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Been running a great campaign for a few months now with very in-depth story and characters and, generally, everything goes pretty well.

Unfortunately, I have a particular problem that, for a long time, I put up with, but I'm reaching the end of my rope: a player that always has to be right and takes things personally when he isn't. This is not in regards to rules, but in how he thinks certain NPCs should act and his frustration when they don't play according to what he wants.

Part of the problem is, this is exactly what he is like outside of the game and he can't separate that from his in-game characters. He always has to be right and acts passive aggressively when he isn't, which makes things very difficult for me.

Now, that's not something you guys can answer and help me fix or adjust to, but I do need some advice. Because, at the moment, if he feels things aren't going in a way he needs them to, he starts taking it out on me and my story and my characters (which he usually enjoys). Which is awful for me to sit there through. He is impossible to discuss issues like this with because he denies how he acts and blames me. He a good guy really, he's just a bit... difficult sometimes.

So, any ideas or tips? How should I approach disputes when discussing things with him only ever results in arguments and both of us feeling awful.

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Hope someone can answer that because I had the same problem and the only solution I found was to kick the guy out. In my case he would insult the GM when things went in another direction. –  MrJinPengyou Jun 8 '13 at 13:13
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Yeah, I had a similar issue with a player who was too used to GMing, and sulked when NPCs didn't react in the way they would have if he'd been running the game. Again, I ended up having to kick him out for the good of the group :o( –  Phil Jun 8 '13 at 13:20
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+1 for the "kick the guy out until he grows up" strategy. I've had to kick one guy out of three different games of mine, with about a one year wait in between letting him back in each time. Fourth time was finally the charm. If he's a "good guy really" he wouldn't take his frustrations out on you in the middle of a game you're trying to run. This should be the last option you use, though - this sort of wake up either works or makes things worse. –  Phill.Zitt Jun 8 '13 at 14:12
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I have friends I don't game with. They don't have the personal conduct to be part of the game table. I'm not sure if your friend qualifies, but it's probably worth having a discussion with him about. –  valadil Jun 8 '13 at 16:57
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How do you deal with a person that takes things personally? –  C. Ross Jun 8 '13 at 22:54
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6 Answers 6

If talking through the problem with him - usually the go-to answer for this type of question - doesn't work, then you have to move on to the next step: impose consequences for his behavior.

The best way to do this is to kick him out politely. Sit him down privately and say that games are meant to be fun for everyone, but he is clearly not having fun. Phrase it that way, that it appears he's not having fun - because if he really isn't enjoying himself, then he'll see your point; or he might say that he is enjoying himself, at which point you need to explain that he's acting as if he doesn't. Or, if his fun is derived from nitpicking you, he'll be forced to own up to that (or deny it, in which case again explain that his behavior suggests he isn't enjoying himself). Add that he is, in turn, making the game not fun for you. If you have statements from other players who also don't enjoy his behavior, you can add "and others in the group", but absolutely don't name names. Then tell him that since he doesn't enjoy your game, it's time for him to stop playing. Tell him his character will be dealt with appropriately, that you wish him the best, and that you hope to someday game with him again in a setting more enjoyable to you both. End the conversation there - get up and walk away if you have to.

It absolutely sucks to have to boot someone from your game, but if he's this much of a problem and you've already tried talking to him, with no success, then you can't keep him around. He will burn you out, make your game toxic to you and probably your other players, and generally ruin everyone's good time.

There are other ways to impose consequences, such as imposing an in-game penalty on him when he starts trying to control your NPCs, docking XP, or verbally chastising him ("You do not control the NPCs. Please be quiet."); however these usually feel punitive to the problem player and will probably just make things worse. But if you honestly believe that he can be convinced to stop nitpicking, you can try them. You should note that using these will probably end up being a passive-aggressive way for you to kick him out anyway, by making him so miserable and frustrated that he table-flips and walks out - not the ideal solution. It can also make your other players upset with you and sympathetic to the problem player, since it appears you're "unfairly" picking on him - so again, use with caution.

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Before you KICK him out

please try this.

