How to deal with Player Apathy?


Advice


So, I have a player in a long running game (now running for 5+ years!) who started the game deeply invested and always coming up with new and interesting ways to resolve various conflicts (IC and OoC). However, over the past six months he's been becoming more and more blase to everything going on in the game. In addition, his character seems to be pulling away from the party more and more, becoming distant and even causing some interparty conflict in quest choice and decisions.

I've talked to the player in private, and he seems to have hit a point with the character where he just isn't sure what to do. He built a more jack-of-all-trades to help support and cover holes in the party builds, but now his other party members are reaching the point where they are good enough that he feels like more a 'lead weight' than offering a serious contribution to the group as a whole. Mechanically, he understands he is doing fine. However, emotionally he believes the group would be better off with him leaving and simply recruiting a more specialist for a given quest.

I've gone on record saying that if the party splits ways, we'd be starting a new game, and I am sticking to my guns here. However, I also want the player to really get involved like he used to be again. Is this a case where I'm trying to have my cake and eat it too, or is there something I (or the player) can do?

Thanks for the help.


Perhaps allowing him to drop his current character and bring in a new one would work.

Or perhaps starting a new campaign is the best answer for your group.

Or maybe drop a live lobster down his shirt while he's not paying attention.

I've tried all of these with various degrees of success, depending on the group.


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I vote lobster.


If he's out of passion for his character, maybe at a convenient spot have him retire, he can spend some time making his retirement plans (perhaps opening a tavern or inn). If you still have some grand plans on the campaign, you could offer him an NPC to take control of, or if you have time, he can roll up a new PC. Or if the campaign was coming to an end, end it early and everyone roll up new.


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Good points above, but shellfish or no shellfish things must change somehow. I would even consider perhaps giving the player a chance to rebuild the character, partially - if you're group is okay with a meta level solution.

In-game, an option I might consider is giving that player some kind of cohort to fight alongside him. Generally though, most of the time adding player controlled characters is a risky idea.

Straight up buffing the PC with a template etc. could also work if it can be justified and doesn't rub the other players in a bad way.

But yeah, I think giving a partial rebuild might be worth a shot. But if the player wants a new character, you could always let the old one stick around in the world, being relevant and helpful if not an active PC. Retiring a character doesn't have to mean removing them from the world entirely.

Still, sounds like a tricky social situation considering the length of your current game.


Pathfinder Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

You could try talking to the player in question and working out a narrative arc for his character; make him the focus of the story for a bit; alternatively, you could work out with him a way to have his character leave in a dramatic way(turned evil, or heroic sacrifice are nice)and allow him to bring in a new character that he is more interested in.


Pathfinder Maps, Pathfinder Accessories, Pawns, Starfinder Society Subscriber; Pathfinder Roleplaying Game Superscriber

I've always loved writing a final, amazing event in which my character sacrifices themselves for the good of the group or the town, or something important.

Once that evening is over, my new character is ready to join the adventure.

Or, help them become a GM themselves. The game takes on whole new levels of interest if you're running the NPCs and moving the adventure along.


If the guy isn't having fun playing the character, then it's time for a new character. One of the players in my current game got tired of playing his character so he made a new one, but the old character still comes by every now and then as an NPC.


I like the shellfish idea, but he is usually pretty attentive during session. It seems the general consensus is to try and make a change of some sort. Have to think of something. Good ideas and keep them coming.


Rub-Eta wrote:
I vote lobster.

Lobster is yummy.


Volkard Abendroth wrote:
Perhaps allowing him to drop his current character and bring in a new one would work.
bhampton wrote:
If he's out of passion for his character, maybe at a convenient spot have him retire,
Heather 540 wrote:
If the guy isn't having fun playing the character, then it's time for a new character.

I agree with all of the above: kill his character!

CrystalSeas wrote:

I've always loved writing a final, amazing event in which my character sacrifices themselves for the good of the group or the town, or something important.

Once that evening is over, my new character is ready to join the adventure.

Do that. Make it epic. Make him remember. Make them all remember. Celebrate his going out like a gangster with a lobster feast down everybody's back! Then have him bring in his new character.

Talk to him about it. Have him make his new character in advance.

What is the current mission/journey/quest?


I would prefer not to have him make a new character, just because of the disruption it would have on 5 years of inter-party dynamics. That being said, if there were no other options...

