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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

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 gender-
bending - not an issue except that I don't think he grasped the female psyche very

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

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

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.

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