Chatty’s Mailbag: Good Troll Hunting

Last week, I got an interesting email from M. asking advice about dealing with “That Guy” in his RPG group.  Contrary to the ones we discussed in that panel in Toronto, everything seems to indicate that M.’s guy is NOT one to get the generic “you have to be the flexible one to fit him in your game” answer.  Quite the contrary.

Here goes:

I need some advice because I’m at my wits end.

Scene 1: The bandits who had attempted to extract a toll from the party for using the road now lie dead at their feet. The party naturally begins to search their bodies for anything of value to them. The gnome bard (brand new player, very first session with us) locates two rubies. He botches a thievery check to slip them into his pocket unnoticed.

The Half-Orc rogue (problem player) decides he’s going to march over to the gnome, lift him by his throat and intimidate him for trying to pocket the rubies. Tension begins.

See here, being the kind of DM I am, I would immediately stop the game right there and have a “players to players to DM” discussion about everyone’s personal thoughts on treasure sharing and willingness to explore thievery, intimidation and bullying as character development themes.  I’m doing a little bit of BSing here because I’m 95% sure that “problem player’s” problem is that he’s an incorrigible jerk… but I’d give the bullying player a chance to realize what he’s doing and I’d give the players a chance to take say something and not let their DM do this alone.

Scene 2: The party are doing fairly well making their way through a goblin hideout in the mountains. They then locate a closet filled with items confiscated from the goblin’s prisoners. The bard finds a magic shortsword. He splits the rest of the loot, but decides to keep the shortsword for himself (which is fine, I intended it for him). The problem player begins to whine and complain that the shortsword is much better suited for him and even declares that the bard needs to watch himself because the sword will go missing.

Later after the goblin king is down, the rogue loots him before anyone can get two words in edgewise. And as soon as they locate the treasure hold that the key goes to, he cuts everyone off again and declares that he’s grabbing as much loot as he can. I try to fight this off by him discovering a holy symbol +1 to is clearly meant for their cleric. He informs me that it’s okay that the bard keeps the sword, he’ll sell the holy symbol and use the gold he found for a better weapon anyway.

All right, there’s no question your problem player is a acting like a jerk as such but you have another big problem I’ll go into later.  For your more obvious issue, you’d need to deal with with it in a direct way.  Talk to every other player between games and get their opinions on the matter, they’ll likely echo your feelings. After that,  meet your problem player one on one and share, in a straightforward, assertive way, what you and the others don’t like about the way he plays.

No ‘Mr. Nice Guy roundabout, no vague but “obvious” hints.  Go for the kill:  “We don’t like it when you… When you said/did that thing, we all felt XYZ and so on.

I touched this subject in two previous articles that might be of interest to people with similar issues:

The Stages of a RPG Team’s Development: Norming: At the end I discuss dealing with selfish players, which acting like a  jerks is a very common manifestation.

Friday Chat: Dealing with Aggressive/Jerk Players: A similar mailbag article where I share my very strong  position on such players.

However M., your second case indicates something important I missed when I first answered your email.  Your group has a treasure sharing problem that should be addressed real quick.  All this talk of slipping gems unnoticed and “deciding”‘ that a piece of equipment is now the possession of  X mearly by grabbing it first is a disaster waiting to happen.

In fact, I think that your socially disruptive player has honed in on that weakness. Troublemakers often have a knack at putting their fingers on what doesn’t quite work in a game and breaking it open for better disruption.  Most of the hat-assery you relate in your letter seem to support that theory.

When the PCs who get magic items are determined by who rushes the bodies first, that’s a recipe for trouble.  Modern “vanquish and loot”  RPGs are about team play and that can’t stop as soon as the last breathing orc expires or runs away.  This should be addressed, either informally or within a more formal agreement known as the social contract (as I discussed in the first document linked above).

But I haven’t let M. finish, go ahead friend…

I’ve had about all I can take of this player. Every character he has ever played has always behaved in a way the shows that he has to be bigger and better than everyone else. And when I confront him about it, he just argues it’s what his character would do and that I asked them to roleplay and that’s what he’s doing. I’m fairly sure there should be a jackass clause in there somewhere.

Yes, there should… but it won’t spontaneously appear in your group sans discussions.

In addition, he whines and complains if something doesn’t work out the way he thinks it should. He complained when the farmers that they were helping defend their farm wouldn’t fight more tactically to help him get into flanking to he can use sneak attack. Another character of his, paladin uses his divine challenge on a blue dragon, then he complains when the dragon is smart enough to focus his attacks on him. It just goes on and on and on.

