Sunday, February 10, 2013

How Do YOU Handle "Problem" Players?

Friday night, my son ran his D&D game.  I play with them, and I think we had nine players this time.  Two of the players had come up with a back story since our last session in my son's world... and it involved mayhem and destruction.  Apparently, one of the characters had raped the dwarven king's daughter, and the other had shot an arrow at the king, accidentally castrating him.  Then they fled the kingdom, and somehow ended up joining our party.

Of the two, one player is new to the group, the other has a history of seeming to believe that, since we're playing a game, there won't be consequences to his actions.  (If you look at my Star Clans blog, you'll find that one of the characters ended up sentenced to fifteen years hard labor in the mines of Tralnor.  Same player.  If you go to my Exploring the Outside Inn blog, you'll find a character that made first level, chose to be a mage, and then attempted to join an orc tribe... only to die in the "trial by combat" they put him through.  Same player again.)  Now I've got nothing against the player... he seems to be a good kid (16 year old, I believe,) and he was playing really well in my game with his mage, until he got himself killed in hand-to-hand combat with an orc.

Back to Friday night:  our very first encounter was with a band of dwarves.  These two characters hid their faces behind their shields, while we spoke to the dwarves... and of course they were on the look-out for two fugitives, believed to have fled here.  Of note is that the majority of our characters had performed a service for the dwarven king several months ago in a prior session, and we'd been named "Friends of the Dwarves," a pretty big deal for us.  After much discussion, both with the dwarves, and amongst ourselves, we decided we wanted to retain that status... so we swarmed the two characters, knocked them out, and turned them over to the dwarves.

Ugly.  Ugly as hell.  I didn't like doing it.  Not only do I seriously dislike PC-on-PC fighting, it wasted a good hour of our time, AND as homeowner and host, I don't like shitting on my guests!  And while the new guy didn't seemed too phased, the kid who's been playing for a long time with us was understandably upset.  He figured we could just remain silent and send the dwarves on their way.  That sent me into "Dad" mode rather than player mode.  I told them that the game wasn't about the two of them alone, it was about all nine players and the DM.  The rest of us wanted to fight monsters, find treasure and live large... and we didn't want to have to hide out from the law because they wanted to kill peasants or attack town guards, or anything else like that... we weren't going to let them ruin our fun.  Then I walked over to my son, and asked if I could see him in the other room... and once there, I told him, "Either they roll up new characters and join the group, or they need to go home for the night.  I won't have them sitting there NOT playing, 'cause the group has enough distractions without two bored teens screwing around."  He looked at me, and agreed.

In front of everyone else, he told them pretty much that:  "Roll up new characters and play WITH the group, or go home now."  Luckily, they rolled up new characters, and we were able to get back to the game.  I acted as caller for the evening (Yeah, I'm THAT old school) and did my darnedest to keep the two of them engaged... and I think it worked out OK in the end.  We'll see what happens next time my son runs his game.

Saturday evening, I apologized to my son for jumping in and telling both him (the DM) and the two players how it had to be.  I also mentioned that I was a little shocked at how blunt he was with them:  "Roll or Go," but he simply said, "Sometimes that's what it takes with (player)."

Now, back in high school, I don't recall us EVER having problems like this... and when I played during my first assignment in the AF, we didn't let new players in without a trial period, to be sure they would get along with the group dynamic we already had.  So this was seriously uncomfortable for me.  It was especially tough since I wasn't even the DM, but I lost control of myself and lectured.

So here are my questions:  Have YOU had to deal with situations like this?  How did you handle them?  Did you remove players?  Change games or gaming styles?  Split the group up and play separately?  I want to do a better job of staying in player mode, and I want to equip my son to handle it on his own next time it happens... what do you suggest?


  1. I'd love to offer a comment, but I've been pretty lucky--haven't had to deal with many problem players in my time. I certainly haven't had to deal with them as another player, but someone who is technically the "authority figure" in the group.

    I think pulling your son out of the room for a little one-on-one discussion was the right thing to do. Your other responses--perhaps less so, but I don't know that I would have done anything differently.

  2. HI Dave, very interesting post. While I've never had to do this with a child of mine I have had to assist friends who were being bullied or pushed around by players. The one incident I remember most was we had a group of 4 players plus our GM. A group of 3 other players we kinda knew wanted to join in. While our group was task oriented, wanting to work together and loot as much as we could these guys came in wanting to cause as much trouble as they could. They stole from shops we had established friendships, they burned down a tavern we frequented and then they stole some our stuff. This was in the first session. Finally I'd had enough and spoke to the new group. They could have cared less what I had to say and what the group had done before. So we voted to end the game early and they were not invited back even though they thought they were entitled to be present. The DM was a super nice guy and doesn't like to get into the meta-gaming stuff so I did. Afterwards the group talked about what happened and we installed one new person at a time and a three game trial period. It worked for us.

