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Suppose I suspect that I might be considered a "problem player" but I am not sure. I play using techniques, decisions, or moves that, while not blatantly inappropriate, are atypical or time-consuming, and I am not sure whether others at the table are annoyed.

How can I find out whether I am seen as a problem player? Is the only real answer to say

Ok, my Ranger is going back to town to try to get laid again. Oh by the way, am I a problem player?

or are there techniques or best practices that I can use to self regulate my playing style in order to avoid problems? In other words, I want to avoid being the "problem player" that many DM's and players speak about on RPG.SE (e.g. How to deal with a disruptive player? and How do I, a novice GM, deal with a PC who is constantly difficult?), without needing to depend on waiting to be told this, or worse, having others debating behind my back on how to "deal with" me.

Alternately, how can I communicate effectively with my GM and/or fellow players to ensure that my behavior in and out of character remains within the expectations of the group, especially when dealing with people who may be conflict-averse and more likely to use subtle passive-aggressive techniques than to directly confront someone.

Note: This is a generic "best practices" question, not a request for specific advice on a specific situation. I almost posted it on Interpersonal Skills.SE, but figured that people here have a better idea on interpersonal aspects of tabletop gaming.

This is not a duplicate of Am I a problem player? as that is a question about a specific situation and a request for an actual adjudication or at least informed opinion on whether or not the OP specifically is or is not a problem player given a specific set of circumstances. This question is about how, in general, one can do this themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that a "general best practices" is possible for this, especially since often the things that make a "problem" player would be welcomed at other tables. For example, recently bumped to the first page, we have questions about both discouraging individual decision-making and encouraging individual decision-making. Someone used to one of those tables would be a "problem" at the other. \$\endgroup\$ – Kamil Drakari Jan 16 at 18:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KamilDrakari then an answer might cover how to determine whether you are at the first table or the second. \$\endgroup\$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jan 16 at 18:37
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    \$\begingroup\$ What game are you playing? What constitues a problem player is definitely going to change from system to system. For example, some systems are going to expect PCs to work against each other, but in D&D 5e, for example, they are encouraged to be working towards the same goal for the most part. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 17 at 19:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you playing with people who were your friends beforehand, or are these strangers who have formed a group for the specific purpose of playing D&D? \$\endgroup\$ – Pink Sweetener Jan 31 at 17:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PinkSweetener these are prior friends, and I specifically know from experience that they are shy on giving real negative feedback, preferring to use passive-aggressive behavior and ostracism to punish those they feel are offenders. The fear is that instead of (for example) telling me directly to stop spamming cantrips and develop some more mature strategies, they will just stop interacting with me away from the table. In fact, one of them admitted to me that they were taught as a child "If you can't say something good, don't say anything at all", and that they still tried to live by that. \$\endgroup\$ – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Jan 31 at 17:58
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There is no universal 'Problem Player'

What might be a problem at my table may not be a problem at yours. The same goes for different games, as well as different systems (the expected play in DnD is very different than the expected play in Paranoia for example). Thus we can't lay out a list and say "If you are doing x, y, or z, then you are creating a problem". Problems only exist when someone objects to a situation, or in other words...

You are only a "Problem Player" if someone has a problem with your behaviour

Since you can't inherently 'be' a problem player, you need to get this information from the people you play with. While there are many ways of doing this, the most direct is to simply ask them. You can ask something like,

Is the way that I play/behave creating a problem for you?

Hopefully they will give you some feedback and you can try to adjust based on it. For best results you can try several different things, including to ask each person privately (starting with the GM if there is one), communicating that you are honestly looking for feedback, and not trying to be defensive about your behaviour. Acknowledge that you aren't perfect (as none of us are) and that you are trying to make sure everyone is having fun. You should ask this out of game, as disrupting the flow of the game is not only not-fun, it makes things awkward which makes honest open communication much harder.

Sometimes direct questions are hard

If, as you say, you are dealing with severely conflict-averse people then you might need to try a more subtle method. Hopefully even with these kinds of people you can speak honestly and directly, but if you can't you'll need to observe their behaviour.

Do they seem frustrated, bored, or nervous when you are speaking/playing? Do they avoid you outside of the game? Do they tune out whenever you start doing a certain thing or behaving a certain way? Do they have obvious 'panic' reactions? If they do any of these they might have a problem with your behaviour (ie. you are a 'Problem Player' to them), and you should take note of what you were doing when they displayed those signs. Ideally you would be able to talk to them after the game and bring up the specific behaviour you noted,

I noticed you seemed [frustrated] when I did [X]. Is it a problem that I did [X]? How can I avoid [frustrating] you next game?

If they still avoid giving a direct answer you can try and reduce the frequency of the possibly problematic behaviour and see if that changes anything, but...

If someone isn't willing to communicate, you cannot solve their problems for them

If you've asked directly and gotten no negative feedback, and you haven't noticed any negative reactions to your behaviour, you either aren't creating a problem for these people or you aren't capable of detecting the problem. Either way you can continue as you were until something changes. Hopefully by attempting honest communication earlier your fellow players will be more open to honestly telling you when they do have a problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was writing a similar answer but yours is better, take my upvote. The part of observing the reactions of the other people at the gaming table is the most important when dealing with people that are to shy or try to avoid conflict too much. \$\endgroup\$ – Aguinaldo Silvestre Jan 16 at 19:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ It may also be worth suggesting asking for feedback in this way out of session (rather than mid-game), so people don't feel like they're being put on the spot, and it doesn't feel like it's ruining immersion or getting in the way of the narrative. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 16 at 19:02
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Take a page from the book of successful employees at large, professional companies at review time:

Don't ask what you're doing wrong, ask (typically the GM) what you can do to improve.

