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by Mike on 14 February 2022
During 2020 and 2021, many DMs and players learned how to play D&D online for the first time. It takes time to get used to running games online. In particular, it's important that players learn not to talk over one another. Talking over one another is disruptive in person but its catastrophic online. Ginni Di has an excellent video including this topic called ""How to make online D&D suck less". I highly recommend it.
The more we play online, the more we all learn how to deal with this. But learning creates a nasty byproduct. Players stay silent much of the time. The easiest way not to talk over someone else is not to talk.
This can have a chilling effect on our game. We might describe a powerful evocative situation and turn over the story to the characters with "what do you do?" and get silence on the other side. No one talks because everyone's afraid of talking over someone else. This silence can pull a lot of the drama out of the situation.
There's one easy trick we can use to pull out of this situation. Call on individual players to respond to the situation.
Instead of asking the group overall "what do you do", ask "Myria, what do you think of the situation?".
We typically push for action with such a question but since we're calling players out, we might give them a chance to think before they act. "What do you do" might be better served with "what do you think". This gives the player a chance to ponder it out loud or discuss it with others.
Keep a list of the characters and players in front of you when running your games. It serves many valuable purposes, one of which is reminding you who you haven't heard from in some time.
Direct your prompt to the player of the character you haven't heard from in a while. We can also take a lesson from Dungeon World and address the character, not the player to keep everything in-world.
You don't have to be too regimented about ensuring you've asked every player in turn but it helps to shift who you ask.
We might also let the next character know that we'll be asking them next. This sort of "on deck" call out is just as useful for exploration or roleplaying as it is for combat. It lets the next player think about what's going on and prepare an answer while the current player discusses the situation.
Finally, let players know we'll be doing this, and why, so it shouldn't take anyone by surprise when we use it.
This trick also helps draw players back into the game if their mind wanders. Don't shame players for spacing out. This is their fun time too. Instead, if we can tell they've fallen away from the story, remind them of the current situation, their goals, and their options.
Calling on individual players gets the game back to the dynamic gameplay many of us enjoyed around a physical table. The next time you're playing online, check your list and call on players. Instead of "what do you do?" ask "Sylsaren, what do you think?".
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