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I'm currently running a 6 person World of Darkness campaign, which is heavily social based. 5 of the players I am happy with, but one of them keeps doing stupid things, such as pushing himself to the point of unconsciousness (via a curse the party are under) to prove a point, and then falling unconscious in the bad part of town with a very glitzy sword on his hip. I didn't take the sword from him because at the time it felt as if I would only be doing it to 'get back at him' so to speak.

Since then, another player has raised the point that had any of the other characters been in that situation, I probably would have had their sword stolen, and expected them to either accept that it was their own fault, or try and get it back somehow. But because I felt it would be picking on him, I let him get away with more than everyone else.


UPDATE: After reading the advice here, I decided to let the natural consequences of his actions take place, and see what happens. This resulted in him attacking and killing a fairly important NPC who they were attempting to get information from. When the rest of the party found out, they were frustrated at him for his actions (IC and slightly OOC as well). His defence was that he "didn't have a choice", and to try and pass the 'blame' to me, going as far as to be slightly annoyed with me after the game for "forcing him into that situation". The events played out that he entered an elevator with the NPC, pulled a sword on him, and attacked, expecting the NPC to immediately beg for mercy. Instead, the NPC fought back, but was disarmed and then killed.

I still am unsure what to do about this player, as he seems to want to do things which are a little stupid, with no consequences.

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I've gone by the following rule: You say it, you do it. Consequences are mine to choose. I've had the good fortune that most of my players are pretty much great, and the rest are at least good; but I think that if you step back and say that it can happen without requiring a vindictive GM, it's fair. If you're getting called on not doing it, you should definitely be doing it. Not everyone gets the same hard times, because not everyone makes the same mistakes. Learning is important. – Kyle Willey Mar 9 '12 at 19:28
For that one specific example, you could've standardized the theft of the sword somehow - say, a 20% chance of it being stolen each hour he was unconscious. Then the theft isn't your fault, and still acts as punishment if it happens. – Izkata Mar 9 '12 at 20:29
I had a similar situation: you might also find some of the answers enlightening.… – SnakeDr68 Mar 14 '12 at 13:59
@Izkata: correct, except maybe it sounds more likely 20% every 5 minutes ^^ – o0'. Mar 15 '12 at 13:16
The results can actually add more spice to the game. The murder of an important NPC may be witnessed. Rewards be put out. Reputation spread. The friends of this player character could also gain the same reputation through association. – Lyndsey Ferguson Mar 21 '12 at 12:38

12 Answers 12

up vote 25 down vote accepted

Surely you mean punishing the character not the player?

The character should have a whole lot of horrible things happen to them. Wake up in a gimp suit? Be kept as "blood on tape"? Raped(1)? At least wake up naked covered in marker pen with inappropriate (and bad) drawing on his face. Certainly, the character should have been robbed of all they had on them.

Maybe that's what the player wants to happen. Are they going for a slow but sure decent into despair? Trying to gain whatever little control they have since the curse is playing havoc with their free will? ...

Alternatively, do have a talk with the player asking them about it. Depending on their reactions, you can either kick them out of the game, let it slide as a "whoops, wasn't I lucky", or commence with the poor character's descent into hell.

(1) Rape is a horrible, violent, and vile thing. It should be reported to the Police if after the fact. Each and every one of us should step in to stop and prevent it, if we ever have the misfortune of being around the event. Most rapist are well known to the victim, this is why "No Means No" is an important message. I hope this state my position on the issue clears: it is a wrong, despicable, vile, and horrible act. However, I have dealt with rape, racisms, mass murder, sociopathy, psychopathy, insanity, torture, paedophilia, xenocide, genocide, and many other horrible things in more than one game. Note that if any of my players objected to a theme, it was dropped without much ado. There is always a full disclosure of themes before I run a game. Some of my players were affected by the above themes and agreed to have them run within my game.

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+1 I would have taken the player aside and told them that they were captive and could not say anything to the party until they had found him. – Chad Mar 9 '12 at 22:04

It's currently fashionable to play role-playing games as if the goal is to accumulate stats and loot. This is an awful, awful, awful way to look at it.

You framed the question of taking away the sword as "punishing the player by taking away his loot for doing something obviously stupid".

You should instead frame it as "rewarding the player for enthusiastically role-playing a reckless character by giving the party an exciting new adventure (or, even better, complication of their current one) where they have to get the damn sword back." And then you should put on your very best shark smile, put them through hell, and make them love it.

A few more thoughts and questions:

Do you think he's playing obnoxiously because he's bored or frustrated? Is your campaign closely structured, to the point where he might feel like you're railroading? Disruptive play is a common response to that. It's rare to have 6 players all buying into the GM's vision equally.

Is he / has he been a problem player in other campaigns? Is he just fundamentally a jerk?

