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To give context: I am a DM running a D&D 5e campaign set in a home-brew setting for the better part of a year. A few months ago I suggested having an alternate "gaiden" style campaign set in the same setting in which the same set of characters go on short adventures with rotating DMs that could be used during sessions where some players were not available to play. During this winter holiday, one of my players was unable to make sessions and I implemented this system with myself taking the first turn as DM. All players were given invitations to the campaign and given character sheets on our role play app, including the non-available player. The adventure was expanded as the players came to enjoy the narrative and I had new ideas, and is now reaching towards its conclusion. My absent player recently became available again and expressed interest in joining in this campaign. I said yes, some members of the group said no.

While the exact argument was long and circuitous with some hurt feelings, the basic salient points from each side were:

Against Joining

  • Inclusion of new members of the campaign are group decisions.
  • Introducing new characters towards the end of the campaign disrupts the narrative.
  • By making an executive decision under DM purview from the get go, I am undermining their perspectives and feelings by "laying down the law" and not listening to their side. (This might be true.)

For Joining

  • The player is part of the pre-existing group and is not a new member as this adventure is an extension of main campaign.
  • While players are encouraged to add to the narrative, what is and is not narrative appropriate falls under the domain of the DM as stated on pages 5 & 6 of the 5e Players Handbook.
  • Additionally, I have interesting narrative plans involved with his character, that several players and DM's outside of this group approve of.
  • As the DM, I serve as referee. As I view this player as a pre-existing group member, it comes under my purview to make judgement calls how certain player on player issues are resolved. This has been the case before when other players had issues with class abilities overlapping over each others roles and could not come to a compromise, and certain players having issue with role-play issues overshadowing other players. In both cases I had to make official DM statements to resolve the issue.
  • As a DM I have a prerogative to enjoy myself during these sessions else I lose interest in the game and it dies. Excluding a player who I see as part of the group who has done nothing wrong do to what I feel is pressure from a large minority of players does not sit right with me and would impede in my enjoyment.

In the end, I said that I will not exclude anyone member of the group at the behest of the others for what I see as a non-issue, and several player were upset with this decision, seeing it as inappropriate, with at least one player leaving the group outright.

So how do I this resolve fundamental differences in perspective between players and DM about the roles each has in decision making? Am I in the right for making the decision I did? If so, how do I resolve this group dynamic issue? If not, how do I repair these ingresses?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What do you mean by "a large minority" in your last bullet point for joining? How many people are in your group? As I've never had this exact problem, I am unwilling to offer an answer, but I think some of our experts can help you with this social dynamics problem. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 18 '18 at 2:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ I would guess a large minority is something like 2 out of 5 or 3 out of 7 (that would be 4 or 6 players plus the GM). \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jan 18 '18 at 4:05
  • \$\begingroup\$ Have you spoken to your group to determine exactly the reason WHY they don't want this player in the game? \$\endgroup\$ – Sandwich yesterday
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Overall, your position is untenable

Most of your argument hinges on the role of the DM in the group - you specifically cite p.5-6 of the PHB. However, this defines the role of the DM within the group: at issue is the composition of the group as a whole and the DM has no special role or authority in that.

The formation and ongoing evolution of a social group is the prerogative of the group members (and prospective members) individually and collectively not the rules of the activity they intend to engage in. For example, the rules of a football association (written and unwritten) are not the rules of football - for one of the members to assert authority because they act as the referee on the field is a category error. Similarly the social rules of a D&D group are not the rules of D&D.

In particular

Inclusion of new members of the campaign are group decisions.

Indubitably - see above.

Introducing new characters towards the end of the campaign disrupts the narrative.

It all depends on how this is handled: maybe yes, maybe no. There is probably a great question on its own in this one statement - please ask it but please read good subjective/bad subjective first.

By making an executive decision under DM purview from the get go, I am undermining their perspectives and feelings by "laying down the law" and not listening to their side. (This might be true.)

First, the decision is not within your purview as explained above. Second, there's no "maybe" about it - this is absolutely what you are doing.

The player is part of the pre-existing group and is not a new member as this adventure is an extension of main campaign.

This is the best reason given for including the player but is not a compelling reason on its own.

While players are encouraged to add to the narrative, what is and is not narrative appropriate falls under the domain of the DM as stated on pages 5 & 6 of the 5e Players Handbook.

Really? Go read those pages again because they say no such thing. Those pages describe a dialog between the player's and the DM from which a narrative emerges. The DM controls the environment the players control the PCs - you need both to have a narrative.

Notwithstanding - see above.

Additionally, I have interesting narrative plans involved with his character, that several players and DM's outside of this group approve of.

