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So, I've been DMing for about 5 months now, and I have encountered a problem player. He was one of the two friends that helped get me into DnD, but I don't enjoy playing with at him all. A few of the grievances I have with the player are:

  • He made his own PC race without my permission, which can shapeshift and has whatever racial bonuses he wants.

  • He always wants to kill a specific PC, no matter which of his three characters he has been. The first one, an elf, worshiped a shunned god and the PC the character wanted to kill was a Aasimar Paladin who was a little dubious of the elf because of her beliefs, thus resulting in the elf monk punching and harming the paladin on many occasions. After the monk died, she was replaced with a Rogue/Monk that was of the player made species mentioned above. This character had a wife that lived in his extra dimensional pocket. When the Paladin said "wow" whilst looking either at the wife or the architecture of the keep they just defended (not even I know which), the Monk/Rogue chopped off the Paladin's fingers that night and ran away. The player's next character was a fighter, half elf, half the above mentioned race and was imprisoned alongside the party when they were captured by a gang. When the Paladin awoke, he was scared because he had no clue where he was. The fighter almost killed him because of that.

  • This player is a huge rules lawyer. I had to make up a trait for the party's Paladin's magic sword so he could use it in conjunction with his magic shield without the rules lawyer throwing a tantrum.

  • He pouts when it isn't his turn to do something and he always wants to be the centre of attention.

  • He once threatened me with a Nerf gun because I wasn't going to let him keep a roll he made prematurely.

  • His characters have been too powerful and prideful, and he is always trying to max out the system so he can be the most powerful character. He often says he is the most powerful character when he is not. The Drow Sorcerer can do a lttle over 300 damage with her Dragon bone dagger, which has the ability to double the damage dice you roll for any one elemental spell (she chose fire) while the problem player's current character does significantly less than that.

There are so many more issues I can list, but I have a session in a few hours, so I have to keep the list short. I've talked with 3 of my 5 players (not including the problem player). The one who plays the Paladin fully agrees with me, but the Sorcerer and the Bard will wait for this session to give their opinion. I haven't talked to the Rogue and Ranger, but I will try to soon. I've downloaded a table with punishments if the player starts annoying me, I am prepared to have a chat with the player concerning these issues, and I am prepared to kick them out if need be. Is there anything else I can do? I don't want to make too much drama out of this, but I can't handle this player any more.

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    \$\begingroup\$ What have you done so far? For instance, when they showed up with a custom race, did you allow it, discuss with the whole table, &c? \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 May 28 '17 at 16:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can we ask what age this player is? You are describing some maturity issues, and whether this player is 12 or 40 might really affect the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Grant May 29 '17 at 11:57
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I too have a "rules lawyer" and power gaming player in my group, who also wanted a homebrew class/subclass to fit his character and tends to create his characters as efficient as it gets. So most of these problems I have also dealt with.

He made his own PC race without my permission, which can shapeshift and has whatever racial bonuses he wants.

(In my case, the player wanted to play a cleric but had an idea which was not represented in the book, so he wanted to make his own. He created a first draft of how he thought the class should look like, then I adjusted it, asked reddit (who were rude but helpful) and then we put his character into play thematically the way he wanted him to be, but mechanically adjusted so he was not stronger than the other cleric options.)

The relevant part is that if we notice that the balance is not right we can and will adjust his character between sessions. (This also includes improving.)

I would recommend you to start "underpowered" and later buff his abilities if needed, this feels way less depressing for everybody than getting nerfed all the time.

An example to adjust his "shapeshifter":

  • He can only shapeshift into humanoid races (the creature type, so no beasts or something else that is restricted to Druids and the Shapechange spell)
  • Limit his abilities in terms of time and usages. Like "only once per short rest" and "the shapechanger is able to hold his changed form for 1 hour until he returns to default". (Look up Doppelganger in the MM for his default form and create racism. No one would like a doppelganger in his store.)

Keep in mind that this shape change is not only "I use any race benefit I want", but also a very effective and cheap way to gain the effect of the Alter Self spell without using a spell slot. He could steal something in a different form and nobody would guess it was him — unless they somehow know he is a doppelganger/shapechanger, and then suddenly he is always being accused. (Maybe don't be that harsh.)