Yup, selfish as hell… no doubt. Also, like Robin said in Toronto, some players’ core motivations in a RPG is to disrupt the groups social dynamics, all the time.  Like those who always play ninjas or elven bards, some players always create bullying asocial brutes and blame the PC for their own acts…

…AKA Trolls.

Hey McBrain! You made the character, hello!

These are the hobby’s rotten apples, throw them away… If they’re a good friend of yours, now’s the time to have a good heart to heart about your shared social activities.

I’m at a lost as to what to do about this player. I feel like I put a lot of effort and time into planning these games and after each I go home wondering why the hell I even bother.

All tough talk aside dude, I really feel your pain.  Here are my final suggestions:

  1. End the campaign, blame DM burnout if you don’t want to confront your problem player
  2. Start a new one, minus Captain Jerk
  3. Have players do a group character creation session
  4. Discuss common group values (both as players and as PCs), including how to deal with treasures
  5. Start having fun again

Anyone else had/have similar issues?  How did you deal with it?  Anything you’d like to share with M.?

Image taken from


  1. Good Evening,

    Interesting topic. I am surprised the GM is allowing the PCs such quick actions such as “the rogue loots him before anyone can get two words in edgewise” – how does that happen. Aside from observation rolls and then everyone generally crowding about the rogue as he tries to stuff a tiara in his underwear…

    Otherwise, my players, as one of the first things they did, was assemble a set of adventuring company loot rules. They’ve held up pretty well so far except for the one PC with unusual tastes who never can find a loot pick that she wants…

    On a related topic – how about players who (now) don’t get along (same with their PCs as well)?


  2. Hi there. Thanks for dropping by.

    I don’t know the answer to your question, maybe the author will manifest himself, but I could deduce from his letter that getting to the loot seemed to be a “say it first, get there first” kinda thing… possibly with spot checks or the equivalent.

  3. When I joined my current group, an old-standing member got kicked out of the game (mid-game) because he would not stop whining. He had been talked to, but nothing changed. I learned a lot that day.

    At this point, I game once a week, sometimes once every two weeks. My game-time is more important now than it once was. Because of that, I’m not going to waste my time not having fun. I want to sit down at the table with like-minded players.

    As for my advice to the letter writer, I’d say to get everyone together to discuss
    (1) how loot is to be handled,
    (2) inter-player character conflicts are to be handled (or not allowed altogether). There are to be no Intimidate checks PC to PC. Period.
    (3) Whining will not be tolerated.

    Now, I’ve been through all these discussions, and I’ve seen that it doesn’t always work. That means that someone has to leave the group. Is it going to be you, or the Jerk? Are you going to surrender, stick it out until you snap, and resent the Jerk because you had to leave for your sanity? Or are you going to defend your gaming group and gaming experience, and kick the Jerk out?

  4. Maybe M and his group should start playing some Burning Wheel! Then let them fight it out over the Holy Cross or whatever. 🙂

  5. If that problem player says he is roleplaying, isn’t it also roleplaying that rest of the group as characters think that they don’t want to travel with a person who attacks them and whines (in game)? You don’t want to work this adventure out with us, well then we leave you (as a character) at the next city.

    Another good way is to share loot in the way, that it doesn’t seem too favoured for one player. There might be this magic sword what is way more valuable in gold that others get as their share, but isn’t it all about group dynamics? If your fighter hits harder or cleric makes spells better, doesn’t whole group get benefices from that item then?
    Another story is, if character who gets that item ment for him sells it. It is a loss for him and you could give other players experience points shared as it’s value. 5 players, 500 gold item. One of them sells that item, so other players get 100 experience points to keep then satisfied.
    That way player lost his good item but got some gold. Instead others get experience for… some reason. For another being greedy and loosing an item for cash. Dunno.

    Anyways, if one player’s every single character is a jerk ass, doesn’t it tell that the player himself is a jerkass also? Talk to him, kick him out, but don’t let him ruin the fun.

  6. Interesting problem, here’s my few cents worth…

    1. I’ve never ever had to discuss “loot-sharing” with players in a campaign. It’s always just been assumed that it will be divvied up rationally and fairly, without sneaky lootery. I’m surprised to hear other methods exist!

    2. I’ve done the “friendship confrontation” thing in my youth and it never works, it just creates more fights, and inevitably if “adult” males are involved, potential for physical conflict. So I always prefer to evade the problem and drop the problem person stealthily.

    3. The standard stealth: claim you’re too busy to DM for a month, then get all the other players to meet at a new location without telling Mr. Problem, then just never contact him to renew the game.

    Last time I took option 3), one of my players felt bad about abandoning problem player without a word, so sent him an email. The resulting exchange both deeply hurt the player who sent the email, and left us all feeling slightly creeped out about the possibility that problem player might burn our houses down. Which left me saying … “I told you so.” Just don’t confront, it never works out the way it does in the movies (except maybe Aliens).

