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My group and I just migrated from a DM whose very incongruent storytelling and deliberate punishment of non-hack & slay-solutions scared us off. We (mostly) kept our characters (since they are our first and much thought went into them) and decided to rotate GM-duties.

I am the first to GM, 3 sessions up to now, and I ran into many problems.

The social dynamics: we work as a team in a small theatre company. One of the players is my girlfriend. Another is a cool, funny guy. Both have very little experience, but playing with them is good fun. Along with the second session comes the third player: very experienced and all kinds of problematic.

Problems with the character:

First he builds some tripping monk, which is awfully weak compared to the other guys. He hates that character, so I help him kill him off and allow him to build a new one. (using the resurrection of their friend as a plot hook for the others).

The new character is a Ninja2 / Fighter2 / Chainmaster1. with a blooded template.(by the way, about two third of the build is the same as my girlfriends´) He assures me that the character isn't that strong. That the Ninja is only there for the skills.

Today, he went invisible, crept behind three bowmen and killed them all by Attacks of Opportunity when they fired. (without breaking invisibility, because ghost step is weirdly worded...)

The encounter was laughingly easy, because he had an ability I didn't know worked that way. I feel tricked, because he told me that the Ninja's ghost step wasn't a big deal, yet obviously planned to use it exactly as he did. How should I react.

I want to mention that I do not resent good feat combinations in any way. I just do not like the nasty surprise.

Problems with the Person

He's, theoretically, a nice guy. He knows the rules far better than me. But he is so desperately squeezing for advantages. Every enemy he strikes at is flat-footed for some reason. An enemy fumbles an attack, losing his weapon: he does not say a word. He fumbles: bloody murder on how losing weapon on fumbles favors the critters. He advises me to nerf the abilities of the other players and nags about it. He doesn't tell me how good his abilities are.

And on the social side: I played the first session without him, Girlfriend shy but active. Since: Whenever I ask her something, he gives advice. Girlfriend doesn't say anything anymore. He bogs the game down with lots of rule lawyering. He is loud.

He really challenges my motivation.

I mean, he is loud and uncaring all the time, but D&D seems to pull out his very worst.

He sure doesn't mean to be. He just does not seem to perceive when he is behaving badly.

I do not want to start an argument (he starts blocking completely) and I´d rather not have to "forget" telling him when we play. I´d really appreciate advice on how to resolve this problem.

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Losing weapons on a fumble does favor the critters. Not in an individual fashion but on the whole. Players have a much higher chance of rolling ones throughout campaigns because so many more rolls are made by them than any individual critter. Check the sidebars on pages 28 and 36 of the DMG. –  LitheOhm Nov 27 '13 at 23:35
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7 Answers 7

Ask him to leave

While there are ways to create a social contract within a group, your problems sound severe. In many ways, it sounds like your objectives for playing and his objectives are quite different. When that happens, the best thing to do is to ask him to leave.

My recommendation would be to phrase the request around the core of: "I'm sorry, but I have a hard time running games for you. While I appreciate your skill in the rules, I feel that your presence at the table is too intimidating for me and will have to ask you to leave the game."

Passive-aggressive interactions like "forgetting" to mention games tend to sour relationships far beyond what a quick break will do.

If you don't feel comfortable asking him to leave, work out a social contract with accepted rules for behaviour at the table. This should be a written down contract and everyone playing should participate in its making. Either he follows the contract you all agreed to or, once again, you ask him to leave.

Poison players are not worth interacting with; they make a fun game into a chore.

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Don't forget, you are the game MASTER. I've had to deal with people like this before and I simply make the game less fun for them. Eventually they stop being idiots or I ask them to leave. –  MaxMackie Apr 19 '11 at 21:39
    
I have horror stories of running into poison pills like the person described at conventions. If the DM doesn't set boundaries, the entire group goes to pieces. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 19 '11 at 23:59
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I'm gonna be the dissenting voice here, perhaps. I think there's definitely some kind of communication problem in your group. However, I also think he's playing more or less fine D&D.

Stuff that is his problem

  1. Not being aware that he's annoying you.
  2. Being "too helpful" to your girlfriend so that she turtles.
  3. Not taking "what's good for the goose is good for the gander" when you use his own tricks against him.

Stuff that is your problem

  1. Annoyance about him playing his character to the max, and about being "surprised" and "tricked" because he knows the rules better than you. Do your homework.
  2. Not stepping in and asking him to let your girlfriend make her own decisions.
  3. Letting him continue to argue rules. Hear him out once, and then make a ruling at the table and close discussion.
  4. Not making him aware that he's annoying you, and what he needs to do to fix it, and what the consequences are if you two can't come to some kind of agreement (you won't play with him anymore).
  5. Avoiding confrontation. Wouldn't you rather he "start blocking" than ruin the game for everyone? You've played two games with him. Pull him aside before the next game, away from other people, and gently let him know that it's not working for you. Be honest, but realize that a lot of this is your fault, too. Figure out what you two can do together to fix it. If he won't budge, then tell him that he's not invited to play.

