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Sunday, June 22, 2014

How to DM for Difficult Players

I have had to move many times in the almost thirty years that I have been a DM.  This has caused me to reboot my game and seek new groups of players more than a dozen times.  Any DM also experience player attrition, especially now that many of us are older with children to raise, jobs that pull people away from their friends.  Groups wax and wane and faces change over the years.

So what to do about difficult players?

First you need to introduce clear boundaries and guidelines of behavior for your game.  You are the host of the event, after all, whether you also are the host at your home or running somewhere else.  I find that it is easier to establish the friendly atmosphere you hope to create on your home turf and I usually like to DM at my own apartment for this reason.

Your desire for a fun social environment is just as important as the game itself.  Gaming groups mostly fall apart because one or two of the players get into a social tiff over something during the game.  Sure, part of this is when players explode and the gaming group blows up but part of this is also when the emotional drain of running for a couple of people in a group who insist on being a-holes to one another makes the DM part of the exercise no fun.  The DM gets sick of the experience.  His or her own fun time with the hobby has been turned into a drudgery of dealing with people who don't know how to behave themselves.

Here are some rules I uphold for my own D&D games which may be of use.

1.  No shouting at other players even IC.  By this no angry screaming in the face of another player.  Even when this is done IC it very rarely turns out well.  If you want to IC shout at the villain during roleplay and it is directed at me the DM that is totally fine.  I come in expecting a certain amount of emotionally up interactions as the DM based around good RP.  Often what is meant as IC shouting turns into IC shouting back and forth which is thinly veiled player shouting at each other.  So no real shouting at other players.  You can say your PC is shouting at make your statement.

2.  No throwing dice in frustration, tearing up character sheets or any other demonstrations of having a tantrum like reaction.  This is rare but it sucks utterly.  I make this rule up front by the way.  If someone has temper tantrums at the table (and there are rarely reasons to do so at my table anyway) they probably shouldn't be playing RPG's until they sort out their personal issues.  I see this as a major red flag and probably someone who does this is going to be uninvited so the group can not be destroyed by their immature behavior at the table.

3.  Be friendly.  Period.  Everyone invited to my table is someone I would like to have as a friend.  End of story.  Now as a player maybe you don't care to have Bob as your friend but I expect that you will treat Bob in a friendly fashion while at game night.  No snide comments.  No name calling.  No playground bullshit.

4.  No cheating at dice rolls.  Exception - DM behind the screen to protect the integrity of the story.  Players that feel the need to cheat at their dice rolls drive me crazy.  First, I usually notice.  I may not say anything to avoid calling you out and embarassing your forty year old ass for cheating at a silly RPG game to save you the akwardness.  The repeat cheating makes me wonder if you think I'm some kind of a dumb ass.  You know, friendly, happy person does not equal dumb ass.  I will sometimes let this slide for a few games before quietly talking to the person out of game over coffee or something.  I give one warning and the next time it happens I just don't invite them to the game anymore.

So yes, maybe I come across as a little bit of a jerk wad when I lay down these rules of friendly social play but that usually takes place at the start of a new group and takes about ten minutes.  Most of the time when people know the social rules of a gaming group they either follow them or uninvite themselves.

To be honest, I would rather replace one player early in the gaming group's life that can't manage to be friendly and fun to have in my home than deal with a jerk wad player that makes us steadily more miserable from game to game.

With some ground rules set up in advance and the expectation for positive, friendly play every game night the gaming group tends to be something everyone looks forward to from week to week and that includes me as the DM - and I call that a win.

Happy Gaming!

Ed Kann

- Please leave a hello in the comments section.  Part of the point of this blog is to make new D&D friends all over the world.

sketch by J.C. Alvarez for a fantasy project of mine quite a few years ago.  He is a wonderful person to work with.

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