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Apologies if this is not the correct place for this question but I'm at a bit of a loss for what to do and would appreciate the advice of an experienced GM.

My party have been playing DnD 5e since July 2017, I DMed us through Lost Mine of Phandelver with a lot of success. At the start of the campaign the players all rolled their own characters and I asked them to write back stories as I was writing homebrew story hooks based on these for the future. We started out with 3 players but by the end of the campaign we had 6. The character who was added around session 3 was met with distrust from one of the original characters (we'll call him P1) and this escalated quite a lot due to drunkenness on the P1 player's part. In a later session this was revealed by the player to be a racist dislike for all dragonborns justified by an event in P1's backstory. I was unsure of this but the new player was happy enough to roleplay it out but over the course of the rest of the campaign, this was never resolved - an explanation has never been given in character though all players know why the character behaves this way. P1's character still says horrible things to the dragonborn and makes a point of stating how much he dislikes him at any given opportunity.

We finished LMoP and started onto my homebrew stuff. P1 and another player were often not able to attend DnD due to other commitments and we decided to pause that campaign until we were more available. One of the other players has DMed through some homebrew and the start of Tomb of Annihilation for about 3 months - P1 behaved a little better during this, no racism, just a bunch of spotlight stealing.

We've recently resumed our original campaign and P1 player claimed that he had lost his character sheet. Fine, I say, choose to roll a new character or remake him as best you can based on memory. He elects to remake this P1 character - the only thing is, he doesn't remake the character at all the same. Half way through the session, the character is revealed to be multiclassed now sharing the same class as the character he is racist against. Another cause of tension. In fairness, I should not have allowed this - I should have put my foot down then and there. But we were mid-game and I didn't want to disrupt it for the other players. I should have fixed this after the session but I was hoping it wouldn't be a problem. He had also forgotten his whole back story which is very frustrating for me as I put a lot of work into the plots surrounding it.

In our most recent session the P1 player was more disruptive than usual - changing things about his character [including giving him an obnoxious accent], interrupting me, talking to me the person not me the DM or NPC about things irrelevant to DnD in the middle of the session during other characters conversations with an NPC and trying to talk to other NPCs while I'm speaking with another character. Claiming to have magical abilities beyond what was previously agreed - a cantrip being used like it's some all powerful spell and then long arguments that I said he could do it last week, etc. The other players were frustrated and a few of them mentioned it to me after the session. Our dragonborn's player has also stated that he now dreads sessions when he knows P1 player's character will be present.

It had come to a head for me. We'd jumped into all this without a session 0 so I decided that I needed to make my expectations clear. In an effort to iron out the misunderstandings between us all I scheduled a Session 0 for this evening. I sent a list of questions with the options of sending answers to me to be discussed at the table or just answering on the night. P1 player obviously elected the latter. But lo and behold, we get a message this morning that he is 'sick' and not going to attend tonight. I have suggested that we Skype him in and he is ignoring us. Most of the other players think he is avoiding the session because he doesn't want to have his behaviour brought into question.

How do I proceed? What is the best thing to do here? Do I just send him the answers to the questions decided by the rest of the group? Do I demand he sends his answers?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ It might be an obvious detail, but was the Old Guard (because that's what I tought it meant) player always this way? It sound like he used to be jerkish as a player but the current situation paints him like he just hates the whole group (or the game or just you). \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Feb 10 '18 at 4:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @3C273 they were all a bit murder hobo ish/excited in the first session but in the second they were very level headed. He really seems to enjoy his character choices so I don't think he hates the game or anything. He is having his own kind of fun. I think he wants to be the star of the show and it was frustrating for him to see someone else worthy of the spotlight, he tends to act out when someone else is doing something important. \$\endgroup\$ – sandwich_messiah Feb 10 '18 at 12:21
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If your problem player isn't interested in being part of the solution to the problem, he's signaled that he isn't interested in playing (except on his terms). Showing up drunk, etc. are all signals to this same end.

