I often play Rainbow Six Siege with a good friend, and sometimes I tell him I’m going “AFK” if I need a bathroom break or want to get a drink of water. One day he asked, “What the heck is AFK?” A holdover from my Everquest days, (A)way (F)rom (K)eyboard doesn’t make as much sense when you are playing on a PlayStation, but it’s a hard habit to break. Sometimes we get used to our abbreviations and forget that not everyone might be aware of them. If you’ve heard “OOC” prefixing something in your RPG gaming sessions and aren’t sure what they heck they are talking about, it simply means “Out of Character.”
OOC is sometimes confused for metagaming, but this isn’t at all the case. If you tell your game master that your character is going to open a door, you are technically speaking OOC. Obviously, your character didn’t say it. Or maybe they did? Maybe they are all into speaking their actions. They might even do it in the third-person. Rolph the Barbarian is now opening the door. Rolph the Barbarian is now walking into the room. Rolph the Barbarian is now bleeding after being stabbed by Kinci the Gnome Thief. Rolph the Barbarian doesn’t understand why the rest of the party is cheering Kinci after she stabbed him.
Alright. I took that a bit too far.
Almost every gaming session tends to have a little out-of-character talk, and that’s a good thing. There’s no harm in asking for a rules clarification, checking for general advice, or simply asking how a person’s day went when there’s a lull in gameplay. TTRPGs are about a lot of things: story, roleplaying, tactics, actions, etc. But perhaps the best is making and sustaining friendships.
But OOC can also go too far.
We’ve all been there. The D&D session where you barely get out of the tavern because everyone wants to talk about their day. Or the combat that was weighed down by excessive arguing *cough* I mean discussing the rules.
Here’s a few tips for dealing with an abundance of OOC:
Treating OOC as In-Character
This is perhaps the best way to handle many situations, especially when players are talking strategy during combat. So instead of Tom asking Mary, “Do you still have that gem we found earlier?” it should be the dwarf asking the elf the question. Sure, the dwarf probably should know the elf didn’t get tired of hauling that enormously valuable gem around and just set it down somewhere randomly, but hey, the dwarf was probably really into the mead at that point.
Basically, any time the players discuss their actions as a would-be strategy, it is their characters discussing it. As a DM, you should handle it by asking, “Are you drawing your sword while asking the elf about the gem?” just to make sure they aren’t just standing in front of the orcs chitchatting among themselves!
This can also be a great way to handle too much metagaming. “You should cast that grease spell and I’ll throw my torch on it,” can be met with, “The orcs thank you for letting them know what is about to happen!”
Putting Time Limits on Actions
In D&D and most other RPGs, time happens a little differently in combat and out of combat. Out of combat, a ‘turn’ may last anywhere from a minute to ten minutes to an hour or even a day or longer. Exploring a dungeon, a turn tends to be one or two minutes. “I walk down the hallway checking for traps as I go.” In town, time can stetch out. “I wander around looking for a tavern.” Outside of adventures, time can really go by slow. “We travel to…”
But combat tends to happen fast. In D&D, one round of combat represents about six seconds.
So, sitting around talking out a bunch of actions before settling on one doesn’t always fit with the fast-paced nature. It’s okay to allow a bit of leeway. After all, the magician with 19 intelligence may come to a solution faster than Joe Smith, 13 intelligence computer programmer. Giving poor Joe a few extra seconds can be okay, but a basic time limit can be a great way to both limit OOC and move the pace along.
Handing Out Experience as a Gift
The most important currency in many roleplaying games is experience, which is crucial for character advancement. Most RPGs allow a bit of leeway in this regard (and those that don’t — well, feel free to bend or break any rule you want — in the end, it is your game after all).
Granting experience to the ‘best roleplayer’ in a session, or everyone who did a good job roleplaying, can be a great way to encourage it. And handing out some experience for avoiding OOC can also be a good idea.
Punishment… as a Last Resort… and Perhaps With Humor
How to handle a truly unruly player is a discussion for another day, but if you have a player who is going way beyond the normal OOC to the detriment of the group as a whole, one quick-and-easy way to deal with the situation is to announce the “anger of the Gods.”
Punishment is a difficult tightrope to walk for many people, so I would start out with humor. “This curse takes the form of a spontaneous loss of dexterity causing your character to stump his toe and look rather silly in front of that goblin holding the sword.” Take THAT Joe the Programmer!
A curse inducing -1 attack rolls for 10 rounds or similar forms of punishment can also be used, but not everyone responds well to this sort of stuff. Character punishments should only be used if the player in question takes the hint without an oversized emotional response. We’re not here to ruin anyone’s day. We’re here to try and let everyone have fun. And when you have one player doing too much OOC to the detriment of everyone’s fun, sometimes poking a little fun in the form of a light punishment can solve the problem.
Talking About Talking
And let’s not forget the most basic and easy way to attack the OOC problem. Talk about it! Whether you are a player or DM, this is a great way to address issues when OOC starts interfering with the game. The players and DM talking things out and deciding how to handle it is often the best way to solve the problem in a way that takes everyone’s opinion into account.
Like the artwork on this article? Check out all of psychee-ange (Axelle Bouet)’s stuff on Deviant Art.