Everyone has encountered that problem player. The Backseat DM, the murderhobo, the MIA attendee, the phone user… just the one guy who doesn't fit into your game. Well, I have seen enough of this problem that I can provide some insight. DISCLAIMER: I am no doctor, psychiatrist, social worker or any sort of conflict resolution professional. I am an Engineer whose done like a million of those leadership courses and seen an unfair amount of experience on this topic where, as a DM I think you can help.
This Player Doesn't Fit My Campaign
Most problems players can be boiled down into this statement. Almost doesn't matter the issue, the fact of the matter is this player is not a fit for your table and is causing issue with yourself and others. You have gone through steps and verified that YES its the player, not me, not the rules, not someone else, not their character, its this living breathing dude or dudette right here. You are at the point where you wanna have a talk with them, and this is how you do it.
Step 1) Always, always, always do this 1-On-1
One on one allows you both to air your grievances and issues in a neutral setting. Do this at the table and it will cause that 1 singled out player to get very defensive very fast (corned cat analogy). It also establishes a sense of authority over the game as well. You are the DM, this is your game so when you talk to this player, its you who is in charge. This setting does not have to be in a face to face relationship. A phone call, voice chat, video chat, ect works. If you do this, just make sure its not in a distracting environment like the car or something. Throughout the remainder of this situation, you need to maintain a focused, friendly yet stern personality who stays on point to the argument and does not get heated about anything personal. The absolute last thing you want to have happen, is have this player feel personally attacked so they dig their feet in and prepare to defend themselves against any logical argument you throw. They will stand their ground and not budge not matter how much sense or how correct you are in your statement.
Step 2) Start the talk by asking them how they think of the game
Frame this initially as a chance for them to open op and talk about the game. This gets them talking, opens the floor to discussion, and makes easing the way into the more difficult part of the conversation more fluent. Coming out the gate with "this is fucked" is a good way to make a player dig in and get defensive (see step 1). Be cordial, even have a smile saying something like "Yea I loved when XZY event happened" as it now created a bond and dialogue with the player. Their guard is a bit more down, and they will be more receptive of suggestions or understanding your arguments later
Once you feel the time is right, that the player has opened up a bit and let their guard down, begin your argument.
"Thats actually what I want to talk to you about. "
Pick. Your. Battles. This is the statement where you transition the discussion into a one sided "lecture" if you will. Its important to choose this moment and wording correctly, it will depend person to person, as it can easily make them dig in and get defensive. Be careful of this. From here on out in the talk, you are in control and command of this scenario. Maintain your composure, attitude, and stay on point.
Step 3) Lay out your expectations
Immediately following your transition statement, put in what you expect out of this game and what kind of things you want to see.
This game is designed around being a mildly-serious, RP centered story. I love having players engage with each other, their stories and the world around them in a fitting way. At the same time, I think its very rewarding for players as I can find inspiration to give them great quest and story hooks for their backstory or character.
This is where session 0s are the absolute KEY of D&D. Before you play, state what you want out of the game as a DM and make your players well aware of it. They should say if they agree to this game style to play, and its here where your reinforce it. If this player is CLEARLY breaking your initial expectations, for the example above this player being a murder hobo, this further drives the authenticity of your argument home. Its your game, your table, and your world. Not theirs.
Step 4) Tell them what is wrong, but don't give specific examples
Now that you have laid out your expectations, its time to make a move. Let them know they are interfering with what you planned and expected of this game, and as a result aren't making the game enjoyable for you. YOU. Not the other players. This is your expectations, and part of your expectations is that your players have fun.
Lately, I have felt your current actions haven't really been a part of this mind set. You have been slaughtering NPCs without cause, interrupting others as they talk, and working against the direction the rest of the party is trying to move in. The result is that its starting to interfere with my passion and enjoyment in this game, and I would like to remedy this.
In this statement, you are giving them vague examples of what they are doing wrong, and how its making the game not fun for you as the DM. This is a two pronged argument and very effective. 1) If its interfering with the DMs fun… then the DM quits and there is no game. They don't want that! 2) You give no specific examples. Doing so would give them moments for their mind to latch onto and try to justify their actions. "Its what my character would do" rebuttals come from this mentality, and right out you need to squash that.
