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I am new to DMing. I am starting off with the Lost Mine of Phandelver adventure to get my feet wet.

One player in particular is playing a half-elf bard. They have watched a lot of Critical Role and are inspired by the stories that are created by those creative minds.

His approach to learning about the other characters is somewhat unorthodox. He will wait until they are chased down a mountain by a band of orcs and are hiding in the lowlands under cover of darkness to talk about his bedroll, and will go out of his way to ask the other characters what they think about his family crest that adorns the otherwise plain blue bedsheet that he keeps throughout his adventures. The other characters, recognizing the potential danger they are in, pay little mind to his antics, which actively frustrates the player of the half-elf bard, who feels as though it should evoke the other players to share their backstories.

It is somewhat irritating that he will forcibly ask the other players to provide an opinion on every little action his character takes, and he is a bit forceful about his way of getting the other characters to "open up". This makes for hilarious bits of dialog on occasion, and characterizes his half elf bard to an extent, but really slows the pacing of certain scenes down.

The other characters are role playing exceptionally in my opinion, despite all of us being new. As the DM, if I feel it's absolutely necessary that they give their opinion, I'll ask it of them. I feel it takes away from both my (as DM) and their (as players) agency that this one particular player continues to prod them for information, which I have vocalized.

The player on the other hand sees differently. He feels that there is only more story to be made if he knows more about the characters. He has even told me several times that it's my responsibility as a DM to prompt the characters to recount their lives to the other characters in the adventure. The other players, again, are role playing well, and I feel at the rate we are going everything will be revealed in time.

Aside from this bringing the scene to a grinding halt, which is irritating as a new DM, since I am only just getting familiar with the pacing of certain scenes to begin with, there is also an in-lore reason why the characters would not reveal this information. One of the other player characters is a Svirfneblin (deep gnome) Pact of the Tome Warlock. Deep Gnomes are known for keeping their private and business lives separate, and additionally live in secret societies in the Underdark. Beyond that, the Deep Gnome Warlock has a secret that she is keeping from the party, which is all the more reason for her to refuse outright to tell these newcomers her life's story.

If I were to describe the bulk of the party (if fact, everyone besides the half-elf bard) I would say that they keep to themselves and are wary of people who are asking too many questions.

The half-elf bard still wants to know more about these people he finds himself adventuring with, and continues to interrupt the pacing of various scenes by playing "temp DM" and coloring it like he's doing me a favor (he has never DM'd before either, he's just watched Critical Role). I've told him to stop, and while I could either put him on mute or kick him from the party, I feel as though I can at least improve his enjoyment for a couple of sessions and see if he improves his behaviour.

Is there any clean way out of this? The other players have rather obvious reasons why they aren't "opening up" and I would like to keep the story moving along. To be clear, I am fine with in character or out of character dialog between players. My question has specifically to do with one player interrupting the gameplay and spotlighting my other players for trivial background information (whole family tree, opinions on half elves, etc) and acting in the role of the DM.

Is there a clever way that I could throw him a bone? Maybe give him a lead to allow him to start asking questions about his party's life? A lot of the hooks I can think of at the moment relate to secret parts of the other characters' lore that they have a reason to be keeping secret. Can I come out clean from this without giving away the farm, so to speak? I want to empower my player characters to keep secrets from one another that allows us to build a strong narrative together, without burning one particular player out.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Strongly suggest taking down "investigation" tag and replacing with a 5e tag (I assume, by Phandelver, you are playing 5e.) \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 3 at 21:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Are you familiar with the colloquialism "it's not all about you" and how it is used in conversation or other discourse? I ask because I sometimes make assumptions about people using the same kind of phrases and tag lines as I do, and often I am making a wrong assumption. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 4 at 1:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast I am familiar with the colloquialism, if that answers your question. \$\endgroup\$ – user52772 Mar 4 at 3:21
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Have an out-of-game discussion with your players about expectations.

This is a common issue with TTRPGs, especially with newer groups: When people bring their own preconceptions and expectations, they often end up trying to play different games, which causes a clash of playstyles and a frustrated table dynamic. And when one player's style is radically different from the others, they may end up becoming a problem player, even if they intend no harm.

It seems like your player has narrow preconceptions of D&D based entirely on a very specific DM and a very specific playstyle, and not from their own experience. In reality, there are many fun ways to run a D&D game, and very few of them involve mimicking Mercer et al.

You need to establish expectations with your players. Explain to your players that you are not Matt Mercer, nor are you any of their previous DMs (if any). You have your own way of running a game, and that's fine, you just need to communicate your style to them.

When having this out-of-game discussion, here are some example questions for you and your players:

  • Lost Mine of Phandelver is heavy on combat and danger. How much should the session focus on roleplay and inter-character dialogue?
  • Is the DM going to stick to the Lost Mine of Phandelver campaign content, or will they deviate to explore PC backstories and sideplots?
  • D&D typically assumes the PCs have trust and party cohesion. How do you balance a PC's secrets with their willingness to trust other PCs?
  • What tone does the group want (grimdark, heroic, goofy, etc.) and how should they approach alignment and morality?
  • What forms of meta-gaming are acceptable or unacceptable?
  • You're a relatively new DM. What counts as acceptable suggestions from the players, versus unwanted backseat DMing?