  7. “But I’m just playing my character!” That line is more infamous than “I have my animal companion attach the head of Vecna” or “Let me tell you about my campaign setting”…

    I solved this problem in my group by instituting a house rule: Your character may not be a complete jerk. I remind players of this rule whenever someone tries to steal their comrade’s treasure or instigate some intra-party conflict.

  8. Firstly if a player went for the treasure before anyone else and didn’t let them have in on the treasure I’d Drop the ceiling on top of him and kill him. Second you are a player too and one that’s putting in a lot more effort. You are entitled to have fun as well and if this player is ruining your fun then I think you are totally entitled to take your ball and go home with it. After that if other players whine you are entitled to say you aren’t playing with the troublemaker again. Just because you are the DM doesn’t mean that you have to sort out all the problems at the table.

  9. Great read. But especially liked the link back to the RPG Team Development, as we just had an issue in one of our campaigns and a lot of it just rings very true. Will definately link those back to the group.
    Thanks Chatty 🙂

  10. I’ll take your problem and one-up you. We have a very similar problem player who has recently joined our monthly D&D group. He is young, and this is his first ever tabletop experience. He is coming into it with a LOT of bad habits from computer games, though. Jumping on loot is definitely one of those. Before he came along, we had a very friendly and simple method of dividing up treasure. We just let items go where they will do the most good, and negotiate items that are good for more than one character. Now, we have to watch for the end of every fight, because the new guy will abandon combat a round or two before the monster falls to start looking for his hoard.

    In all fairness, the group is trying to teach him how to be a good rp-er, and socialize him a bit. And they are making some progress. It’s still very annoying and very disruptive.

    How is this a one-up? The new player in question is the DM’s son. Kinda makes any “him or me” ultimatums a little one-sided. 🙁

  11. @Tourq: Whinning is annoying. However, I always take at least some time to check if the whining doesn’t underline one of the campaign’s weaknesses. Not that I try to ply to the laziest player (I don’t) but before I conclude that “x” is a whiner, I make sure I can address anything that might need some shoring up.

    @walkerp: Ha ha ha! I bet that could be interesting. But I fear that jerks playing in a BW with a less then irongrip GM may lead to endless inconsequential conflicts that will invariably tire the whole group and let dr. jerk win the day. I’d rather just kick him out if he can’t be talked to.

    @Thaumiel Nerub: If the DM is comfortable houseruling/improvising with treasures, then your proposed solutions are great. I know from the letter that M. plays 4e, which has a very skewed magic item economy. An item to be sold automatically loses 80% of its ‘store’ value… for balance reasons that to this day annoy me.

    Regardless, there are workarounds to the looting problems, I currently believe they are more social than rules-related.

    @faustus: I haven’t had looting issues since I was 15. But each group has surprising social dynamics.

    I’d add a note to your option 3 conclusion. Don’t confront when you have a gut feeling that you’re dealing with a crazy person. 🙂 Threats? Really? Whoa!

  12. @Jonathan Drain: So you formalized Wil’s “don’t be a dick” rule huh? How’s that been working for ya? Do people actually ever concede they’re being dicks? I’d love to see that! 🙂 Seriously, good move and easily enforced with common sense.

    @Bloodwin: You are right that the DM is not sole responsible to sort out table problems. Hence the “talk it together” part of my advice. I’ve long since abandoned the gravity-induced celling collapse, but I certainly feel the same way when I deal with selfish players at conventions (I have no such problem in my home group).

    @conlean: Hey Thanks! Glad you enjoyed it and glad I helped you discover some of my older stuff you’re finding useful.

    @Lugh: Oh man, the DM’s son. Well, if you guys all trust your DM’s fairness, then fixing the issue might require a ‘the whole village raises the son” approach…

    Hell, do you watch the Quest cartoon? Where a party of adventurers follow a bumbling, somewhat powertripping prince? That could be an interesting model to apply here… where the prince gets in trouble and the party saves his bacon… provided that he does this and that to ingratiate himself (read: Learn to behave socially)…

    … or just explain to him that the party leader turned “Master Loot’ on and wait till he grows out of it.

  13. No one’s a villain in their own mind, but they hate their own vices when seen in others.

    I have absolutely no idea if this will work, try it at your own risk.

    Have a session with everyone demonstrate his own bad habits. When he complains, ‘but we’re just doing the same thing that you do.’

  14. Another in game way to handle the situation is to start dropping cursed items. When the problem player declares he is taking all the magical items etc, make one of the items cursed. When his, big, bad character starts suffering, explain to him that this is part of what happens, anyone could have grabbed the item, you grabbed first, you suffer the consequences.

