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We have a gaming group that has been playing the game for about 4 years. One of the players is my old friend, with whom I started gaming about 15 years ago. There is also another player, who has also been my friend for a long time. We are in our mid-twenties to mid-thirties.

We prefer long-term games, which characters will evolve and earn their own reputation and treasure by time. Also we like RP-based games, except the second player o told above. He likes power-play and get bored of long role-plays.

This player causes some problems like:

  1. Changed too many characters according to other group members, that cause other group members became close friends in-game and get better equipment (like artifacts) by long-time playing, and this player could not find any place for his character to fit in this group friendship since he change character too often and do not have as good equipment as others since I prefer to give those by role-play and by time. That become a problem in time for him.

  2. In the last game, we decided to apply -1 level penalty (and lower starting money as defined starting money beyond 1st level in DMG). This decision taken by the whole group. He change his character after a while. He expected to get most of his old characters equipment to his new one (to discard the effect of level and starting gold lost) but got nothing. During a combat with a villain, he made a wrong action (based on power-play a wizard) and cause the quest fail and had argument with other group member about his actions. Knowing he will start a level lower with his new character, he loot the villains corpse while the rest was arguing and his character left the game.

Since second situation ends with a big metagame argument, group members also got angry. But since it is our friend, the arguments come to an end and he starts with a new character.

The player:

  • Like the be the possible strongest character in all aspects. Seeing a character do something better than him (attacks, damages, saves, armor class etc)cause him to dislike his character
  • If a character have something greatly better than him (like a paladin with high CHA and high saves or an exalted character with special items) then he starts to argue about game balance and items are not equal.
  • See characters like numerical values, have problems role playing difficult alignments (like Lawful Good) but wish to play them because of their physical strength (attack, damage, save vs) in the game.
  • See races like bonuses and benefits, do not try to rple play them and sometimes surprises me and my group by committing actions neither his race nor his alignment is suitable for.
  • When he starts to think that his character becomes weaker than the others, he take power-play based actions to prove his character's physical strength in combat. That sometimes causes battles to start before some role-play is available or required, or caused a fight where the group can solve the problem with role-play and speak with NPCs.
  • When entering with a new character, he tires to speed-up the process of becoming a trusted member in the group, like saying I will trust you and give my life for you like things when he just met with the group. Other characters (in game) found this strange to trust a person you just met.

Saying this character is hard to role play or that is not a right action for your character (based on alignment and race and class) is useless because he insists to take the character or do a similar action again soon.

He also states that he really does want to play in the campaign, so we feel like kicking him out of the game is not an option. He is not a very social person and these games are the only possible fun for him.

I guess now it starts to become a kind of experiment for me and my group. And I am open to every opinion. Friendship comes first, but if all of those do not let me find a solution, then... well...

How can I deal with a player like this - can I accommodate him and his play style without reducing the rest of the group's enjoyment?

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Edited into a briefer and more coherent format and reopened. It really seems like you have two different questions here still though - how do you deal with a disruptive player who doesn't roleplay well with others and how do you deal with a player who changes characters frequently? Consider splitting and having two questions. To others - site comments are not for discussion, and remember this specific case is "too localized," so a complex psychohistory of this specific player etc. is off topic. Answer the more generalized question. Thanks, –  mxyzplk Apr 3 '13 at 15:01
    
I guess we edit the question simultaneously, @mxyzplk . –  FallenAngel Apr 3 '13 at 15:16
    
fair enough, consider merging in some of my changes though, I made a lot of word choice/cut the fat changes this could still benefit from. –  mxyzplk Apr 3 '13 at 22:13
    
@mxyzplk I would be happy if you do the changes if you have time (since I am not a native English speaker). Otherwise, I will try to do it this evening. Thank you. –  FallenAngel Apr 4 '13 at 9:05
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5 Answers

up vote 23 down vote accepted

Erik Schmidt's answer is probably the better one to go with (as it'll help you find the root cause), but I'll contribute a bit based on what I see from your description.

