Every game has rules mechanics that encourage or discourage certain gaming behaviors. For example, if the only way to gain experience is to kill creatures, then don't be surprised if your party tends to migrate towards the "murder-hobos" playstyle.
Every DM has house rules or ways to act as a DM, that also encourage/discourage some playstyles or table behaviors.
Here, your DM is at their wit's end, but isn't willing to actually do something "real" about it.
I suggest the following:
Present the Murky Mirror (Google AngryGM Murky Mirror) to your group (maybe by email). Ask their opinion about it. Personal experience with this is that it simplifies the game a lot and avoid tons of problems like: "My Guy Syndrome", "Metagaming", "Hostile Dark Secrets", and "My PC Can Act Like A Jerk, But I'm Not Him, Honest!" etc.
Say you think it's a good idea, and anybody not answering is basically agreeing fully to add this to the campaign. Since the article is long, copy-paste it and cut it down to max 1 page or so, only what is essential, with a link to the full article.
AngryGM has tons of other useful articles, but don't swamp your group, that would just create a "TL;DR" situation. One thing at a time!
Try to get everybody's contact info. If they ask what's it about: "Not sure yet. Depends. We'll make sure to call you for your opinion." If somebody refuses to give contact info: "Stop with the paranoia, please? You're a part of this group, not standing outside of it, and we value your opinion, you know? If you don't want to be reached, then you have to agree that if something ever gets decided, you accepted it in advance, no complaints later on."
After enough time for everybody to answer (2+ weekends), try to meet or phone call or Skype (no email, no text!) everybody, one by one, at a moment that they have time to give (i.e. if you're busy right now just call me later this evening or tomorrow." (and call them back if they don't). Basically go get their input on the Murky Mirror thing, but quickly phase to the "artificial separation" of you feeling that having a party that is seemingly split between 2 sub-groups of PCs, which act as more or less separate entities, instead of as a true team, and how you think this overall feels like something that is quite detrimental to your enjoyment of the game.
You call the other players, then the problem players, then the DM, in that order. Say that you find the situation problematic and not very fun, and ask them what they think and what they suggest could improve the overall fun and positivism at the gaming table, for everybody, seen as a group. A full group. Not a group of 2 plus a group of the rest. Anything they think they could do or suggest to try to improve the overall "group morale" and team spirit.
The idea here is you being respectful and trying to avoid a situation when you "prejudge" these 2 guys (reasoning: "since I find them not fun, thus they're wrong, thus I don't feel the need to include their opinions on this despite they being directly concerned by it."). Avoid projecting your opinions on the rest of the group: Maybe they don't care as much or exactly like you do, so again thinking "the rest of the group thinks" can create way too easily false dichotomies here. It's not "the rest of the group", like some kind of "us vs. them" group-think. It's each and everyone in the group (the 2 problematic guys included) having a different opinion. So go get all of those first.
Don't try to "direct" the conversations. Your goal here is not to convince or harass, but just to say (once) you think that you feel a problem, and that you want their opinion on it. If they ask what you think or suggest, tell them you're just polling everybody's opinions and ideas, not trying to force your own ideas or influence their own ideas. You're merely "getting the pulse" of the group's wants and opinions, that's it. Taking notes. Not debating issues.
Keep it short. If all goes well (i.e. they all answer when you call, and are not busy with something else at the moment - it's important to check that first as you call because you need them at their best mindful ad receptive availability), then you should be able to do the full "round" of everybody in a single hour, no more, and ideally much less. Cut off any conversation that needlessly prolongs if need be. 5 to 15 minutes each, tops. Give more time for the problem players and to the DM to really express themselves, if they wish. Allow also more time for you to express yourself but to the DM only, if he asks.
Maybe just talking will solve the problem. With the DM, you can go into more details (after 10 minutes, ask him if he really want to talk longer about this -- you don't want him to feel swamped with and put in the middle of a huge problem). Maybe give him the link to this answer.
In any case, unless you have the full support of the GM from A to Z, you're doomed to fail and the only choice you have are shutting up or adding up more resentment and fire on the oil slick.
After that, beginning of the next game session, with everybody, put the problem in front of the table and ask for a collective brainstorming, because you feel there are some frictions which reduce the overall fun at the gaming table. Ideally, it is the DM that should start it and then, only if he is somebody that is super bad at diplomacy, he should officially say that you will handle the discussions, and that you both already discussed it and you have his full support in this.
Do not do this at the end of a game session with everybody tired and wanting to go home, and able to just leave ignoring the topic, but when everybody is all fresh, when you can have all their attention, and their choice to leave means they're not going to play.