  15. @Sewicked: the problem with the passive-aggressive approach is that a lot of people would prefer that you just called them out – gently, but directly – on their problems, than try to avoid confrontation by beating around the bush.

    I must confess, I’ve never really been in a “jerk” situation in-party. The closest I’ve come to it is a few cases where it actually upped the intrigue and RP levels of the game, because now the guy who took the cool stuff knew that the other players *wanted* to catch him out, but weren’t going to risk being called out on meta-gaming. It can add tension if the people involved are mature RPers, but if it isn’t then I think Chatty’s advice is the best thing you can do.

  16. As treasure goes, the best solution I’ve found is treasure “slush”, where during an adventure all the loot gets scooped up by one character (usually in a bag of holding I give out early on) and then it gets divided up equally during the next extended rest/downtime. This really cut down on in fighting and the rogue pocketing loot.

  17. Edward: Adding cursed items isn’t a bad suggestion, but it could very easily add even more to the problem player’s complaining and whining because now he can’t even trust the treasure that he clings to so dearly.

    Phil: I have to raise issue with your calling out of people who often play Ninjas. They’re not always drawn to the asocial jerk-hole aspect of the concept, but in my case I’ve always been drawn to the mysterious and deadly badass aspects. Ninjas can have friends too! 😀

  18. @Bart: Wait man. Read my sentence carefully. I have nothing against specialist players. Quite the contrary I’m of the “integrate specialists in your game and make room for a Ninja Cat Girl if need be” school.

    However, I am saying that being a compulsive jerk PC is likely a type of specialist play in that the player always builds a character who’s a brute/thief and has the in-game ability to forward his jerk agenda.


  19. Phil: OH, I see now, sorry! It helps when I read things.

  20. @Sherief – The slush fund doesn’t necessarily cut down on the rogue pocketing the loot. I had a thief character a while back who had a good system for a while. As the player with the best math skills, I was put in charge of dividing up the coin. As the character with the best Appraise and a couple fence contacts, I was also in charge of converting treasure to coin and then disbursing.

    It took *months* for the other players to notice that I was skimming. It started with just simplicity. We had seven characters, which made even division unlikely. I just kept the extra gold one time, to avoid having to mess with fractions or exchanging coins. No one noticed. So, I just kept it up. Every time we divvied up treasure, I kept the remainder.

    Of course, eventually one of the other players caught on, and called me on it. I just shrugged, and admitted it. I said, “Hey, you let the thief count out the coins, what did you expect?” Fortunately, we all laughed, I promised never to do it again, and they double-checked me after that. 😉

  21. I would eliminate the looting problem and the occasional intimidating/bullying that goes along with it. Instead of saying “the goblin’s corpse is searched and the rogue finds a gem” (giving the rogue player an opening to try to pocket it), I would say… “the goblin’s corpse is searched and the group finds a gem.” I don’t have a problem with the rogue player attempting to pocket a gem in that situation. Quite the contrary. But the confrontation and complaining that comes out of it isn’t worth it. So just eliminate the problem. If someone asks “why don’t you let us loot individually any more??” just be bluntly honest about it to the entire group that they poorly divide loot in the first place and the change was a necessary FIRST step to force them to think things out better.

    The second step… don’t give them magic items to argue over. Just give them extra coins and items that will definitely be sold and split evenly between the party members. What about the armor and weapons that the big bad guys use? Simple… those items become so damaged in battle that they are essentially worthless in the end, except to be sold as scraps. If they want magic items, they’ll basically have to find a shop selling them.

    As to the DM’s Son scenario, that’s a tough love moment if there ever was one. Work details out with the rest of the players beforehand and wait until a particularly nasty fight. Once the son starts his looting before the fight is even over… do a tactical retreat from the battle, leaving the baddie alone with the son’s character. If Daddy doesn’t respect that, then you all should be finding another DM anyhow. Enough is enough. 🙂

  22. I had a similar problem many years ago during a 2nd edition campaign I was running in the Forgotten Realms. Everyone was playing Lawful Good characters (the group leader was a paladin) and this new player who I was working with at the time wanted to join the party. I informed him what the campaign was all about, i.e. “Good guys trying to right the wrongs of the world” and he shows up with a NE fighter/thief. Being the nice DM that I was, (he was also my boss at the job), I decided to let him play it. Did I mention that using a standard 3d6 roll for attributes he somehow had 18s in Dexterity and Constitution?

