Thursday, October 11, 2012

Dealing With Problem Players

Everyone comes across it at some point in time. Heck, go to the RPG subreddit and you'll see almost daily posts of some kind or another asking about this issue. Every book on GM advice I've read has also had a section on this. I think I may have even posted about it before. Thing is though, it always comes up and people always need advice on it. Even if only to make sure that they're handling things maturely. So today, I want to talk about problem players and how to deal with them.

Apparently this was set to go up tomorrow not today. Thank you to the people who told me I'd messed up on the schedule yet again. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Step 1: Identify The Problem
The first thing you need to do is actually identify what the problem is. This is more than just determining who the problem is, but what they're actually doing that causes the problem. Is Sheila hogging the spotlight and the glory? Is Debrah cheating on her die rolls? Does Matt always seem to be arguing with people over how the rules should be? Maybe Justin has the uncanny ability to take 6 and 6 and come up with 32. Whatever the problem is you need to identify what it is before you can go forward. Don't just take "I don't like X player, they always cause problems." Find out what they do that causes the problem.

Step 2: Identify The Reason For The Problem
This is the step that a lot of people don't understand needs to be followed. Let's be honest, it is doubtful that someone is going to ruin your experience deliberately for the sole purpose of ruining the experience. Especially not in a live venue where someone can just punch them in the face. Generally the reasoning goes deeper. So find out why the person is acting the way they do. If John is fudging his die rolls, maybe he is doing it because if he doesn't he feels like he's constantly going to be outshined and outplayed by the people who are regularly rolling very well the normal way. Maybe Sarah is such a rules lawyer because to her the game should follow the rules and she's had experience with GMs screwing her over by not following the rulebook in the past. Maybe Tom min-maxes all his characters because he really wants to do well in some areas but very poorly in others and have those clearly defined strengths and weaknesses. The fact is, you don't know and when you don't know you can't actually solve the problem.

Step 3: Address The Problem
This generally begins with some form of confrontation of the problem player. I recommend the GM, or someone who is good socially, make this confrontation. It should also be done privately - at least at first - so that the person can have some form of saved face. Like I said above, very few people are ruining your fun solely to ruin your fun. They might even think they're having fun with everyone else and be surprised to find that they are ruining other people's enjoyment. A private meeting, especially with someone the person trusts, will let them share their side of what is going on (see step 2) as well as give them a chance to ask questions. More importantly, it doesn't put them on the defensive or make them feel like they're being attacked. 

Step 4: Stick By Your Solution
Whatever way you decide to address your problem, stick by it. If you agree to give a player one more chance, don't give them three more. If you agree to give a player two weeks to turn their behavior around, then give them the two weeks. If you see progress, obviously you can give more leniency on things, but otherwise you want to stick to what was agreed upon. Afterall, if you tell someone "start one more argument about the rulebook and you're out of the game" but don't follow through, you are inviting more of the same behavior and sending mixed messages to those involved. Forgiveness can always come after.


  1. Just smack them in the back of the head. They'll get the idea eventually :)

  2. I understand that most people who may be 'that guy' aren't doing it through malice, but I have to say that I have come across far too many gamers who - no matter what - just don't play well with others. For whatever reason, the bad behavior just keeps rearing its ugly head. I think at a certain point a GM has to know when to step in, and for the enjoyment of the group as a whole, exclude a player who just can't seem to learn.

    One such thread on r/reddit was from someone who was concerned that they were 'that guy' after being asked to leave a group after just one session. In my experience, 'that guy' is usually the only one who has no idea that people have problems with them. If your first conversation breaks through, and they look at themselves and realise what they're doing, then most of the time the problem sorts itself out. If not, I think that in the end, the player will have to go.