Problem Players - or Whose Story is it Anyway?

I struggled with this piece a lot - I've gone back and rewritten it, I've gone to my co-GM, and to one of my players and asked them for their advice and opinions. I'm not satisfied that this is a perfect piece, but I believe that this is a topic that I'll return to again, hopefully with your feedback and constructive criticism. That being said - I hope this is of some help... I've said it before, and I'll say it again: Gaming is a social event. Friends (or at least people who can tolerate each other for one-day-a-month) get together and cooperatively tell a story in a fantastic shared-world setting, creating a rich and complex world with 3-dimensional characters, poetic conflict, drama, epic battles...whining, grandstanding, spotlight stealing, rules-lawyering, nitpicking, bringing out of game drama and slapping it all over your in-game world like a week old carp. Let's remember - gamers spend a good amount of our creative power figuring out how to best other people. We tend to be competitive, creative, smart, and wickedly passive aggressive at times. And, we make a hobby out of *pretending to be other people*. I'm not saying that this behavior automatically makes a problem player - but it can get out of hand, and it's very important for a GM to assess the situation and see if there is a problem that can be fixed, or if the situation is unsalvageable, discussing the player's exit before the game implodes. Problem players don't go into it expecting to be a problem, at least I'd like to think that most of them don't. Some people are just assholes. I have gathered anecdotes and stories and will talk about what I've learned, and what I think might work, because obviously, for those incidents that were under me as a GM, I didn't *stop* the issue, until it actually became a problem. The first thing you have to do is to assess the situation before you label this person a problem player. When does it become an actual problem, and is this just general friction and the competitiveness that comes out in a game, and the ideas that players think are good ideas, but do not quite fit into the mood of the story? Ask yourself is this situation a problem? Or is it the player? Or, is it you? Ask your other players, or a co-GM if you're lucky enough to have one. Talk to said problem player if you can, and if you think the situation merits it, to find out if this is just a one-time thing, or if you are starting to notice a pattern. Take the time to talk to the player if you think it is becoming a problem, but do it with an open mind. As I said - the player may not realize there's a problem. Problem Player #1: The D20 Diva: Every NPC wants her or is out to get her. She has an opinion about everything and she's *always* witty about it. Every plotline simply MUST have a tie to her. Sharing the spotlight isn't in her nature. Some players have trouble allowing for the normal ebb and flow of a storyline to encompass the entire group. It's nice to have the spotlight - it's nice to know

that the GM went to the trouble to look at your background and work it into the larger tapestry of the world. And it can be hard to let that go. I've been the one in the spotlight - it was challenging and fun, now, every player got some kind of spotlight story - every character's background had some kind of tie to the overarcing plot, and that did help enrich the story as well as our experience. I've also been the one whose ideas for ties to NPCs and the plots were set aside or glossed over because the attention was on another player. The GM tries to get to you, but ends up saying things like "read such and such in the book" or "yeah - that sounds good - let's say it happened". Not a lot of fun. I've also been the GM in a situation where a player has actually taken a nap on the floor because she was not getting the attention that she wanted. That same person also liked to go out on her own; not a problem in and of itself, but can become problematic when they want to do it all the time and you're only one GM. The final insult - and the reason I made her leave my game (I was a very green GM back then) was when she told me she had forgotten about the game - and had actually opted to go out with some friends to dinner, admitting to them that she knew very well when the game was - didn't feel like going - and decided that it was ok to lie to me. There were also personality issues between her and the other players. Remember at the beginning of this segment when I said that the players had to at least be able to tolerate each other? Yeah - that wasn't happening anymore. To save my game - I had to ask her to leave. Problem Player #2: "But it's what my character would DO!" Roleplaying is great, it's creative, you get to be someone else, an ideal of yourself - or maybe someone completely different. And you throw yourself into that character for once or twice or more a month, and then you step out. At least that's what you do in a healthy roleplaying situation. Some players get so very deep into their characters, that the group's well-being and fun - and perhaps even their own - take a backseat to the 'truth' of the character they're playing. Some examples that I have seen: A player knows that the group wants to discuss something, they arrange to meet in the war room and they're going to set out just how they need to deal with the big bad. Said player has had his character be in an emotionally fragile place because an NPC he cared about was killed. He decides to agree to the meeting - and then doesn't show up - (character, not player) - doesn't tell anyone his character is going anywhere, and essentially causing a lot of "what do we do now?" and consternation. His reason? It's what his character would do. I'm not a huge fan of metagaming, but there are times when you have to consider why your character would do something else than your first gut reaction. When the game stops being fun, there is a problem. It may not mean you have a problem player, but if the behavior persists - it becomes a problem. Another situation: Same player - different game: The character in question is a naive young druid, sheltered from the big bad world

