Roleplaying

Five Types of Troublesome Players – and How to Deal With Them

It’s the job of the game master to herd cats through the roleplaying campaign. While dealing with unexpected player decisions, group dissatisfaction, or the occasional argument is just another day at the gaming table, sometimes specific players will make your day very difficult.

Many of those players fall into one of following categories:

1. The Metagamer

What they are: The metagamer takes actions that are out of character based on their knowledge of the game and the GM. While it’s possible to metagame in a positive way, troublesome metagamers help their character succeed instead of improving the gaming experience for everyone. If the character knows the weakness of every opponent listed in the monster manual, acts cautiously after you call for a spot check, or is suspicious of NPCs whose ill intent was revealed out-of-game, you have a metagamer on your hands.

Why they’re troublesome: Metagaming can wreak havoc on a story. Stories require healthy doses of conflict, and a player who metagames trivializes challenges that would otherwise be significant. Their choice to act out of character waters down their roleplaying and calls attention to the mechanics of the game, rather than the experience of the story.

How to deal with them: The easiest way to reduce metagaming- particularly if it’s happening with your entire group- is to reduce the knowledge they have. Reskin your monsters so they can’t recognize them from any reference guides. Ask for regular spot and listen checks instead of only calling for them when they’re relevant to the game. If you narrate any scenes between villainous NPCs to foreshadow or build tension, don’t name or describe the characters that are talking. That way the players won’t recognize them when their characters meet them.

If you have one or two players that are metagaming at a more blatant level, gently call them out. Often metagamers simply don’t realize what they’re doing or know any better. You can help them learn better habits.

2. The Power Gamer

What they are: The power gamer views a campaign as a technical strategy game they want to “win.” They have intimate knowledge of all the mechanics of the roleplaying system, and use them to build characters with broken power-combos and min-maxed abilities. They engage the game as a series of rules to follow and exploit instead of a story that’s unfolding.

Why they’re troublesome: Power gamers often view the GM as their opponent, since they’re the ones rolling for all the monsters and villains. They may try to police you by demanding you follow the exact rules of the system, creating arguments that are tedious for everyone. If their min-maxed characters succeed, they will break your conflicts and overshadow the other players. If they fail, it will leave them feeling bitter.

How to deal with them: The power gamer is simply used to a different style of gaming. If they had a GM that was actually trying to kill the PCs, and the other players were behaving like they were, they would be fine. The best way to keep power gamers from becoming a problem is to talk to your players ahead of time to find out what they want, and tell them how you run your games. If you do get a power gamer in your group, be firm about rules lawyering, but throw them the occasional bone with some challenging combat scenarios.

3. The Derailer

What they are: The derailer is a social butterfly that is easily distracted from the task at hand. They like to talk with people, and they’re not picky about what they talk about. As a result, they’ll frequently drop out of character to chat about the latest political news or the most recent Mythcreant Podcast.

Why they’re troublesome: It’s difficult to make any progress in the game when you have a derailer at your table. They’ll distract not only themselves, but all of the other players, bringing the game or its preparation to a screeching halt. Soon there’s not enough time to get through the material you’ve planned.

How to deal with them: While GMs are used to providing direction, no one wants to feel like they’re ruining everyone’s fun by repeatedly ending conversations that others are engaged in. To manage the derailer, you’ll need help from one or more of your players. Pull them aside at a convenient time and ask them to assist you in keeping the group on task.

It’s also good to make sure that the derailing isn’t a symptom of a bigger problem. It’s normal for derailing to take hold during game preparation and other slow periods, but if you have sober players that are derailing during important scenes, they may not be happy with your campaign.

4. The Gamejacker

What they are: The gamejacker is a GM, writer, or another storyteller with lots of their own ideas. They aren’t used to the lack of control that comes with being a player in a collaborative campaign. As as result, they put a lot of effort into trying to steer the direction of the story to fit their own ideas and preferences. They think they’re being helpful by taking everyone in that direction.

Why they’re troublesome: A solid campaign depends on the participation and satisfaction of all the players. A player that strongly asserts their ideas does so at the cost of everyone else. Other players become more passive participants instead being actively involved, decreasing their engagement. On top of that, gamejackers have a knack for stepping on GM toes. They don’t know everything you’ve planned for the campaign. By steering the game in another direction, they’re ruining all your careful preparation.

How to deal with them: Most gamejackers are going through an adjustment period; given time, they’ll relax. You can speed this process by talking to them privately and letting them know the effect they’re having on the other players. If they’re a writer, tell them that roleplaying is improvisational – they have to let go and allow events to happen naturally. If they’re a GM, inform them that this is your game, and you have extensive and secret plans that will never come to fruition if they continue taking control.

