There are times when one player is going to hog most of a session, simply because they’re the ‘face’ character who talks and negotiates with others. Most GMs try to hurry through these to keep the other players from getting bored and wandering off, either in-game or out-of-game, but there’s another way to go about it. Today, we’ll look at turning the players into the minds behind some of your NPCs for a session.
You know the character type already; the smooth-talking elven bard, the charming fixer on the streets of cyberpunk Seattle, the queen of a fledgling nation addressing a council. They’re the charismatic deal-makers who want nothing quite so much as the chance to show off their gift with language and their ability to charm and dazzle others. The problem, usually, is that the other players are terrified the person will say something to traumatically disrupt the game, and so the chance is often stifled. The GM can’t exactly build a scene with a dozen NPCs simply to let the character monologue, because that kind of scene can take hours while the other players have to either sit by quietly or disrupt the negotiation with their own adventuring. (The latter can make a wonderfully intense game if the talkative character is trying to keep those they’re talking to occupied while the others accomplish some goal unnoticed, however.)
So what’s a GM to do to keep the others interested? Simple: make them part of the scene. Rather than their usual characters, who are busy elsewhere, give them character sheets for the session for one of the NPCs the face character is dealing with. Let them pick the one they find the most interesting, and have a small packet of information for the player to peruse during the session that tell them the goals and desires of that NPC, to help them get into the character’s head.
Make all the NPCs have a reason to get involved in the conversation, so that there’s a chance that the players will get a conversation going where the GM only needs to occasionally interject as the other NPCs present, or to describe the events of the world around them. All the players are likely going to want the face to succeed, but most won’t want to simply handwave through the scenario; some things may emerge from it that you, as the GM, never considered, giving you extra fodder for building out the rest of the game.
Make the session a mix of roleplaying and dice-rolling; let the players face off in contested rolls, with bonuses and penalties based on their arguments. If possible, have there be a small crowd of observers to be swayed by the rhetoric of those speaking, and let the player currently doing the best get cheers and whistles from that group. By making it a competition without the players themselves being involved, you can inspire borderline roleplayers to give it a stronger showing, and push the already extravagant to new levels of characterization.
Wind the session down as if closing out an actual meeting of the type; if it’s something official, having someone with a gavel or similar tool banging on the table can signal the end of things for the time being, and the players can get a bit to switch to their original characters and find out in-character how things went from the face. Finally, tell them what they’ve won (or lost) from the exchange, as if finishing up a regular session where combat or exploration went on, and go through your usual post-game routine. (And yes, expect this kind of session to eat up the entire game session, once people get going.)
Gie it a try; you might be surprised by the results!