Four Ways to Handle Troublesome Roleplaying Game Players
If you play tabletop roleplaying games, you have undoubtedly run into “that player.” No, not the one that shows up on time and always brings snacks. You can’t get enough of those, and I’m not entirely sure that they aren’t mythical. No, I’m talking about the player that turns the game from a pleasurable escape into a tedious chore, through their antics. Either they are constantly scheming to backstab the other players, argue constantly about the rules, don’t pay attention, or are disruptive to the game. They are the ones that make us sometimes dread going to games, and they can often cause even the most tightly-knit group to fall apart.
This article isn’t going to attempt to identify each type of troublesome player. What might be troublesome at your table, may not be troublesome at others. The example above, of the player who constantly schemes to backstab the other players – that might be welcome at your table, and even be a part of the kind of roleplaying experience that you are creating. Instead, this article will present some basic, general strategies for handling players who are disruptive or troublesome.
Tip #1 – Keep Them Busy
As the saying goes, “Idle hands are the devil’s sweatshop.” Players who are getting bored are going to do things to alleviate their boredom. And this is where the troublesome player will often become even more of a problem. However, if you keep them busy, off balance, and constantly on their toes, then they’ll be so focused that they won’t have time to be disruptive.
This can become draining, however, and your other players (who aren’t disruptive) might become frustrated over the pace that you are setting. They might prefer a more thoughtful pace, so the trick is to keep the disruptive player busy, but in a way that affects only them. Have special encounters, which involve only them. Or create some kind of specter or curse, but something that only they can experience, and which will only be a threat to them. Anything which will keep that player constantly off balance and on guard.
One thing to be wary of – strive to avoid making it seem like you are targeting just them. This may sound difficult, but if you make sure to show leniency and fairness, you shouldn’t have a problem.
On the other hand, if they get angry and leave, well, that’s one way to solve the problem, yes?
Tip #2 – Make Them the Boss of Something
This one might be confusing to some people, but the idea is that you want the troublesome player to take some ownership in the game. You want him to invest in the welfare of the game, and when he is invested, he will work to make sure that his investment is protected. To get him to invest in the group, give him some responsibility. Make him the party mapper (yes, groups still use these), or give him some important task for the group. If possible, take him aside and ask him, as a personal favor to you, the game master, to help out some of the more inexperienced players. The dividends will be a player who is more interested in the group succeeding, and less interested in being an obstacle.
If you are wondering where I came up with this idea, it was simple. Back a million years ago, I managed a convenience store. We would often have employees who weren’t very interested in their job, and the turnover rate was terrible (it always is in retail). To salvage employees who may not have been great workers, but were consistent about showing up to work, I would make them “shift leader” or “assistant manager.” I would give them a title and a nominal amount of additional responsibility. The result was always a phenomenal turnaround on the part of the employee. They would become invested in their job, and then what had been a liability, was now an asset.
Tip #3 – Direct Confrontation
If you’ve tried other things, and they haven’t worked, or if you simply don’t have the time to muck about, then you are just going to have to sit down with the player and have a talk. This may not be comfortable, but it can be productive, and it certainly will clear the air and create the potential for positive change. It might also result in a table flip and an angry friend, but that might be the root of the problem, yes? So it’s important to remain friendly and diplomatic, and try to be understanding. Firm, but fair. Clarify the problem, stick to the point, and suggest solutions. They might be appreciative, they might be angry – either way, it’s the most direct route to a solution.
Tip #4 – Sometimes it’s got to be done
And finally; sometimes it’s necessary to ask a player to leave the game. Sometimes, people don’t get along, or have different expectations of what they want from the game. Personalities collide, and those clashes present obstacles, and sometimes it’s impossible to get past those obstacles. Sad but true, human beings sometimes don’t get along with other human beings. It’s at times like these when, despite your best efforts, you have to ask the player to leave the game and perhaps find a different game, one that is more suited to their play style. Don’t be mean, or point fingers. Just be honest, but firm. They will probably get angry – and that’s ok. Just restate your feelings, and your concerns for the group. Try not to speak for the group – instead, speak only for yourself. That way it won’t feel like the group is ganging up on the player.
So, there you have it—my best 4 tips for dealing with troublesome players.