As for the current party business, the party is somewhat in-between jobs. Right now they are hunting creatures and venturing into ruins in the pursuit of some cash after a year long quest that ended up having very little monetary reward (though the allies they gained will pay off far more than any amount of gold). The area they are in has some importance to his character's over-arching story, but he's already uncovered most of it. I could give him a new lead. He's currently been tasked to do something that... well, is morally complex and incredibly difficult.


Give the character an IC epic quest to go do on his own, such as "find the mcguffin" or "recent sighting of your father in X town, which is extremely odd". Have that PC re-roll a new character that could join the group.

Now the PC has two characters in this world, and can possibly juggle the two characters (or not - maybe he just wants to stick with the new one for a couple more years).


It's pretty easy actually. Have him retrain, don't give him any freebees (he won't appreciate that based on what you've said of him) but let him retrain every single level as something else as is explained in ultimate campaign, then all his feats (if necessary) and finally his attribute gains.

I'm assuming after 5 years the party is high level, and if he was a jack of all trades he almost certainly has a good charisma, so retraining as a sorcerer or an oracle would work well thematically, either latent blood echoes kick in, or an aspect of nature suddenly curses him as it's champion.

If he is skill based, which he probably is a bard would be good, unless he already is a bard, in which case I'd suggest a sorcerer with vmc bard, possibly take a prestige class with more skill points, these usually come with loss of spellcasting level(s) but if he takes prestigious spellcaster that's okay.

A bit of new life to an old character could be just what he needs.

As a build I recommend is the immortality oracle. It's a life oracle with all the healing options maxed, making sure that the whole party is full every round, it makes a tpk very difficult (not impossible, obviously, but hard), of course I don't know the character so this could be an inappropriate choice, but I would suggest the possibility.

Keep in mind that this option will cost thousands of gold, possibly tens of thousands.


If the player is satisfied with his character's personality and backstory, but feels that his mechanics are no longer really contributing, but you don't want him to roll up a new PC, then ...

Transform him into something else.

Mechanically, this would basically be a rebuild: he gets to build a new, mechanically different PC. Narratively, it's the same PC: he keeps the PC -- the name, the history, the backstory.

Here's how I would do this (long):
If I were doing this, I'd do a series of solo side quests, in which the PC is approached for assistance by some NPC he has ties to. The NPC has stumbled across a legend regarding a lost hero from long ago, and believes that they may have a lead to discover what happened to that hero. The NPC is unsure of their lead; they trust the PC, but want to keep it quiet (hence the rest of the party is not involved initially).

Over the course of about 3 solo sessions, the PC gets to investigate the legend, which leads to a hidden location themed appropriately to the ancient hero. There, they discover that the ancient hero isn't dead despite centuries/millennia having passed. The ancient hero is trapped in an enormous crystal, where they have been trapped on the fine edge between death and life for time out of mind. The hero was sealed away by their ancient foes, who guard them even now.

The PC gets the ability to free the ancient hero. This should be something that the PC and only the PC is capable of doing, so arrange for the PC to be "attuned" to the ancient hero somehow. Maybe the PC is a distant descendant. Maybe the PC picks up the Amazing Jiggity Whompus while investigating, and it bonds to them and cannot be wielded by anyone else. Whatever the mechanism, the PC can bust that ancient hero's holding cell and let their soul finally pass.

But, and this should be made clear part way through the third solo session, breaking the crystal is going to be incredibly dangerous. The act of smashing the crystal may have unforeseeable consequences for the person who does it (i.e. the PC, who is the only person who can). Furthermore, the place is guarded heavily by the ancient hero's enemies, who will no doubt try to prevent any crystal smashing. The PC needs backup, more than their NPC buddy can provide. I'm kind of picturing horrific portals that disgorge waves of demons to assault anyone trying to free the ancient hero.

It's time to take it back to the main group, for a normal full-group session that will be the climax of this mini-arc. Let the player bring it to the group; let the player brief them on everything the PC learned over the course of the three solo sessions, and then ask for their assistance. Then they return to the ancient hero's prison and take on the guardians so that the PC can get close and shatter the prison. Maybe it takes a few rounds of focused effort by the PC -- the right series of three touch-range spells, or three mighty full-round whacks with the Amazing Jiggity Whompus, or even just pressing their hands to the crystal and passing three consecutive full-round concentration checks while the other PCs protect them from the hordes of howling demons.

