Dungeon Masters guide to difficult Players

For those who don’t follow my twitter feed @wadojeff, I recently attended our Comic Expo.  I’m a panel junkie.  Besides the swag loot and photo ops I prefer to hit as many panels as I can.

This year one of the panels I participated in was “Ask a DM”.  It was hosted by a group of 3 local DM’s who also run an amazing improve group of live D&D.

With over 35 years of being a dungeon master some of my friends asked why I would attend such an event.  The answer is simple, if you are wise enough to accept the fact that there is always something new to learn and a different perspective on how you might handle the various situations that seem to thwart us story masters at every turn than why not attend.

One of the more interesting discussions that come out was the hard to manage player.

Every group is a unique story.  You cannot duplicate them.  But, there are certain group dynamics that do have common ground which each other.

When you have played long enough you’re going to run across the certain stereotyped individuals.  I’ll list my top 3 in order of harassment.

The “Rules Lawyer” – This sophisticated player has a copy of every rule book and supplement including the various additions from the DM’s Guild collective works and Dragon Magazine character variations.  Yes they know everything thing there is to know.   They have mastered the art of the character build to a point their first level Barbarian can single handily defeat a young dragon with one hit.

These arch types will often make party balancing tough on a DM.  Everyone’s goblin has only 6 hit points but yours has 56 just to make it challenging for that one player.

They can also be disruptive to game flow with a consent barrage of “But in this supplement 2.3.345 paragraph 2.3 under section B.1 it says I can do a double attack while making an athletics check using my wisdom bonus”  Are you kidding me?

The following advice was given.  You are the Master of the game and you can decided which Rule books are allowed and which are not.  This is very important when dealing with 3.0 and 3.5 edition of the game.  For my own games I normally only allow the Standard Players Handbook.  If there is a supplement that I personally own and the player wishes to use it I may, or may not allow it based on the party and story.  I try to have balance in the party.  If you want to max out a character to the point of rule bending and grey areas it normally leads to an extremely unbalanced party.

Any rules that are contained in the variety of books are subject to you the DM and how you really what to use and apply them.  It’s your table and you always have the final say.  This should be clearly communicated to the players before the game begins.   Almost every table has a set of House Rules.  Keeping this in mind if someone can provide you with a plausible back story you might want to consider it.  Saying no to everything also makes your table unwelcoming to something that could create an enjoyable twist as your campaign continues its course.

I don’t think I’ve been part of any RPG that didn’t have some sort of custom house rule.

Most DM’s have their own set of guidelines and as long as there is consistency it can be a great thing. It all depends on the DM and player needs.   The rulebooks are just guides.

I have found that in my years of being a DM there is always a player who will throw the rule book at you over and over again.  The biggest house rule, and I spell it out before any game is that the DM has the right to change, modify, and adapt any rule in the books……. Of course a printed copy of the house rules is given to each of the players beforehand so there are no surprises.  Any arguments are taken up after the session so game play is not slowed down for the other players.

The “Evil Player” – The dread player that has escape the pit of desolation and ends up at our table.  They are the ones that insist that their character is evil and it is the only way they possibly enjoy playing.

Say no!  Put your foot down and hand them a pre-generated Paladin.

In all my years of running games and after speaking with numerous other DM’s this player will eventually ruin and disrupt the other players.  Thinking about it more “The needs of the many out way the needs of the one”  So it’s not an exact Spock quote but close enough to suit the point I’m trying to make.

I’ve tried a few times once persuaded with an incredible back story and a promise not to attempt to ruin the game for the other players.  Case in point the party ended up turning on the evil player and killing them.  Saved me the hassle of removing said character myself and solved the problem of a disruptive player.

I’m going to be opinionated and class those players who are only interested in themselves and satisfying their own personal enjoyment.

If players want to run an evil character I suggest doing a complete evil campaign.  Normally short lived but still a fun way to switch things up.

The “I don’t understand my class Player” – The misguided souls that truly don’t understand their class or forget the heartfelt background story they created that drives the character to fight for justice and live under the divine standards of their chosen pantheon.

I think the best example of this player type is the Paladin who slays an already surrendering bandit just because they got lucky and scratched that shiny armor.   It’s almost as bad as explaining to a player why their wizard cannot cast spells in full plate.

I’ll use the Paladin as what might be the most common example.  One of the best answers I’ve have heard from a DM dealing with a not so paladin type playing a paladin was to slowly start taking away their powers.   That super powerful divine smite suddenly becomes less effective.  Those powers are divinely granted and displeasing the deity that grants those powers is not helping your cause.  Want to be able to do whatever they wish will end involving a change in wardrobe from shiny steel to a pleasant suit of soft leather with a dagger in hand.

The same can be said for the Warlock.  Where do you think all those super cool spells come from?  Go against your actual pack and that player will slowly start to lose the power to light goblins a flame.   The next is losing their all powers breaking the pack they made with that certain special someone.  I like saving the worst possible scenario for last.  I gives me great pleasure to welcome you to planes of the Abyss.  See that part where you signed that precious soul away to the delight of a power providing devil.  Well, welcome to your new home and those character sheet don’t’ get ripped to pieces but set on fire.  I prefer visual example.

There are a few more that are rare or handle on a case by case basis.  Like weird creepy player that has no social skills and is awkward around my super awesome interactive players.   Strange individual I met in the library who ask to join in and keeps showing up even when you change the game day and don’t notify them.

And after reviewing this and doing a small amount of editing I’m going to work on a Player application form.  Something I should have done 30 years ago.

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