My loudmouth opinions

I'm not sure I believe that he's "loud and uncaring." Did you bother to bring up this problem as it was happening? If he continued after that, sure: he's loud and uncaring. Don't play with him. Most people don't continue boorish behavior once you confront them with it though. Especially if he is, as you say, "theoretically, a nice guy."

I suspect that he's an experienced player watching two new players fumble around, and he's trying to help. No one else knows the rules (perhaps including you), so he's "helping" by explaining everything. I do not understand why you started your campaign at 5th level if you and two other players are inexperienced. That just makes everything more complicated.

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Thanks for the harsh words:) okay, about "stuff that is my problem":1. I understand the joy of minmaxing very much. I have no qualms about him playing his character to the max, only about (perhaps unkowingly) deceiving me about his abilities. 2. I stepped in as much as i could without belittling her. 3. I stop him. Every time anew. But he restarts 2 minutes later. 4/5 I know this guy for 5 years. I am his Director and fellow actor. He does not understand hints and reacts sometimes (!) very shortfused when confronted. I try to find out what to confront him with. your post helped a lot. –  user1711 Apr 19 '11 at 3:17
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Strongly disagree with "your problem" number one. Expecting the GM to be omniscient is unreasonable, and precludes the possibility of a new GM (which seems to be the case here). "Do your homework" isn't really the answer (unless you expect them to memorize and analyze the entire printed works of the RPG). Saying "hey, I'm new to this too, could you cut me some slack and explain some of the complicated interactions of your class" is probably more likely to help. –  AceCalhoon Apr 19 '11 at 17:26
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@Pat I don't necessarily disagree with the opening part of it, so much as the full package. The implication that the issue is strictly one of lack of knowledge by the DM is harmful. In the extreme case, rules-lawyering, min-maxing, and munchkinism can be extremely harmful to a game despite being (by definition) rules legal, especially when paired with a new DM and/or non rules-lawyer/munchkin/min-max players. Agreed that the annoyance may be uncalled for, hence the suggestion of a way to deal with it rather than calling for the player to halt all activity. –  AceCalhoon Apr 19 '11 at 19:36
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It sounds, from the OP, like he's taken the right steps. He's a new DM and asked this experienced player about an ability he thought might be overbalanced. The experienced player says it isn't a big deal, then uses it to dominate an encounter in a single round (while at the same time whining about other people being overbalanced). Players should strive to help the DM in any way they can, for the health of the game -- this to me sounds like blatant deception. If anything is the OP's problem, it isn't point 1. –  PeterL Apr 20 '11 at 18:47
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@AceCalhoon Yeah, "do your homework" is probably not great advice, but it's not terrible advice. If a DM takes an adversarial role against the players, then he can't expect the players to help. If the DM allies with the players against the monsters and just plays his role as neutral arbiter, then he shouldn't care who wins. Still, I'm not saying he has to memorize every book. I'm saying he ought to read and understand the powers of the PCs, if he's that concerned about encounter balance. –  Adam Dray Apr 23 '11 at 4:49
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GM's Mistakes

1) mixing a lead-actor type with a group of newbs. It's a recipe for disaster, unless the newbs are also lead-actor types. The personality type involved NEEDS to be center stage... and will walk all over other players, even if they're the newb and the other players are simply "normal"... Mind you, run for a group of 3-4 of these types, and you get some incredible one-upsmanship RPGing... the roller coaster from hell... but people who are not that comfortable are going to be either dragged along into dominance or turtled.

2) Not calling him on the behaviors in session 2.

3) Not putting the new guy on "probation"... Every new player should be told that the group may reject them for any reason during the first X sessions, where X is best between 3 and 10. Having that probation period gives a safe out.

The Player's mistakes

1) telling others what to have their characters do. It's one thing to hog the spotlight; it's another to turn another PC into your second character.

2) Not accepting the rules as agreed. Whinging on about fumbles when he's affected is just bad form.

The solution:

Pure and simple honesty. Tell him flat out that he's more of a disruption with this group than you expected due to different player skill levels. Best bet, do it soon, and face to face.

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about 3) we inherited him from the previous GM, he was the guy who put the group together. With the previous GM, he was anoying, but not half as much as he is now. Or we didn´t notice because he played quite weak a build. Since we all now him for years, we didn´t even think about putting him on probation. We were obviously mistaken... –  user1711 Apr 19 '11 at 19:11
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I take a more pessimistic view of this player, based on what you've said in the OP, specifically about his deception about his character's skills. This guy sounds like a jerk, but I will assume you are willing to put up with him in your theatre life and thus want to be as polite as possible. So if you are willing to tolerate this guy after his pretty blatant lying and hypocritical whimpering when things don't go his way, then perhaps take the following civil path:

  • Get buy-in from the rest of the group, who you seem to enjoy playing with, so you have support for the rest of this list.
  • Make it clear that the point of your game is for fun, not for a min-maxing who-beats-who scenario. Let the group know that if you feel any character is getting out of hand, you will first ask the player to tone down their character, then if necessary rebalance them yourself with your authority as DM.
  • Don't allow excessive or unnecessary rules lawyering. If it's a minor issue with little impact (effects one attack on one round, unlikely to effect the overall outcome of the fight), the player should indicate they didn't read it that way, but the DM ruling should stand. After the game, you guys can look at it and he can explain his side, but you still get the final say. If it is going to change the outcome of the encounter, you can hear his argument mid-fight, but you still get the final say. Once you have heard his argument and made your ruling in good faith, it is over. Even if he gets a team of experts including the source author telling you he's right, it is your game and you should run it how you feel best suits you and your group.
  • Take him aside (privately, away from ALL other players) and tell him he needs to hold off on advice for other players unless they specifically ask for it. Again, you aren't running a min-max game, you're running a game where players and characters are expected to pick inefficient builds, miss opportunities for character synergy, forget to exploit specific weaknesses in enemies, and just plain mess up. He is there to play his character, not anyone else's.

Right now, he is playing a different game from the rest of the group. He is playing a competitive game, where winning matters and he is willing to do what it takes to win, even if it means being an aggressive player who bends rules (saying it nicely -- to me it sounds more like he's willing to bully and deceive his way to victory). You shouldn't change the game to suit him. You and the rest of the group have fun and are happy with the game as it was. Make sure everybody knows exactly what type of game it will be, give him a chance to play your game, help him try to play your game by enforcing your rules, and finally if he's still being an issue, tell him flat-out that you don't want to DM that sort of game and he should try to find a game more suited to his tastes.

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You should sit him down before your next session, pound into him that his behavior is totally unacceptable, and explain calmly that the penalty for all of his awful behavior is that he's not going to get to play. You're the DM, you have the right and responsibility to bring down the wrath of heaven upon players who make your game a horrible experience.

If he agrees to shape up, you can see how it goes. If he doesn't like this, or if this is not a conversation you are willing to have with him, then you should tell him that it isn't going to work.

Also, I'm having a hard time picturing him as even a theoretically nice guy, since he is "loud and uncaring all the time", even independent of his in-game behavior.

EDIT: I do want to note that my first instinct was for you to not even have the conversation, just kick him straight out. I mean, throwing one rules-lawyer powergamer in with three brand-new players who don't even have the rules down yet...it's just not a good combination.

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Do you know the guy that suddenly starts laughing loud enough to everybody else jump / cover their ears? He is that guy. He (at least subconsciously) needs attention all the time. He gets it by beeing loud, barging into groups (or putting himself between me and the crowd i talk to as a director or teacher) and constantly calling my name to make me look for him. He likes me very much. And it´d feel like kicking a puppy to make him leave the game. –  user1711 Apr 19 '11 at 2:51
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It sounds like he has problems that you may not have the patience or ability to deal with. I don't know what they are, but if he can't even follow basic behavioral ground rules, then you're not going to be able to get him to behave better in-game. This is no longer a DMing issue as much as it is a social-relations issue. –  jprete Apr 19 '11 at 3:40
    
I sure hope you aren´t rght about that. –  user1711 Apr 19 '11 at 4:15
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Others have provided a number of solutions to dealing with the problem player (and there is no question he needs to go), but I wanted to look at it from a more generic standpoint.

edit: I want to mention that i do not resent good feat combinations in any way. i just do not like the nasty surprise...

As a DM, one of the things you will need to get used to is that your players will constantly find ways to throw things at you that you hadn't expected or planned for. It's a natural part of the game and one of the things that differentiates RPGs from any other kind of game. It will happen. It will happen a LOT.

The thing you need to do when you're planning encounters is to prepare alternatives. If your player sneaks up and deals with the archers, have a counter attack prepared with a creature or foe that can see him, even when he is invisible. If your players are struggling in a combat, provide them with means of escape or aid or adjust the capabilities and stats of their opponents on the fly. And so forth.

You will find that as a DM you will have to change things and make things up on the fly quite frequently. Don't feel like the printed module you're running is all you are permitted to do or that you are strictly bound to it. It's one of the things that most new DMs struggle with initially. But with time and practice, it will get easier for you to adjust to your player's needs and the situation as things move along.

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As mild disagreement: I'd recommend not cheating after the fact. If a player pulls out a cool trick then bully for them, they get their moment of awesome. It's only when they start spamming the trick that it becomes a problem to deal with. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 19 '11 at 12:22
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I know that i have to expect the unexpected. To be true, the encounter required lateral thinking. And I had integrated some means to adjust difficulty. My problem is that he sneaked an ability past me during character creation which I do not know I would have allowed. A lvl 5 character staying invisible while killing three guys in meelee is a tad strong. Him telling me that the Ninja´s ability is mostly flavour is simply not good sportsmanship. Especially since he insisted that the stony template as written (which my girlfriend uses) is too strong and made the previous GM nerf it. –  user1711 Apr 19 '11 at 19:06
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This won't change everything but one thing that you could try would be to sit him in front of you at the gaming table or the farthest you can and having your other players closer to you.

It won't make him less a rule-lawyering min-maxer but you will get to hear what your other players have to say to you.

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