If you are not down for homebrew at all, then tell him upfront and do not allow him to use any source which is not official. You have to be strict then. Tell him that the other players don't have a custom race, why should he?

He always wants to kill a specific PC, [...]

(For quite some time PvP was a huge topic in my playing group. Said player asked me questions like, would he be able to cast Contagion on another PC without him noticing. I do not want PvP in my group, even if all players are down for it. It is not the game I want to play, and so I told him that if he decides to engage in PvP he will have to create a new character, because either the other PCs or fate (me) will make sure his old character will no longer be part of the game. He created a new character fitting better into the group, and the old one simply left the group with the excuse that he no longer sees any reasons to travel with them.)

From your question, I recognize you do not want any PvP either. This is something one should clearly define in a so-called "session 0". Do you want it to be a PvP game? Do the players want it? If not, say so clearly, and do not allow characters which do not fit into the group or are created solely to kill other PCs.

My approach is the following

  • If you introduce a new character, you have to get the rest of the group to accept him into the party. I do not use divine intervention and say "he is in your group now".
  • The background of one's character is created by the player who plays it and only him (in collaboration with the DM). That way there is no way a player can say "I am an assassin hired to kill the other PC", because he is not allowed to tamper with the other PCs' background and add someone who wants to see him dead.

This player is a huge rules lawyer. [...]

When improvising rules, I think the best thing to do is that you write down your ruling and after the session look if there is an official rule which fills this gap. If yes, take the official one, if not or if you enjoy your own rule more, then complete your homebrew rule in a rule text. This makes the rule less arbitrary and defines clear limits. You already did that by creating the trait.

He pouts when it isn't his turn to do something [...]

I see three approaches to that problem.

  1. This is probably the worst one. Ignore him. Show him that it is not always about him.
  2. Speed up combat by encouraging players to preplan their turns. In that way, none of them have to wait very long until it's their turn again, and if it is not their turn they have to plan and adjust their plans to whatever happens on the battlefield.
  3. Allow strategic "out of character" planning. Maybe it will cheer him up if he can talk about other players' options (if he does not disturb them by doing so).

[...] and he always wants to be the centre of attention.

I suggest creating situations that other PCs are simply better in, so it is their time to shine.

  • A Druid is better in a forest/survival situation.
  • A Barbarian is better at destroying obstacles.

Create multiple and/or fake spotlights:

  • If he is the one always walking in front of the group, let him be the first one who walks into traps or ambushes.
  • If he is talking to an NPC, he is distracted and does not recognize a thief stealing his bag of holding, while his party members are not distracted and see it.
  • In some situations, you have to switch the spotlight, so there is more than one 'center' at the same time. The guy in a discussion gains information while the other PCs who do not want to listen to him witness something that can help them. I am talking about things that happen in parallel. He cannot be everywhere at the same time.

He once threatened me with a Nerf gun because I wasn't going to let him keep a roll he made prematurely.

I do not know how serious he was at that moment, but that would be a situation where I would have thrown him out immediately. The game is about fun.

Also, if he is such a rules lawyer, he should know that you only roll the dice if the DM tells you to, and if it is your turn and you announced what you are rolling for. Even without the Nerf gun ridiculousness, I would have told him that if he does not roll "again" he chooses to fail the check.

His characters have been too powerful and prideful and he always is trying to max out the system, so he can be the most powerful character. [...]

(I know this too well. The first two or three characters of the player I am referring to were realy powerful. He since learned that this maxing is not necessary with me as DM, and is currently playing a very squishy character that, because his character does not understand how the world really works, says stupid things in dialogs and chooses non-optimal ways to go, because they are more fun. I do not know how I got him to enjoy the roleplaying more than the "power of his character". I guess it was because the other players did not participate in his competition.)

When he sticks to the rules there is nothing you can do. (Well, there is, but I wouldn't suggest you do that.)

If he uses homebrew, see question 1.