    Anyway, within a few sessions, everyone was tired of playing with this guy. He would start arguments about loot, including a heated discussion over a Holy Avenger I had placed for the paladin! Anyway, the party was hunting down a vampire lord plaguing the people of Cormyr and this guy decides to sneak off from the party to loot the mausoleum. He encountered the vampire lord and he had tried to “cut a deal” with the vampire lord to save his own skin. So, I decided to turn him into a vampire. His character died at the beginning of the game session and I told the problem player to remake the character as a vampire with all the bells and whistles. Obviously, he got excited. The rest of the group was looking at me incredulously. By the end of the session his character was complete and, at the behest of the vampire lord, he attacked the party. Well, they slaughtered him in 2 rounds. The look of satisfaction on the faces of my other players I will never forget.

    The problem player started whining: “well, I hope you’re all happy, my character is dead.” Before he could say another word, I said “no, you are not dead.” I then described what it was like waking up in the negative material plane. Being surrounded by nothingness…a nothingness with a hunger. A nothingness that slowly, little by little, ate away at his soul. And, after a millennia, his character was nothing. (and I quote) “Your character is nothing, was nothing and will never be something.”

    He never played with us again.

    Heavy handed I know, but the guy was a real jerk and I wanted my good and loyal players a little retribution. Oh, and I didn’t lose my job, but I was placed on fryer duty for about 6 months…totally worth it!

  23. That “fryer duty” bit made me laugh out loud.

    Awesomely amazing story just there man! Loved it! Heavy handed? Yes. But very satisfying for the others I’m sure.

  24. Marc aka "M" says:

    Hey all, thanks for all the input.

    This got way out of hand. The Rubies: I was seriously like two seconds away from taking a moment to explain to the new player how my players usually deal with loot (A player keeps a list of their findings and divides it at the end of the adventure. Magic items go to who they are intended) before the rogue cuts me off and pulls his stunt. The other players didn’t even care. They even laughed about it with the Gnome. He was being a gnome. That’s why I didn’t bother fighting it.

    I later found out that a lot of this stemmed from the problem player “feeling left out” when it came to magic items. Each level gives 1 item less than the party members. Level 1 had a shortsword, a shield and a holy symbol. Unfortunately, last minute the Warden couldn’t make the first adventure where the shield he was meant to get was part of the story. Due to work the Warden also missed the second adventure where a lot of this occurred. In his absence, the cleric carried the shield. Problem player got really pissy when the bard got the sword then he found a holy symbol. Again, not intended. Both times I found out like minutes before the game that a player was gunna be missing. Regardless, this doesn’t excuse the Rogues behavior. He had no idea what I had planned for him. He was getting the highest leveled item on the next level.

    Next time I’ll be sure to specify that the heroes are HEROES. Bilbo was a “thief”. Didn’t mean he was a crappy person. He had a skill set the party needed. This guy just has some serious Napoleon syndrome. Hell, I can’t even play video games with this guy. If he’s not winning, he’s whining about how it’s the controllers fault. I would have worked with him, but nothing is ever his fault. He followed up the game by texting me complaints about how the new player plays and how he was just gunna sell the holy symbol clearly meant for the cleric for “a better weapon anyway.” He isn’t happy if he’s not the best.

    Initially I was going to do the stealth dropping of the player, new location and all. Issue is one of the other players is his twin brother (baffles me how unalike identical twins can be). On top of that, a previous player of mine (whom I’m quite sure quit due to this problem player) heard about the games being stopped and started trying to schedule other things for us to do. It would be quite obvious when we don’t show up that we’re up to something. We’re gunna start a new campaign (one in which I think I have a much better idea for) and just for safety’s sake, I think I’m going to give “pre-gens”. Pre-make the party that should work comfortably together to minimize party conflicts.

    Thanks again for all the comments and advice.

  25. There are two ways to handle a problem player like that – in-party and out-of-party.

    My in-party solution would be to literally take aside the other Players except Mr. Troublemaker, ask if they still want him in their group. If the answer is a no, then let the Characters send the Rogue packing, either by simply demanding he leave, or by an all out party brawl. It’s sometimes very therapeutic to kill another Character in cold blood.

    My out-of-party solution is a bit heavy handed (literally, deus ex machina), but it effectively punishes the offending Character for not playing nice. What if that holy symbol was placed there by the other Player’s deity? Do you think that Rogue is going to get far with an angry deity’s wrath hovering over him? Start slowly, by adding reductions to hit and to damage, then apply negative combat effects to the Character, all the while having the holy symbol flash/hum/tremble every time something bad happens to the Rogue. And assuming he manages to get back to town to sell it, no merchant would touch it, because the symbol would likely be spitting sparks by that point.

    The other option would be to let him sell it, then be arrested by the town guard for stealing and fencing a holy symbol of the patron god of the local lord. Wave goodbye to the rogue as he is carted off to prison, and breath a sigh of relief.