The first part of this is the second best argument for inclusion. The second part is an irrelevancy - people outside the group don't matter (including me).

As the DM, I serve as referee. ...

See above.

As a DM I have a prerogative to enjoy myself during these sessions else I lose interest in the game and it dies.

Absolutely. However, all the other players have this right too and where your rights and their rights are in conflict, that conflict has to be resolved. "My way or the highway" is a method of dispute resolution - it is unlikely to be an optimal method.

How to fix it

Apologize - always a good first step in making things better. Even if you disagree with everything I say and maintain that your position was 100% correct and above reproach I am sure you are sorry about the way things turned out. You wouldn't be asking this question otherwise.

Reset and restart - decide if you want to (or can) go back to the status quo ante, or continue from here, or euthenise the campaign.

Discuss - listen to their arguments and understand their position. Explain yours. Make arguments that will change people's minds, not ones that entrench their opinions against you. Divisive arguments that might work in a courtroom are unlikely to work in a negotiation - after all you are rarely looking for an ongoing relationship in a courtroom. Know what your power and influence in the group actually are, not what you think they are.

Resolve - make a group decision that the group can live with even if individual members (including you) are not totally happy with.

Learn - always learn.

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    \$\begingroup\$ On the money about "DM's purview and prerogatives". I'd also say it's a stretch to say "joining or not" is DM's purview. It would not surprise me if large minority came to be just to protest that. \$\endgroup\$ – LAFK says Reinstate Monica Jan 18 '18 at 11:34
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With things like this there's no "right answer."

If you have everyone agree on a social contract including things like "who lets people into a game - the GM or the group?" you can avoid some but not all of the conflict over things like this. Some groups are "GM's word is law" groups and some are "majority rules" groups. I've been in both. They have pros and cons but neither is objectively correct.

In terms of how to fix your current problem, I don't think there's a fix - you've already screwed the pooch. Your players clearly had an expectation that they have a say in the narrative and the inclusion of players. You have said "nope!" As a result of those mismatched expectations, you've had a player leave and others unhappy. If that is worth including the other player to you, then keep going. If it's not, you may have to backtrack. (I personally would never lose players to include one, but YMMV.)

The way to not have this be a corrosive thing in your game forever is to apologize and have a group discussion about how decisions like this are to be made going forward.

You can also use better communication. Did you explain to the players that you have a specific narrative plan for the new addition? Did you say to the new addition "Hey... So the other players are really into the groove and while they like you they don't really want another character till this arc is over, what do you think?" It sounds to me like there must not have been a lot of explanation for it to explode like this.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Interesting take, as my initial read was that the problem players had already self identified by getting upset and leaving. I can see how that isn't the only way to view this contretemps. I am looking forward to other answers, but this one covers the core point. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 18 '18 at 2:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1. "It's my ball so you do what I want" is never the right way to handle ANYTHING. \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Jan 18 '18 at 7:41
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Fundamental differences - case by case

So how do I this resolve fundamental differences in perspective between players and DM about the roles each has in decision making?

Most often - case by case. Really. Please don't expect a universal answer working for all sizes for such a deep question. Or please make it a separate question, offering more details about how those perspectives differ and what you've tried to resolve them. Same page tool comes to mind as one potential help. I've tried in your final question to offer a helping hand to some extent.

Are you in the right - I'd say yes but that depends

Am I in the right for making the decision I did?

I'd say yes, for two reasons. And no, not what you wrote about you being DM, I'd actually agree with the answer above me on that.

  1. For me, a group takes precedence over a campaign.
  2. You've extended an invitation to the guy. He accepted it. You never rescinded the invitation. I read nothing that mentioned others (this large minority) ever inquired about it or asked you to or had an assumption the guy didn't get the invitation. So, he was just late.

Still, with that, it depends. The real question here is... What's the social contract in your group? Contract of a group, or that of a campaign? Which comes first?

In my groups (4 different ones), if we started a side-campaign cause someone would be missing, we would welcome that missing person anytime. Cause they're a part of the group already. Everybody would chip in the narrative to make the old-new character "better-tied" to side-campaign's plot.

That doesn't seem to be the case for you though. Why? You can probably answer better than we can - it's your group. Is somebody in this minority afraid they'll lose their narrative once the latecomer joins? Were there conflicts (playing styles, in-game, between players, ANY) Perhaps somebody is having a time of their life now and latecomer would spoil it, steal the limelight? Try answering these questions and you may hit upon a solution.