The only solution I know of is to disinvite the problem player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what I feared :( thank you for your answer \$\endgroup\$ – sandwich_messiah Feb 9 '18 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Its sad but it sounds like this is the case. Session 0 is about figuring out what everybody wants and coming to agreement, refusing to attend shows this person doesnt care about anybody else. \$\endgroup\$ – gburton Feb 10 '18 at 15:48
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I'm sure better answers than mine will appear soon enough, but for now, here's my take on it.

Re-establishing Session 0

In situations where the expectations between players (which includes you, you are still playing the game, the DM deserves fun too, etc) are wildly different, having a session 0 mid-way is still better than struggling on without one. They are also useful for setting boundaries regarding things like inter-party conflict (which can be fun and interesting, but constant hate from one PC to another may not be appreciated by the player who's PC on the receiving end; how far is too far?).

To me, this sounds like you are going about things the right way, since you have already done this. My guess is that the problem player may suspect that this will essentially be a meeting about him and his behaviour. I might also guess that he is the most immature of your group, in which case him avoiding this "session 0" is him avoiding responsibility for his affect on others in the group, including you.

What next?

So, this isn't as much what to do (you know this could end in kicking the problem player out to save the group), but knowing how to do it... or what else you can do before it comes to that. I think attempting to include him in this session 0 that he isn't attending (sending him the notes or whatever) despite his avoidance my end up being futile, but on the other hand, seeing what you all discussed after the fact may still be an outside perspective for him to reflect on before the next "play" session (i.e. not "session 0").

If his behaviour doesn't seem to change, or he seems to sulk and not engage, then this might not be going anywhere. You may be able to salvage things by talking to him one-to-one about how he's affecting the group, but also on what his expectations are (basically having a impromptu session 0 with just him, which is still not really that co-operative from his position, but ah well...).

Asking him to leave

But unfortunately, if you and the group are still unsatisfied with his behaviour, you may simply have to ask him to leave the group. However, I'd definitely only do this if the other players are annoyed with his as well, although your question suggests that they are (but I just wanted to make that explicit anyway).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer. I think you're probably right, I suspect when it comes to sending him the notes from session 0 he would probably not read them. I grow weary because I repeatedly make a point of how much effort that I put into this homebrew stuff and it doesn't seem to engage him or something so he feels the need to be disruptive. I feel like every time he is disruptive it is an indication of my bad DMing. I wanted to resolve his in session 0 as I think asking him to leave would be friendship ending - he has cut people out for less. \$\endgroup\$ – sandwich_messiah Feb 9 '18 at 13:29
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    \$\begingroup\$ @sandwich_messiah Hmm, I wonder whether it might be the case that he's wanting a different style of game to you? If your homebrew stuff doesn't interest him (but does interest the others, I presume?), maybe suggest running another game (without stopping this one) more in line with his expectations (assuming the group would be interesting in playing a game more along those lines as opposed to the current style). That way, "No" becomes "Not this one", which might turn out better. Of course, you'd still need to find it fun to run such a style, so only if what he wants actually interests you... \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 9 '18 at 13:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ If he "cuts people out" of his friendship for expecting him to behave maturely and treat other people reasonably, he isn't actually a friend: he's a user. \$\endgroup\$ – Zeiss Ikon Feb 9 '18 at 13:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ZeissIkon I can't argue with that; that's the other suggestion besides my above comment, I suppose - is this friendship worth attempting to meet him half way if he won't do the same? \$\endgroup\$ – NathanS Feb 9 '18 at 13:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @NathanS That is very possible. This is what I wanted to discuss at Session 0. I am happy to run a game where they it's one miscellaneous quest after another if that's what they were looking for - I'm actually planning to start one soon for a host of new players on a different night. I guess I'm just frustrated because there's no dialogue here despite all my efforts to start one. All I have is my own conjecture and his silence. \$\endgroup\$ – sandwich_messiah Feb 9 '18 at 13:51
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Let me respond to your example with my own:

I had two players in a campaign I was just starting. I'm generally pretty liberal with what I allow players to choose to play in game. Anything that was in an official book or was from a 'trusted' third party source was allowed in my games.