  26. Even in AD&D there would be some discussion about treasure sharing.

    An AD&D DM I play with now has a treasure list. For each item found, we’d go down the list, from top to bottom. If you took something, you went to the bottom of the list. So… the longer you wait, the more choice you had.

    As for stealing.. yeah. My thief lived up to his name. He did no fighting, he was useless, he was evil. He could spot traps, disable traps and open locks. Nothing more. (He was fun to role play.) I don’t think I ever took anything inappropriate, but there was that one time we killed the Turtle Dragon and apparently I was the only one to risk going down and grab stuff… while everyone slept no less.

    A few days in town, and the other characters are getting their armor fixed and sleeping in sober accommodations. My thief? He was off to the magic shop shelling out money faster than anyone had seen in ages. Accommodations? His room was the King Suite in the Brothel.

    In those adventures, I’m pretty sure that everyone got what they needed, and the DM found interesting ways for me to gain and loose my money. No one was unhappy.

  27. I now M personally, so thank you for helping him out (all of you).

    My thoughts on the subject: M is a selfless DM, trying to make sure his players have fun at the expense of his own (hence the allowing of shady treasure dealings and the like). This is an unbalanced setup and only ends in tears.

    A mutually fun, and effective way of dealing with problem characters in my experience is to use their glaring character fault as a trap (much like Edward said up there about cursed items). So this character is greedy; let him take a stroll through the cave of wonders where everything EXCEPT the mundane are lethally cursed. Just for example..

    But I agree with many others (and M himself, I found out) that this is a player worth not playing with — kick him to the curb. I do not, however, condone the “no-conflict” solution up above. Always confront these types of problems, especially when you’re working within a group of friends. If nothing else it serves as an example to the rest of the group that you will not tolerate dickish behavior. It may save you from having to deal with a similar problem down the road.

    Party on!

  28. In line with R’s point about confronting the dick, don’t think you have to do it alone. Talk with the other players, and see how they feel about it. Get them to back you up. Make it about the group rejecting his behavior, not the DM telling him how to play.

  29. D&D isn’t about roleplaying any character of your choice regardless of the consequences. It’s about working with others players, and the DM, to create as vivid a story as possible, and to have fun.

    Ending the campaign is a little drastic. The best thing to do is either retcon the troll player out of the campaign [there is no shame in doing this] or have the player retcon his own character to something else. Of course, don’t do any of this without discussion with the players.

  30. @Vandell I agree with you on both accounts. Thing was, the “campaign” was just Dungeon-of-the-Week style games. I wouldn’t have ended it had it not been for the fact that the whole party would have been reduced to a cleric, bard and occasionally a warden.

  31. Yeah, stepping back, getting a solid campaign idea and restarting sounds like the right move here. Let us know how it goes! You see all the people who helpfully stepped in… I’m amazed as always!

  32. @ChattyDM That is the plan. I’m just hoping I can get enough people for the campaign. I’m running out of players. 2 have been chased off by this guy. I’m also really impressed by the responses. I’ve got a huge variety of different opinions to think about. R gave me an idea that I’m considering. I might run it past you and get your thoughts on it.

  33. I’d suggest you contacting the runaways and telling them the conclusion of your story, you might catch them back.

    And know that my digital door’s always open friend.

  34. Honestly, I have never understood lengthy articles about these topics, because to me the solution is pretty darned clear. Give the guy an opportunity to change and, if he doesn’t, drop him from the campaign.

    Harsh? I don’t think so. I spend many, many hours prepping for my regularly scheduled game. I do it because I have a really great group of guys and I enjoy playing the game. My time is quite precious to me and if something or someone gets in the way or hinders everyone’s enjoyment by being a jerk, the remedy seems pretty obvious to me. He’s gone.

    While my players do not always agree on everything (if they did that would be quite boring, actually) they are mature enough to give way for the sake of the group if necessary. If you have someone in your group that cannot do this, I recommend dropping him.

  35. @ Tiorn: The idea with the magic items is clever. Gave me one. What if you turn this weakness in the group to an advantage? Let’s make all of the decently powerful bad guys the PCs face for awhile have magical weapons or armor obviously fueled by some dark power (dark, shadowy aura, uncomfortable to touch, etc). These bad guys start looking a bit odd as the game goes on. Grey skin tones, limp, unkempt hair, sunken eyes, etc. If the PCs try to use one they start to not feel well. Sure they’re strong, but they’re going to start showing signs of illness. Later on a healing spell used on that person might have only a partial effect and rather flashily blow a hole in their apparel while it does it. This is a big clue your casters should use to notice that the things are functioning via some form of necrotic power.