for awhile with one horribly tragic event in her life - yes - he was also genderbending - not an issue except that I don't think he grasped the female psyche very well. This druid has found out that one of the people that has hurt his character is in town - in a large town that they are attempting to seek haven in. He chases this NPC down and FLAMESTRIKES him in the MIDDLE OF TOWN. Needless to say - not very fun things ensued. I know some characters are lone-wolves, self-absorbed, and can do just plain stupid things. Even when the player knows it's stupid, they do it because it is in-character. And conflict is good in a game. But if a player is consistently doing things like that and other players are getting upset, and the GM is tearing her hair out because she's trying to introduce conflict without having the group implode, then the fun goes away and the drama starts. And not the good kind of drama. And, the other players may decide to ALSO act in character and eject the character from the party. Then the GM is faced with the problem of how to run a split party with possibly no chance of reconcilliation. At that point you may have to ask someone to leave, and as someone who has had to do that more than once, I can say with all certainty - it is NOT fun. Problem Player #3: The Book Says... I like courtroom dramas, sometimes. I watch CSI, and Law and Order, and Boston Legal is just an absolute joy for the sarcastic cynic in all of us. But if you've ever been in a courtroom - you know that it isn't nearly as gripping, or witty, and there's no William Shatner to say something right wing kooky - but in an endearing manner. Watching rules lawyers pick and prod the GM into frustrated submission is not fun. Every game book I've ever read states that the rules are just guidelines. However, if you need to change the rules, weigh that carefully. Capricious house-ruling jars your game just as much as Professor D&D can drag it into a quagmire. The players buy the books expecting you to at least follow some of them. I have learned through MUCH trial and error that while you may have an inspiration for a house rule - your players deserve some warning. I've even gone to my players those more well versed in the White Wolf combat system than I am - for house rule suggestions for my Changeling game. I trust my players to understand that the rules are there to assure we have fun, and to help me make sure that things are as fair as possible mechanically. If you have a dark gritty world, or even just a good story where there's conflict from something horribly unjust and unfair happening to the characters, or to NPCs that the characters love, that's one thing. That's STORY. But if the mechanics are perceived as unfair - then the game stops, feelings are hurt, and players feel slighted. Unfair things can happen to the characters - that's just part of roleplay, but unfair things shouldn't happen to the players. If you have a rules lawyer - let them know that you'd be happy to discuss the rules with them, but you're going to call it like you call it - and the game will move on. Unless you believe you ABSOLUTELY need to resolve it right then, always wait until after the game, or a break, to discuss a rules issue.

This last section isn't so much of a problem player as a situation when it's too difficult to deal with real life issues. When real life can't be left at the door, it is the job of the GM and players to work things out. Or, it's time to make a hard decision. About 4 years ago my husband and I became quite estranged. We were separated, but trying to work things out. In an attempt to keep things as normal as possible - we stayed in our games. The only game I asked him to leave was the one I was running. The tension between the two of us never went away, and though we tried to get beyond it - both of us acted out of character in certain ways. Me, to avoid being around him, and him - in a way that kept his character's mood very dark. When I decided that I wanted a divorce, our GMs kept both of us in our games. In retrospect, I probably should have either dropped the games, or the GMs should have asked one of us to bow out. There was always a level of tension between us, and it bled over into the games, not that they weren't still enjoyable overall, but it was awkward. One of the games ended before the divorce was final, and the other one - he stopped going after the divorce. Sometimes it isn't possible to get past real life, and that is when the GMs have to be responsible and think about the integrity of the story, and the fun that they and the players are having. The story is a cooperative thing, and even those problem players devote time and energy to its creation and growth. Therefore, Every player deserves consideration. If a player is having a hard time in real life, he or she may need a break from the game, or just an ear or a shoulder. No one should be dismissed without consideration and communication. If you don't talk to the player about a percieved problem, then YOU as a GM become part of that problem. I'm not saying you have to be Dr. Phil, but while the game and its story needs to be respected, the players, the people, deserve the most respect. If it does come to having to ask someone to leave, don't be mean about it. Highlight the contributions that the player has made. Let them know the reasons behind your decision. Nothing in a roleplaying game is worth damaging a friendship. You can't expect the players to just follow the story - they're going to bring their own spin and ideas, and sometimes they're going to hit you out of left field and you're not going to appreciate it all the time. If you wanted a story that was completely and utterly under your control - WRITE ONE. But don't label something a problem just because you don't agree with it. It's hard to accept that something that you didn't think of necessarily is a bad direction, but it all depends on how flexible you can be in your storyline - how much control do you want to give up? It's one of those risks that might be worth taking because you could get a better story than you ever imagined. And you and your players could have so much fun, it could be one of those games that everyone looks back upon fondly and says "Yeah, that was a great time." And that's the kind of game you want to go for, no matter how long or short it is, that's the kind of game you want.