Dexcon 2015 Recap Part 2: Shared Vision

Like many of the gamers I know and love, I started playing games with Dungeons & Dragons. My brother and I found an old copy of it in our basement growing up. We pulled out the rules and the dice and decided that we were going to fight a dragon that afternoon.

With our level one characters that we had just created.

We… did not do well.

Years later, in high school, I would become part of the crowd so many gamers know all too well. I was the only girl at the table eating Cheetos and drinking Jolt cola. I played healers and priestesses and rogues. I dungeon dived and fought gods and kings and rolled natural 1s and fell on my goddamn sword with the best of them.

The thing that always bugged me about D&D and the groups that I played with was that we did very little role playing. Mostly we just dungeon dove and rolled to fight things. I had other issues with the system, but wanting more roleplay in my role playing game was chief among my issues.

With my last gaming group, I played D&D for many years. Through college and beyond. And then, one day, I discovered other types of RPGs. I brought home the rules for Dread from a con and tried to run it for them. They never really bought into the mood of the game. They cracked jokes. The weight of what I was trying to do didn’t come through. I was a new GM, so I didn’t really know how to bring that home to them. As I have grown as a GM and a player, I have experienced numerous times the sinking feeling of sitting down at a table with a problem player. In both roles I have dealt with these players. And in both roles I have alternately failed and succeeded based mostly on how experienced I was as either a player or a GM.

So I want to talk about that. What happens at the table when not all of the players follow along with the theme of the game? It happens a lot at cons when you don’t know who will be sitting at your table. And it’s really hard to deal with as a player and a GM. In gaming groups this is a whole other issue, obviously, but at a con the issue is complicated and intensified by the fact that you are trying to get the most out of a four hour slot (and out of your weekend) and having someone at the table who is not on the same page as the other players can be really frustrating and ruin your day.

It should be said that all of this is predicated on you feeling safe and comfortable enough with yourself and the mood at the table to express your feelings to the GM and the other players.

First I’d like to address the players.

  1. The first tip that I would give you is to push your own vision a little harder in contrast to what the player in question is doing. Sometimes that is enough to let the person know that their behavior is not appropriate to the theme or setting that you have sat down together to create.
  2. If that doesn’t work, find a way to take a little break and pull the GM aside and express your concerns. Remember that the GM is there to facilitate the game for everyone so that all of the players have a good time. If you aren’t having fun or feeling safe, then they aren’t doing their job properly. Usually telling a GM is the best way to go and will result in some kind of action on their part.
  3. If, for some reason, the GM does not take any action and things do not improve, you have two options. You can continue to play and try to ignore the problematic player, or you can leave the table if the problems are too overwhelming for you. Remember that it is always within your rights as a player to leave the table. You can even go so far as to report on your experience to the convention staff if you feel like things have been badly mishandled.

Now for my GMs. Because we’ve all had this happen. You can sometimes even see it in a player’s face when someone at the table has gone too far or is making them uncomfortable. Here’s what I’ve found works.

  1. Sometimes all it takes is a word or a gesture indicating that the player should wait their turn to speak. The majority of my conflicts at the table with players have been resolved this way without moving forward at all.
  2. If the first thing doesn’t work, verbally addressing the problem is the next step. It shouldn’t be a big conversation. You don’t want to upset the player who is causing the problem by spotlighting their behavior. An example of what to say is something like “I understand that you want to have input, but it is this player’s turn to speak right now, so let’s give them their time.”
  3. I will usually give the player two strikes with #2 before a bigger conversation is needed. Remember that you don’t want to let crappy behavior drag on too long at the table before addressing it. If strike three happens, I recommend calling a break and quietly speaking with the player in question. Again, the conversation shouldn’t be long and drawn out, but should be firm and to the point. Make it clear that the comfort and fun of the other players is important to you as the GM and get them to promise to behave appropriately for the rest of the session.
  4. If you try all of those things and the player is still a problem, do not be afraid to remove them from the table. I have been GMing at cons for 6 years and have only had to do this once. It’s rare that someone does not get the hint after being talked to directly.

Those are just the tools that I have used that have proved effective. If you have other ideas, let me know about them in the comments!