This is a pretty common problem, I think it is a different play style. He enjoys being an optimized powerful hero and probably likes the combat system the most, while you and the other players want to have a lightweight, more roleplay-y game.

In that case I would suggest:

  • Give them non-combat options to solve problems
  • Increase the number and the relevance of social encounters
  • Use/create enemies/encounters which his character is not built for and other characters are more useful/helpful against, like:

    • Is he a melee fighter? Flying enemies, ranged enemies which are faster than him and/or use the environment to keep him out of reach, slowing spells.
    • Is he a ranged fighter? Fast enemies which engage him in melee combat, strong wind or other conditions (spells?) which protect against ranged attacks.
    • Is he a sorcerer? Enemies with high wisdom saving throws if he uses those spells, enemies with antimagic (Beholder, counterspell, dispel magic, magic resistance).

Best would be mixed encounters where the group has to play as a team and are depending on one another to stick to what they are best at. Maybe tune up the encounter difficulty so he learns that he cannot fight alone and needs help from the others. Or maybe tune down the encounter difficulty, so he learns that maxing is not only just not required, but also unfun because it is to easy.

I did the latter, because I balanced around the other characters.

Summary

It is your game and the typical answer on would be that the game is not only about him, and if he is not enjoying the game and/or disturbs the fun of you and/or your group, he might be better off in a different game.

And this is not a bad thing. Different people enjoy different play styles. I get the feeling that he is more the guy for an old school, encounter heavy, deadly dungeon crawl.

For your future games

I would suggest a "session 0" where the group sits together and talks about what kind of game they want to play. An official adventure? A homebrewed one? A sandbox-y game?

In what world are we? Forgotten Realms? Eberron? Something homebrewed?

Are we playing good, neutral or evil characters? Do we want to be heroes, villains, or just selfish dudes who happen to be pulled into something world changing?

Is PvP okay? How are our characters connected? A random event? Do we belong to the same group? (I would suggest having them be part of a group or know each other for about 3 years already, the first would also make an easy hook for new characters joining the party.)

Do we primarily deal with combat? Is it a social campaign with intrigues, etc.? How roleplay-y are we going to get?

And so on...

Also: Clear up the homebrewed rules you want to use. Since you already play a game right now, you have your house rules at the ready and can explain them right at the beginning for everyone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 especially for "start under-powered and adjust upward" idea. I have also had good experience with that technique. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak May 29 '17 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think the other answers covered the big problems very well, but I just wanted to add that while UA is not official, it’s better than pure homebrew as far as balance goes (usually). If he wants to play a shapeshifter, the Changeling from the Races of Eberron is far more balanced that what you described. media.wizards.com/2018/dnd/downloads/… \$\endgroup\$ – Paul Aug 16 '18 at 22:48
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There are two broad classes of problem that this player is causing: Rules issues, and social issues. Of those two, I find the rules issues far easier to handle (and easier still if you can be pre-emptive.)

1. Rules Problems

Both home-brewing a character or racial class without approval, and incessant rules-lawyering, are what I think of as rules problems. In this case they may be driven by an underlying social desire to be the biggest, baddest and most powerful, but they are manifesting as rules issues, and the direct friction is coming from the usurpation of GM authority.

(It seems paradoxical, right? Someone making up his own rules complaining about rules-as-written interpretations? How can that be? That can be when the underlying goal is always the promotion of one's own character.)

There is no part of this battle of wills between GM and Player that I enjoy. The least unpalatable and most effective thing I have found is to solve the problem pre-emptively: Make sure that it is understood up front that the arbiter of the rules is the GM. It's that simple. The arbiter of the rules is the GM. If you want to make up your own class or race or special exception to the rules, ask me. Before we play the first time, I will approve or disallow your character sheet and make a copy of it for my own reference, refreshed at every level. There is no countervailing duty on the part of the GM to the players.

Furthermore-- and I have been very explicit about this-- if I try something that we find out doesn't work, I will change it.

This works far better at the start of a game than a game in process. If you establish the norms forcefully at the beginning, you can lighten up as time goes by. If you start off easy, it is very hard to put the cat bag in the bag.

