I am having some major trouble running a game of Pathfinder: Rise of the Runelords.

As some people know this quite a hard campaign, and while it is the first one that I have ever really run, I am content with it.

But that contentment is being ruined with a group I just don't know what to do with. We have one player who is a good member overall but feels he is overworked with helping others. We have one 5th ed veteran who ends up messing around a lot, so his talents are fairly wasted, and his quite cocky and abusive nature does not suit the healer role he plays. We also have 3 new players, who want to play but end up messing around a little, except for one player whom I feel is just the eye of the storm, a decent focused player surrounded by rowdy players.

My biggest problem is the fact that they will not listen to me at all. I am reading out a list of loot, and I look up and finds a player is looking for snacks, and two others are arguing over who gets an MWK composite longbow; on the same list as a bunch of magic items I had quite forgotten it was even something they would care about. I even occasionally (I know I shouldn't) have to scream at them just to get them back to the table.

I know it sounds bad, but really, they all want to play and I want to help them, but I can't if they won't listen to me.

What should I do to get them to listen to me, or just play/focus in general?

PS: Kicking out a player is not an option.

  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Are they invested in the storytelling sections and battle sections? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2019 at 5:43
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ When you say “We have one 5th ed veteran [whose] quite cocky and abusive nature does not suit the healer role he plays”, are you saying his character or he is abusive? Those are very different issues to try to answer regarding! (You can reply with a comment, or edit your post to clarify.) \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2019 at 22:43
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you also clarify your last line: what is so strongly preventing kicking a player out from being an option? \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2019 at 22:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ In response to SevenSidedDie- They are all friends I know on a first name basis and I don't really have the respect of the rest of the group, as some of them are quite dominative. and for your second question he is cocky, abusive and a metagame player outside and inside the game \$\endgroup\$
    – user50904
    Feb 17, 2019 at 6:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ In response to Miles Bedinger- They are moderately interested in everything, but to be fair, in Runeforge's sloth section for lethargic players, they would all feel at home \$\endgroup\$
    – user50904
    Feb 17, 2019 at 6:54

4 Answers 4


It sounds like you have some Chaotic-Jerk in the mix, and it's souring the pot of new players or teaching them bad habits.

The first thing you need to do is talk things over with the most disruptive players.

  • Explain your concerns and that you need the them to take a back seat and let the new kids learn to drive. Point out the situations where they took up too much table time or caused so much needless internal conflict that the others found time to wander off or stuff their face in their phones.

  • Alignment or character personality isn't an excuse for being disruptive at a table, it's an excuse to have the player get rerolled into something that isn't. Characters in the party have to have a motivation for being a part of the party, if not friends, in the long term. This is from personal experience. I take a very serious issue and fast action when a character starts stealing from the party in the first adventure, either owned possessions or unfairly appropriating dungeon loot. This isn't a red flag, it's an immediate problem. Experienced DM's know how much the players hate it when YOU steal their stuff; allowing a character to do so unchecked before the players can build a table-relationship (even if they were friends before) is the fastest way to ruin friendships and a campaign.

Move things along if they start to derail themselves

  • Antics are fine, shouting and arguing is not. Defer conflicts and rule lawyering to after the session or a break. Have an hour glass on the table. Sometimes, that's enough to keep things fast. Use it if it's not. If you can't be corrected in 10 seconds or less, table the issue for later and keep the game moving.

  • If loot is a contentious issue, reduce the amount of loot they find, and make more of what they do find 'attunement only'. Avoid giving out gob-piles of cash and make them find items of value, whether it's a small stash of gems, or valuable tomes or artwork. I use this as justification for having knowledge and professional skills. Don't let them Amazon.com their magic items, and try to let the people you want an item to go to find it first.

Adjust your campaign to focus on the new players.

  • Talk with the wanderers and other new players and sort out what's working and what's not and adjust things to they can be more engaged with their characters. Don't punish or yell at them into submission. Nobody has fun while being yelled at.

