Welcome to my first article for the Yawning Portal. I hope you stay a while for i have much to show you.
I am slowly approaching my 25th year of running roleplaying games. It is a hobby, a lifestyle, that has kept me sane through adolescence, comforted me through more than one breakup and enriched my life through growing my empathy for others and adding legions of like minded people to my circle of friends.
At first we called ourselves Dungeon Masters, later Storytellers, but for the last few years i have come to see it more as a guide of sorts. I am no one’s master, or they would just do what I tell them making for a very dull game, and I do not tell a story alone. Even if by some sort of golden rule I have some sort of omni-power at my table I would be hard pressed to fill the seats if I held the reins that tightly. I believe that the greatest skill required to run a game is to mind that everyone at the table is involved and enjoying the company of the other players.
With the advent of online messaging boards and later social media I have frequently noticed that a lot of tabletop gamers, be they at the head of the table or not, seem to have trouble with the social aspect of the game and what to do when one or more of the people at the table seems to counter the goal of sharing fun through an interactive story. With that in mind I want to write a short set of spells for less experienced gamers to follow for defusing these sort of situations. Some of these steps should be tried several times before the fifth and final step is implemented.
1: Friends – The first and most important rule is to play role playing games with people you genuinely like and that like you back. I understand that sometimes you have to play with strangers because there is a drought of groups in your area but with the advent of pages like Fantasy Grounds and Roll20 this should be a problem in the rear view mirror. With mutual trust the likelihood of someone sabotaging the game drops significantly.
2: Identify – Your best proactive trick is to be aware of the group dynamics at your table. Is the conduct of one of your players distressing the others and causing a potential problem in the future? Often the problem can be corrected before the real damage is done.
3: Charm Person – If the problem at the table is caused by one person’s actions it is often best to speak to them outside of the gaming area in a calm manner. Avoid it becoming confrontational and inquire what the player hopes to accomplish with his actions. Maybe the player has mistakenly determined that his actions are ok with everyone or, as is most often the cause, is treating the game as some sort of single player computer game without fully realising his actions. Many players have trouble adjusting to a more shared storytelling environment and often a friendly talk can squash the problem right there.
4: Shield – If the problem continues unabated it is now OK to admonish the player when and if the problem arises at the table. It might be inadvertent or, if the player never intended to listen to your advice, malicious. If you intend to confront the player at the table I recommend that you discuss it with the rest of the group before hand to gauge their reactions. If they do not agree with you on the player’s behavior being a problem then this step can lead to further problems within the group.
5: Banishment – If all the other steps fail your only option is to remove this player from your group. Sometimes it is acceptable to do it overtly, discussing it with the rest of the group and then informing the player of your joint decision, but if real world friendships are on the line you might have to do it more covertly, either quickly finishing your campaign or letting it die and simply not invite the offending player to join in on a later gaming venture. Be advised that there might still be fallout from this decision even when handled perfectly. In the long run it will still be better for your game going forward. This step might seem cowardly or in some way bullying the player in question but in my opinion you have given the person several chances to adjust his or her behavior before this nuclear option is used.
Armed with this magical knowledge you should be better equipped to confront any Trolls at your table but sadly there is no magical cure, there will always be confrontation that you as the leader of your table must mediate and human hurdles to be surpassed. How we deal with it is what defines us as players. I hope you will come back to the Yawning Portal for more tips, tricks and troubleshooting so I will see you next time!