Bah. Remember, it's not just about the players. If you aren't having fun, that is not alright either.
Throw some stuff at those players and force the issue. Say there's this big negotiation going on. Your one player who deals with everything has been doing his job. Well, the ones he is talking to notice that the others don't say anything. "And what about them? Are they here for decoration, or do they do whatever you say?"
It may be that they don't feel stimulated during these times.
Well, I am still having fun. I love the creative process, creating worlds, cities, encounters, interesting NPCs, etc. Lately I've been trying to always have at least one tag-along NPC with the group so I can even roleplay it from my side of the screen.
Regarding making them more creative, I've had talks with them all, both at and away from the table, and most have flat out told me they don't want to roleplay, invent backgrounds, and so on. The one dedicated rp'er I have in the group laments the lack of contribution from the others in that department, but otherwise seems content to take the lead in any diplomatic situations. The rest have told me how glad they are that they have a player like that in the group. A few are your basic min/maxer types who will happily spend two hours creating a character, tweaking every feat and such, but put no effort whatsoever into the character's personality or motivations. I even have one player who is fine with letting someone else create his character, and have it handed to him for a quick glance 5 minutes prior to game start. He's told me straight up that the thought of spending even 30 minutes pouring over feats and powers, let alone personality sounds like the epitome of boredom to him. *Shrug, to each his own.
However, I will try your exact suggestion to see what happens.
This. Ogiwan, it's great advice. But honestly, for some of my players it's a struggle getting them to come up with anything more than a character name. "Three Past Defining Events and Three Future Goals" would seem like a massively unfun homework assignment to most of them, and my group is all aged mid 30's and up.
You're right. It is a very unfun homework assignment to a lot of people who just want to show up and play. That's why I recommend this sort of backstory stuff be a matter of emergent play when a player is inspired because of an interesting moment or turn of events, followed up by the right questioning by the DM. If you're playing 3.X or 4e, it's often already a major investment in time to create a character. You don't need to add onto that with backstories or the like. That stuff can be discovered by everyone, player and DM, during actual play.
I generally plug my fingers in my ears and shout "Lalalalala" whenever someone tries to tell me their backstory before the game has started... tell me when we're actually playing which is the time when it's at least relevant and maybe even a little poignant.
Is it OK that they don't contribue to the plot? Sure. Many DMs really do well in this sort of environment. If I were the DM? The game would fall apart prettpushy quick and probably be boring. I do best when I have very invested PCs.
I want 2-3 plot hooks for your PC, and I want you to actively bring at least one of them up fairly regulalrly. I see my goal as DM as the one who is there to facilitate your stories, not the one to come up with it.
I try to come up with a setting, and maybe one big plot that happens in the background. I expect the players to come up with the stuff inbetween.
I don't force them to participate, and have one regular who literally runs starcraft on a netbook when there isn't combat. That said, I think the other players push plots and stuff enough to make up for him.
5e comments and thoughts all in one place. Check it out to provide feedback, mock, or steal ideas. http://community.wizards.com/go/thread/view/75882/28835423/Krusks_5e_Design_Goals?sdb=1
Talk to the players. Get to know them a little better, and find out what they are interested in doing, figure out what their expectations are, and whether you are meeting them; be sure you let them know what your expectations and interests are, too.
Are you all having fun, and getting what you want from the game?
If so, it ain't broke, don't fix it.
If the one guy doing all the decision-making is not enjoying himself and wants the other players to share some of that responsibility, that would be the time for that player to speak up and ask for help. If some of the other players want to try some of that but can't really figure out how to get their feet in the door, that's the time for them to speak up and tell you what would help them get into their roles a little more. This won't be a one-time conversation, either: tastes change, people learn new things, get bored with the status quo and want to try new things, and so on - chat with the players regularly.
I've come to believe that there are upwards of a half-dozen different types of RPG playing styles, more than just "role-player vs. gamer", and not all of them are in the game for telling or listening to a story, or for putting on a good show or watching one. Some are content to gamble with a character's life and beat the dice game, others are in it for the tactical combat, others are in it to just hang out with friends and goof off for a while, others are just there to unwind and get permission to push their boundaries for a couple hours in a controlled environment to see what they can get away with, and so on.
I think most players have a mix of different styles, but I'm sure some are just not at all interested in carrying the story or being the dramatic center of attention. And, that's alright.
You can provide the water for your players' proverbial horses, and do what you can to assure them it's safe to drink, and if you do that much, you're doing your job; however, you can't make them drink it if they don't want to, or don't know how to, or don't have the personality for enjoying it.
Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
"Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
"Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
A PC, by default, already has a race, a gender, and a class. If it then has a name and a rudimentary physical description, it then has a perfectly working narrative foundation. Everything else is just gravy. It's flavor, not the meal.
Story is nice, but telling a story isn't playing a game. DMs make that mistake too. It's easy to over emphasize the importance of story. We could just sit around a bonfire and tell a story, without a grid, character sheet, or any dice. But shared storytelling is only part of what draws a person to DnD.
If the players are invested in combat, then they are invested players, regardless of their taste for backstory or plot. How much do you care about story when you play Tekken or Soul Caliber? Maybe 1-in-5 actually take the book out of the case and read the backstories, or don't skip the cinematic intro, but the vast majority go to those games for the excitement of the combat and the challenge of mastering combos.
Of course, you're not playing Tekken. You're playing DnD. But don't assume that story is what makes the difference. DnD allows a tremendous amount of customization compared to most video games. And DnD morphs in ways that consul games can't. One minute you're engaged in tactical combat. The next, you're playing Clue, solving a who-done-it and using raw instinct and bravado to flush out the villain. Some times you're playing Monopoly, buying up property and leveraging assets to make a fortune and play political intrigue. But none of that strictly depends on a PC's backstory and, even if a player isn't extremely inspired by those other faces of DnD, it still proves to be a lot less redundant than consul games tend to be.
If combat is what your players want, then give it to them. If story is what you want, and you can't live without it, then find new players. Finding one new player who enjoys telling a story could make all the difference in the world. Otherwise, just make do with what you have. Don't judge your players for preferring combat.
I see no difference between story and combat. Every single one of the combats I've run tells a story on its own, especially once I start asking questions of my players as they lock up in melee with monsters and villains.
Otherwise, just make do with what you have. Don't judge your players for preferring combat.
I agree with both sentiments. While I do occasionally lament not being able to get most of my current group enthused about the story, I was curious as to what take other DM's had on it.
The bottom line is everyone must be having fun, because they keep coming back week after week, year after year. In any event, I'm grateful for the posts made by others in this thread as they have given me more ideas and I'll continue to try to draw my players in without stepping on what they enjoy.
I'm starting to think the word "story" means different things to different people. I believe this because I see a lot of delineating between "combat and story" or "combat and roleplaying" or "backstories and plot." So, much like "metagaming," "railroading," and other gaming buzzwords, "story" is fast becoming something that no longer has a set meaning. At least, from what I've been reading.
What does "story" mean to you?
To me, the "story" is the PCs and what they do. Everything else are just elements of that story.
The OP implicitely defined 'story' for the purpose of this conversation as 'character's personal backstory and/or player's contribution to the details of the setting.' That's what my comments are in response to. Neither of those things are necessary for constructive gameplay.
I think we all agree that an evocative narrative greatly enhances combat, and it certainly wasn't my intention to imply that 'story' is something separate from combat. The issue is whether or not the contribution of the players is necessary beyond the specific choices they make on their turn. I'd prefer it, personally, but I wouldn't get upset with my players if their priority is to run around on a grid and roll dice, even at the expense of their character's personal details.