A few weeks ago I got a very interesting letter.
I joined my past 2 live tabletop campaigns as a new player joining a pre-established group of players for a new campaign. In both, I’ve encountered a particularly nasty type of player that has caused no end of strife and grief, as follows:
1. Their PC immediately latches onto something about my PC, usually their race or “they act funny”, to justify constantly taunting them, insulting them, bossing them around, and shouting them down during in-character debates with words like “You don’t get to talk, freak! Shut up!” I don’t know how I got the horrible luck of being the victim twice, but I think it’s because I was the newest member of the gang and therefore the easiest target.
2. Their PC acts constantly angry and touchy, insulting NPCs we’re trying to work with and attacking them if they retort. The rest of the party often ends up running Damage Control for them.
3. Their PC either acts defeatist (“Screw it, we’re boned, let’s just go up there and attack them all!”) or reckless (“We need to save my girlfriend now! Plan? Eh, we’ll toss one together. Even if we fail, I will be reincarnated gloriously!”) and then try to shout down the rest of the party into going along. One of them nearly caused our GM to abort the campaign because he refused to let the party do anything other than kamikaze to get out of a bind. The other one insisted on going with a half-assed plan that we were warned would lead to us being shunted into a deadly plane; when it failed and we got shunted, he basically shrugged and said we were bound to end up there sooner or later.
Both PCs have made me ponder quitting the campaign outright, or having my PC slit their throats in their sleep. Both GMs complained about the players’ actions in private conversations, but either didn’t bring it up to them (“He always acts like this, just have to live with it.”) or try to change them IC ineffectively (“He’ll sober up IC once he realizes his lover needs his help.” He didn’t.). At best, the rest of the party just tolerated/ignored them; at worst, one or two of the other PCs supported their half-baked plans.
OOC, they act nice enough, if snappy at times. It isn’t until they turn IC they go mean. One of them not only made a backstory justifying why he’s an arrogant, kleptomaniac, violent barbarian, but has joked about the other PCs they have lined up and how they will annoy the party and “make you wish my first one was there instead!”
I wonder if this is a common problem in RP groups. If you take in a new player, is there usually an asshole that decides to make him a target? How often does the Instigator actively try to wreck plans they don’t agree with? Is there any way to rein them in that works?
Wow… After reading that I was speechless, then I became annoyed. You see, I have never played with such players, or if I did, they never were that aggressive and acting like jerks around me.
I started asking around on Twitter and on Gtalk and my heart sank when I realized many people have dealt with such players in their gaming groups. And many wanted insights on how to deal with them…
Now those who read me know that I’m a moderate type of blogger. I don’t rant often and I don’t stir the pot. But this… I’ve no tolerance for whatsoever.
These players (if I can use the term) are the absolute paragons of asshatery. You know those stupid griefers that keep camping your body in World of Warcraft so they could kill you as soon as you resurrect? Well they probably play D&D as described above.
That, dear readers, is the epitome of Chaotic Stupid. Socially retarded players who create characters that can’t function in any type of society even fantasy ones.
I freaking hate those players with a passion! They’re the reason why so many potential RPG geeks flee the hobby and never return to it.
Do note that I’m not talking about someone getting excited or frustrated and losing his/her temper on rare occasions. Humans have a tendency to burst when overloaded with emotions and such people usually end up apologizing shortly after that.
Now, just so you don’t think I take the easy way out of profanity, I actually have a pretty good idea of the why of such behavior. I’m ready to bet that such players are motivated by getting the players to react to his antics. They get their kicks by testing how hard they can push the group before it breaks. They seek to subvert or control the group’s dynamic.
I also think that most of these players are irremediably selfish, in my mind, the worst sin of a RPG player.
Such players are probably delighted to see none of the other players confront them. If they are confronted, they always have a plan. First they’ll start to shout and bully opponents into silence. If that doesn’t work they’ll start hurling insults or try to deflect the conflict. “It’s the DM’s fault, he let me play a Drow!” à
If all else fails, he’ll try to be made the victim “That’s it, I was just having a little fun, trying to make this boring game more lively and now you’re all against me!”
If you are familiar with the techniques used by Trash Radio DJs, such players use similar techniques. And they’re very effective techniques, I’ll grant that, just not conducive to a successful group endeavor that is a RPG Campaign.
Now as I said I don’t have much experience with such players but I will share my thoughts on spotting and dealing with such players before turning the mike to you.
Spotting an aggressive player before he joins a group is kinda hard. Unless the player proudly reveals that he’s been with 15 different groups in the last 18 months or talks about how he made super messed up PCs that pissed everyone off, chances are you can’t spot them. However, if a player starts to challenge other player’s choices, raises his voice to quell other people’s and acts aggressively toward others either in game or out of it, there’s a serious problem in the group.
I won’t lie to you, I doubt that such players can be reasoned with. Often, they will say that they see what the problem is or they’ll once again try to be made into the victim. While I advocate trying to work it out with the player, I doubt that such a player will change the motivations he seeks in RPGs.
In fact the absolute worse thing you can do as a DM is to tolerate such a player. There is absolutely no reason to allow a player to bully others out of their fun. I don’t care if you tell me that the player is the boyfriend of that girl who really wants to play in your campaign or that he’s the older brother of the guy whose house you play at.
The longer you tolerate that player in your group, the longer you’ll validate his behavior and the likelier your campaign will crash and some players will quit the hobby in disgust.
Having people quit the hobby because of that? Nothing is worth that…
And just so I’m crystal clear: You should kick such kind of players out of your games, maybe they’ll finally get the hint.
What about you? You have stories to share and/or insights on how to deal with such players?
Image Credit: Wizards of the Coast (Bully-wugs! get it?)