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+1 for flip flopping the persepctive. The instigator player is many times considered the diruptive element, yet with a different mindset, the DM can consider the instigator a free bag of plot hooks and ever-present conflict generator. – Paraic Mulgrew Mar 9 '12 at 19:57
I see your point, and I agree! The problem is less "is it right to take their loot away", and more "I could do it to the other players, but I feel as if I'm being non-fun mean if I do it to this player". – English Petal Mar 9 '12 at 20:01
Added a few more thoughts above. Seems like you're conscious of the possibility of being non-fun mean, so acknowledge the temptation and choose to be "fun mean" instead. – Russell Borogove Mar 9 '12 at 20:33
+10 for the first sentence alone. – Sardathrion Mar 10 '12 at 13:21
+1: For the end point. I assumed jerk, whereas you're considering it may be something local to the campaign setting. – deworde Mar 10 '12 at 14:15

If the player is doing really dumb things, then he should face the consequences of his actions. If he wants to push himself to make a point, then great! That's certainly a valid roleplay choice that he can make. However, if doing that leaves him in a bad position, then he should pay the cost of making that point. Certainly don't be vindictive about it, but you can have bad things happen without making it seem like you're 'getting back at him' by making it very clear that the reason bad things are happening is because poor choices were made.

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Admittedly, the point was "You should give me medication" made to a doctor, after admitting that the doctor would find nothing wrong with him on examination, and refusing to say what the medication was needed for. – English Petal Mar 9 '12 at 17:31

Everyone here seems to be dealing with this as if the problem is "I don't like how his character's behaving". That's not the problem. It's World of Darkness, if you like how the naturally selfish murderous egomaniac characters are behaving, I fear for your ethics.

Surely the actual issue is that you have a player who's a disruptive influence and who is making the game less enjoyable, by making his character do stupid things. There's nothing wrong with a player playing a moronic thug who always does the wrong thing as long as it enhances the story the DM's trying to tell, and/or the other players enjoy it. Look at the Penny Arcade Dungeons & Dragons for an example of this. But this doesn't sound like the case here.

In this case, surely you should talk to the player about the fact that he's being disruptive and if necessary arrange games without him.

You are under no obligation to play with someone who is making playing the game less enjoyable.

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+10 for the last sentence. Harsh but true. – Sardathrion Mar 10 '12 at 13:21

There are different degrees of punishment. I think your player needs a slap on the wrist to know that there are consequences for stupidity. Were I in your shoes I'd have taken the sword away, but tried to give him a way to earn it back.

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That is what I probably would have done with any other of my players, but I felt like I was being vindictive if I did it to him. <.< – English Petal Mar 9 '12 at 17:41
Your world should react realistically. Do you really want to compromise that to cater to a player who is probably just testing your boundaries? – valadil Mar 9 '12 at 17:42

Gamemasters all have personalities and those personalities make themselves apparent in the universes that they are moderating (more on why I use this term in a bit).

Aspects of that personality are going to make themselves apparent in-universe. If you are generally benevolent, characters might be more fortunate, if you are strict, then doom and dismay might follow them everywhere.

To a degree, I think that this is OK.

Some might compare gamemastering to being God/a deity of some sort, but that's not an apt comparison. Deities (or lack of them, depending on the game), while affecting the universe that they are in, still obey the laws of the universe (even if they can change them or do things that are currently not explainable); in other words, they are part of the universe.

However, as gamemaster, you are the universe. In being the universe your primary function as the universe is to make sure that the rules are applied consistently.

To that end, I believe your decision to not penalize the player is incorrect. If the characters are generally similar in being perceived by the NPC's as being prey in the environment they are in, then there is no reason the environment should react differently to those characters (unless there are other factors that you are omitting which could change the reaction to one character versus another).

The reason I chose the term "moderating" is because many of the principals of moderating Stack Overflow (I'm as of this writing a moderator there) are the same; there are general rules that must be followed and cannot be changed, but moderators all have personalities in how they approach the things that are left to their discretion (and for which there are multiple outcomes).

People might not like some of your approaches in these situations, but providing a consistent approach in these situations doesn't surprise anyone and generally helps to maintain order (which is really what a consistent application of the rules is for).

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In my experience, sometimes players can act like this because they don't feel properly engaged with their character, and so just push against the mechanics for fun.

It might be worth trying to engage them more, either by discussing their character's motivations and what the player wants to get out of the game explicitly, or trying to direct Plot at them. For example, if the sword you mentioned is special in some way or is a Big Deal to the player, if they try something similar, have it stolen but make it a plot point -- maybe it's sold to or stolen by an enemy, who proceeds to mock them with it. (If they bought it at chargen, you might want to be a bit more reluctant to take it -- or take it with the express purpose of getting it back by plot.)

On the other hand, some players are just dumb and/or jerks.