You should also say at the end of this point "I would like to remedy this" or something of the like. you have thus far buttered this person up, flip the conversation tone to be more serious, clearly denoted that something is wrong making them worry, then pointed out flaws in their recent actions. For a normal person, this is a damn good time to dig in… but you offer that olive branch of peace quick. You don't drag on for a long time about their faults. Rip that band aid off quick and get back to healing.
You are not trying to make them feel bad of vent at them, you are trying to win and argument. Stay on task.
Step 5) Give a solution, and a choice
At this point in the problem you want to kick this player. But, making that choice is tough. Make them do it.
I think its a good idea to get us back on track with the party, and keep moving forward. Sticking away from chaotic murder, and allowing others to talk without interruption will not only be fun for them, but as a DM I can keep creating new and interesting things for the game. RP and stuff gives me great inspiration, and I love to keep that sort of fun going in this game. This is what is fun for me, and what I expected when I started all this, but if we can't do this, I think it is best for you to step away to another game that fits your play style.
This statement is dangerous to make and must be planned well. It must be worded such that it is framed entirely that the game keeps going and that you are willing to have them stay in the campaign provided they meet your terms. If not, then it is THEIR choice, and their fault they leave. You gave them a concealed ultimatum all wrapped up in a bow and a friendly attitude. If they can't do what you ask, and expected of them, then its now entirely their fault and problem if it doesn't go their way. Your real ultimatum is "you leave, or we all leave", but this sounds nicer
In crafting this statement, here are 2 important pointers
1) This is not a discussion. This is a contract and deal. You have thought out your terms ahead of time and you aren't giving them the leeway to make what they want. Not "maybe a little hobo murder", not "maybe a few interuptions", no. State what you want and keep it that way.
2) Don't apologize. Apologizing makes it seem that you don't want this to be happening and are willing to budge on your terms to just make the problem go away. It also may come across to the person that you aren't the one calling these shots. "I am sorry, but I am firing you from this job" makes you think that your boss' manager is really the one wanting you fired. Its a blame shift. Don't shift the blame. Maintain your authority and stand strong. If this player has a problem, its now with themselves as you have made your position firm and clear ahead of time.
Step 6) Follow through
At this point, arguments over. You got your point across and gave them the ability to choose. You have given them no points to argue against you by not giving specific examples, and have opened up their guard to be more receptive of you. Good job, go get a DM cookie later cause this was not easy and you deserve it. At this point, its their turn to talk but no matter what you do, do not budge. Answer their questions, offer advice to help meet your expectations but if this player tries to cop out or go around your terms at a later date…. Follow Through.
Put that bullet in ol' Yeller, pull the plug, give him his fine pine box and put the bitch down. Game over. They didn't follow your agreement or didn't want to follow it, so they need to go. You have been reasonable, logical, and willing to help them so the choice to stay or go is on them. All you have to say now is:
Then I think it is best you step away from the game
Not "I am kicking you out" or anything like that, its them who is leaving not you who is removing. They made their choice and must live with it. You don't have to even argue any more. Its over, go get that cookie and get back to your game. If you want to preserve your friendship, follow this up by suggesting other stuff you can still do or play. Video games provide a structure that they cant break or go against, so try that! When you get back to the others be honest with your players about what happened and keep moving on. Biggest thing to kill games is hiatus.
Step 7) Go back to having fun
This shit sucks. No one should relish in having to do this. I sprinkled in some jokes to this post but I absolutely HATE having these scenarios. When it is over, whether your player has left or stayed get back to the game as you wanted it to be run. If your trouble player gets back on the rails, GREAT! Sometimes they may want a new character and I would definitely allow that. This is a game. Go enjoy it without the drama. When you have drama, be forceful, be on point and get it over with so when its over, its over. Go have fun you crazy kids.
Thanks for reading all this. I know its a lot and this is no easy task so I hope I helped.
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More about Dungeons & Dragons OnlinePost: "Conflict Resolution: How to have that talk with a problem player" specifically for the game Dungeons & Dragons Online. Other useful information about this game:
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