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How do I deal with this party of very different players?

Content of the article: "How do I deal with this party of very different players?"

Hi, I'm a semi-experienced GM, I've run both short and long term games in multiple different systems, however my new Curse of Strahd 5e campaign has left me in kind if a pickle.

TLDR: Players like very different types of games (one hates the other's shenanigans), there is an annoying beginner who is really slow to pick up on things and two of them accuse me of being unfair with information regarding the difficulty of encounters. How do I run a game like this?

My players are all long time friends, with whom I haven't played a longer campaign yet. The problem is that the players go from never having played a campaign (or a game where your character could actually die) to having played for years, knowing every rule, easily picking up on hooks. There also is a huge difference between what my players imagine an ideal D&D game to be like. I'll describe my problem players here and then will write how I have been running the game:

  • PP1: Experienced player, was the other GM in the class besides me in high school. He likes short-term puzzle solving, combat, investigation based on clues, moderate amount of realistic RP. Complains about how PP2 hijacks the game and that it sometimes turns into the "adventures of PP2".
  • PP2: Experienced player, knows a lot about the game, however his knowledge is super inaccurate when it comes to exact mechanics. Always plays a flashy, (mostly Evil) character that grabs the initiative, tries to influence NPCs and just generally tries to influence the flow of the campaign through (sometimes really risky) RP. Has beef with PP1, since PP1 has punished his character in his games for doing the type of RP he's doing here. Will try to play instead of the beginners (tells them what to do when it's their turn, how to build their characters, etc…).
  • PP3: Not a first-timer, but counts as one. Got used to PP1s games, where information is always available and there is usually one solution to a situation (as opposed to either endless solutions or no solution in CoS). Has no idea how 5e (or any D&D ed. for that matter) works, frequently takes 3-5 minutes to figure out which die to roll for an attack, doesn't know how her Rogue's abilities work, etc… She also calls me out for being unfair mid-game (which I can assure you I'm not, at least in the things she calls out), thinks I'm out to kill her character for some reason. Doesn't understand how an official campaign works (she thinks I made up the phantom warriors that almost killed her when she went off by herself in a high level dungeon).
  • The other three players range from "average to play with" to "I let him know every time I'm planning on running a new game".
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So I think that the difference between PP1 and PP2 is the biggest problem here, since they are on the two opposite ends of a spektrum my games tend to be in the middle of. I initially thought that a long campaign spanning 9 levels is ideal for them to play together, since both of them will have the moments they like. However apparently their concept of how a TTRPG should be played is too different for this. Idk what to do about this. (I've started giving PP2 a bit less ground for his shenanigans while trying to enable the others more, but since the last session was mostly combat, I can't tell if it's working or not.)

For PP3 I decided that I won't allow players to talk OOC during each other's turns and will only be able to do so at the start of a round. This is intended to force her to learn the mechanics. I'll also make her a color coded sheet for what she can do during a turn once I get my university shit done.

After last session I also sent a message to all players that I've had enough with them having no idea about game mechanics and I asked them to read all their spells and the Combat chapter of the PHB thoroughly. This is the second time I have had to ask this, so idk if this will do anything.

And lastly, some of them (PP2 and 3 in particular) have complained that I'm not sending enough clues or information for them so that they can identify when an area is beyond their level. So I'll give you an example here of what they complain about and please tell me if I'm doing it right or not (spoilers from Curse of Strahd):

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The fight is vs Baba Lysaga and her Creeping Hut, the party is lvl 5s and lvl 4s. This is obviously way beyond them without preparation. Clues that this will not be good:

  1. They meet a druid on the road to Berez, who said he was visiting a friend. Tells them to meet the friend and tell him he sent them. The party has only met evil druids so far, this indicates an evil friend.
  2. I read every paragraph aloud that is intended to be read to the players, so that they know that there is a giant's skull parked in front of the hut. Something that can kill a giant will absolutely clap them and they know this.
  3. Baba Lysaga is seemingly friendly, tries to give them tea (that is obviously poisoned), does so in an extremely alarming fashion. Tee poisoned & suspicious behavior –> NPC hostile.
  4. After the encounter has turned into combat (which I gave multiple opportunities to avoid), Baba Lysaga immediately casts the highest level spell she knows, Power Word: Stun. The character doesn't get to do a saving throw –> enemy is a high level caster –> encounter is beyond them.
  5. Party almost kills BL so she flies off while animating the hut. She can fly in the giant's skull –> again, this indicates that she is much stronger than the party.
  6. Hut almost kills 3 of the party of five, these 3 flee, the other two are inside, trying to kill it with low level casting (they uncover the gem, but it never occurs to them that they should take it out). They just assume BL won't come back and they can kill the hut with just their cantrips. They overstay their welcome, Baba Lysaga instakills them with Finger of Death and Blight.

I think I gave enough clues here both in-game and out of game. Please tell me so if I did not. The characters who died were also marked by Strahd to be killed since they tried to exterminate a wagon of Vistani children.

So sorry if this was long, thank you for reading. Can you please give me recommendations on how to run this game? I don't want to kick players or anything, since everybody gets along out of game really well. I am also trying to run my type of game (reasonable mix of RP and really tactical combat with rewarded exploration and puzzles/prophecies that span multiple sessions) while adhering to the needs of my players.

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Thank you for your help in advance!

Source: reddit.com

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