How to resolve/repair

  1. Convey your motivation/reasoning, without pushing it.
  2. Learn theirs.
  3. Reach out a compromise.

The difference between resolution and repair here is how much this compromise leans towards you or them. They don't want to accept the latecomer, the question is WHY EXACTLY. If their problem is botched narrative, ask them which points speficically they want assurances on and give them the assurances. If they are afraid of stolen limelight, hint at some truly awesome scene for their character alone. Etc.

Conveying your motives

  1. Tell the large minority about being a part of a group. Tell you felt it's obvious. "I totally did not think a side-campaign meant he cannot come in, he's part of our group".
  2. Say you extended the invitation already. Say it was never rescinded. Say it's natural to expect that invitation still stands. Yes, it's not good to come late, but holiday/trip/other good reason makes it acceptable.
  3. Explain you never expected this being "just your decision". Say you assumed it was same for everybody. Even if this turned out to be wrong, this is something people very often do. It's a common, human mistake. Admit you're open to that being one such case and ask if it is.

Learn theirs

  1. Learn why they believe a long-time player should be denied access now? Despite the invitation to play?
  2. Ask how they'd tell him why he can't play now and when will he be able to come back and play again? Notice if the answers change between 1st question and now.
  3. Ask them are they all right with being penalized the same way, should they ever miss the beginning of a session (or few sessions in a row)? Even if they do it for good reason (nice and long family vacation, funerals, exams, round-the-world tour or whatever).

Work out rules for next time

Ask the large minority for help with working out a compromise that would be satisfactory. Ask most vocal or deciding person in that group to come with you to tell what you've decided to the absentee.

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While PC's get to decide on the composition of their group, my experience as a DM has taught me that after a campaign has been played more than about four sessions, and one player has never played it, there are going to be problems that will severely interfere with the DM's carefully crafted campaign narrative, as well as other difficulties for the DM, if that absent player suddenly shows up and wants to enter the campaign. It's just one more frustrating thing that player-characters do that mess up my hard work - sometimes.

The other issue for the DM is that the narrative might be completely in the hands of the DM by that point, just because of the nature of the game and the campaign.

For example, right now, my PC group has been kidnapped to the interior of an ancient tree in the Feywilds since level 1. They will reach level 4 this weekend. One player has not played this campaign a single time. If he shows up after this, things will be difficult because, well, I have to fold him in: do I suddenly set him at level 4 and give him some treasure to enable him to fight at the same level the rest of the PC group will be able to fight or do I let him flounder helplessly, too weak, defenseless, useless, and low level to handle the area the PC group has reached at this point?

How this DM approaches this problem

But it's a game, I remind myself, a game, all for fun, and my theory has always been that my challenge - as the DM - is to play the game in a way that gives me and the players as much fun as possible while causing me as little stress as possible.

So I plan ahead a little bit. When that player missed the first gaming session, I started thinking about ways to introduce him into the Feywilds tree late in the campaign. At this point, I intend to teleport him there as a level one character in nothing but his boots, but surrounded by clothing and equipment to help him fight better, as well as a screeching alarm the other PC's will hear so that they will go back to find him. Then I'll give him small things he has to do to level up extremely rapidly.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Any DM knows, but some DM's don't agree with either of those two statements or positions. I'll suggest that you walk back from making so broad of a statement that you can't support it (and you can't). You may want to rephrase that. Or not. Up to you. Your last paragraph has some decent points on how to fold a new player in. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 6 at 5:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right. I was speaking about my own personal opinion and didn't mean to sound like I'm superior or like I'm right and others are not. I sincerely apologize - and truly I'm being sincere because I can see what you mean now that I am looking back at it - so, I sincerely apologize for the way my tone conveyed certainty in some ways when what I was trying to convey was my own personal opinion. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Watts yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ I teach and I think that telling students about things daily gives me a tendency to speak with an unfortunate, undeserved, out-of-place tone of certainty if I feel like I kind of know what I'm talking about. That, combined with the fact that I've been playing and DM'ing D&D since 1978, when I was 13, and am excited about it, feel confident about it, and so on, mean I need to control myself and remind myself D&D is a game that changes with each edition and is open to interpretation in many ways. Gentle reminders like yours are exactly what I need when I start pontificating. Thank you again. \$\endgroup\$ – Jamie Watts yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ Jamie, thanks for your response. Not sure how you might want to rephrase what I pointed to; your experience makes what you have to offer of considerable value, and of course enthusiasm is part of why any of us keep doing that. :) Let me try an edit to take the same basic message with a slight change in tone. If it isn't quite what your message is, you can revert and be no worse off. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast yesterday
  • \$\begingroup\$ Does that edit get your point across? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast yesterday

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