We were playing 4th edition, and I had one player who was pretty new to the game and wanted to play an Eladrin Fey-pact Warlock. Another player was insistent on playing a Minotaur Barbarian. I was fine with this based on the criterion above. The Barbarian lived by the Chaotic-Neutral/Evil mindset that might makes right, and I have had plenty of players (including him) do this successfully in the past.

The problem with this is that there were other 'weak' caster style characters in the group (we were about 7-8 players strong at this point), and the Barbarian was constantly pushing the Warlock around (in character). He would be fine for a while, then start bullying him. This only occurred in character, so it wasn't an ooc problem. I learned after a little while that he was fudging dice rolls as well (almost all dice rolls, so it was an actual problem).

Both PCs and NPCs tried to address the 'Barbarian' in order to resolve the issue, and a few even threatened him (in character). It all came to a head when he pushed the Warlock too far.

The Warlock's blew up at the latest physical assault on character, and starting repeat spamming eyebite on the Barbarian (making him invisible to the Barbarian). The group Paladin mediated by trying to stop others with interfering, and the group dissolved into two teams... One that supported the Warlock, and a much smaller one that supported the Barbarian.

In the end, neither the Barbarian or the Warlock survived. The Warlock dropped the Barbarian near dead until one attack finally missed, in which the Warlock got dropped in one round. The groups finished the most violent members off and it was over.

When they created new characters, I warned all the players that that animosity is left with those characters. It was over. The Barbarian player made a Bugbear Ranger (with a huge bow) next... Right up his alley. The Warlock player made a Wizard (based conceptually off of Derrick Zoolander, because he wanted to start delving even more into the role-playing side of it).

The problem here was that the Barbarian's player didn't leave it behind and took getting nearly taken down solo by this character he had been bullying personally. This time, his 'serious' bugbear ranger would do things such as steal the necromantic tome that the party retrieved from a villain and plant it on the wizard right before going to the temple that sent them to destroy the necromancer in order to implicate that he was trying to learn from it. This kind of 'pranking' became constant for the next 2 sessions before I finally flat out kicked him from the group.

The player had become toxic to the group and to others outside that circle (shortly thereafter, he became toxic in real life to those around him).


Result


I honestly feel I should have booted him sooner or discussed it with him on a personal basis sooner. I don't know what was going on with him as he had been in the group a while, and while he always played the big damage-dealer types, he was rarely as disruptive as this.

The end result was a friend who turned himself into a real enemy. He became rash and cruel to anyone he thought had threatened his relationship with me (the DM), including my girlfriend (now wife).

I lost a friend, and I truly feel I should have talked to him about what his issues were sooner. I am not sure if he would have talked to me about them, but it would have been better than the end result.

I can't talk to him now because he moved to a point where I couldn't reach him before I addressed it in the first place and crossed a line that I couldn't forgive him for.


Advice in response:

Flat out tell him, outside of a game session, that his actions are a danger to the game and the friendships of the players (particularly with himself). Find out if he needs help coping with something going on in his life. Consider banning alcohol at your games until this calms down (as that won't help him if he is having issues).

It sounds like he has something going on in his life and needs someone to help him as a friend. It's hard to help a friend going through serious problems when they start lashing out, but the lashing out will get worse if they don't get the help they need. Try to empathize with him and talk to him about both the in and out of game issues this creates.

If this doesn't work, you may need to remove him from your group.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Applause. Had a RL friendship get destroyed back in the 80's when I had to disinvite a player from our group. Yeah, it hurts. The the impact of "send them packing" is sometimes good to remind all of us about. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 9 '18 at 19:43
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If everyone playing isn't having fun because of the problem player, your job as the DM is either

getting the player to change his behavior

OR

booting the player.