If one of them says "I came here to play, not waste my time with such stupid talks!", anything even resembling that, very early and quickly in the talks, don't push your agenda, but politely say: "Ok, you think such talks are stupid and useless. I respect your opinion. However, I personally don't think so, and I hope you can also respect me as a player, which is exactly the point I'm trying to make with this whole discussion, which is about trying to find ways to behave and respect each other. So, let's vote. Left hand up everybody thinking these talks are important, and right hand up those thinking we should just forget about it." Obviously, if you did your homework properly, all but the 2 guys should vote for your side. "Apparently it seems most people at this gaming table think this issue is indeed important. So yeah we will solve it and play afterwards, because 2 players aren't more important than an entire group of 6, right?" If they decide to leave or become hostile, then they're assholes, and your group is better off without them.
Put emphasis on the fact that it's important for everybody to have fun at any gaming table. Way more important that "My Guy syndrome". For example, maybe it's quite logical in their head for their characters to not have healed the tank. But it should be obvious even to them that saying that the tank is not important enough to be healed, means they are insulting him, which is detrimental to the group harmony and cohesion, both in the game and more importantly around the game table.
However, the personality of their characters is not forced upon the players but fully determined and decided by them. So yeah in face of a PC acting like a jerk, it is 100% the player's fault. If a PC is unlikable, to the point of reducing the overall fun around the gaming table, just change his personality already. Easy. Just change the scribble of the sheet of paper to something less bad. The people around the gaming table are way more important than the sheet-of-paper PCs. PCs are only avatars in a fantasy world of the group's own making. The PC personality is not some kind of holy book falling from the sky that can be used to stomp on the fun of others. Players have a responsibility to adjust their PCs in order to make sure everybody is having fun. Everybody. Not just themselves. Acting anti-team or greedy or selfish is not fun, clear?
If they feel that they have much more mastery and experience, then it should be obvious that they also need to be the leaders that make dang sure that everybody else feels included in the game and can voice his opinions with respect. Everybody comes playing to have fun.
So if there is a conflict between respecting a PC's personality, and the fun of others, it should be obvious which one should is more important. Making mistakes here and there is ok, but if a player's intent is to have fun at the expense of the fun of others, then that is not acceptable gaming behavior.
If a player actually dislikes another player, they should talk about it, try to reach common ground. Definitely not use their PC in order to punish or avoid the PC of the other player. The PCs don't have to be best buddies, sure, but that should be something fully agreed upon between the two players in order to enhance their roleplay. Otherwise by default they should act as part of a real team. Any hostility (or completely refraining to help when asked) should be approved first as being something officially considered "fun" by the very target of the conflict. Otherwise, it's acting like a jerk around the gaming table.
Ideally, in all this, it should not be a "we (rest of group) find you (two guys) guilty, so repent or go away!" aka an "us vs them" mentality. That is just asking for things to deteriorate, a lot. Instead, treat it more like a family trying to solve it's problems, to help each other find new ways to understand each other.
The DM has to actually implement some new house rules that will encourage the gaming table behavior he likes, while discouraging behaviors he dislikes. Applying them fairly to everybody.
DM begins each point by telling why he thinks a house rule is needed.
- (1A) Slowing the game down - Making the DM repeat himself:
I want to encourage actually strongly following what is happening in the game. I'm tired of repeating myself.
We'll just use the Murky Mirror. A round is only 6 seconds. In the middle of combat, 6 seconds is crazy short.
So, if a player is not following the action, then his PC is also not following the action, too. The PC will get just as lost as his player.
The excuse "But my PC is as high level hero" is not good. High level doesn't mean perfect like a godlike computer. That super genius wizard that also gives super-wise advice, throwing powerful spells, can be somebody quite absent minded, and so on. If you want your PC to act perfect, then play perfect.
After all, the player drive the PC, it is not an independent entity. So try to cut down on all the side table tangents, try to follow the main action of the game. Else, I'm not going to repeat myself and your character will just end up risking wasting his turn. In short: I'll focus my attention, as a DM, on players that choose to focus on the actual game.
Follow, even when it's not your turn! Especially when it's not your turn! This game is a social game based on acting as a team, and if you do something that isn't fun for others, you're not a team player. Anybody not able to actively and seriously follow and silently listen attentively to what is occurring with other PCs, without interrupting for at least 10 minutes, is basically saying to the rest of the table: I think only my own PC is important, and I don't care at all about any of you!". Rude and, frankly, socially speaking, that's being a jerk. So you also have to follow the actions of everybody, not just your own actions.