5. The Joker

What they are: Jokers roleplay in a wacky and silly manner. They create one-dimensional characters that maximize novelty, and hammer that one note at every opportunity. They might spend all their energy converting NPCs to a cult that worships toilet paper, or romancing any character with a beard.

Why they’re troublesome: Jokers get enjoyment from breaking social conventions, and as a result they don’t take anything seriously. It will be impossible to have any tense or tragic moments in your campaign, because the joker will be openly mocking the story and world you’ve worked so hard on. The players who want to follow the story or enjoy the world will quickly become frustrated with the joker’s unrealistic and inappropriate behavior.

How to deal with them: Much like power gamers, jokers are used to roleplaying in a campaign that is very mechanical. Silly roleplaying allows them to make the campaign interesting for themselves, without depending on the GM or anyone else. Now that you’re the GM, you should let them know that you’ll provide a compelling story, but that story depends on them playing seriously during the critical moments. Encourage the player to add depth and realism to their character. In exchange, provide regular opportunities for them to goof off with your blessing.

General Guidelines

Regardless of why a player might be causing trouble for your campaign, these tips can help you prevent or resolve the issue:

  • Ask what your players want from the campaign. Many of the problems that occur in a roleplaying group are caused by having different goals for the game. Talking to your players ahead of time will allow you to identify and resolve potential problems early.
  • Set expectations for your campaign. All your players should know what type of game master you are beforehand. They shouldn’t be surprised when you put an emphasis on storytelling.
  • Find the intent behind disruptive actions. Players may be rules lawyers, metagamers, or gamejackers for different reasons. If you know their intent, you can provide a different way to satisfy it.
  • Don’t argue with players. Describe the reasons for your decisions when necessary, but keep it short, and don’t let yourself get drawn into an argument. If you encourage combative behavior, you’ll be creating a terrible experience for all of the players who are sitting at the table.

 

It may seem like the only solution is to kick a troublesome player out of the campaign. But many of us game with the important people in our lives, and splitting the group would rob us of the opportunity to bond with them. Even when players want very different things, clear communication can allow them to find a compromise that works. And no matter how troublesome players can be, they’re at the table for the same reason you are – to enjoy a game together.

Treat your friends to an evening of dark ritual murder. In a fictional game scenario, of course. Uncover your lost memories and save the day in our stand-alone game, The Voyage.

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Comments

  1. Rand al'Thor

    I am having problems with a certain player in my games and would like assistance from one of the Mythcreants team. Most likely Oren, but anybody else who has GMed or played Mouse Guard and knows how to deal with childish players. Okay, here we go. What happens if someone repeatedly creates characters that follow clichés and stereotypes such as:
    -parents were killed by evil dude
    -the character’s enemy hurt them for no particular reason (this one is more of a stupid one-dimensional idea)
    -Chosen One
    etc.
    They cannot be kicked out of the game and will repeatedly create these types of characters. They aren’t interested in roleplaying and just want to win. I cannot assure them that the campaign will be engaging. I run a solo campaign built for one player, where one of them occasionally drops in and out (the problem player). My real player is interested in everything in between the covers of the MG book, but my problem player does nothing but cause problems (I replace the inn sign with an inappropriate picture I drew) and roll dice (HACK AND SLASH!!!!). They call anything else boring and completely tune out. Help! Sorry for the lengthy comment, and thanks for the assistance.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That does sound like quite a pickle. So you’ve covered that you can’t get rid of the problem player. Can you distract them? They like fighting stuff. Can you just include a really difficult bad guy for them to fight while you do RP stuff with the other player?

      He sounds like he might just not be interested, not the kind of player you can reason with. If distracting him doesn’t work, it might be best to call the campaign a lost cause. Some games just aren’t worth the emotional energy.

      • Rand al'Thor

        My main problem is the 1D characters. How to fix that?

      • Oren Ashkenazi

        Well, you can’t force someone to want to make real characters. Like Chris said, it sounds like he’s mostly after validation of how cool he is.

        The key here might be to give him some kind of classic connection to the bad guy. Have the villain be his old mentor or something. That way they can have a reason to fight a lot that’s story relevant. And you can have the villain comment on how good his fighting technique is, that kind of thing. Sounds a little cliche, but it can be a stepping stone to more interesting characters. It gives a reason to care about an NPC as something other than a pile of numbers.

      • Rand al'Thor

        Thanks for the assist. I’ll try it out.

