Sun Tsu knew that, and he didn't have internets.

Does the player have a problem if you just ignore him? Some players are totally fine just sort of hanging around and not really roleplaying much. If he is fine with it, why do you care? 


If he wants to get involved let him and encourage him, but if not, there is nothing you can do to force him.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"

"Your advice is the worst"

I don't normally tend to agree with Centauri, but I do on this particular issue.  Giving it to the player to fill stuff in is one of the few ways to go about this assuming you want to keep the player.

I have recently had a similar issue with one of my players.  She played a ranger, her character wasn't built by her, she had no personality and really refused to make a back story.  One of my attempts was to ask some questions between fights when the other PCs were being very descriptive "Hey, did you consider this a good day, bad day, neutral day?  What does your character do when they have a great day, how do they react to the worst day?" things like that.  She refused to participate.

A few sessions ago I killed off her character.  Ressurection in my world is no easy task so the players have to do something unique to the character's backstory in order to try and bring her back.  Since she has none, her character is permanently dead.  She started talking about her next PC and I told her that I will introduce her next character if/when she gives me an idea of what that character is like.  Effectively I kicked the player from the group until they gave me something to work with.

This doesn't always work at all, I admit I'm in a fairly unique situation.  I have a waiting list of people who want to get into my games and I had previously discussed this with the other players and they agreed that this was an acceptable thing to do (I honestly ask a lot of my players).  It might not work for you to do in practice, but the "threat" can work depending on the person.  The idea behind it is that you go for a plea instead of a threat when you explain it though.

"Hey I've been working on preparing the story to tie in everyone's background to their Paragon Path and I'm having a hard time tying your character in.  Is there any way you could help me out?  I can't seem to get my brain around your motivations and you haven't told me what Paragon Path you are going to take yet."  Then slowly get more firm from there.

However you do it, good luck.  Sometimes it is very hard to get some people to engage. 
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You can lead a horse to water but you can't make him drink.  It seems you certainly want ot involve him and are giving him oportuniity.  As much as it may seem he ins't enjoying himself maybe thats as much as he wants out of a d&d game.  

There is people that aren't real comfortable with the role playing element.  Perhaps he's introverted.  If you've made the effort thats all you can do.  After that give him as much attention as his character needs.  If he isn't interested playing in any of the rest, so be it.    He will either be satisfyed with the extent of his gaming or just fade away because he wasn't really interested in playing
 
A roleplaying game doesn't work if the player isn't going to work with you and try to work himself into the story. I have had problems with players like this, and unfourtunatly the only thing that I found that works is to have them roll a different character. Players can be very stubborn when it comes to "changing thier character concept", and it is often easier to have them play something else. If he doesn't start giving you something to work with, I would recomend giving his character a really good excuse to leave the party. If he doesn't take the bait, kill him off in a heroic way.

It's also possible he is shy or inexperienced at roll playing. If you think thats the case, try asking him if there is a way he will be more comfortable, or explain to him that a character needs clear goals and motivations, that are not "hang out and be neutral"
OP: Not sure what edition you are playing, but if it is 4e I would recommend that you turn to pages 8-10 in the DMG about player motivations. At page 10 there is a description of the "watcher". See if this fits this player and if any of the descriptions give any useful advice.
I've learned my lesson not to kiss the butts of people who don't care.  If he was interested, he would be interested.  So, instead of wasting time on someone who doesn't try, how about you spend time on the people who do care?

This is true with all relationships

jh

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