Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Dealing with Problem Players the Dyvers Way

In the last week you've spent nearly every spare moment working on this weekend's adventure. You've built an elaborate maze for your players to explore, bought enough snacks to feed a small army, and now you're watching one of them screw it all up. Oh, he's a nice enough guy away from the table; good to his mother, takes care of his children, but at the table he's an asshole. For some people it's difficult to ask problem players to leave. After all, they're your friends and you just couldn't ask them to get out - let alone confront them over their behavior! It might hurt their precious feelings. 

What about your feelings?

This is a guide for dealing with the problem players in all our lives. What you'll find below are the ways for dealing with friends, family, and the strangers that have made your games a nightmare that I have been using for the better part of the last decade. Just follow my advice and it'll all work out.

1. He's Actually a Really Nice Guy

By far the most common problem player is your asshole friend. In this case we'll call him Denny. Denny is a great guy away from the table. He pays his bills on time, is a loving father, and can tell a hysterical dirty joke at the drop of a hat. But when this son of a bitch sits down at the table you might as well forget about playing tonight. Oh it starts innocently enough. He bitches a bit about work and then the game starts and you're thinking, "Great, the game will fix everything." Only it doesn't because now Denny is criticizing every decision that the other players make. They're rolling wrong. They've built their characters wrong. His last group was filled with real players. Everyone else at the table is miserable and just when you think things can't get worse he starts in on you. 

Now your instinct is to cut the guy a break. Everyone has an off night. But this isn't an off night for Denny, this is every week. Every time you get together he ruins it. So what are you to do? Tell your buddy to get lost?


You tell your friend that if he can't stop being an asshole that he isn't allowed back next week. It sucks because he's going to be mad. But when the alternative is allowing him to grind your games into a suckfest week after week, driving the rest of your players away from the table, what other option do you have? Do you really want to suffer through every game session because you don't want to hurt his feelings?

Look, if he's really your friend then talking to him about his behavior and how it's affecting the group will cause him to change his attitude. But if it doesn't, then he didn't give a flying fuck about you, the group, or the game. In that case fuck that asshole. 

2. She's Just Really Concerned About the Wider Effects of the Game on the Social and Political Reality of Our World

The second most common problem player is the one who takes the game way more seriously than everyone else at the table. Now this doesn't mean that if your game is about the psychological effects of rape and everyone at the table is down for role-playing that experience that you're doing it wrong. Rather it's about the kid at the table who is playing in a fun game of kill the dragon who starts trying to raise the awareness of the group to the plight of colonial natives as derived through your portrayal of the lowly (and totally sexist) bar maid. If as a table the group is down for playing in a game that looks at the world's issues through the lens of a role-playing game than that's fine. BUT when everyone else has come to the table to kill imaginary creatures, find treasure, explore dungeons, and have a good time playing together doing so makes you a dick.

So how do you deal with this type of player? Just lose their number so you don't have to deal with them any more? Fuck no. You tell them that it's fine that they have all these issues they'd like to raise awareness about but your game isn't the place to do that. When they tell you about how "You just don't get it, do you," you tell them to get the fuck out. 

See while playing role-playing games can touch on deeper issues by placing them into the narrative when everyone has agreed to explore those issues; forcing others to explore those issues by insisting that the narrative is present when it hasn't been agreed upon or brought in by the Game Master is a dick move. You're not a socially aware gamer who is trying to bring up the consciousness of the table. You're just a dick who needs to get away from the table because you're ruining the game for the rest of us.

3. They're Just Having a Good Time

The next group of problem players comes from those obnoxious guys who keep derailing the game. Oh, they tell the occasional funny story but by and large its just them talking to hear themselves talk. Did you see that game last night? Have you seen this movie on Netflix yet? I'm pretty sure that the girl at Taco Bell wanted me . . . On and on they drone about everything under the sun except the game. Now if you were running a boring game it might be understandable but you haven't even been able to start because these jackasses keep on braying about whatever comes into their heads. The best part though, that comes at the end of the night when they look at you and say, "Why didn't you run tonight?"

"Why didn't I run tonight," you want to sputter; but you don't because they're just having a good time. You spent your week coming up with a game and they just ruined it. Instead of being quite you have to speak up. You have to tell them that the reason you didn't get to run is because they're a pair of assholes so self-absorbed that they went out of their way to talk over you and to completely ruin the game for everyone else. And it will definitely hurt their feelings when you do. But you know what? Fuck their feelings. They didn't care about yours. 

4. What Do You Mean, I'm the Problem?

Sometimes the truth of why you're having a terrible game is because you're the problem. You're arguing with every decision the players make and punishing them for going off your script. You're a shitty Game Master.

"But what if I don't know if I'm a shitty Game Master?" you ask. Answer these questions.

1. Do you punish your players for going against your story?
2. Do you view your job as Game Master as the Joker to their Batman (or vice versa)?
3. Do you cheat your players (by adding hit points, increasing save DCs, ect) so that you can "win?"

If you answered yes to any of those you're a shitty Game Master and need to put the dice up. Stop blaming everyone else at the table and let someone else run for a change. 

5. Get the Fuck Away from My Table

Life is difficult and oftentimes unfair so why should any of us put up with the players who want to ruin our games. I refuse to let those sorts of people ruin my gaming experience and as a result I've had a tremendous amount of fun. If you follow my advice then you will be able to as well. So go out and tell those problem players to get the fuck away from your tables and start having a better gaming experience today.


  1. We're fortunate in not having any "problem" players like you describe. The worst we get is Ed, who is a borderline rules-lawyer, and will sometimes "DM" the other players, by correcting their interpretation of a rule, even after that actual DM has agreed to that interpretation. Or he'll remind the DM of a rule that will actually nullify something cool someone just did. Fortunately, his wife is there to slap him down (sometimes almost physically).

    He also has a tendency to try to tell others how their characters should act. It's mainly me, because we're in a campaign that involves some political intrigue, and I'm a HALF-ORC BARBARIAN/PRIEST OF THE GOD OF WAR. If I say I insult royalty with a tactless question, then guess what? Yeah, that's my character. Oddly, he plays a half-orc rogue/fighter who acts decidedly non-orcish. So, my character always refers to him as the "half-human."

    The main thing is that we have all learned how to deal with him, and keep him in his place, so to speak. And really, it's only occasionally disruptive.

    1. I've played with guys like him. We . . . we didn't learn how to deal with him and instead forced him to learn how to deal with us. Lots more fun that way.

    2. I have a feeling that if he were actually worse than he is, we probably have gone that route too. Generally, we keep him in check. Besides, it's always fun to watch his petite little wife tell him to shut his mouth. :D

  2. Excellent blog post. I wish I would have kicked out a few of my "friends" when I first started running games. When gaming strangers treated me better I had to reevaluate who I called my friends.

    1. Better to kick them out and not have to deal with them than to suffer I always say!

  3. There's a player I've lovingly refered to as "cheating bastard" for about 12 years. He was asked to stop cheating, letting him darn well know we knnow he was cheating, he let up for a while but seeminlgy forgot he was under double serious not aactually secret probation and after our las. Hiatus he just wasn't asked back to play now that the game is going again...and you know what I could spot the effect of his abscence and it was good.

  4. 6. Don't let problem players join the group in the first place.

    Of course, this can be difficult when the problem players are part of your social circle and want to play. But in my experience its best to remain friends without gaming rather than have a friendship threatened because the friend doesn't play well with others.

    1. What's up Stelios! Where you been sir?

    2. I'm still around, working on various projects. Not much time available to dedicate to the blog-o-sphere as of late.


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