From your description, you have a player who enjoys:

  • Building and optimizing new characters.

  • Participating in combat.

And who doesn't enjoy:

  • Long-winded intrigue.

And yet, this player is playing in a campaign that is low combat, high intrigue, and where the penalties for building a new character are incredibly prohibitive.

When players are marginalized, they tend to try to get into the spotlight in any way that they can. And that leads to disruptive behavior.

This leaves you with a few choices:

  • Try to get the player into a campaign that they'd enjoy (either by running an additional campaign, or by encouraging them to find/create a new group).

  • Remove the player from your campaign.

  • Find ways to compromise, attempting to bring your campaign and the problem player closer together.

The important thing to realize is that there is no way to force the player to like playing the way you and your other friends are playing.

Character Jumping

Some people like to play the same character, and enjoy the process of growing and developing that character. Other players prefer the creation process, authoring new characters and mechanical combinations.

Dealing with the first sort of player is pretty easy. That's traditional, long-form writing. We see examples of it all the time in many different forms of fiction.

The second sort of player, the one you have now, is a bit harder to deal with. Here are a few things I've picked up to help deal with that:

  • Avoid introductions

    Either introduce the character during downtime ("And so the party rested for six months, and met a new companion"), or use the "poof" method ("of course I've always been a catfolk fighter. Human wizard? Ridiculous."). You want to avoid having players stuck constantly in the untrustworthy rookie slot.

  • Maintain player parity

    New characters should be (or quickly become) the equals of established characters. It's no fun being the one guy who doesn't have an artifact.

    The rule of thumb is that anything that's relevant frequently, whether it's powerful mechanically or narratively. A new character can probably be allowed to do without a one-time favor from a noble. But they should probably get written into a life-debt from the king of the current kingdom (or be given something else).

    If the new character doesn't start with this stuff, then the stated goal should be to catch them up quickly (within a few sessions).

    A level penalty is right out, unless it's a temporary one (or you're playing a game where levels aren't super important). For example, in my 7th Sea campaign, new characters start slightly below the lowest player. But all players are brought to the same experience total periodically.

  • Let them know that they won't get some of the depth other characters do, but make an effort anyway

    From a DM's standpoint, the hardest thing about a character jumper is that you can't be sure of who they will be in the future. So if it takes you three months to author a storyline featuring that character, and they change characters every two, that creates an obvious conflict.

    Let the player know about this, and give them an opportunity to work with you. And make an effort to work their current character into the plot from time to time anyway, as a show of good faith.

Combat and Intrigue

It sounds like this player enjoys combat quite a bit. Most likely, it's a chance to see how the mechanics of their character work, and to show off a little bit. This is all fine, except when it stomps all over the intrigue that other players want.

  • Give them combat

    The easy answer here, is to make sure you're providing combat. Don't make talking the ultimate super-power. Give him a mixture of fodder that he can easily crush, and challenging mechanical opponents.

    This is where the bit about parity and artifacts above becomes important. If their well-honed killing machine is constantly shown up by the senior characters with artifacts, the combat probably won't scratch their itch for them.

  • Signal shifts to intrigue mode

    Provide clear signals to the group when a shift to intrigue mode is happening. Set intrigue in populated areas (cities, etc.) and combat outside of it. Have combat-based foes rush the group, snarling (or ambush them with a poisoned blade), while intrigue-based foes sit calmly on their thrones.

    If nothing else, the occasional reminder that "Baron VonEvil is pretty well connected. Are you sure you want to fireball his face?" can help quite a bit.

  • Always have a backup plan

    This player is going to blow stuff up. As the person who's planning things, that should be a possibility that you consider. How do you keep the plot moving if the villain doesn't get a chance to monologue? What happens if the whole room is fireballed?

