Going Pro: The Problem Player
There a many ways to address a problem player. To start, try vetting your players using our review system.
We all know the term… “that guy.” No one wants him (or her) at their table, they are the topic of a good percentage of the reddit threads, and they helped spawn the phrase “no D&D is better than bad D&D.”
But a DM will have to learn to deal with them… potentially in every game, for they are drawn to TTRPGs like novice adventurers are drawn to a will-o-wisp. I’m not going to spend time discussing how I think they should be categorized (that’s already been done), but what follows is my experience in dealing with them.
Only Accept Players You Know in Person
One good way to avoid most of the issues is to only play with people who you know relatively well. If you’ve seen someone at their bad moments and are still friends, there’s a good chance you’ll be able to make it through a TTRPG campaign without too many problems. People change, however, and there is a chance that D&D will bring out the worst in your friends, but if you want to avoid playing with “that guy” this is usually the best option.
Vet your Players
Most people don’t seem to have the luxury of playing with people they know. The rise of online platforms like roll20 and fantasy grounds has made it easier to meet and play with people we’ve never even met before. But that comes with a huge problem–what kind of players are these, and will they cause problems? The best solution is to try and vet the people for your game. My last game on roll20 had a page of instructions and requirements, followed up by 14 questions the applicant had to answer. The problem was, just like a job interview, people often look and portray themselves better than they really are. Even after vetting and playing three “session 0’s” with them (both separately and as a whole party), I still had one person rage quit because I enforced the rules, and two who couldn’t resolve a problem with a different player. Even a three step process couldn’t ensure good players.
That’s why I developed this website. When other players are reviewing DMs and players they’ve played with, the information is likely to be more honest. This will hopefully make the “player conflict” a much rarer issue. If you want to be part of this mission, head over to our subscription page (there’s free options!) and create a profile.
Player to Player Resolution
No matter how mature or chummy your players are, conflict is bound to happen. When it does, I usually try to have the players solve it between themselves first. I may mediate, but if the problem is between players, its best that they talk it out and work to a conclusion together. It can be done either in or out of session, but if all players involved are attempting to communicate and actually solve the problem, the issue typically stops at this point.
DM to Player Resolution
When an issue is between player(s) and DM, or when players can’t fix the problem themselves, it’s time for the Dungeon Master to step in. The fact is, conflict resolution and “player management” is a huge (and often the hardest) part of being a DM. When I talk to a player about issues I usually try to remind them that this is a team game, and while they are entitled to their own style of play and character development, everyone has to compromise so that each player gets a bit of what they want. I’m usually pretty patient with this (I ask the other players to be as well), and as long as it seems like the player is making an effort to improve and address their issues, I don’t take any further action.
Up the Consequences
Depending on what the issue is, you can attempt to fix the problem using natural game mechanics or plot devices. Is the player killing everything in sight? Send Reavers after them or put a huge bounty on their head. Is the player hoarding all the loot? Make their favorite item stolen or make the items cursed. If the player is a spotlight hog, throw in situations which require the other players to help to succeed. A lot of times players will need this in addition to a talk from the DM, but if they have an example of natural consequences within the game, it’s likely to curb their most annoying behaviors.
I hate taking this action, but as a last resort, it is the most effective. If the player just can’t get along with others, and refuses to change, learn, grow, or compromise, then the last option is to kick them from the game. Admittedly, this is much harder if you’re playing in person or with friends, so if it comes down to it you can just disband the game entirely. You’ve heard the saying “no D&D is better than bad D&D”? If a booted player is going to be difficult even after they’re gone, perhaps disband the campaign and find a different make up of people to play with.
Are They Really a Problem?
Before you take any action, make sure the player is actually a problem. Is there a legitimate criticism with your DMing that you need to address? Is it simply a difference of play styles that you can both compromise on? Is the player new and open to learning, among other things, etiquette? Before taking the uncomfortable steps of conflict resolution, make sure they’re actually needed.