How to deal with problem players in D&D

DND players arguing

Dungeons & Dragons, with its boundless creativity and immersive storytelling, is a game that brings together adventurers from all walks of life. Each player contributes to weaving a tapestry of epic tales, but sometimes, amidst the magic and mayhem, a problem player can disrupt the harmony of the gaming table.

Dealing with problem players can be a challenging quest of its own. In this guide, we'll delve into the realm of D&D problem players, defining the types of bad DND player and exploring strategies to handle these situations while fostering a more enjoyable gaming experience for everyone involved.

What is a problem player?

A problem player in Dungeons & Dragons is someone whose actions and behaviour disrupt the enjoyment of the game for others at the table. These disruptions can take various forms, such as aggressive behaviour, excessive rules lawyering, inflexible roleplaying, or actions that derail the storyline.

Problem players can hinder the immersive and collaborative nature of the game, making it less enjoyable for both the Dungeon Master and the other players. Addressing and managing these issues is essential for maintaining a positive and harmonious gaming experience.

What are the types of problem players in D&D?

There are lots of different types of problem players in D&D. Let’s explore the most prominent behaviours of bad players.

The easily distracted player

This player frequently gets side-tracked during the game, whether by distractions outside of the session, chatting about unrelated topics, fiddling with their phone, or constantly causing chaotic disruptions within the story.

They derail the plot with chaotic antics, engage in out-of-character discussions, and disrupt the flow of the game.

Solution: communicate the importance of staying focused during the game and respecting the group's time and effort. Encourage them to minimise distractions, such as silencing their phone or setting it aside during the session. If chaotic antics are the issue, discuss the type of campaign the group wants to play, ensuring that their playstyle aligns with the overall tone and goals.

The power-gaming player

This player obsessively focuses on game mechanics, often seeking to exploit rules loopholes or demanding the use of obscure mechanics to gain advantages.

They frequently engage in metagaming (using out-of-character knowledge) and try to force the DM to allow game-breaking tactics or abilities.

Solution: remind them of the importance of storytelling and role-playing in addition to mechanics. Encourage them to consider the narrative consequences of their actions and to be more flexible when the rules might hinder the overall enjoyment of the game.

The misaligned player

This player's preferred playstyle or character concept doesn't match the tone or focus of the campaign, leading to a dissonance in the group's expectations.

They may create characters that don't fit the campaign's theme, or they might play in such a way that isn’t congruent with the type of game you want to run, leading to immersion-breaking moments.

Solution: have an open discussion about the campaign's tone and goals during a session zero or before character creation. Guide players during character creation to align their character concepts with the campaign's theme to maintain a cohesive and enjoyable experience for everyone.

The indecisive player

This player struggles with decision-making, often taking too long to choose their actions during encounters or frequently second-guessing themselves and changing their course of action.

Their indecision can lead to lengthy turns during combat, disrupting the game's flow and causing frustration.

Solution: encourage them to familiarise themselves with their character abilities and options outside the game to speed up their decision-making. Offer support in understanding the rules and mechanics better. Additionally, consider implementing a turn timer for combat situations to maintain a steady pace.

The rules lawyer

This player meticulously enforces the game's rules and often disputes the DM's rulings or attempts to exploit them for their benefit.

They disrupt the game by insisting on strict adherence to the rules, even in situations where rule of cool or narrative flow should take precedence.

Solution: remind them that D&D is about storytelling and fun and encourage a balance between rules and creativity. Discuss the importance of trusting the DM's rulings and working together to create an engaging narrative.

The main character syndrome player

This player consistently seeks the spotlight, dominating the narrative, and overshadowing other players.

They make it all about their character, often interrupting others and minimising the contributions of fellow players.

Solution: remind them that D&D is a collaborative game, and every player should have a chance to shine. Encourage them to share the spotlight and engage with other characters' stories. Promote teamwork and cooperation among the group.

The sore loser

This player checks out of the game or becomes resentful if things don't go their way or if their character faces challenges or setbacks.

They disengage from the game, express frustration, or even exhibit passive-aggressive behaviour when faced with adversity.

Solution: explain that D&D involves both success and failure, and character growth often comes from overcoming challenges. Encourage them to embrace the ups and downs of the game and appreciate the storytelling opportunities that come with adversity.

The cheater

This player resorts to dishonest tactics, such as fudging dice rolls or using external resources to gain unfair advantages. They might snoop on monster stat blocks or read up on the module you’re running to gain a dishonest advantage.

They undermine the integrity of the game by manipulating outcomes and disregarding the rules.

Solution: establish a culture of trust and fairness at the table. Make it clear that cheating disrupts the fun for everyone and is not acceptable. Encourage open communication and fair play and address cheating incidents when they occur.

The lone wolf

This player consistently isolates their character from the group, often splitting from the party and pursuing solo adventures.

Their actions disrupt the flow of the game and can make it challenging for the DM to balance encounters and narratives.

Solution: discuss the importance of teamwork and collaboration in D&D. Remind them that D&D is a group activity, and their character's actions should consider the party's cohesion. Encourage them to find ways for their character to work together with others.

The inconsistent attendee

This player frequently misses sessions or is unreliable when it comes to attending scheduled games.

Their inconsistent attendance disrupts the campaign's continuity and can lead to frustration for other players and the DM.

Solution: openly discuss the importance of regular attendance at the table. Consider whether scheduling changes or adjusting the frequency of sessions might help accommodate their availability. If the problem persists, address it with the player to determine their commitment to the campaign.

The negative instigator

This player often antagonises other players, picks on specific individuals, or engages in disruptive behaviour. This can happen in-character, out-of-character, or on both occasions.