    The goal isn't to always have a way for the PCs to succeed per se, but simply for the story to always have a way forward. Perhaps that means that a scheme of the late baron crops up shortly after the heroes fail to find the documents, and now they have a fresh chance to investigate.

    Or perhaps the important documents were partially sheltered by the lockbox they were in. They've been badly charred, but there's enough there to make out a new location to investigate. Is it a trap? Of course it's a trap. They're going in blind.

Communication

Talk to your players. Not just about how you want them to behave, but about what you're trying to do, and how you're trying to shape the campaign to the individual players. Make it a dialogue, and solicit their feedback.

  • I'm trying to add in some more interesting "boss fights." What did you think of that last one?

  • I really liked the way you guys managed to outsmart Baron VonEvil. That's given me some interesting options for the next couple of adventures.

  • My goal is to tell an epic story of your rise to power. I think we could use a bit more of the political stuff, I just need to work out how to write that.

  • Etc.

Recommended Reading

There are two excellent sections in roleplaying books that I'd highly recommend for dealing with this problem, if you can get your hands on them.

The first is for the entire group. It's located in the 7th Sea Players' Guide, on page 238 under the heading Resisting the Story.

It's a couple pages long, so I won't reproduce the entire thing here. But the representative part of it is this:

Don't poison the PC pool. Don't act destructively just because "it's in your character," and don't force other players either to ignore your action or kill your character because it's in their characters. Know where the line is and make sure you -- and your Hero -- never cross it.

This doesn't mean that there shouldn't be any conflict within your party. On the contrary, some of the best and most rewarding roleplaying experiences come from moral or ethical disputes between Heroes. As long as you know where the limits are, and when engaging conflict becomes irreconcilable conflict, feel free to pursue arguments with your fellow Heroes.

The Rich Burlew essay Making the Tough Decisions is another valuable discussion of this principle.

The second is for the DM. It's located in the 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons Dungeon Masters' Guide (pages 8 through 10). It's a breakdown of the different kinds of players, why they come to the table, and how a DM can target each one.

Summary

This is a lot of text, and only really brushes on a lot of important topics. The core assumption here is that you would rather play with this player, than necessarily play your campaign as it exists now.

The key is to give the problem player things that they enjoy. With good communication, a willingness to tune your campaign to the players, and a bit of compromise, the problem player may become a lot more tractable when their needs are met.

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+1 for not penalizing people for starting new characters. Even players with tons of experience can't predict whether they'll like a new character any better than they can predict the stock market (and often a lot worse). –  Oblivious Sage Apr 2 '13 at 15:37
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Kick him out. No, really, kick him out. Just because he says he wants to play doesn't mean he wants to play the same game you all want to.

You are being too kind to him. He is doing to three people exactly what you are trying to avoid doing to one person. He is:

  • Preventing your group from enjoying the game.
  • Being selfish and wrecking a game when he doesn't get what he wants.
  • Taking advantage of your friendship to get away with being a nasty player.

He's not enjoying the game, and he's ruining it for everyone else. Keeping him in the group is not doing him a favour, it's just keeping him in a game he doesn't like. You say this is the only source of social fun he can have, but since he's not having fun, that's not even true. If it's no fun for him, there is no reason for you to tolerate his bad behaviour.

Worse, if he's so passionate about the game and yet he's not enjoying it, he's almost certainly doing something very damaging already: He's hoping and trying to change your group to suit him. We (people generally, that is) often stick with something long after it no longer makes us happy or serves a use because we're still hoping that it might be or become what we wish it was, instead of what it actually is. He's not invested in your game – he's invested in what he imagines your game could be: a powergaming, low-roleplaying hack-fest. That's what he's staying for, and he'll keep zealously engaging with this game that he doesn't like so long as there is a sliver of hope that it can be his dream game.

Kick him out. Gently, if you like, but kick him out. There is nothing you can do to prevent this group from disintegrating in the future if he stays. Either you get rid of the player sabotaging the group, or you lose the entire group. Which is better?

