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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.”
- 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.
- 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!