The second solution is easiest, but you want to give the player the opportunity to change that behavior before you do so. In order to that, you have to lay down ground rules and ENFORCE them.

So what are the ground rules? He did what he wanted because the parameters were not clear to him. So you need to think about what you as the DM want and what the players want.

Whatever arguments he has don't really matter--if he points to past allowances, you can say "Well, that doesn't really work for the group. There's an issue with it, which is why we are laying this down. I didn't want to stop mid-session to fix it, so here we are."

Things you seem to want are:

  • Re-vamping the character more realistically.
  • Doing the background work with you. If the character is not defined with the backstory ahead of time, then, they don't play. Especially if everyone else has done it. It's required, written in stone and can't be changed. Also, you might want to answer some yourself based on what you do remember and send that to him, so he doesn't go off the reservation.
  • No drinking alcohol past one drink per 2 hours. Whatever the in-game reason, it was apparent that the player was pretty intoxicated. That doesn't work for the group. If it squashes their fun point out you have other people to consider.
  • A character that contributes to the party in a more unified way. The campaign is about the party, not the individual.
  • Less cross talk. (Enforce this by using the poker chips of doom--it's ok to do a little, but if there's a DM warning and it continues, they get a poker chip of doom, which knocks off 2 to their next roll. Red chips knock off 5 if they are especially awful).
  • The character can't suddenly have an accent they've never had before. Backstory and character has to be consistent for the following reasons 1) You base storylines on backstory. If he needs a refresher on what you have, give it to him. 2) It's not fun for anyone else if he suddenly develops a characteristic that doesn't contribute positively to the group.
  • Establish a party leader. Have the group vote on it hopefully there will be a clear winner. Give this hopefully reasonable individual a stack of poker chips of doom to give out whenever another member of the party isn't helpful to the group dynamic. If problem player cries about how unfair this is, say that you want to run a game that has party cohesiveness, and you are not the sole arbiter of that. It doesn't have to be the poker chips, but find a way to give the group power over your problem player. This can even be done by telling the rest of them that they have in-character options that you will support as a the DM, given the behavior.

One of the things that might happen is that your player may drop out because it isn't fun for them any more. This is a fine outcome.

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Here are some in game solutions with less real world drama.

Present the trouble player with an opportunity he can't refuse, such as a powerful artifact that only he has the ability to acquire. Make this artifact a central theme of the campaign, to beat the quest the PCs must destroy the artifact or return the artifact to the quest giver. The trouble player's lust for power and cool items will drive him to protect his prize and turn him into the villain. Let the artifact boost his difficulty enough to be a challenge for the party. It would help prevent the trouble player from feeling like he was set up if; he stands a chance at victory, and if he made the decisions which landed him as he villain.

A second option. allow the player to be banished to another plane. The player can only be summoned and unsummoned by the caster. That would put his bullying in check if the caster can pull the plug on this existence in the material plane.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I downvoted because in-game solutions rarely work for out-of-game issues like these. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Feb 10 '18 at 17:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ And all these other answers say the same thing... kick him out. what is so wrong about favoring roleplaying over escalating real world drama? you people need a better reason for down voting than assuming it wont work. if you don't like the player, follow their advice and kick him out, but if he is a friend, this little squabble is not worth a feud. \$\endgroup\$ – RedOculus Feb 10 '18 at 17:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ While there might be solutions other than kicking him out, the other answers (and my personal experience) demonstrate that solving problems like these ingame often make the problem even worse. Also, this answer is just speculation--if you have any evidence that your ideas would work, I would reconsider my downvote. \$\endgroup\$ – Icyfire Feb 10 '18 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Icyfire RedOculus has a point about "if this is a friend, this is not worth a feud." See also the answer Aviose provided. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Feb 10 '18 at 18:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Downvoted because this will actually VALIDATE the bad behavior by giving the player a feel of "I am central to the plot". You don't reward bad behavior \$\endgroup\$ – JP Chapleau Feb 12 '18 at 16:37

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