  1. Make sure YOU aren't the problem.
    • challenge your perception of him and his behaviour
    • note down previous occurrences, step by step
    • ask others how they perceive him / his actions
    • try hard to find another explanation, including those that speak badly of you
  2. Make sure REST of the team is bothered.
    • do they like him more than your game? you kick him out, they'll stay?
    • do they like him enough that if you kick him, things will turn sour?
    • do they have ideas how to pacify him?
    • won't they help you?
    • and if you ask for it? it's clearly a problem for you, you want to do it right, you could use their help.
    • clearly admit you're at the end of your rope. That you dislike it enough, you start considering kicking him out.
  3. Get help from the others, including one person who will act as his advocate.
    • don't gang up on him, he'll go crazy defensive, everybody would
    • thus the advocate, a person who knows the issues, but likes him the most, believes him the most or plainly chooses to side with him, despite believing he's done wrong ("Oh come on, stop going so much after him, I know he could do this better, but let's ease up here a little")
  4. Attempt to make him realize what he's doing. Be very civil, very polite, very "on his side" and keep asking for his opinion, but ask him hard questions and keep asking for his reasons for them.
    • ask him "why", in- and outside the game:
      • I believe you disliked the NPC because he didn't act as you predicted he would. Am I wrong? The reason I say so is because you did X and we all know you do X when this and that. It's OK if you dislike the NPC, but as a game master I'd like to know the reasons, it's very helpful for me.
      • OK, Paul. I see you are angry with the lady, but I am puzzled by this. Your character is here for two minutes, you just got introduced, and you play your character like he's angry at her. I kinda am at a loss. I will of course play her accordingly, but before I do that, let me make a short pause here and confirm what happened. Is your character angry at her? For what? Do you realize you play like you are? I think it's not just my opinion, but let us ask others to make sure.
    • explain yourself:
      • recall previous occurrences of such behaviour. Use words that will leave him breathing room. You are prepared, he is not. Don't use this aggresively, or he won't cooperate. No: "Man, you're clearly out of line, that's seventh time this happened on our last 3 games! Insane, what are you, a kid throwing a tantrum?" Instead: I think within just our last 3 games, you had a number of similar behaviours, so perhaps it's something deeper.
    • be civil and on his side:
      • don't talk disrespectfully, even if he says clear bullshit. Calmly repeat what he said: "So, you don't think dragon was cool, because despite being much bigger, stronger and generally a being that outlives each of you together he wasn't afraid? That's what I heard you said but do you really mean it?"
      • use his name often. That's important. Use what he likes to be called and how you call him when you think well of him. Despite the heat of the talk this will allow both of you to calm down somewhat.
      • recall his good ideas. Show him you think well of him. That he can play, that he had good plays.
    • don't let him be silent: Bro, I'm saying all this cause I don't understand what is happening. If you keep silent, I won't understand and we won't move forward here.
    • don't let him play the emo card: Joe, come on, No, I'm not attacking you. If I were, I'd be yelling, calling you names etc. However, I was displeased with how things turned out when X, Y, Z and few others happened. I started thinking, observing you, seeking if my impressions are right or wrong. I think they are right, but heck, I don't know what you think, so I'm asking all these questions now.
    • give him the truth. Say what you want. But also say what will be enough. If you want him never to do X again, is that possible? Or will it be OK if he just shows he's trying? This point matters, as some expectations may never be met, will you be fine with it? If not, then kick him out, or make HIM the game-master.
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I don't think there is much point in designating an advocate, but I endorse everything else here. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 10 '13 at 18:55
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A very minor nitpick - some people do not like frequently being called by their name in this kind of situation. If you grew up with parents who used your full name to scold you, hearing your name immediately puts you on the defensive. Keep that in mind when using that tip, and if he's not responding well, then stop using his name. –  thatgirldm Jun 10 '13 at 20:21
    
@thatgirldm exactly. Also why I said "use what he likes to be called". –  LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Jun 11 '13 at 12:20
    
@TimothyAWiseman thank you. Advocate is helpful (not a guarantee, but helpful) to avoid two problem scenarios. 1) team lynching him, because they are fed up with his ways and feel time has come to pay him back and 2) him feeling betrayed by everybody, because you obviously discussed this without him, and now, when you are prepared you gang up on him. Still, if advocate were to be forcefully chosen (nobody likes the guy enough, nobody feels he can be his ally, any other reason), choose none at all. –  LIttle Ancient Forest Kami Jun 11 '13 at 12:25
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I've been in gaming groups that had similar situations, unfortunately in one of them the person was the GM.

About all you can do is have a "come to jeebus" meeting and discuss what is going on, and your concerns with it. You can either do this in a one on one, or with the group. The group setting can be dangerous, as it can turn into people digging up old grievances or ganging up on a particular person.

I might sit down with the gamer, and point out what you see that is going on. Explain that nothing in the game is personal, and the actions that you are seeing are harming the game and the play for the other members of the group. Let him know that if the behavior continues, it may mean the end of his participation.

