Sometimes players end up on the sidelines. I’ve seen it happen because a player is uncomfortable speaking up about rules questions. Or he’s overwhelmed by the enthusiasm of other players (<raises hand> I am that way too enthusiastic player, like, a lot). Sometimes it’s deliberate ostracizing by the other players. Or maybe the sidelined player brought it on herself by playing the lone wolf.
Really, the reasons WHY don’t matter much. As GMs, we’ve got an obligation to try our damnedest to get players off the sidelines and into the game… but how?
If the party is separated, find a way to physically force them back together. Act of God. Trail of breadcrumbs. Alien invasion. Whatever it takes, do it to get the characters into the same general area so the action can happen to everyone.
Occasionally an adventure or scenario favors a particular character/characters. It’s the part of the dungeon with all the traps. The bank with the impossible to hack security system. The unyielding onslaught of kobolds.
It’s GREAT fun for the players who are suited for the scenario and, while it’d be nice if we could all be nice and share, we don’t. We get jealous. We get bored. We feel left out. A great way to handle it is to keep a couple of nuggets in there for each of the characters. Be mindful of their skillsets when you’re writing your scenario. Make sure there’s lots of traps for the rogue, but throw in a door that has to be busted down for the fighter.
I pinged the Twitter-verse about this topic and the lovely and talented @filamena had this to say:
It’s some great advice. Where you once had a player who was skirting the edge of the storyline, you now have a player with information that could (or could not) be vital to the undertaking at hand. There are few things that will direct the attention of the group to a silent player than a knowing smile from the GM.
A 10 minute bathroom break is the perfect way to take a step back, look at what’s going on in-game, and figure out how to get the sidelined player back into the game. Take a moment to ask if there’s anything he’d like to be doing. Discuss, out of character, the meta-plot to assess the direction the players will be taking and then, if you must, shoehorn everyone into it.
My favorite tactic is to restart after the break with the spotlight right on the sidelined player. “Okay, this is where we were, and now, Suzi, what are YOU doing?”
These are, of course, only a few of the ways you can get people who aren’t all in to be a part of the action. What are your tactics?