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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.