From now on, if a player asks "What is going on", and I already did share that info, then his action for his current turn (or his next, if he does that in a turn that is not his turn), will be a quick recap by me of the situation, but that will be his turn. No action, no movement, no interact with an object, no ready an action, nothing. Player obviously wasn't paying attention to the situation at hand at all. Same for his PC, who ends up wasting a few precious seconds. Follow the game or lose your turn.
Note that if at that very instant, the character is over a pit of lava and needed to "grab something" to avoid falling to his death, well, he will get the recap but, at best, will get to make a "roll or die" check at a "you were being inattentive" penalty.
Anything that is not "roll or die" is resolved with the" yo get the recap but lose your turn. A pit trap opens under group, but instead of grabbing dice to roll Dex Save like everybody else is asked to do, the player just says "Huh? What's going on Guys?" Well... You play your character, what he sees and what he hears leads to what he does, and all of it is you, the player, deciding all of it; he's not a remote-controlled puppet acting independently of the player. So that PC also ended up saying "Huh? What's going on?" while everybody else that was paying attention was hurriedly ducking out of harm's way, and the PC gets no save and auto-fails.
Basically, if your PC dies because you weren't paying attention, that's no bad blood on my part! It was all just your own fault, really. Just pay better attention to the game, ok? Because if you aren't even interested in following the game, then why are you even here?
Out of combat, duration will be longer that 1 round. Impose no action and attentive silence on the player for a few minutes. This should be enough to let him catch again the flow of the story. And attentive silence means no talking to the player next to you, no checking cell phone, whatever. If a player can't interest himself in what the other PCs are doing, why should anybody be interested in seeing what he does? That seems only fair. You don't follow the game, then you don't get to play. Simple enough! This is a team game, not a solo game. If what the others do don't interest you, go back to your single player video game.
- (1B) Slowing the game down - Arguing with the DM:
I am the DM, the players aren't. My job is to deal with the rules and the flow of the game, and I use the rules to make a good game, but I am in no way obligated to follow them. They're more like guidelines, really. Your jobs as players is simpler: roleplay your character in a way that makes it fun for the entire gaming table. Not just you: Everybody!
Basically, I don't want to DM a game full of rules arguments. That's no fun. So if a player gets annoyed or contradictory with me, he's trying to do the DM's job instead of trying to do a player's job. That's crazy, right?
So, from now on, it's the Murky Mirror approach: if rules-arguing occurs, relevant PC is Stunned and Immobile for 1 full round's worth of actions, losing even his Reaction. His PC starts to wast his time babbling incoherently like a madman about how reality should work some other way, instead of focusing on what is really happening in front of him.
A player is allowed to very politely ask about a rule, in a "trying to help the DM which seems a little bit lost on a rule here". Once. But anything more than and that's arguing and then it's "Stunned" time.
Outside of combat (or other high speed adrenaline filled events), that "insanity" lasts longer. Again, typically a few minutes of attentive silence by the player.
- (1C) Slowing the game down - Taking too long to decide on your action:
I think a slow pace reduces the overall fun and amount of actions done in the game session. So I'll discourage tasking too much time to decide your actions.
From now on, you really have to realize that a round is only 6 seconds long. I'll adopt the Murky Mirror, so if the player hesitates, his PC too. If you want your PC to know all of his powers by heart, then you the player also need to learn all of them by heart, too.
When I think a player is taking too long to decide what to do, I will say "6 seconds!" (or another quick and clear keyword). Last chance to immediately describe your action, or lose your round.
If even with the warning he still takes too much time, he gets a quick recap of the general situation, but loses his whole turn.
- (2) Losing a sense of cohesion - Group Morale & Team Spirit:
If I start a campaign that said "You are all a group of dwarfs from the same fortress! There is this huge war with the elves going on, too." and then a player joins, either at the start or later, but insists on playing an elf and ignoring said war, well, such a player is really not respecting the campaign table and style and setting much, ain't he?
I as a DM presented this campaign as being one in which the group follows, and is loyal to, this dwarf order. You guys really have to roleplay this, at least a little bit. This is a campaign prerequisite. I'm willing to ignore past actions, but from now on, try to act the part at least a little bit.
I'll make it clearer: I will give a 7th score to each of you: Karma.
Everybody starts at 12: the minimum expected value of putting forth the precepts of your order and teammates happiness.