    Why? Simple. These are magic items of the Batteries Not Included variety and guess what their power source is: their user. Basically your BBEG or a notable henchman of such is cranking out these cheaper magic items and handing them off to people. If you didn’t have one before, you now have a campaign. Also, you have a bunch of magic items that only the bad guys can afford to use for any length of time.

    Please note that this is only a temporary fix. If your group really can’t handle loot, this is sort of a “carrot” approach to fixing it. Give them a neat story and encourage them to work together for awhile without that particular distraction. Long term though, you simply can’t afford to have this level of cooperation in a group. It can and will affect everything. Will demonstrate in another post below (separating responses from ideas).

  36. I’ve played in games where this sort of thing was allows to run rampant. The GM did not control the group and pretty much anything went. What ends up happening in the end is the game self destructs. You never really reach a conclusion because you can’t get that far. So if you’re running or playing in a game like this and hoping to just slog through and let it end on it’s own (either the storyline or the various abuses mentioned)… Honestly I’d have to say don’t bother. It’s a waste of time.

    The groups I was in that worked like this were run by a friend of mine who I lived with. So the games were going to happen in my place and take up a lot of space for hours at a time anyway. At the time this made playing along seem like the only real choice but looking back I still think I’d have been better off just socializing and reading or playing a video game when they got into the thick of things. In one game after we got rid of an asshat who was stealing from the whole party, being belligerent and generally just being horribly difficult to get along with, we found that he had about 2/3rds of the treasure the whole group was supposed to share. The DM had screwed that one up pretty badly. Previous to that there was a lot of bullying and other nonsense and in the end even some brief player to player fisticuffs before everyone cooled down enough to admit to the problems and invite the problem player to leave. I missed that particular session so I didn’t get to see our group’s most obvious foray into the Jerry Springer LARP.

    In the end as Chatty mentioned, that problem player was only exploiting real weaknesses of the group however. In later games other people, while less obviously disruptive (no bullying, etc), also stole significant amounts from the group until a loot policy was created. And even after to some extent. Quick note to anyone caught in this situation: How exactly am I not supposed to notice when one person is obviously walking off with a lot more loot from the same dungeon crawls I’m on? Seriously. I almost always see this done with either overly bulky treasure that couldn’t possibly be hidden (armor, weapons, etc) or very high value items (gems, platinum, etc) that these characters then use right after the run.

    I’m not sure how well you can use this next idea in 4e or not but I’d suggest a simple litmus test for any other game or version of D&D. Look at your support characters or anyone with a good set of support abilities. How well are they being used? Are they able to integrate well with the group and make everyone more effective? Or is that style of character rapidly left in the dust while everyone else competes for the spotlight? In the worst cases the players of these characters feel like they also need to hog the spotlight which is often not very pretty. A character with a wealth of support options usually got them by giving up the sorts of tricks that would let them be in the spotlight more easily. The general idea here is that these characters and abilities are what helps make your party a group instead of a bunch of people in a race to the spotlight. When they’re discarded or not used very effectively it’s usually because cooperation between the group members is particularly low and from what I’ve seen, that almost always happens as a symptom of the same lack of cohesion that can cause these sorts of problems.

    Last thought: I have no problem personally with rogue PCs. Don’t care if your rogue is a dirty underhanded thief who wouldn’t -actually- sell his mother but might post her on eBay just to see what she’d go for. As a player though, I expect you not to be a thief. That means if your PC is stealing from the group, you make sure the GM knows and volunteer ways you can be caught at it. Often. It’s also your responsibility to chat with the other players and work out how to keep the group intact IC with this sort of concept as well as balance out things so your PC doesn’t end up ahead of anyone else. If you don’t go to the effort to talk to everyone else about this, you don’t deserve to play that style of character. The whole “I’m just like this and you all have to deal with it” idea is false because it both ignores and takes advantage of one underlying concept to every game: that the group will attempt to stay together. Almost every player I’ve ever known will attempt to abide by this unwritten rule of gaming. The ones who don’t have universally both denied their own responsibility to uphold this and taken advantage of everyone else who tries to abide by it.

  37. I agree with Chatty, and I have to strongly disagree with passive-aggressive solutions that occur without actual discussion. I believe in giving people chances, and failing to discuss a problem with someone is giving them no chance to remedy the problem. In the end, though, a player can’t discuss the game and act like someone who cares about the group dynamic, it’s time for that player to go. If a player can’t modify behavior based on the needs of the group, it’s time for that player to go. And it’s time for someone to tell that player directly with all the whys and wherefores. Doing less is doing a disservice to everyone.

    This goes for players who have problems, too. If you have a real-life problem about how treasure is being handed out in the game, deal with it in real life. “it’s how my character would act” is not a defense.