  • Track things that makes certain players unique, like known languages, and use that to engage them when it's time for a little exposition/investigation. Pass secret notes to players with lip reading or understand thieves cant to pick up on information only they know about. Old wood-sculpted murals and messages written in Fey, rather than elven, or an abandoned crypts littered with scraps of paper riddled with goblin script (why goblin? why not? Awkward questions make good adventure fodder).

  • Good veteran D&D players just want to play, and aren't too worried about being on a back burner as long as they have times to step forward and speak and be listened to. They're often experienced enough to pick up the slack when things slow down. Adjust your campaign to focus more on the strengths of the newer players and what they want to do for a while.

  • Your campaign may be 'hard', but don't circumvent the new players or play down their attempts to be a hero in one of their first campaigns. If it turns out the table aren't enjoying the difficulty level as much as they'd thought, pump the brakes a little. Part of being a DM is being adaptable.

  • If all the above fails, maybe the problem is you. The DM's best tool is gratuitous plagiarism. Adapt and reskin a story arc out of a premade adventure (which takes most of the work out of it), and give it a run. See how that affects the table and learn from it. Don't give up the screen so easily, and leverage tried and true adventures to help you improve how you run your table and custom adventures.

As a last resort, remove the problem

You're a GM, not a therapist. You are not responsible for other people's behavioral issues, hangups, or frustrations. You can't 'fix' people, and you aren't expected to. There are people who cannot stop being completely disruptive to everyone. Every so often, there's that one guy who REALLY wants to play soccer, but it seems like they do it just so they can kick everyone in the balls with cleats. Cut the rope. Rocks fall. They die. Table break-ups suck, but they can and do happen. They just need to find a table full of people like them, run by a GM that thrives on that kind of chaos. If they exist (they probably do).


First of all, let me tell you that I feel your pain. I've been there many times myself.

That said, you might need to change your own attitude first. If you need to "make" someone listen to you, you have already lost your battle. Put yourself in your listener's shoes. Imagine you're watching a TV show (or you come across a videogame cutscene) and your instinct is to switch channel or to skip: they have "lost" you. Would you like to be forced to pay attention then? Most importantly, would you find it fun?

So what can you do not to lose your players?

  1. Take note of what it is that loses them. Is it downtime? Is it bookkeeping? Is it the plot? The NPCs? Do you simply play for too long without taking breaks? It's OK to have a few minutes' break every hour or so, especially if it means that for the remaining 55 minutes you get people to actually focus.

  2. There are some tricks that you can employ to make things more interesting. For instance, never read text aloud. Ever. Instead, make a bullet-note summary so you don't forget the important stuff, and then make it up in your own words.

    It is really, really hard to read aloud in an engaging way. If it weren't, there wouldn't be businesses selling audiobooks out there. If you make descriptions up in your own words instead, they may be a bit more down to earth, but at least they won't be wasted breath (one hopes).

    Talking to your players directly also helps them to stop you and ask questions. If they do that, great! It's a sure sign that they are engaged.

    By the way, if you do own any audiobooks, try to pay attention to the little tricks that professional actors use to make them interesting. It can't hurt!

  3. Don't be afraid of changing your campaign if it doesn't engage your players. If they hate an NPC that was supposedly an ally, make them a villain instead. Taking them down will be that much more sweet. Have your players made a backstory or personality for their characters? If not, ask them to do it, maybe one piece per week. Then use that stuff to make the adventure matter to them.

  4. One of the examples you make is that they would not listen to you because they started a discussion among themselves over that bow. Well, my advice to you - never talk over your players. It is disrespectful and if you disrespect them you will lose them. Let them have space to discuss in-game stuff and breathe! Then as soon as they're ready for more, move on. On the other hand, if they start to talk about off-topic stuff, such as Bob's birthday party and the ridiculous music he put on, you can ask them to keep that for break times or the end of the game. It's only fair.