  3. Thanks, Nick.

    Tim, your experience sounds exactly like some earlier sessions in my son's game! I think I got annoyed this time because I thought we were past all that with the group. It hadn't occurred to me that one new player would push us backward on the Forming-Storming-Norming-Performing scale from Performing all the way to Storming... but I guess Old Player found a new audience in New Player, so he restarted the antics he'd abandoned earlier... and I clearly wasn't in the right frame of mind to deal with it objectively.

    It's been very interesting to play with teenagers. When I was in high school, we'd get together and dive right in to the game... but with these kids, it takes almost an hour for them to settle in to play. It's funny, really, because half of them play XBOX games together via the internet, sitting alone in their own game-rooms, but with headphones and mics. They play together but not... and face-time is apparently a bit shocking! I've told my son he ought to have them over sometimes to NOT play RPGs, but just to hang out, but that hasn't happened yet.

  4. It seems like I'm about your son's age, and I have a D&D group and blog that could qualify as oldschool. Maybe we've been having similar experiences. The last time I can remember having problems that bad was in middle school, at my first real game. I made the mistake of bringing a particularly obnoxious kid, because he was friends with one of the members and I knew he'd played before. He was totally immature. He threw dice and miniatures all over the place and spilled soda on my books. I was lucky to have an experience like that early on, because it taught me to have strict standards concerning who to let into my games.
    I like to keep my group small. There have been times when I'd regularly play with only two players. My group has slowly expanded throughout highschool. When I bring in a new person, I test them out slowly, over a long period of time, to make sure that I like playing with them and they like playing with the group. A few times I've run into awkward situations from excluding people without their knowledge. It's not pleasant, but it's the price I pay for running games the way I want to.
    I chose some of my earliest and worst player based on the fact that they'd played before, so now I look for fresh recruits. Every time I've overlooked personality flaws in favor of more gaming experience, I've regretted it. I try to find people who are intelligent and fun to be around, and teach them what they need to know.
    I had a friend in middle school who was completely disdainful of the game, but who I played with for several years because he'd been a founding member of the group and he owned a D&D starter kit. When I was starting out I was just happy to have found a single player who had heard of the game before and didn't throw my own miniatures at me, even though he clearly didn't enjoy it, and was doing it to just because we'd been good friends in the past. I eventually started scheduling more and more games without him, and started playing with another kid who didn't like him much. Before I knew it he was out of the group, and I haven't looked back since. There was no real fallout since he clearly didn't belong in the group anyway.
    By the way, I've been this player too. I tried joining the school D&D group, which was run by a teacher. I didn't quite fit in with the other players and disliked the style of the game. I'd basically just sit in a desk, pretend to pay attention, and occasionally make sarcastic comments to the teacher. When I realized I'd basically signed up for another class after school, I left the group. If you ever feel like someone's playing to fit in without enjoying it, you're doing everyone a favor in the long run if you let them go.
    Another risk groups is that if you bring in several people who are normally part of a group of friends to a game, it's inevitable that some of them will like it less than others, see it as an obligation, and goof off. The biggest problem I'm having with my players right now is that a longtime player has been bringing his girlfriend, and the two sometimes get distracted and start having their own conversations while we play. On their own they're both fine, but the dynamic between them sometimes causes problems.
    Those are the two main problems I've noticed. The strategy that's worked for me is to start with a small, dedicated group, and expand one at a time with people who I enjoy spending time with, but who don't necessarily have a lot of experience. It sounds like your son could be dealing with one or both of these problems. And even if he isn't, I hope you found it interesting to hear the account of another second generation oldschooler.
    Sorry for the rambling and disorganized format. I remembered a lot of things while writing it that I hadn't originally thought of.
    If you or your son ever want to take a look at my blog, here's a link:

  5. I'm torn, Ozzie, between wanting to pull MORE people into the hobby, and wanting to have a core group of players to run a regular game with. The current group keeps growing... which is fine for my OD&D game, but not for my Traveller game (much more complicated to handle large groups), and certainly not for my son's game, since he's too new to running the game. Of course, since most of the current players go to the same high school, I'm sure they also have to deal with in-game stuff affecting real-world relationships, and vice-versa, while I'm so far out of THAT looop that I don't need to worry beyond thanking everyone for coming as they walk out the door after a game.