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9 thoughts on “Dexcon 2015 Recap Part 2: Shared Vision

  1. And if the player responds with ‘but I’m roleplaying, that’s my character,’ then respond with an in-character shut-down. I have seen this done. The other PCs ignored him. The NPC refused to talk to the problematic PC until he responded appropriately. The other PCs ignored him.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is a super good idea. If the rest of the players are on board, that’s a great way to shut down bad behavior when it’s the way the person role plays that’s the problem.

      If things get really bad, there’s always the X card, too.

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  2. I would never try to address an out-of-game problem with an in-game solution.

    The “but I’m roleplaying, that’s my character” excuse is just that; the character doesn’t exist, it’s simply a tool being used by the player to interface with the game. If the player is being disruptive, then they have to be made aware that they are being disruptive, and their vision is in conflict with the rest of the table’s.

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    • That is definitely true. But you can make players aware that their behavior is disruptive without addressing it directly. Sometimes a single shut down like is all that is necessary to make a player shape up. I’ve seen that happen before. If, however, an in-character shut down doesn’t work, then you, of course, have to address it more directly.

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      • I think being direct and respectful is the best way to deal with the situation. Trying to handle things in-game leaves room open for misinterpretation and continued disruption. You’re both human beings engaged in a social activity; talk to each other. If you were hosting a dinner party and a guest was being disruptive, you would’t withhold beverages and hope they got the message; you’d take them aside and say, “Hey, is there a problem? You’re being really unpleasant.”

        I apologize if I’m being overly adamant about this point. I think the “handle it in-game” taps into a lot of geek social fallacy stuff present in the hobby. The game isn’t real; the people at the table are.

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      • I don’t think there is anything wrong with making one solid attempt at dealing with things in game. It shouldn’t be the go to way to deal with player issues, but it’s not a bad way to handle them as a one off.

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  3. I’m really enjoying your aftercon essays. There are a lot of different things going on in your shared vision essay and I’d like to chime in. You broke your tips into what to do as a player and what to do as a gm. I think both situations can be addressed under recognizing and addressing the Social Contract.

    If you are unfamiliar with the Social Contract its something all social creatures develope to live together peacefully (or not so peacefully) It exists in default mode if unaddressed.

    By default it’s always present and can be felt as soon as someone breaks it. Everyone but that one person gets a little uncomfortable but they don’t know why. Thats because everyone sat down with an expectation of how the next few hours were going to go and one person decided to go against the unspoken expectation.

    Actual Play experience of someone breaking the Social Contract:
    Four of us sat down to play Baron Munchausen, the fifth player came in just after the rules explanation, so we went over the rules again. Then we did introductions. Player refuses to make his character a noble. Player uses character to accuse the table of being crazy and tried to undermine the end game mechanic by refusing to vote on best story in order to make a reveal about his character and storm away from the table. After game excuses his behavior with Character motives.

    If the Social Contract had not been left in unspoken Default mode but addressed before the game then anyone at the table would have felt they had the right to call the player out on his behavior because he was clearly breaking the agreed upon rules. (Mainly the don’t be a dick rule).

    If you are lucky enough to have a local gaming group that is open to new gaming, take a few moments before game to discuss play expectation before the game. If they really enjoy the humor and kibitzing but that’s getting in the way of a more dramatic game, Let the players know you want to play something grimmer tone, more like Daredevil, then the Flash. Negotiate with them, Maybe you’ll need to break the game after a couple of scenes so the players can snack socialize and tease. Maybe have a Grim token, that you put on the table to let the players know ok its time to get serious. (Michael likes using gloves in My Life With Master. He’s all smiles and chatty and then he slowly puts on these leather gloves and all the players know the Master has just entered the scene, and all smiles stop, then when the master leaves the scene the gloves come off…its great).

    For Convention Games as a player or a GM, when the players sit down ask what tone everyone is in the mode for. If there is something you’d like, or something you’d rather not deal with. Let everyone know. You don’t even have to say I’d like to discuss the Social Contract, just announce what it is you expect during play. Then if someone breaks it, you can speak up and say “I thought we agreed, not to do that” and have the full support of the table.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That is such a great idea. I think you are absolutely right. And sometimes I’m really good at remembering to go over the social contract rules. But sometimes I forget. If a GM does that at the beginning of every game, though, it really does set a precedent for how the game is going to go and let the players know what is and is not acceptable.

      Thank you so much for sharing. 🙂

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