When the crystal breaks, it shatters into a million shards. Any remaining demons get vaporized; the other PCs get saves for half damage. The PC at the center of it all gets no save, and in that moment, they are remade, which could be handled a couple of different ways.

For a comparatively minor rebuild: as the crystal shatters, time seems to slow. You can make out every shard in exquisite perfection. In every one you see a reflection of yourself: in every shard, a life not lived, choices made differently, roads not taken. They cut into you, and with every cut you see things, hear things, learn things that you could never have known: skills you never learned, magic you never possessed, expertise never earned. And as they pass through you, they take with them fractions of what you have been: knowledge you found, experiences that taught you, memories fond and ill. It is simultaneously bitter and sweet beyond compare. (The PC is reduced to -1 hp and is considered dying, and gets all their new stats).

For a comparatively major rebuild: you stagger back as the crystal shatters with a great ringing, sending a thousand shards through you. Behind you, the demonic horde shrieks and gabbles, and is suddenly silenced by the clarion ring of shards. Looking down, you see a hundred crystals have pierced you, and know that have spent your very life to accomplish this task. As the clarion ringing of the shattering fades, you look up at the ancient hero you have given your life to rescue. Their eyes flutter open. They smile at you. "Thank you! I am free to move on at last. This is the end of my story -- but not of yours. Here: take this. I don't need it any longer." They extend a hand to you, press it to your bloodied chest over your heart. You feel a twist, and shut your eyes; then open them once more to see your own face, slack and empty now, as your former body slowly slumps to the floor before you. (The PC's old body is vacant; dead. The PC now inhabits the body of the ancient hero, whose soul has moved on).

The major rebuild option is the one I would choose if they basically want an entirely new PC -- fresh ability scores, all different class levels, new gear, new gender, potentially a new race, the works. In both of these instances, the player gets to still be the same PC, but now totally different. It would be appropriate to RP having forgotten some of the things they did before the change -- the broad outlines are clear, they know important people from their past, but maybe they don't remember the exact sequence of events in that one battle from two years ago, etc.


Starfinder Charter Superscriber

Five years is a long time for a single campaign. He might just need a RL break for six months to recharge his batteries, etc.


...I didn't know there were rebuild rules in Ultimate Campaign. That could work quite well...

And if you combine it, with, say, something akin to Tinalles idea (perhaps the information to track this ancient hero is costly, or the item needed to free him requires a special ritual with rare components), then it gives it quite a bit of weight and a feeling of rarity. Nifty!


How about setting up a new enemy that kills him off and then a member of the group to fill in? It could be a cult that sets him up for a sacrifice and a disgusted/shocked pentient member, or a criminal organization that assassinates him and the undercover cop that tried to rescue him and failed.


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Ganny wrote:

...I didn't know there were rebuild rules in Ultimate Campaign. That could work quite well...

And if you combine it, with, say, something akin to Tinalles idea (perhaps the information to track this ancient hero is costly, or the item needed to free him requires a special ritual with rare components), then it gives it quite a bit of weight and a feeling of rarity. Nifty!

A word of warning about the ancient hero idea if you go that route.

In my second campaign in pathfinder I began the game a multiclass sorcerer, and later in the campaign I regretted my build (I was very green when creating the character). I asked for a rebuild and I was given one sans restrictions.

I remade my sorcerer, and good lord did I optimize. No need to be conservative for lower levels, and I could buy whatever I wanted in my budget, with the only restriction being more than half my wealth couldn't go to one item.

I'm a clever guy and I crunched the numbers, but not clever enough to forsee what would happen.

I completely dominated most encounters with two massivly powerfull fireballs (that didn't nessesarily deal fire damage) per round (high high level, but that's where you are).

I deeply regreted what I had done by the time the AP was over. Thankfully it didn't kill the game or lose me friends (nor should it, I think we've all done it once).

My point is that the rebuild rules are there for a reason, and unrestricted character builds or rebuilds at high level are dangerous, and should be approached with caution.

First piece of advice don't let him rebuild his wealth. Let him sell stuff, if it's an issue you can deal with it later, but unrestricted buys at high level is the most dangerous thing.

Aside from that just proceed with caution, you clearly have the experience after five years, just think before you make any decisions.


Excellent point, Hogeyhead.


retrain and murder his child. If he doesn't have one, give him one


Hogeyhead wrote:
Summary: ...A very good word of warning.