Following and being loyal to your order's precepts, and favoring actions good for team morale and feelings, translate into higher Karma. The opposite translates into lower Karma. The GM might adjust the Karma of any PC at any time, usually by increasing or lowering by 1 (or 2 points for the really big ones), "towards" the value that he thinks (in his head) the player and/or his character are displaying.
Example: Refusing to heal the tank while also saying it's for "keeping it for somebody more important" is basically saying to the other player: "You're not important!" That kind of rudeness definitely deserves a drop in 2 Karma (unless he was already quite low, then -1 is sufficient). You're a team. The tank is there to take the damage and the first one to take the brunt of the attacks, so of course it is very important to heal him. Anybody thinking otherwise is basically not a team player, and so... bad Karma.
Remember: Murky Mirror! Whatever the player does, the PC does the equivalent. And whatever the player makes their PC say or do, applies to the player, too. If you make your PC act like a jerk to the other PCs, then the player is acting like a jerk to the other players, too. Do you want to be perceived as a friend or as a jerk?
It is important to note that gaining/losing karma is not based only on the "karmatic" actions themselves, but also on the already existing score. Doing something good for karma when you already have a 16 in Karma score, is just that much harder to accomplish. Because you are expected to be a great team player already at nearly all times. Doing something bad to worsen your karma when it's already at 6, is similarly quite hard to do. Your teammates already know you're not worth any respect already, so they don't expect much out of you anyway. A Karma of 20 means basically a PC that always puts the precepts of his order and of the well-being and happiness of his teammates first, 100% to the detriment of his own interests and happiness, 100% of the time. Think giving everything you have and all your time to your church and friends, that is just impossible. Same for selfish behaviors. A Karma is 3 is basically a player so bad it's instant kick-the-jerk-out-the-campaign time. Most players should end up with a Karma between 8 and 16, with maybe one or two of you that are very slightly out of that range. And 12 is a good stat since it gives +1.
Karma needs to be "constantly supported". Every level-up, Karma will move by 1 points towards a score value of 10 (which is a truly neutral stance, putting as much importance on the order and teammates, as on yourself) (clearly your 2 guys act more like something like 8 Karma but you'll start at 12 Karma anyway).
At the beginning of each game session, one after another, everybody rolls a karma check DC 10, clearly stating their Karma modifier before rolling (otherwise it's an instant failure). Success means the character start that game session with Inspiration (or whatever "heroic" mechanic exists in the campaign), failure means he starts without it.
Sometimes the DM will also ask for a Karma Check with some DC, optionally stating why he asks that roll. Just add the Ability modifier from your Karma. Success means getting the relevant benefit or successfully avoiding the relevant penalty. The DM doesn't have to tell in advance what the benefit or penalty will be.
If the DM uses per-player-XP, then Karma could directly impact how many XPs they get. So jerks end up leveling up slower than "good" players.
Basically, the players can play however they want. But the DM is perfectly entitled to encourage and reward what he finds "fun" behaviors that support the campaign style he's trying to run, and disfavor and penalize opposite behaviors.
The DM really has to put on his pants on here.
whenever the DM says out loud "Focus!", it means:
"Stop with your bickering/arguing/wasting time, right now! Focus on making progress on the main story events."
It's a dire warning to stop diddling around.
Players that ignore the warning, or follow it only for a short while and start again and again and again, i.e. repeated offenses can stack up, then the offending players get some penalty. It could again be the stay silent for some minutes. I had a group of 6 players and I used "You 2, you're too disruptive and don't follow the game, so you go into the living room until I call you back (we played in the kitchen). Your PCs are in "do absolutely nothing mode, not even defend themselves effectively". Well, you can just roleplay with each other, since you seemed to want to do that so much instead of following the action, so you 2 go do that until it's out of your system. And if a fight breaks out, and it did, I called them back only after they took some damage and missed the first half of the fight.
Without any real consequences of rewards and punishments, a DM is no more intelligent than a parent repeatedly saying to his unruly child "I"m telling you to stop this for the very last time, I won't repeat it!"
When its only 1 player, force silence even for 5 minutes, if he is an outspoken player, this can seem like extreme punishment. For 2+ players getting too disruptive because sidetracked, it's obvious their little RP session is more important to them than the game, so let them go and do that. If you count XP, give them a tiny bit less, and if they ask why: "Why do you ask? I had to make you go into timeout mode because you were being disruptive and more interested in your personal PCs discussion, than on the actual game, do you sincerely think I should reward that kind of behavior? You want XPs, then follow the whole game, not whatever seems interesting to you."