To solve this after the game has already started (at least along the lines as above) you'd have to stop the game, have a serious sit-down with the whole group, and then go through the character approval/disapproval process... with characters that have been in play. And that's very hard.

But these are the "easy" problems because there are pretty well-defined roles for the player and the GM in the D&D family of games, and your player is clearly transgressing.

2. Social Problems

All of the other issues are purely social issues: Player vs player, player vs GM (nerf gun?), pouting, brooding, boasting, etc.

Some of these can be solved pre-emptively as well, by firmly establishing the tone of the game beforehand. If that doesn't solve things, it at least conditions the ground for the player's eventual expulsion.

On the other hand, there are generally no rules against brooding, pouting, and being a general pain in the butt aside from the social norms of the group. And if someone is bound and determined to cause trouble, they will. Who would think it necessary to say, "Don't threaten the GM (or anyone else!) with a nerf gun during play," before it happened.

3. Actual Advice

I think you're doing the right thing so far, in canvassing the rest of your players. I would continue to do that, but in the process make clear to your other players that you, the GM, need to be having fun in order to continue doing this.

I do not think the "list of punishments" approach will do much good. That has a good chance of reinforcing the battle of wills, rather than shutting it down. Now the player will be thinking, before every infraction, "Is this worth the punishment?" and forcing you into more and more draconian punishments. Is this the game you want to play? Will that be fun for you or the other players?

Moreover, that approach is a rules-based solution deployed against a rules-lawyer. I have never found such an approach to be fruitful. I predict you will find yourself arguing over whether or not each infraction really was an infraction. Is this the game you want to play? Will that be fun for your or the other players?

What I would do, after talking to the other players (assuming you have the necessary authority to do this) is deliver an ultimatum: Put down your expectation, make it clear that a new era is starting, and the next infraction results in an expulsion.

And be ready to deliver.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1, particularly for the bit about a rules-based solution not being effective. Doing that will only move the arguments from being about in-game rules to being about the rules about the in-game rules \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs May 28 '17 at 21:56
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My suggestion is as follows.

  1. Read the web page of The Angry GM.

    He has very good advice on role playing games and dealing with problems like the ones your listing.

  2. You're going to have to talk to the player.

  3. Be prepared to boot him. Be prepared to restart the campaign.

  4. Know the rules of the game. I find that people who know the rules of the game and are players can be like bullies or be arrogant. Knowing the rules yourself can help run the game better.

  5. You should have a summary about your campaign before you start. Have a writeup of the setting, the character types allowed, the races allowed, what rules or optional rules are allowed, etc.

In my campaign I told players that they could be any race or class but not evil. Later a player wanted an evil PC and I disallowed it. It became a discussion but I stuck to my guns and gave my reasoning.

My final advice is this:understand the relationship between DM and players wanting to play the games.

The story you are telling is your story.

When players want to join they are joining under your rules and your conditions. I do not argue with other GMs when I play because it is their story and I agreed to play it under their rules. That doesn't mean I won't bring up questions but I won't argue the answer.

Every player has to understand what kind of of story they are joining, otherwise you will get people butting heads. If a person can't handle your story or isn't interested in your type of game, then just say goodbye with no animosity towards that person and move on.

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This is first and foremost a social problem, not a game problem.

You're going to have to take off your DM hat and approach your friend as a friend. Tell him - politely! - what's frustrating you about the way he's playing, and why. Try to work things out with him. He might not even have realized that he was making you unhappy. If he isn't willing to change his behavior, then don't play with him, just like you don't play Chess with your friend who cheats whenever your back is turned - but give him a chance first.

What you ABSOLUTELY SHOULD NOT do is use a "table with punishments". Your role here is not to "punish" your friend for their bad behavior, either in-game or out of it. Being a DM doesn't and shouldn't imply that kind of relationship between you and your players. It will only make things worse. I'd also encourage you not to try to turn the other players against your mutual friend behind his back. Include them in the discussion, sure, but do it openly and with the intent of getting their honest perspectives on the situation. Otherwise, you'll only get more hurt feelings and damaged friendships all around.

