Out Of Character cards, or OOC (pronounced oh-oh-see, not ooook) are an easy way to regain control of a game that’s gotten out of hand. Simply bust out a stack of 3” x 5” cards and a sharpie and pass them around the table, with instructions that every player should write the letters O-O-C in bold.
When a player wishes to make an in-game action, they need only call it out or start rolling dice. Everything they say or do from here on out is “In Character,” and should be treated as such. Even an act as small as asking another player if they’d like their Mt. Dew topped-off (presumably being swirled in a crystal brandy snifter) they must hold up the card, otherwise it’s assumed their gnomish bard has begun singing a tale of the Dewey Mountains, and of a miraculous green beverage that invigorates be-speckled nerds.
If one player is trying to communicate with another player, or with the DM, without affecting the game, they must hold up the OOC card in a way that is clear and visible to the dungeon master.
When to use OOC cards?
When there are too many players at the table, and too much time is being spent in side conversation. When interplay between players isn’t being acted out in character, and the campaign has turning into a chat session between friends with d20’s involved once in a while. These are perfect opportunities to utilize the power of the OOC.
OOC cards separate the story from player commentary. Most of us have gamed with someone whose every impulse, however inappropriate or unwise, is also the first thing out of their mouth. With OOC cards in play, the moment this troublesome player forgets to hold up his card and utters something like “I pull down my pants,” or “I dirk them in the face,” or “I flash the king,” You now get to act out the scenario. He said it, so his character did it.
OOC cards also to keep the game moving, even with chatty players who aren’t stifled at having to hold up a sign to talk. After several hours of enforcing the OOC system you might notice your players are more inclined to act and speak in character, because doing otherwise would require them to locate their OOC and raise it. The human brain is a lazy organ by nature, and you can capitalize on this over time, by forcing them to do a menial task whenever they want to break character.
Pictured: Your Brain’s Default Position.
When not to use OOC cards?
The players are having too much fun. I’ve seen green dungeon masters use OOC cards because they thought the jovial attitude of the players didn’t match the serious, melodramatic storytelling of the campaign, and they wanted to impose temporary silences between long descriptions of bleak marshes, deadly swamps, and grimdark caverns.
OOC cards should be used less as an attitude adjuster, and more of a pacing tool. Don’t crush the mood of the players because you have a vision of how your game should be played. Good storytelling will draw them in– not a slip of cardstock.
I’ve also seen OOC cards introduced when roleplay by individual players is taking too long. I’ve mentioned before on this blog that if your players are invested enough to take roleplaying beyond the scenario you’ve written, then you’ve done your job as dungeon master. The instinct to roleplay should never be quashed, since it will lead to further immersion for the party as a whole. Feel free to set time limits on encounters, but I would hesitate to dole out OOC cards.
Lastly and most egregiously, I’ve seen OOC cards used to punish players. It may seem like a good idea to reign in a player’s bad puns and dead-baby jokes by forcing him to communicate in-character at all times unless he’s holding up the card. But if you use OOC cards as punishments, what will your players think when you pass them out to everyone, to solve a for-realsies pacing problem, or overcrowding at the table?
If the OOC card doubles as your Dunce Cap, telling the players that they are all now dunces because your game is getting out of hand, guess who they’ll instinctively blame?
Hint: It won’t be the class clown who was actually making them laugh.