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In my earlier days (and I'm not proud of this), I've acted that way as a player. I once had a GM who had the annoying habit of letting the party get out of every situation, no matter how foolish we'd been in getting ourselves into it. So I just started throwing my character into battle without regard for his life, just to see if the GM would ever draw a line in the sand. – Erik Schmidt Mar 12 '12 at 23:26
I never felt connected with my character because he was never truly in danger. Whenever things got difficult, I knew the GM would fudge things for me. I'm not at all implying that English Petal is coddling the PCs. My point is that sometimes players do weird things for reasons they might not even really understand. Had my GM talked to me about it, I would have told him I wanted my character to be in real jeopardy. Then again, I should have told him about the problem rather than acting like a 10-year old. Live and learn. – Erik Schmidt Mar 12 '12 at 23:29

I would never try to punish my players for anything when I GM. But with that said, I rarely try to insulate them from the logical consequences either (I'll protect them sometimes, but only either to help out a novice or because I overestimated how difficult something would be so I'm fixing my mistake).

Some players do things knowing its bad for their characters intentionally for a variety of role playing or story reasons. A Paladdin should sacrafice themselves from time to time. Someone documented with a character flaw should play that out even when it hurts them.

I get the feeling that is not what you are describing, and that can make a big difference in dealing with them out of chracter, but in character it shouldn't matter. The consequences are what flows naturally and its hard for it to seem unfair if it is an obvious logical consequence.

If you want to take yourself out of it a step though, you can leave it up to the dice. For instance, if he is unconscious in a bad part of town, roll a 1d6 and on 6 he is left alone, on 5 he wakes up in the drunk tank with a fine waiting for him but all gear safe, 4-2 something is stolen, and on 1 something really nasty like being kidnapped and everything taken.

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I've recently started opening my games with a short speech (mostly because I've been running with players who I don't know so well) that comments, actions and consequences are their responsibilities, that if they muck around too much out of character then they will get a smackdown IC for it - not that I've never had to do said smackdown as a result, but this gets them into "gaming" mode and out of "social mode", if I wanted a social evening I'd go down the pub ;)

For strange/crazy IC actions from characters then I try and give players leeway to some extent but give them a break here and there to consider what the implications of what they are doing are; if they keep being dumb then bad stuff (tm) will happen to them.

"Leeroy lays on the floor in a steadily spreading pool of blood from where you stabbed him, the lift has three floors to go before it reaches the top; he looks like he's likely to die to your untrained medical eye; what now?"

Ultimately I run a very open and loose game where I look to what the characters do to define and expand the world; if a character/player is being a numbskull then they are going to get punished IC and reminded OOC that their actions have consequences, ultimately if they keep being stupid they'll get killed, locked up or run out of town. New character time.

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Some people say: You can't solve out-of-game problems with in-game solutions. In some cases I think that the saying makes sense.

In this case the player and you seem to miscommunicate something - maybe the way you want the players to act is not clear to this player, or maybe you don't understand what kind of game that particular player wants to play.

I would suggest discussing the thing out-of-game, especially if the problem persists, and telling why you find the player's actions disruptive/problematic. Try to emphasise why you feel like they disrupt the game and not that the player is a bad person etc., which will only make them defensive. Try to have this discussion in a situation without pressure.

Possible outcomes: The player does not really want to play in this game, you misinterpreted the player's actions, the player now understands how you are running the game and will try to play accordingly.

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My preferred approach is to start with a few "are you really sure about this course of action" reminders, then let logical consequences of actions happen. If the player persists in choosing foolish paths of action for their character, I'd gradually rein in my attempts at giving second (and maybe third) chances.

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I side with a lot of the advice given above. Everything from the response immediately above mine ("Are you suuuuure?") to "If you want it back, come and get it, nanny nanny boo boo" to what my gaming friends refer to as the "God Smack". Typically the 'God Smack' is reserved for when the player not only neglects the campaign's plot but the core rules. A prime example of a Smack occurred in a Scion game. One player wanted to separate from the group to commune with an informant. The ST said "Don't go anywhere alone, and this place is a mystical jammer", but the player instead opted to try and have his socially strong character leave the location on his own (they weren't too far into the location). Next thing you know, villain comes around the corner and he got the tar kicked out of him by villain & entourage. The other players managed to save him in the knick of time but he (hopefully) learned about when the ST gives overt hints.

As far as troublesome players, I have a friend who gets hyperactive and stops focusing on the game and starts making a cartoon world of absurdities that all but stop gameplay, whether the players enjoy it or not. At that point he is usually taken aside for a moment to cool off.

So I guess the major question is if the player is the actual problem, or the player's interpretation of their own character is. Are these self indulgent / deflective reasonings coming from the player or the character? I've seen some meta-gaming as well as just the intent to wreck a GM's plan be the course for a player's actions, and I've also seen someone fervently defend their character by speaking as their character (most specifically the Machiavellian types). Perhaps it'll help gain insight on a solution when source of the disruption is discovered.

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