Dealing With Problem Players

There always has to be that one guy.  The guy that just isn’t quite on the page with everyone else.  Maybe he’s obsessed with being as evil as possible in an otherwise good group, possibly he’s good but just likes to pick fights, or he just disrespects the other player’s time by talking out of game too much or being too distracted.  These people aren’t bad people generally, they just honestly have trouble fitting into the group and cause group disruption either in game or out of game.  So what are some ideas to help these players get along with the rest of your group while hurting the fewest possible people?

In my groups the biggest type of problem player I’ve found is generally the type that thinks the answer to any problem is the sharpened head of their axe.  Some like to play more evil characters and others just don’t get that though they might just run in there swinging that’s not necessarily what the party wants to do.  Some extreme examples in games I’ve been in are the lawful good elf ranger that thought he needed to talk to the king but the king wouldn’t listen, so this elf decided to try to lasso and then attack the king so he would be forced listen.  Another example is a human warlock ruining hours of planning on how to deal with a pack of feral gnomes because he decided he’s racist against gnomes.  The party had set up a whole long way of dealing with the gnomes that would be advantageous to everyone involved and this person just starts killing gnome’s on sight causing one of the largest instances of genocide in D&D history.

You have to wonder what these people were thinking and why they chose to antagonize the rest of the party.  I’d say both of those examples have two different causes.  In the first example the player was frustrated by a lack of direction.  He didn’t work well without clear guidance and so he’d try to force the GM’s hand.  When he got confused he would just do random, generally violent, things to try to figure out what he needed to do next.  Sadly the GM of this game recently gave up on that campaign in large part because he let this player go on for too long and the player had literally wasted months of play and 10 or so main story leads.  At the end there really was no way for the entire country the party was in not to hate the party and want to kill them on sight.  So how best to deal with the frustrated player?  This may sound like holding their hands too much, but for the sake of the other players when I’ve had that player in my campaigns if he is about to do something stupid I will explain more about the situation and specifically say things that make it obvious that what he’s doing is a clearly bad idea.  Sometimes I’ll just have an NPC much stronger then that character hold him back if he’s really on a tangent.  He is a good guy and not a bad player all the time, but he has ruined campaign sessions for people with his antics and those have to be dealt with.  Sadly he continued to have a negative effect on the campaign and I eventually had to tell him he needed to change his play style or find another group.  I see this as the absolute last option, but sometimes that’s the only way.  He chose to find another group.  We are still friends and he’s happier with his new groups which are more on the belief that if it’s an NPC it should be killed at some point.

The other example is a bit darker.  The player had a character quirk (a very unrealistic one) that he had to kill gnomes on sight for no reason other then he randomly hated short things.  Aside from this he was an antagonizer to the party.  He would use area of effect spells without a care about hitting party members and would threaten nearly every NPC they met.  He wanted to be a nearly evil character and in doing so brought down the fun for everyone else.  So how did I deal with him effectively?  I killed his character.  My policy is if you do something stupid, specifically something you know will piss off everyone else and that you know is stupid…well, I’m not going to hold your hand.  Usually I’ll say “Are you sure?” and if they continue I have very little mercy.  His character had gotten out of hand and he needed to die.  When he went to make a new character I enacted a rule that all new players must be Chaotic good or better.  This seems a bit harsh, but the party had already positioned themselves as a generally good one so realistically they’d only accept other good characters into their ranks anyway.  Oddly enough he plays good characters fairly well.  He’s still a bit of a jerk, but a good one.  And overtime he’s become someone that actually argues for party unity…which is odd considering there were multiple occasions where there would be violent in-game inter party fights caused by him.  It turned out the character he needed to play was the good, but still very prideful, character.

Finally there’s the type of player that’s a burden on the game but for out of game reasons.  Everyone accidentally does these types of things.  We might not know the rules well enough or can’t think about what we should do so we take a while on our turn.  There’s nothing wrong with that, unless it becomes a habit.  Usually the cause is genuine ignorance of the rules or people getting bored.  The problem with the rules is usually fixed by time.  Players getting bored is another issue and really it needs to be worked from both sides.  Oftentimes I’m to blame for part of it.  Maybe the group gets into too many long out of game discussion (I’ve seen Star Wars sessions get entirely spent by talking about various rules or comics) or maybe combat or GM preparation for an encounter is taking too long.  I try to fix this by limiting out of game discussion to short bursts (no matter how excited I am about the topic), making sure I am prepared enough before the session that I never need more than 60 seconds to refresh myself on what’s coming up next, and keeping combat moving by informing whoever’s next that they’re on deck.  For larger groups where combat becomes even more cumbersome I sometimes even enact a 30 second rule.  If you take longer then 30 seconds to take you’re turn you lose it.  The other side of the coin is the player.  Usually this can’t be handled in game, but sometime out of game when I can get them alone I will talk to them about the distractions.  I’ll mention it’s slowing the campaign down and ask politely that they try to pay more attention.  It is rather selfish to be willing to impact other negatively because you don’t want to be bored while paying attention.

Helping problem players become better players is a very difficult part of GMing.  I don’t want to kick anyone out if I can help it because oftentimes given enough time around the right group of people they will become better players.  People who can work as a team.  But the needs of the many outweigh those of the few.  If the player can’t change and your other players are thinking of leaving your campaign because of how much negativity that player brings then you may have to take more drastic measures.  It’s very important, for the sake of everyone’s enjoyment of your campaign, that you identify problem players early on and deal with them.  Letting it go and hoping they will get better on their own usually ends in heart break.

Tell us your problem player stories and your ideas on how to deal with the effectively in the comment area below.

[tags] Role Playing Games, Dungeons and Dragons, Geek, Game Mastering [/tags]

2 thoughts on “Dealing With Problem Players

Add yours

  1. I was a problem player. I realized it on my own, I reformed the way I was playing. I have more fun now, but still get frustrated with people who try to parley with bugbears but have no problem pickpocketing commoners.


  2. Another thing to do about problem players is have an open discussion about it in the group. Although, this is more if there’s more than one problem player – since it may be seen as a personal attack.


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