As a Dungeon Master, sooner or later (or even at your very first game session), you are going to encounter difficult players. I use the term difficult rather than bad because many players just need educating and can learn to become better players.
More often than not, the reason the player may be difficult, is due less to their skill as a player and more because they have a certain type of personality trait. Because of this, part of their education is going to be in controlling that part of their personality. As the Dungeon Master, you must first remember that you are there for the players, and not the other way around, but you have every right to expect certain standards and behavior from your players, and should strive to ensure that those standards are adhered too. If a player is difficult it is ultimately down to you (sometimes with the aid of the other players) to correct the issue.
Dungeons and Dragons is a game we all play for fun. If one or more players are causing the game to be less fun for you or the other players, it is time to step in and educate them in a constructive and meaningful way. We are going to look at ways to achieve that. However to do this we are going to detail a few of the typical types of difficult player. Before I go any further I will say that to try to put a person or a player in a category or type is not a good thing. For one thing, most people are complicated and may fit in one or multiple categories and each individual is probably worthy of their own individual classification. The reason for these “difficulty types” is to help show examples and ways to deal with them. I am in no way trying to state that all players fall under one of these types. On the other hand you may have players that seem to “fit” one or more of these, and present these difficulties around the table. We will detail the typical player difficulty types first, and then discuss how to deal with them. Finally I will close with some important advice on when and how to address things in general.
The rules lawyer.
“I disagree. If you look at page one hundred and forty fore you will see that speaking is a free action. You say it is a speech and therefore takes an action but it clearly says speaking beyond more than a few sentences is generally beyond the limits of a free action, but that was only a few sentences. They may have been long sentences, but I specifically chose the words and spoke the way i did with that in mind.”
This is the type of player that knows the “rules” inside out and is going to quote them frequently. They are going to question your calls as a Dungeon Master and may well argue the point with you at the table. Often they will be quick to point out an error to another player also, and not only cause disruptions to the flow of the game, but typically create tension and in some cases resentments.
SOLUTIONS: Remind this player that you are the Dungeon Master and you have some house rules in place that override some of the rules in the manual. affirm to him that the “rules” are in fact only guidelines and are not all going to be strictly adhered too. Inform this player that there are often reasons why things do not happen as he expected them to, and that he trust your judgement.
The Meta Gamer.
“I have decided even though my character has no idea what the armored four legged creature with strange antenna is, I am going to use my wooden club and not my plus two magic tow handed sword for this fight.”
This type of player is going to use player knowledge about a particular encounter, spell or situation and apply it to his character in some way to benefit his or herself. Regardless of whether or not their character would or should have this information. They make choices that there is no logical reason for their character to make, and will often try to come up with a flimsy excuse to justify their chosen course of action.
SOLUTIONS: Remind the player that he is playing a character and ask him to justify why his character would choose to do that, or how his character acquired knowledge that would lead him to act in such a way. Change things up so that often the information the player uses to act upon is incorrect in this situation. This will cause him to second guess his information in subsequent future situations. For example maybe this particular Babau demon is not vulnerable to cold iron, and instead is vulnerable to silver. Or the creature that looks in every way like a rust monster is in fact a hybrid and spits acid to eat through metal as apposed to touching it.
The Min Max er.
“So I dropping my wisdom to three as I have very few skills that require wisdom and boosting my Dexterity to sixteen. That way I can add another point to dexterity at level four and again at level eight and twelve to get to nineteen, and by then my base attack bonus will be high enough to take the Improved Precise Shot feat.”
Every choice this player makes is designed to improve his character to be the best statistical and most effective character he could possibly have. Choices are not made based on the story, or role playing aspects of the game, and are often planned many levels ahead. Each action during play will also typically be based on aspects like, what will do the most damage, or result in the least amount of harm or inconvenience for their character.
If this type of player is a difficulty to you, you are probably playing a story driven and role play intensive campaign. Insist that the player can only do something if his character has the opportunity to do so. Can only learn a feat that his character has circumstantially had reason or ability to learn. Make encounters that have there success dependent on role playing and not on statistics or dice rolls. Create situations that highlight the minimum aspect of their character and not the maximums (although not constantly so as to be picking on the player). Bring attention to how much fun the players with more rounded and realistic characters are having. Finally if you like a points buy system for character creation, I suggest using one of the dice roll methods instead with these kinds of players.
“My character is going to wait for Jim’s character to go to sleep and then I am going to break into his room and steel his gold from his back pack. If Jim’s character catches me I am going to kill him.”
“My character does not want to go with the group, instead he goes off into the forest by himself.”
“I am a rogue so I am going to try to steal the gem from Robs mage because that’s what my character would do”.
This player typically is going to do things that do not go along with the rest of the group and will often be aimed at acquiring personal gain. This gain may be for the betterment of his or her character, or in getting more attention from the Dungeon Master or more personal play time. Typically his actions will damage the flow and time management of the game, and cause party unity to fail. Often it will spill over in to real life situations and tension between the players and sometimes also with the Dungeon Master.
SOLUTIONS: Create situations where the consequences of antagonistic behavior only apply to that persons character. Maybe an Non Player Character saw the offending player casing out the window that leads to Jim’s room, and suspecting a potential robbery he warns everyone in the inn of what he saw (the other characters included). It may become necessary to remind the offending player that this is not a player verses player game, and that everyone else is unhappy with his choices of character and actions, and he should reconsider his behavior, alignment or character personality. You can also choose to restrict certain alignments that lead to justification of this type of action.
“My character is going to make fart noises as the princess walks past.”