Other players may also say Focus!, as a friendly reminder (i.e. without real consequences) to do the same thing. Here it's more like saying: "I feel we are getting sidetracked, let's focus on the main story events please!"
And if they whine about finding the game boring, just tell them:
It's the first time you say the game is boring. It's noted. Please don't think the game is boring because things didn't didn't go your way. Are your characters actually whining like this every time things don't go like they wanted? You decided what to do, going contrary to what the rest of the group wanted, so you have only yourself to blame. If you find that boring, then it's you who are boring, because you are the source of that. And you're certainly not adding any fun to the gaming table right now.
It's the second time you say the game is boring. I'm starting to think you're not really into this campaign. You job is to roleplay your character in a way that adds fun for the entire gaming table and right now you're definitely not doing that. Tell you what, instead of focusing on your boring resentment, try to add to the fun, focus also on what the others are doing, and next time there is a plan, don't always try to control the decisions, sometimes let them decide how to do it. In fact, as there are 5 PCs, unless you want to look like a control freak, then you should not try to control the decisions more than 20% of the time. In any case, it is your job making the game fun, both for you and for everybody. I have already enough on my plate as it is and I also deserve to have fun and your repeated complaints are just grating.
It's the third time you say the game is boring. That's it, third strike, I've had enough. You have no fun being here, and I have no fun with all that repeated whining. You can just pick up your stuff and go home, and think seriously about what kind of positive contribution you'll be willing to add to the gaming environment next game, if you decide to come back. I'd be sad to lose you, but I can't accept that kind of poisonous gaming table behavior anymore. If he says sorry, sorry. Don't say you're sorry to me, say you're sorry to them (points the other players). It's you who failed to make the game fun, not me. Ok, ok, you can stay, but that was your last chance (and make it really the last chance otherwise the other players won't take anything you say seriously anymore).
It's the fourth time you say the game is boring. Enough is enough. Sorry doesn't cut it anymore. Not for tonight, I'm just too tired. So, for tonight, just go home (they whine some more). I just told you I'm too tired for this kind of sit anymore. Now, either you are sorry and leave silently for tonight without making any more trouble, unless you prefer a permanent ban from the entire campaign instead? Because you really are no fun at all.
Then: Good evening, I really wish you'd try to think about how you could improve, and good night. I'm sure you can do it.
Personally I really prefer big groups, like, 5 or even 6 players.
But I'd rather play with 3 good players, than with 6 players but with 2 of them acting like self-entitled asocial misfits.
If a DM doesn't take responsibility to really direct and enforce good behaviors, then he is basically the same as a kindergarten teacher that lets them do what they wish without consequences. In real life, this very soon leads to daily chaos and bad stuff. So why would a gaming table be any different? Maturity and respect aren't ingrained, they must be learned, and without any clear incentives to, players lacking these basic social skills will never learn. As long as they can "get away with it", they will continue. Just telling them to stop ain't enough. There has to be actual consequences.
Basically, you see that whenever somebody acts like a jerk or does something I don't want to see in this campaign, wham, you lose. Note that it is always both the player and his PC that get punished both at the same time. In a campaign, one doesn't exist without the other, and so they share the same fate.
Without actual in-game house-rules to encourage/discourage specific behaviors with clear results, this is like a cop running after a bandit, equipped only with a whistle, and only allowed to say, "Stop or I will shout 'Stop' again!"
You want to tame them? Then make it super clear that bad actions have bad consequences.
Otherwise, without actual consequences, it's all good and nice to try to add some focus and discipline, but you're ending up just shooting with blanks.
Now, they will probably object to all of the above. Tell them: Ok, I'm willing to admit that you're more than mature enough to realize that you need to improve, without forcing you to, and that from now on you will provide a better gaming experience for the other players at the gaming table. But if I don't see a dramatic improvement, not starting right now, not just for a few games but for every game, then it means that you really aren't such good players as you think, and that you really need help with these things. So, if that occurs, then I'm going to start using these house rules. Not to punish you but to actually help you become really experienced and better players. I'm not adding rocket science stuff here, I'm merely doing this one this: gaming table behavior is social behavior. These are very basic behaviors that you as an adult should already master anyway. So, I'll let you prove it, otherwise I'll be forced to use this "bad things results in bad consequences" set of house rules. You two aren't the only players around the gaming table, and it's high time that you realize that.
Basically, silk smooth glove (politeness, respect, take their inputs), well fitted over an iron fist (no budging on the importance to change right now).
It's the DM's game. He has to put some firm limits, or else it's normal that some players will think it's ok to trample all over them, and thus over him and over his campaign and over the other players.