    But if it is roleplaying, then “your character is out of the group because he’s a jackass in dangerous situations” is a good direct solution, too. What team of adventurers would tolerate a jackass for long? In-character jackassery can get someone killed. I don’t know about you, but I’d want to know that I have friends at my back.

  38. The “problem” player here is doing exactly what his DM encourages of him.

    New player in tries to steal from the party, “problem” player attempts to dissuade such behaviour and is pilloried for it. Therefore: stealing from the party is OK, so he tries it too.

    First player to a treasure gets to keep a valuable item *and* a share of the rest. Sure, the DM intended it, but it’s arbitrarily depriving the “problem” player of an equal share of total treasure. Therefore, getting in first and taking something of value is OK, so he tries it too.

    When the “problem” player does these same things, he’s a “problem”. When he complains about the bias, he’s “whining”.

    What the DM needs to do is lay out what’s OK and what’s not, so the player will follow /that/.
    So you get an in-game punishment for attempting to steal loot, like you lose your share all day, applies to the gnome as well as the half-orc.
    If good items are set for specific characters as a meta-game balancing tool, then be clear and open about it to the players, especially players prone to misunderstandings. So they never count as loot, and may not be sold.

    It seems to me the DM just plain doesn’t like this person, and doesn’t want to game with them. It might be a good idea to admit that to the “problem” player, and part ways.

  39. @tussock You’d be right. I did every single one of those things. The whining has gone on looooong before the new player had even shown up. The other players all knew that I story in the discovery of THEIR items. The “problem” player decided that the sword I planted for the gnome was much more suitable for him, even after I explained it to him. I would have gladly worked it out with him, but I was already incredibly frustrated with his behavior for the past several games before the new player arrived. I’ve discussed it with him. His brother discussed it with him. He wasn’t getting it.

    Before I could address the gnome about loot, “problem” player decided he’d take it upon himself to address it in character. That I was fine with. I’ve been trying to get them to role play. Then he went off the deep end. Even when I explained the rubies would have even equaled his share of the gold.

    He decided to grapple him and choke him. My character wouldn’t get along with him either.

    I’ve already accepted that I handled the situation wrong in the first place, thus the entire article being written and discussed. This was far from his first offense and I’m not saying the new player was blameless in this situation. But to this date, I’ve lost two players who have told me well after the fact that it’s his behavior that made them stop playing with us. I’m done dealing with it. I should have been done with it about a year ago. The only reason I bit my lip and dealt with it is because he’s the brother of my friend and every once in awhile his brother would put him in his place. His brother was not present in this situation and I didn’t quite know what to do on the spot, knowing full well my actions could have effects outside the game as well.

  40. Don’t spend too much effort on that Marc, it’s rather evident from the letter and the comments from both you and your friend that your player was likely of the selfish type. I know you did best in a lest than perfect situation.

    @tussock: You brought a plausible scenario, one that could even have been likely had Marc’s letter been the only piece of info I used to write the post, but I had tendencies, experience and later Marc and his buddy’s testament to make your scenario unlikely.

    I think we all agree on the ‘let’s talk it out” but there’s only so much a gamemaster can and must do to keep the group in line. This is group self-discipline, not a school ground with vigilant guardians.

    @Lanir: You know I really love that my posts trigger your own creativity. You’re a good writer and a good member of our community. I’m not going to say it… but suffice it to say you are always welcome here.

    As for thieves/rogues, whomever quoted that Bilbo was the model to follow, I agree 100%. I’m reading the Hobbit to my son right now and that’s what I envision the classic halfling thief to be.

    Thanks for your comments anyone, it’s clear from your responses that it’s a big issue we often face. I’m glad people openly talk about it in such polite and helpful terms. As usual, you rock and remind me how much fun I have doing this.

  41. @Chatty: Pfft. I’m an idiot. Took me until this post to fully realize that all the godawful games I’d been in over the years could largely be laid at the feet of two problems which I know you’ve mentioned. First, GMs that run in a bubble and don’t let their expectations and stories really interact with the players and their efforts at stories (sorry I forget what catch phrase you’d been using for this but I know you’ve talked about it quite a bit). And secondly, this social mess with problem players and the issues they take advantage of (but rarely cause all by themselves). One of the problem players I dealt with was a rules lawyer and I was going to categorize that differently but the more I think about it the more it fits into the same general category as the other disruptive player type. The methods are different but the effect is almost identical over time: an issue that forces everyone else to pitch the unsocial cad out the door on his arse or dance to his tune.


  1. […] Chatty’s Mailbag: Good Troll Hunting : Critical Hits – A good look at how to handle people who play trolls in game. …That is, who "roleplay" jerks. The author also mentions a tactic of explicit discussion of treasure handling, which I've never seen done before, but would like to try out. […]