“Instead of listening to the nobleman as he tells us about his daughters kidnapping, I am going to get drunk and dance on the table.”
This type of player just doesn’t take the game seriously. They do random things for their own amusement of in an attempt to amuse others. Often their choice of actions cause undesired consequences during game play or just dam right annoy others at the table. They will often also attempt to “troll” the Dungeon Master or other players.
SOLUTIONS: Never pander or laugh at the clownish behavior. Skip over it and dismiss the acts quickly and do not elaborate on the outcome of the actions. From time to time you may want to introduce a negative consequence that only applies to the clown and not the other players. Be seen to reward players that get into the moment and maintain the mood of the game.
The Obsessive Compulsive.
“I had twenty four arrows at the start of the fight. I now only have sixteen. I pull the four arrows out of the corpse of the ogre but I want to go and find the other four arrows that missed.”
“I know the bard is wearing a red shirt, but what material does it look like it is made from, and what kind of patter is on it.”
This player typically obsesses over the tiniest of details to the point where it is disrupting and slows down game play. From time to time the little details matter but to this player every detail matters constantly. They obsess over things like durations (to the second).
SOLUTIONS: Remind the player that the information is not necessary and for the sake of keeping the game flowing you are not elaborating beyond what you already have. Make simple rules to resolve certain situations such as for every arrow that misses we will assume you find half of them in an unusable state, and we will say this is the case from here on out. Point out that their as the players character has been distracted wandering around the dark tunnels their is no way he can know how many minutes of light his lantern has left. The less you allow this kind of player to extract the information he wants from you, the less he will continue to ask or expect it.
The Distracted Player.
“Sorry can you repeat what the guard said to me again? I was looking at my phone”.
“Oh is it my turn to act, err OK so what just happened?”
This player is usually only playing to “hang out with his buddies”. Generally has less interest in the actual story and game itself, and more in just being part of a social experience. They will often be doing other things when their character is not directly expected to act, and can cause a distraction to the others around them also. They slow down the game play and hinder the effectiveness of the group, and often make unnecessary mistakes due to not listening or paying attention.
SOLUTIONS: Globally ban distracting devices from the table. “OK guys time to start the game, so please put your cell phones in your pocket and put away anything that is not directly required to play the game”. Try to make sure that even when you are not specifically dealing with a particular character, the actions that are going on are interesting for everyone, and make sure to rotate your time between players equally and fairly. If you notice a player becoming distracted, you should immediately engage them with a simple acknowledgment. “Are you OK Tom, you look a little distracted”. Often this is enough to pull their attention back. You can also tell the players that you expect them to be ready to tell you what their next action is going to be as soon as you get to them, so while it is not their turn, they should be preparing for their action.
The control freak.
“OK John your warrior should charge the Ogre, while Dave takes his rogue into the bushes and attempts to sneak up behind it for a back stab. Helen you have your sorceress cast magic missile as John runs in, so there is no danger to John and its a guaranteed hit. Robs cleric needs to be ready to heal John should he get hit”.
This player wants to run the entire game. Typically they deem themselves good players and are eager to dictate a course of action for the other players in their group. Usually this is not because their character is one that has a leadership roll (although they will often choose these types of characters)but because they as a player feel the need to control the situation.
SOLUTIONS: use simple statements like “tell me what YOUR character is doing”. Remind the other players that it is their characters job to put a bossy character in place, however remember it is your job to put a bossy player in his place. Inform the player that he can not dictate the actions of any other player, and only his own, and then ask the other characters what THEY would like their character to do. If he complains and says something like “that’s dumb if you do that we will all get killed,” Tell him that as they do not have time to discuss the actions before they happen his character is not aware of the other characters actions until they are actually being performed.
I could detail more fringe types but for the most part the above covers it.
So if you have one or more of these players in your group (and bare in mind some players may fit multiple types) what do you do? Well first I will say to some Dungeon Masters, not all of the above are really seen as a problem. You may like a very detail orientated game so the Obsessive Compulsive player may not be an issue to you. However when you are having difficulty with a player that acts in one of these ways, and its lessening or even ruining the enjoyment for yourself and the other players its time to act.
HOW TO HANDLE DIFFICULT PLAYERS IN GENERAL:
The very first thing to do is not to over react, and to ensure that before you take action that it is a continuing pattern of behavior. Even the best player may sometimes exhibit a behavior that you are not happy with, but as long as it is the exception and not the rule, you should let it slide.
The next thing to do is to talk to the offending player ALONE (at least initially). Do not pull him up and embarrass in front of his peers, instead catch him one on one before or after the game or at another opportune moment when the other players are not present. When you do confront him, begin by asking him does he realize what effects his actions are having on the game, and is he aware that he even does what he does? This may sound odd but often people do not realize they act a certain way. Sometimes just pointing it out and asking them to be aware of it in future and to do their best to keep it in check will work.
If they do know they are doing it, then it is your job to explain to them why it is not a good course of action, and the consequences that it has on the game. Explain to them the way you do things and why you do it. Be sure to explain to them the benefits of acting in an alternative way and not just the negatives of their actions. In some cases it may be a good idea to ask the other players (privately) to talk to their fellow player, especially if it is a friend and tell them that they think the game would be better if they refrained from or changed their choices of actions.
Finally you have to realize some times in life some people just do not gel with the rest of the group. If you have done everything you can to correct the difficult players behavior and it has had no affect, then you may have to break down as a last course of action ant tell them that their playing style just does not fit the rest of the group and that they may want to consider finding a different group of more like minded players. While this sucks, your job is to provide a great game for the players, and if one person continually makes that an unachievable goal, then it may be time to cut them lose……