This is such an obvious move that it's not even remotely slick any more. It's actually pretty transparent. But in my experience, if the person you're asking is capable of being moved into a more positive discussion stance, this will probably do the trick. The thing is, while it can act as an ice-breaker and let you ask (further in the conversation) some more detailed question, like, "When I do X and Y, is that overdoing it?" it also is an open invitation for the GM to give you any feedback he or she wants to give you. Which means you need to be ready to hear it and, if possible and not unreasonable, act on it. You might end up with commentary that seems light-years away from what you thought you wanted to discuss.

I don't generally do this very often, because it does require a certain level of rapport with the GM in the first place. But on the occasions I have done so, it's been a mostly positive experience. (I say "mostly" because I once ended up with a pretty bracing criticism of something I hadn't even considered. After thinking about it, the critique was correct and useful, and I was able to correct course. But it wasn't easy to hear.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very fine answer. +1 This state of mind is also very useful outside of tabletop gaming. Professionally, in personal relationships... Everywhere ! \$\endgroup\$ – Don Pablo Jan 18 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't just ask the GM. Ask the group as a whole. The GM isn't the "company CEO." The GM is just one part of a group. \$\endgroup\$ – CaM Jan 18 at 20:54
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While there is no exact universal problem player, there is one rule that, if followed, should prevent you from ever being one:

Play the game not just to have fun, but to help others have fun.

This starts at character creation and doesn't stop in RP, but, rather, continues with the player's out of character behavior.

If you:

  • Make a character not just because you think they would be fun to play as, but also be fun to play with

  • Engage with other characters to give their players time to explore them and share their stories

  • Engage with the plot and the world that the DM has presented, especially if doing so with the other characters

  • Are attentive to the table and not distracted

  • Care about other characters’ turns as much as your own

Then you almost can't be a problem player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great point, and a great rule to play by. Quite often, the hallmarks of a problem player is that they are only there to play their character in a way that they want (the classic "my guy" player), and don't consider how it might inconvenience other players and their characters, or even put the DM into a difficult position. \$\endgroup\$ – Myles Jan 18 at 10:49
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Be willing to be flexible in your playstyle to work well with the table

This means the obvious things, like 'don't get my-guy syndrome' etc of course, and other answers have handled the communication aspect, which is crucial to ensuring you are not a problem player at your table.

My suggestion is to keep an open mind and be flexible to fit in with the table as best you can without compromising your own fun. You didn't give any examples or real details about the aspects of your playstyle that could be problematic, but I can make some guesses based on what you did say. It seems to me that you like to do creative things and try to get advantages out of specific actions that are not specifically spelled out in the RAW but which make sense logically. This is pretty common, and while most experienced GMs love it, and can handle it case by case without breaking a sweat, newer GMs can get frustrated when players get clever with spell effects and such. You'll have to assess where you fit in and adjust accordingly.

Some rules of thumb you might consider to avoid being a problem player in this regard are to take stock of how much table-time your efforts will take up. If it's noticeably longer than what other characters are doing on average, you might consider backing off.

If what you are doing will negate another character's 'coolness' factor, you might consider backing off. If what you are doing will circumvent or render obsolete something someone else really wants to do (Oh, the villain is hiding in that rickety old mansion? Let's Move Earth to block all the doors, cast Plant Growth around the place to stop them from getting away and slow down their allies come to save them, and set it on fire with Fireballs, when the GM and the Rogue in particular would rather have gone room to room searching.)

It's a good sign that you're aware you might be causing problems, which may mean that you're doing just fine, but it's good of you to double check.

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There is no generic "problem player" - it's about group cohesion

Pay attention to social cues.

  1. If you spend 30 minutes debating the logistics of your turn but everyone is actively interested in the situation, you're fine.
  2. On the other hand, if you do some questionable meta-gaming and other players sigh and raise their eyebrows at you, it's clear you've gone too far.

    The only way to know exactly what fits your group is to pay attention to your group and how they respond to your decisions.

Worst case scenario, you can just emulate other members of a group until you're confident in your ability to recognize these social cues.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jan 17 at 23:19
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All true problem players have one thing in common: They aren't willing to accept feedback about how they're playing. Everyone, at some point, will unwittingly get on their fellow players' nerves or have an awkward session. But that's not the same thing as belligerently ignoring other people asking you to stop hurtful behaviors.

I'm a little nervous about this question because asking, "Am I a problem player?" is asking whether a particular label applies to you. Like anything else related to morality in life, it's not so black and white. Sometimes, your play will cause problems for other people. Sometimes, because you are human, you will even deliberately annoy other players! But, if you are like most players, you sincerely want everyone at your table to have fun and know to knock it off if someone ever tells you you're doing something problematic. Frankly, the fact that you, dear reader, are thinking about how to avoid being a problem player is a clear indication that you have the rest of your table's best interest in mind and are willing to change anything you're doing that's bringing down your group. That means you already aren't a problem player!

The only situations that end with a player being kicked out or a table dissolving are the ones where a player never listened to the other people they were playing with. That's how you become a problem player in an absolute sense. Don't do that, and you'll be fine.

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