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How to deal with a player who won’t (can’t?) engage?

Content of the article: "How to deal with a player who won’t (can’t?) engage?"

Hey Hive Mind. Today I'd like your opinions on what I should do about a player of mine who is running into some difficulties.

Like many others, Covid forced my group online. I expected a drop in energy, but occasionally the dead air seriously kills the vibe and makes me feel like nobody wants to be playing, and I put all the work in for nothing. I'll set the scene, pause for a second, ask what people want to do, pause for several seconds, then I often have to propose a direct yes or no question, which my players will then respond to. I don't have a lot of DM impostor syndrome normally, but recently it has been kicking in during these pauses. My players occasionally just wait to see if anyone else has any ideas, and we sit in silence and puzzlement until I suggest a course of action, which they then follow with very little discussion.

So after evaluating my own feelings of frustration and possible courses of actions, I put a big post in my group chat about the work I put in to sessions and that I would like to see the engagement boosted a bit in our game. I also asked for two things: I wanted my players to stop levelling up at the start of sessions because I would like them to take the few minutes of their own time to do it during the week (of course I offered my help. I'm not hanging them out to dry.) If I can take the several hours to make a session, stat out npcs, work with peoples' backgrounds to tie them into the campaign etc etc, while working full time, I feel like my players levelling themselves up is the least they can do. Also it holds up the session if they have to be doing it when we're supposed to be starting.

The second thing I asked for is something I see proposed here on reddit every so often: I asked everyone to cook up a session and DM themselves one time. We have been playing for two years, so ideally people know the rules, and if they don't, DMing is a good opportunity to learn them. I don't care if the session is good or bad, I don't even care if it's canon or not. I want people to get experience putting in the time and effort to concoct a session, and I want everyone to be aware of what these periods of silence feel like on the other side of the screen. Plus, I could use the break. We all are stressed out, but I think this could be a fun and enlightening experience for everyone. I thought this was a good alternative to me just yelling at everyone about their silence, to actually give them personal experience from both sides of the table. Not spiteful, just honest experience, from which the players can judge and draw their own conclusions.

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Many of my players agreed! They wanted to help bring more energy to the table, and a few of them were a bit excited/nervous to DM, but agreed to try, with my help. One of my players was very hesitant and initially said no, but I basically bullied him into at least considering it. He has a lot of time on his hands but is just self-conscious. Thankfully he has thick skin.

Which brings me to my main concern. One of my players, who I will call J, essentially shut down immediately. J is an 'audience member' player, usually content to just show up and maybe roll dice once per session and not contribute. She works a lot, and is the number one silent player (she has fallen asleep at the table before.) A lot of the time, I don't take issue with this. People have varying levels of contribution they enjoy. But because this conversation was specifically about perspective and engagement, she basically felt called out…. and maybe she should be?

She essentially hard shut me down on GMing a session herself, even going so far as saying she was so stressed from work all the time that she couldn't even read the rulebook. The implication being that while she still wants to show up every two weeks and sit at the table, she doesn't want to engage at all past the absolute bare minimum of just showing up. She said she isn't that passionate about rp at all, and basically just couldn't put any energy into it. Second complication, she is the wife of the player who was also nervous but agreed in the end. If she leaves, they are both gone.

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My dilemma, in short, is this: My initial problem was that I was running on empty, emotionally, trying to support all of my players and the table on my own while players were silent and not taking initiative. I enjoy playing with these people in a vacuum, but you all understand that it can get taxing trying to run the table and also have to coerce your players to take any action at all. Should I afford J this special treatment while also demanding more engagement from everyone else? Is it okay for J to just show up and not know the rules while I am asking everyone else to brush up and even GM a session for me? And if I shouldn't afford special treatment, how should I navigate that? I get the impression she is shutting herself down, rather than truly being so tapped for time and energy, it is a lack of confidence. She is a creative person, but very self-conscious. And I think that if I push her, she will just give up and leave the game instead, and her husband (who has been kind of a good sport) will have to deal with the fallout.

Thanks in advance for the help. Ideally I don't want to just axe her from the group, but I also don't want to baby her. How do I deal with a sensitive but well-meaning player who also can't or won't put in any effort into the game? I don't like spectators at my table. If I waive GMing just for her, I feel like I will be losing something, but I can't place what that might be.

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Source: reddit.com

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