Yeah, no. Not letting him retrain wealth. That being said, he's been playing with slightly below average wealth for a while. He'll purchase single use items to use as potential solutions, or give NPCs cheap magic items as gifts. In game, he gave his in-game wife a 'Necklace of Communication', which is just a 1/Week Sending that can only send to the bearer of the other necklace, and stores the message in the necklace for when the wearer checks it. It was... something like 3000 gold? The limitations were severe enough on it to be really cheap. Overall, I think he is like, 40k gold below the rest of the party's wealth, but he's the only one with some very good connections as a result and he gets enjoyment out of the gift giving. Its win/win.

Thunderlord wrote:
retrain and murder his child. If he doesn't have one, give him one

He actually has a daughter! She's five years old and basically a sweetheart (in part because he commissioned a 1/Day Major Image before he left on that trip that could only create an illusion of him, so she'd know who he was). Thank you, planes where time flows differently.


Ganny wrote:

I would prefer not to have him make a new character, just because of the disruption it would have on 5 years of inter-party dynamics. That being said, if there were no other options...

As for the current party business, the party is somewhat in-between jobs. Right now they are hunting creatures and venturing into ruins in the pursuit of some cash after a year long quest that ended up having very little monetary reward (though the allies they gained will pay off far more than any amount of gold). The area they are in has some importance to his character's over-arching story, but he's already uncovered most of it. I could give him a new lead. He's currently been tasked to do something that... well, is morally complex and incredibly difficult.

Talk to the player about it. will he be satisfied with just a re-train, or does he need a whole new character?


Honestly though at this point he might be better off retiring his character and reroll something else. The problem of "Jack of all trades" is that you do become a "master of none" in a d20 system and very quickly lose Power unless they have a "booster" or "powerlevel" comming up where their trade will Jack up a few steps.

A character "left behind" is never fun to play, is it behind on gear, cash, Levels, and thats enough that a player will lose interest as you get line like "why would i do it when X does it better?" or "I will just fail anyway, so i stand back and watch".

So the possible solutions are:
Let him "Retrain" his character to something more focused.

Reroll a entirely New character.

Let him Catch up in terms of costs and gear. And to Balance out the stuff he gifts away just give him more doodads thats technicaly is worthless but makes good gifts.

It does sound like he have a lovely character to play with, but if the game drains your player like this its better to stop and start again.


retraining from unchained will let him keep his character and rebuild it so he can keep playing it while allowing him to get into what ever niche he is trying to fit now


Hey if anything you could point him my way and i could walk him through on how to make the character he wants to make and be effective. I like making characters and do that a lot even tho i might never play them.


One of my players plays a nonoptimized cleric and sometimes ends up feeling borderline useless when the wizard player tries to cover everything magical on his own. But I noticed tough challenges help - if the monsters are dangerous enough, the party has to rely on the cleric's healing during combat. And the cleric player is happy again.

Is it possible to tailor challenges toward the apathic player's PC? Is it an option to give him items to augment his strengths, carving out his niche further?


Ganny wrote:
I like the shellfish idea, but he is usually pretty attentive during session. It seems the general consensus is to try and make a change of some sort. Have to think of something. Good ideas and keep them coming.

Would retraining his character into filling a niche the party lacks work?


Ganny wrote:
I would prefer not to have him make a new character, just because of the disruption it would have on 5 years of inter-party dynamics. That being said, if there were no other options...
Ganny wrote:
Overall, I think he is like, 40k gold below the rest of the party's wealth, but he's the only one with some very good connections as a result and he gets enjoyment out of the gift giving. Its win/win.
Ganny wrote:
He built a more jack-of-all-trades to help support and cover holes in the party builds,

I'm getting the impression that his character is important to the party, and the party would suffer without him, for instance, his investing 40,000gp in politically motivated gifts has probably bought him a lot of political capital. Plus, he has a diverse set of talents that probably have a lot of utility, but are less exciting for a fantasy hero.

Maybe the thing to do would be for you, the GM to take over his character and run him as an NPC who sends the party on their quests or hooks them up with special talent, special clues, special equipment, etc. Have him grow into high rank in the town, magistrate, mayor, duke, etc, the kind of guy who snaps his fingers and has the guards take the badguy away after the party proves that he's the one who poisoned Farmer John's well and killed his cattle and not the silly old lady framed for witchcraft.

That way, the unhappy player can have his fresh start, and you can maintain your party cohesion and story continuity.

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