    • Chris Winkle

      Someone who wants to be the chosen one and win the game is probably looking for candy. So while doing your distraction attempt, I might suggest making the big bad completely obsessed with their character, because they’re just so badass the villain can’t rest until they’re defeated. Have random NPCs walk up and tell the problem player’s character how they’ve heard about how they defeated x y and z, and ask for an autograph. Stuff like that. Hopefully if your other player has more refined tastes, they’ll enjoy the dynamic of being in the famous hero’s shadow.

  2. T4 Referee

    I have a player who always tries to take the spotlight and make all of the storylines about her. Unfortunately, it’s not just me who’s annoyed by this. The other players can barely tolerate her. For instance, I told my players that for this campaign, I’d like it if they were all human. She thought that’d be boring, so she said she wanted to be a K’Kree (race that murders anyone who’s ever eaten meat on sight). Obviously, this wouldn’t have worked. I managed to compromise with her, by giving her a weirder homeworld than everyone else, but I’m worried she’ll be a further issue. Any way I can try to rein her in without hurting her feelings? She is my friend (ish), so I don’t want to come down too herd on her.

    • Oren Ashkenazi

      That’s a difficult conundrum to solve. Without knowing the player in question very well, I’d say you have a few options.

      1. There’s always asking them privately to tone it down. Sometimes that works, but it depends on the temperament on the player in question.

      2. Make sure their character is tied into the main plot. Often, when a player does this, it’s because they feel like the story doesn’t involve them, and they’re overcompensating. If they know they matter in the story (make them the heir to the lost throne in question, or have the enemy general turn out to be their mother or what have you), they may calm down.

      3. Give them a personal nemesis. This is someone who focuses exclusively on them, trying to murder their face. Having that kind of attention from an NPC can often soothe a spotlight stealing ego.

      4. Give them some attention away from the table. Run an online mini-session for just that player. That gives them special time where they alone can be in the spotlight, without bothering the other PCs.

    • Krssven

      I’d also go the route here of creating a personal nemesis – not necessarily the Big Bad itself, but something relevant. In a sci-fi setting (as yours sounds), you could make this some group, peripherally or strongly linked to your primary antagonist(s). Balance might well be key here – in your place I’d be keen to not let the player have their own way (otherwise what’s stopping this happening in every game?), but to also create a way that makes her feel slightly special. This can be as simple as writing plot arcs within the main game that focus exclusively on her.

      In my own experience, our current group tends to be intrigue-heavy as a few of us seem to love the ‘hidden plot that only you know’ type of quest. These should usually form secondary plots done as downtimes, email or one-to-one sessions. I’ve discovered that these players often don’t like to share information with each other, probably because they simply enjoy the feeling of having something exclusively theirs. So it is possible to go too far down that road, but by writing player-specific content that also resonates heavily with the ‘main’ plot, you’re both satisfying a problem player and stopping their unique sidequests being boring for the rest of the group.

  3. Krssven

    I’ve encountered a unique type of player that might be merger of several of the types here. There are several traits that typify this players’ characters (plural – see below):

    – Always physically inept females (not a problem there necessarily) with magic or magic-analogue abilities. So mages in fantasy or urban settings, psychics in sci-fi settings).
    – Created in a way that often leaves them either completely or partially useless to the campaign (e.g. he ‘didn’t realise’ the power tree their character has uses certain skills that they didn’t put points in, or at best use a low skill/stat combo).
    – Acts in a way completely contrary to common sense at key times (while your character having an opinion you as a player might not is good roleplaying, saying ‘my character would do this’ is not a justification for not running away from the zombies with the rest of the party).
    – A probability-defying tendency for characters to end up dead without it being particularly obvious how it happened.

    The last two points are clearly connected – this has become almost a theme for this player. Create a character only for it to die in a seemingly ‘unlucky’ way that leaves other players scratching their heads. The current record I believe for the player is five or six characters in the same game session, averaging a character death every hour or two (this was many years ago). In games I’ve been involved in, the record is three (started a session with one character that died horribly, created another which also died horribly and ended the session with a third – this character also died at a later point as an NPC, in a session GM’d by the player that created it).

    What is baffling is that the player is also a rules lover, studying all of the powers/moves that are possible in the system and often talking enthusiastically (and knowledgeably) about the game, system or both. It’s possible that the player is simply a frustrated GM that is only really comfortable in the big chair. Thankfully, when our group played my own sci-fi game, the more negative aspects disappeared. The character was still a girl with powers, but her powers were awesomely useful in every session (more importantly, the PC was good at the skills needed for them). The character still died near the end, but in one of the biggest Big Damn Hero moments that we still talk about years afterward.

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