The Careful Tending of WallflowersNovember 23, 2018 Off By TK
Welcome back, adventurer! Last week we discussed a few underappreciated items, like single-use cyphers, trinkets, and potions. This week, we’re going to talk about encouraging players to engage in roleplay in a way that makes them feel comfortable and appreciated.
So come away from the wall and step onto the dance floor! Let’s get to it!
What Makes a Wallflower
In order to determine the players that will best benefit from their Game Master reading this article, it is easier to first lay out what a Wallflower is not. For the purposes of this very limited article, a Wallflower at your table is not:
- Someone who is a survivor of trauma and has withdrawn because the material is genuinely upsetting
- Someone who suffers from social anxiety and enjoys roleplaying games as a “spectator sport”, often choosing to invest themselves in combat over narrative
- Someone who is being willfully uncooperative with the narrative until it conforms to their expectations or predilections
- A chronically absent player
I am not qualified (and, likely, neither are you) to give professional advice for social anxiety or trauma survivors or give tips beyond “listen to your friends and understand their comfort trumps the narrative”. If you’re looking for advice for willfully uncooperative and/or chronically absent players, you already know that there’s a problem that can only be solved with communication—don’t postpone that conversation. It’ll be way harder in the future when you’ve begun to resent each other and the game, so hash it out now, while you’re still friends.
For the purposes of this article, a Wallflower is a player who is unsure of roleplaying because they aren’t sure where to begin or they are afraid of “wrecking the narrative”. These players are hesitant to use character voices, establish a background, engage in roleplay beyond “I tell him this”, or engage in a world for fear of “breaking the DM’s toys”. They want to have fun, but they are afraid of letting go in front of others.
Encouraging Growth By Removing Weeds
Now that we know what a Wallflower is and isn’t, let’s talk about how to encourage their involvement. We’ve already identified a couple of issues holding them back, so let’s figure out how to eradicate these “weeds”.
For a player who is worried of wrecking the narrative or destroying a GM’s carefully sculpted world, prove it’s not the case by meeting them halfway. Encourage them to tell you when they would like to perform ability checks, such as examining the motives of a particularly shifty shopkeeper or investigating a previously locked room. Help them establish a connection with their fellow adventurers. Ask them to describe what their magic looks like in combat and bring a unique flavor to weapons and equipment. Does their sword have a name? What does a ranger’s ability to cure wounds or detect magic look like? Who gave your barbarian their first ax? Which of their party members do they think is most trustworthy?Instead of asking what their character is doing, ask what the character is thinking or feeling. Then, take it a step further and allow them to control the narrative. How can they tell that the mayor is lying to them? What is it about that bookcase that makes it obvious it is a secret door? Are there specific memories from their time in the palace that inform their ability to charm this nobleman? Which professor at the university gave them hands-on experience with Great Old Ones? Give them permission to stretch in your world, and you’ll find your Wallflowers flourishing in no time!
That’s all for this week, adventurers! Next time, we’ll chat about how traveling in inclement weather and difficult terrain can be just as deadly for your party as any goblin horde or Drow ambush.
About The Author
TK is a speculative fiction writer and part-time eldritch horror. They can be found as a cast member of The Demonplague, Unearthly Twilights, The Land Between Two Rivers, and Hell’s Belles on the Don’t Split the Podcast, WebDM, and Dungeons & Dragons networks, respectively. Their gothic and cosmic horror stories can be found at tkjwrites.com and very soon in print in a collaborative set of short stories and comics with artist Kayla Cline. TK themself can be found on Twitter @tkjoinsthefray.