In order to play a game (roleplaying or otherwise) successfully and have fun, everyone involved has to want to play the same game, and to have the same expectations about what playing that game means. Towards that end, you can use the same page tool to help communicate those expectations to each other. If your player thought they were playing in good faith and didn't realize you had a problem with what they were doing, the same page tool might help the two of you straighten out your differences in perspective.

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While I agree with most of the answers here, I think it should at least be acknowledged that your problem player is harassing another player. It is worth having a friendly discussion outside of the game, but if he is not amiable to a new arrangement you should be prepared to uninvite him from your campaign. If he isn't there to play nice and have fun with his friends, you may be dealing with some issues outside your scope as DM that will only continue to harm your game.

I strongly advise against engaging in punishment in the game; he can't possibly be punished in-game in a way that will produce the behaviour you really want from him.

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As the others have put it so well, this is much less a rule based problem than a behaviour problem.

The player tries to cheat. But it should be impossible to cheat the game master. It's your game. He brings a nonstandard race with frankly absurdly good abilities? It is your right to tell him: Nay my friend. It is indeed your duty to make sure that everybody in the party is roughly on the same power level. Not equal in all situations, but everybody should shine about the same.

So do yourself, and the rest of the players a favor and tell him to make a character not much more powerful than the rest. You as a DM are more powerful than anything he has, anyway. It should be clear that the name of the game is cooperation between players and GM, and that he WILL lose a game of confrontation. He can live out his phantasies of power because you let him. "Without your permission" simple means: not in your game. Be firm.

This kind of rule-bending behaviour is unfortunately something many DM's are confronted with early in their career. You can deal with the rules-lawyering by knowing the rules well enough. But it is important to remember that the rules are niceties towards your players: the game world mostly behaves as they expect it. But rule zero is still the most important: The GM decides what happens. You should not abuse this power or you will lose your players. Try to be predictable in your rule-interpretations. But when you have a choice between changing the rules and having a bad game, change the current rules. Decisions must be made, sometimes you will make a wrong decision. As long as it does not change the story, be not afraid to go back on wrong decisions.

Lastly, the guy seems insufferable. I would give him an honest talk, and if he does not relent kick him off the group. Fast, firm, fuss-free and as friendly as possible. Pouting when other people are having a good time, begrudging his friend using both sword and shield? Poor guy, if you ask me. But you are a GM, not a therapist.

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I would personally be more accepting of the idea of reskinning a race rather than the idea of making a whole new one, unless the race is a concept that cannot be represented by the rules. For example, a half nymph is just a fancy half elf and so is a full nymph. A nekomimi is just a tabaxi and a human sized treant is just a dwarf.

I'd also be wary of new archetypes that are merely identical to an existing archetype with the exception that they swap out an exploration or interaction ability or rarely used combat ability for a more frequently used combat ability. Like swapping the assassin's poisoner's kit proficiency for the swashbuckler's ability to sneak attack without an allies help is usually a no-no. I'd allow the swapping of the poisoner's kit for the herbalist or alchemist kit though. And I'd allow a member of a class to maybe take 1 skill their class doesn't normally give as long as they have a good reason or allow a caster to take spells from another classes reason for the sake of concept. For example, if your necromancer is a white necromancer, I'd gladly allow you to take healing spells from the cleric list into your spellbook with the spells you earn from leveling up. In exchange, you have to take a code of discipline, meaning no blatantly evil necromancy spells.

The basic premise, is that I'd let you trade something for something appropriate. Sure, a bard or rogue could trade away longsword proficiency for scimitar proficiency, as long as they aren't gaining back longsword proficiency from another source, and I'd let you use a dagger you could use to slash or pierce, but not be able to throw.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE Umbrie Shadowsong! StackExchange gladly welcomes "late" contributions. The idea behind the network is to have a repository of questions and answers for everyone who will come here with a similar problem, so adding more solutions to an "old" problem is encouraged - because it might very well be a "new" problem for someone coming along even later. If you have a moment please take the tour and visit the help center to learn more about the site. Have fun! \$\endgroup\$ – Secespitus Aug 16 '18 at 11:01

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