There are other groups in the world, and many like to play the way he does. He should play with a group that likes to play the way he does.

If that doesn't convince you, I urge you to read The Five Geek Social Fallacies. I see four out of five happening here, and they'll ruin your group and your friendship in the end. There's no point in letting him stay in the group out of friendship and kindness when it is self-defeating and will actually undermine the friendship more.

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This seems premature and defeatist; surely a systematic attempt to find out what's actually bugging him, and maybe enlist the group to consider changing practices, would be in order first? –  BESW Apr 2 '13 at 0:30
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@BESW Not all players can be happy in every game. We roleplayers, almost as a rule, try to deny that truth even to the point of self-destructing our groups. I make the case so firmly to counter-balance that very strong tendency we have. I'll let others make the case that the player might be reconciled with the group. Someone needs to say the emperor has no clothes, and I've got the rep to absorb any disagreement. ;) –  SevenSidedDie Apr 2 '13 at 0:42
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@BESW For years and years? And no social skills, as mentioned in the comments? This smells so strongly of the Five Geek Fallacies that I'm comfortable being the voice of maintaining good boundaries and expecting good behaviour from fellow players, even if its an unpopular idea. I wish I knew what it was about RPGs that made people suddenly think that playing well with others suddenly doesn't apply, especially since I've fallen prey to doing it myself. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 2 '13 at 0:48
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@FallenAngel I hate to sound like a jerk, but honestly, at the end of the day you are not responsible for your friend's happiness. If he's destorying his one source of social interaction (which he is), it's not your obligation to fix everything for him. The best thing you can do is tell him exactly what he's doing, and if he doesn't stop then he's going to lose out on the only friends he has. But again, that's not your fault, that's his. –  DForck42 Apr 2 '13 at 13:17
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@FallenAngel It's intriguing why he sabotage a game that he seems to care about so much. When I had those kind of problems were with people that didn't care enough. Good news are that if he is able to realize the problem, he will be interested in the solution. –  Flamma Apr 2 '13 at 14:22
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It sounds like a discussion away from the game table is in order, preferably between just you and him. Some day when there is no gaming going on, ask him what he dislikes about the campaign. Then ask him what can be done to make the game better for him. It's important that he not feel ganged up on or picked on, and that you get his honest opinion.

If he has a long list of complaints, ask him what aspects of the campaign he enjoys. You want to try to pin down what motivates him to play, and what triggers his bad behavior. Then tell him what you enjoy most about the game, and what bothers you most about it. Then ask him for suggestions on how to improve the game so it's a better experience for you. Give him the chance to be part of the solution.

Then suggest that you try implementing any changes you came up with, and that you check back again (again, one on one) after two or three sessions. When you discuss it again either he will have modified his behavior or it will be clear that he still doesn't get it. If he still doesn't get it, tell him that continuing to play when he is unhappy and you are unhappy is not a good thing for your friendship.

He may decide to walk away from the game at that point, or he may not. Either way, he'll understand that the game is important to you, but not as important as your friendship. Hopefully that will help him understand the effect his toxic behavior is having.

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Please consider if any of the following links would be helpful (especially when shared with the entire group and not just the one guy), and should be added to this excellent answer: The Same Page Tool, No Such Thing as D&D, and Making the Tough Decisions. –  BESW Apr 2 '13 at 0:29
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The Same Page Tool is an excellent way to bring a group together with a clear understanding. I didn't mention it (and thanks for introducing me to the other two posts) because I suspect that the player in question may already believe that he's being picked on. Normally a group discussion is absolutely the way to go, but it may be that too much water has already slipped under the bridge in this particular case, and he'd feel attacked. Regardless, I don't envy @FallenAngel. This is a tough situation. –  Erik Schmidt Apr 2 '13 at 3:23
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You should do everything you can to save the party, and keep the player in. If you ever push him out, however smooth and nice you do it, friendship will surely suffer. I have had part in such twice already, and it was tough.