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ThatGirlDm has a really great answer, but perhaps I can add a few useful things.

One thing is that how he starts taking it out on your character and your story matters a lot.

If he starts complaining out of character and whining, then you could politely say that you appreciate constructive criticism of your plot, but that it should come outside the game session and you would like it kept constructive. If he is a reasonable person than then that should be enough to end the disruption and he might even give some feedback that is actually useful when he has had some time to cool down and you are in a somewhat different setting.

On the other hand, if he gets frustrated and has his character start doing disruptive things then you can respond in character. If he starts berating an important NPC that NPC might yell right back or even become hostile. This could actually lead to some interesting role playing opportunities and even plots. Plenty of excellent stories are based on parties that hate each other but have to work together anyway for some reason. Plenty of other good stories are centered around two parties that hate each other and mutual friends trying to get them to reconcile. (Though either of those can get old really fast if it happens repeatedly.)

Also, it might help to give the entire group some reminders without singling him out at all. These might include:

  • Please remember that the players and PCs never truly understand the motives of any NPC. If the NPC seems to be acting out of character it might be because they have a hidden agenda that you haven't figured out. It might be because they are more nuanced characters than they first seemed and nuanced characters often seem to have attitudes and beliefs that put them at war with themselves.

  • Please remember that I am open for constructive feedback on the plots and characters, but generally the time for that is after the session, not during it.

  • Please remember the old adage that "You catch more flies with honey than with Vinegar." In other words, you are free to attack any NPC you want, physically or verbally. But if you want them to help and or hire you it's better to be nice.

If the other players support you, you could even put in place a rule that out of character chatter during a game should be kept an absolute minimum.

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As a player, I try to be an example on these situations. Last Vampire game my character was mentally controlled to do something I didn't want to. I didn't moan, nor tried to argue against the odds. I just accepted it, without hard feelings. Hours later, when another player was also mentally controlled, he was quite angry, but I could argue: "Come on, buddy, he did the same with me, and I did not take it seriously".

Cool story bro. What I'm trying to say is you can count on players to help solve this problem. First, if the situation (or similar) that made player A mad has already happened to player B, and no one previously got hard feelings, this example can help your player to understand how those kind of situations must be solved.

Second, you are not the only one who must deal with player A. Other players can talk to him. Just tell them to be assertive, and try not to bring the impression that everybody is against him.

About that, you and your players should try to make him understand that you are playing a game. Having to fight against difficulties is what makes the game exciting. So, when the GM is tensing the rope around the characters (not the players!), he is only preparing the excitement around players solving the quest.

Use the carrot after the stick. I mean, you can provide him a good moment after a hard one (even if the hard moment makes more sense than the good one, you're helping him in a transition). Here your players can help too. If the character has some problem, another character can help him. This way hopefully he can understand that the game dynamic are about hard and good moments, and nothing that happens is truly important.

My last advice is try to avoid hard discussions. If players are split, when the discussion is heated, it's better to change players, play another scene, let player A cool off, and then return to him, maybe summarizing the situation in a way that he understand there's no discussion and probably promising him to discuss it after the game.

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We had such a player in our party. I was new one, all the players were unfamiliar for me, but soon I've got on a short hand with all of them except that one, call him Joe. Soon I understood, that he's going either to get everything as he wants (both reaction of the "world" and the gamers' behaviour), or make our life really bad.So, our games went on. In a month or two, we came to a decision, that it's awful to play in such company, talked to GM and he agreed. He used his "GM ways" to make life of his chars terrible.

What can I suggest: if a person can't go on with your world, it is better let him find other GM or party, which will suit him. Either way, you are the person in charge of such questions, and you shouldn't change your world in accordance with one person's view.

So, talk to him straightforwardly. That's the thing I would do in your place. If he, as you say, denies his faults, just simply say him, that you don't want him to play in your party. That's a bit harsh, but necessary.

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I must say that using the "GM ways" to make life of one player's chars to kick him out is mean. I think it's preferable to do as you advice on your last paragraph. –  Flamma Jun 10 '13 at 22:57
    
@Flamma If you imagine the world full of logic, is it hard for a person without it? For sure. So, if his chars continue to do silly deeds, his life will go worse. This is like a bell's ring for a player - "You're doing it wrong, try to change your way". If he doesn't understand that, then there is talking straightforward. –  Shonai Jun 11 '13 at 10:24
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