Their actions create tension, discomfort, and conflict within the group.

Solution: promote a respectful and inclusive gaming environment where every player feels valued and safe. Address negative behaviour when it occurs and encourage open communication to resolve conflicts. Make it clear that disruptive actions that harm the group's enjoyment are not acceptable.

The murderhobo

This player's character has a tendency to resort to violence and aggression as the primary solution to any problem, often without consideration for consequences or alternatives.

They can derail carefully planned encounters and narratives, leading to a combat-focused, one-dimensional game. This behaviour also makes it difficult to introduce meaningful NPCs as they might be slain before they can help the party.

Solution: encourage players to explore alternative solutions to problems and emphasize the importance of role-playing and storytelling over excessive combat. Discuss character motivations and alignment to encourage more nuanced and thoughtful character actions.

What is main character syndrome in D&D?

Main Character Syndrome in Dungeons & Dragons, often abbreviated as MCS, refers to a situation where one player at the table behaves as though their character is the main protagonist of the story and should receive a disproportionate amount of attention, spotlight, and narrative focus.

This behaviour can manifest in various ways, such as constantly interrupting others, monopolising decision-making, or expecting the campaign's plot and NPCs to revolve around their character's personal story.

Main Character Syndrome can disrupt the balance of the game and make it less enjoyable for other players who may feel side-lined or overshadowed. It's important for Dungeon Masters and players alike to address and manage this to ensure a more enjoyable D&D experience for everyone at the table.

How to prevent problem players before they happen

Preventing problem players before they disrupt your Dungeons & Dragons campaign is an essential aspect of maintaining a positive gaming experience. Here are some proactive steps you can take to ensure it doesn’t escalate to that point:

  1. Ask players what they want: during a session zero before starting a new campaign, engage in an open discussion with your players. Ask them about their preferred playstyle, expectations, and any concerns they may have. Understanding their motivations can help you tailor the game to suit everyone's interests.
  2. Set expectations: establish clear expectations for the campaign, including the tone, style, and house rules. Make sure all players are aware of these expectations from the beginning to avoid misunderstandings.
  3. Find the intent behind disruptive actions: if a player's actions seem disruptive, try to understand their motivations. Sometimes, what appears problematic might stem from a character's backstory or a miscommunication. Or, the player themselves might be having a bad day, and it’s nothing serious. Address these issues with empathy rather than immediately viewing them as problematic.
  4. Don't argue with players: in cases of disagreement or rule disputes, avoid arguing with players during the game. Instead, make a temporary ruling to keep the game moving and discuss the issue outside the session to reach a resolution.
  5. Communicate with players openly: maintain open lines of communication with your players. Encourage them to express their concerns or frustrations with the game. Asking for constructive feedback can help you make adjustments to improve the overall experience, and it can help you become a great DM.
  6. Set boundaries: ensure that all players are aware of the boundaries within the game. Discuss topics that are off-limits, such as graphic violence or sensitive themes, and agree on how to handle them if they arise during gameplay.

By taking these steps and fostering a culture of open communication and respect at your gaming table, you can significantly reduce the likelihood of problem players emerging at your table.

How to deal with a bad DND player

Dealing with a bad DND player is simple: either the behaviour needs to stop, or the player needs to leave the table.

Communication is the first and most crucial step. Talk to the player privately, express your concerns, and try to understand their perspective. Often, issues arise from misunderstandings or differences in playstyle, and open dialogue can lead to a resolution.

However, if the disruptive behaviour persists and negatively impacts the enjoyment of the game for others, you may need to consider more decisive actions. Sometimes, the problem player needs to recognise their behaviour and make a genuine effort to change.

If they are unwilling to adapt and continue to disrupt the group, it might be in the best interest of the campaign and the other players to ask them to leave the table. While this can be a difficult decision, prioritising the collective enjoyment and cohesion of the group is crucial to ensure a positive DND experience for everyone involved.

When you should ask a problem player to leave

Deciding when to ask a problem player to leave your group is a challenging but necessary step to maintain a positive experience for everyone involved. Here are some situations in which it might be appropriate to consider parting ways with a disruptive player:

  • Consistent disruption: if a player consistently disrupts the game, disregards rules, or makes the experience uncomfortable for others despite repeated warnings and discussions, it may be time to ask them to leave.
  • Excessive inappropriate behaviour: in cases of offensive or inappropriate behaviour, such as harassment, bigotry, or any actions that make others at the table uncomfortable or unsafe, immediate action is essential. Zero tolerance and firm boundaries are crucial for maintaining a welcoming and inclusive gaming environment.
  • Failure to adapt: when a player outright refuses to adapt to the agreed-upon playstyle, tone, or expectations of the campaign and disrupts the immersion and enjoyment of others, it may be necessary to part ways.
  • Overwhelming interpersonal conflicts: if interpersonal conflicts between players become too overwhelming and start affecting the overall enjoyment of the game, despite attempts to mediate or address the issues, it’s best for the problem player to find another group.
  • Repeated breach of boundaries: if a player repeatedly crosses established boundaries, whether in terms of in-game actions or out-of-game behaviour and fails to respect the comfort and limits of others at the table, it may be necessary to remove them from the campaign.

When considering asking a problem player to leave, it's essential to handle the situation with sensitivity and fairness. Communicate your concerns clearly and calmly and give the player an opportunity to respond. Ensure that the decision is based on the overall well-being of the group and the campaign's integrity. While it can be a difficult step to take, it is sometimes necessary to preserve the enjoyment of the game for all participants.

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