  • \$\begingroup\$ Good, but i am a new DM and can't do much changing without a lot of effort. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50904
    Feb 17, 2019 at 6:58
  • \$\begingroup\$ Improvisation is a bit like swimming, it can be scary at first, but once you learn it's forever and it's a lot of fun. But if you feel overwhelmed, by all means stick to your adventure. You should have fun too. Something that can help you are random tools, and there are a lot of good ones on the Internet, for instance I use Donjon. When I prepare my games, I roll until I get something I find interesting, then keep a list of stuff to use on demand if the players ask "are there any other taverns?" or things like that. \$\endgroup\$
    – Rukbat
    Feb 17, 2019 at 13:14

Step 1: Talk with your players.

There seem to be a lot of problems here, but nobody's really doing anything "wrong", just annoying. The first thing you should do is talk with your players. You say they want to be in the game with you, so find out why they're so disconnected. It could be as simple as a poor scheduling, them just getting out of boring classes or off their job, and using the game as an excuse to cut loose. It could be that they consider this kind of behavior as normal, and don't realize how troubling it is for you to rein them in. Or it could be that they're just having a hard time getting invested in the story.

Step 2: Trim the immersion breaks.

If they're having problems staying focused with the game, you may want to keep the non-immersion gameplay (loot division, level ups, rule checking) to inter-session periods over email or chat, so they can debate who gets what, how they want to level up, without interrupting the immersion.

If there are players who are phasing out and leaving the table mid-story for snacks or bathroom, have it be that their character does too, for the same reason. It keeps the narrative flowing, it lets the players react in-character, and it allows for the person leaving to have an in-game reason not to know what was said.

Ironically, by drawing attention to the players' actions, you are pulling the immersed players out of their character. Try to minimize the time you focus on the players and focus the attention on the characters they're roleplaying. Call on them using their character names. If a player starts rummaging through their bag at the table mid-conversation, have an NPC ask what their character is doing rummaging through their bag of holding.

Step 3: Read up on other DM behaviors when dealing with disruptive and disconnected characters.

One of the great parts of StackExchange is that it's a virtual library of DMs asking for advice. If a player's actions are bothering you, chances are you're not alone in dealing with this kind of disruption. If you're having a hard time explaining rules to players, you're probably not alone. We have a massive community of people here. Spend some time looking through questions under the or tags.

  • \$\begingroup\$ So that's how you add tags to answers. Thanks V2! \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2019 at 6:32

Quite a lot of questions.

  • For those new players, have you considered training games to get into the game mechanics? Come up with some throwaway characters, no back story, and run them through a couple of fights and physical challenges. That allows them to understand how the rules work.
  • For the player who has the "wrong" character, find out if he wanted to "play something different" and is failing or why he became a healer. An army medic may be meek and peaceful, or brash and cynical -- he is the guy who runs out under fire to drag a fallen comrade back to safety.
  • Depending on how often you/they meet out-of-game, make sure to reserve enough time before the game starts for socializing. If the usual game is Saturday 1500 to 0-dark-30, don't start the actual gameplay before 1600 or so. The group has to catch up on the week, sports scores, impossible homework assignments, etc.
  • One thing I did in a science fiction game was to replace reading "loot lists" with "kit cards." A small paper card had the name of the item, brief game mechanics, and possibly a picture. The PC whose player has the physical card has the gadget. There were card index boxes for the starship and the ground rover. That means "loot" can be passed out by putting cards on the table.
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point on the socialising bit - I always reserve about half an hour at the beginning for this and had great results in both offline and online games. \$\endgroup\$
    – psycoatde
    Feb 16, 2019 at 13:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ I second the first tip, a training game is helpful for everyone -- including the GM. This group still hasn't "gelled" and needs to find its rhythm. \$\endgroup\$ Feb 16, 2019 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ So you all know, the player you are referring to is a druid. he is not a primary healer because we have a paladin, but he sometimes uses it as leverage. \$\endgroup\$
    – user50904
    Feb 17, 2019 at 7:02

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