I think that Eric Schmidt, AceCalhoon and Flamma all gave good advice, and I just wish to give you some practical ideas you may try at your gaming table. I am, of course, unsure why this player of yours is doing what he does, but I hope some the below may be of help to you.

...

'The Other 100 Points' from the 7th Sea GM's Guide (pp. 134-135):

An important thing to remember is that your players outnumber you. That means that you should let them choose the direction of the campaign. One good way to do this is to give each player 100 points to divide among the types of campaigns you are interested in running. ...

The party totals and individual preferences for each type of adventure (intrigue, action, romance, military, espionage, epic, you name it) will show you what each player, and the party in general, wishes to see in the game. If you do this together, it will help the party members appreciate each other's preferences and find common ground.

...

If it is only this player who is for wargaming while the rest of the party is clearly for intrigue, diplomacy and investigation, switch from skirmishes to duels. Duels fit well with the civilized courtly milieu and can provide talking stuff, cover, etc. to the other more diplomatic characters.

Or, if your player is being the reckless hack-and-slasher just for the sake of chaos and rampage, you may try to have him run some NPC villains or henchmen sometimes. This way, he can both indulge in being the evil badass and advance the story (and try a different character build, see below). Or, most probably in a duel scene, you can give the villain to one other player who now can 'physically' pay off grudges to the problem player (which I am sure there are) - this will have the beneficial effect of toughening the challenge, and may help blow off steam.

...

Maybe this player is changing his characters because he feels the choices for any one character class/race combination are too limiting (in DnD 3 there are so many character options for so few slots per character).

There was a rule in the 2nd edition Dark Sun campaign setting that allowed all players to start with 3 characters each, and freely switch between the characters as the situation required (within, of course, the limits of believability). Advancing one character advanced another.

This way, your player can have different builds he can try, with all these characters being members of the party all along, so in-party trust issues may be eliminated or lessened.

...

An last, the golden rule from Fading Suns (Andrew's #1 Maxim): Always err on the side of fun. That is, you may err, you may cheat, you may lie to your players, you may do whatever you wish, whenever and however you want, as long as the group has fun. If the player is throwing fireballs recklessly, why not have the important NPCs immunity to fire, or a ring of three wishes or anything that will let them remain alive and advance the story and keep its integrity.

...

I hope you resolve this issue and continue playing and having fun together, all of you.

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Welcome to the site, and thanks for the experience-based answer. I'm not sure placing a 'problem' player as party opposition would be healthy for the group, but I love the idea of a stable of PCs. –  BESW Apr 3 '13 at 0:23
    
+1 for duels! Duels are a nice way to spotlight a fighty player's PC without dragging the whole party into combat. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 3 '13 at 2:38
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From yersterday talk, I think this is a very difficult problem, one we possibly can't give a definite answer, given the premises.

I'd try the following approach, but I don't guarantee success:

  • Talk with your players about your game expectations and styles.
  • Reach a compromise all together. Everyone must make concessions.
  • Make everyone understand that they must work together to reach this compromise.
  • GM according to the compromise contracted.
  • Reward players when they collaborate to make the game what all decided.
  • Use one player expectations as a carrot to encourage sticking to consensous game style (examples 1 and 2).
  • Make the characters shine when they are in their favourite part (example 3).

Example 1: If the player is a power gamer, make a MEGASWORD available to him via roleplaying.

Example 2: If he loves combat, make him do an investigation to get knowledge of the orc camp.

Example 3: When the combat arises, give him the opportunity to be ultracool, with great description that make him look like a hero.

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Looks good! Not sure what you mean by "Use one player expectations as a carrot to encourage sticking to consensous game style," though. Can you rephrase it or elaborate, please? –  BESW Apr 3 '13 at 1:28
    
@BESW I'm not able right now to come with a clearer expression. I have tried to refer to examples, which I hope clarifies all. –  Flamma Apr 3 '13 at 8:03
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