For more questions, you may want to check out the same page tool for establishing expectations. The tool itself is a bit simplistic, but it may give you some inspiration of what topics you want to discuss.

One common method for discussing expectations is to organize a Session zero. Typically this conversation occurs before the campaign, but your current issues at the table suggest you should have this discussion ASAP.

That being said, it's still encouraged to make some accommodations for your players. If the bard wants an opportunity to discuss backstories, that's fine, just give them an indication of when. For example, maybe throw in some slow-paced scenes (such as during short or long rests) when the player characters can have these sort of personal story dialogues.

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    \$\begingroup\$ We used the "Travel from Neverwinter to Phandalin" scene as a sort of Session 0. Maybe I should have spent more time there. The thing is, this hasn't been how he's been from the start, rather this just started happening. I'll have to have another talk with the group for sure, and thanks for the link about session 0, but I'm still left wondering if there is, in addition to having a session 0 like talk, someway that I could get the PCs seeing eye to eye. I'd rather have that happen naturally though. \$\endgroup\$ – user52772 Mar 3 at 21:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TylerGubala This player seems very disruptive, and from your description, I doubt they will figure out your expectations in-game. You need to have an out-of-game talk. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Mar 3 at 22:08
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    \$\begingroup\$ The new edits make it much more clear on how the out of game talk can help. I think I will use the "Same page tool" as a launchpad for this out of game discussion, and prepare some additional materials to flesh out the world beyond the adventure handbook, to keep more detail oriented players like this going without having to lean on other players for input.. This helps a lot. \$\endgroup\$ – user52772 Mar 3 at 22:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for "very few of them involve mimicking Mercer" \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Mar 4 at 11:36
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It's a funny thing, isn't it, how things we ought to do and probably wouldn't think twice about become an issue when someone demands they happen? In this case, most GMs and many players want to share information and details to enhance game play, camaraderie, etc. And there are many questions pertaining to "My Guys" who are excessively uncommunicative loners.

And yet, I see the problem this presents: It is awkward. Here are three specific things I think your potentially troublesome player is doing that make things awkward, and they are all at the meta (player behavior) level rather than the in-game (character behavior) level:

  1. He is effectively telling the other players how to play their characters:

    The other characters, recognizing the potential danger they are in, pay little mind to his antics, which actively frustrates the player of the half-elf bard, who feels as though it should evoke the other players to share their backstories.

  2. He is effectively telling you how to GM:

    He has even told me several times that it's my responsibility as a DM to prompt the characters to recount their lives to the other characters in the adventure.

  3. He is, as you have pointed out yourself, usurping your role as the GM:

    The half-elf bard still wants to know more about these people he finds himself adventuring with, and continues to interrupt the pacing of various scenes by playing "temp DM" and coloring it like he's doing me a favor

All of these are intensely annoying and disruptive to a game, even when the player is pushing in a direction you might want to go, unless he has your permission or solicitation to do so. (It is pretty clear that he is not actually pushing in a direction you want to go.)

Couple this with the basic structure of your game, which has built in a bunch of characters with hidden pasts that they have reason to keep hidden and that you are reluctant to reveal ahead of their time. This may or may not be a wise decision or campaign structure, but that is not your question. Your question is whether you can satisfy the "cagey loners" and the "everybody's best friend" at the same time.

It seems to me the answer is no: These are in direct opposition to each other, a zero sum game. Someone is going to "win" this struggle, and someone is going to "lose."

My inclination would be to tell the player bluntly to let the other players play their characters, let you make the GM-ing decisions, and maybe stop irritating everyone in the process.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've asked him to stop, and have actually put the campaign on a hold while I gather more information on how to DM properly, and what ground rules I should start establishing at a "Session 0" talk, but rather than telling him to play his part and let us play ours, I guess I'm kind of looking for a way to get the heat off my other players without simply revealing their backstories or disbanding the group. It's not that dire yet, but I still want to keep engagement after I draw the lines in the sand. Thanks for your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – user52772 Mar 3 at 22:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ Don't beat yourself up too much here with notions of "How to GM properly," etc. And don't take my "I don't see a way to square the circle," as definitive-- someone may well come along with an angle I'm not seeing. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 3 at 22:20
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think you emboldened the wrong part, your last line is golden. +1 \$\endgroup\$ – SeriousBri Mar 4 at 11:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SeriousBri in all seriousness, I try whenever possible to provide a direct answer to the actual question asked. When it's buried at the bottom of a long wind-up, I often bold it to draw attention to it. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Mar 4 at 18:04
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I remember my first character in my first campaign. I was new and thought that I had a well fleshed out character, creating a rogue who lived alone in the wild all his life. However, my DM had a good talk with me and asked me my wants out of the game and what I thought of characters to be. He explained to me the difference between creating a "hero" and creating a "party member" and helped me tone down my character. We continued to talk through the campaign and I was wondering how my character could get to know the others, which he explained a couple of things.

  1. I was joining a sit-and-play game which is great for getting your feet wet but kinda is hard to get involved in when people come and go every week. However, normally he starts off a campaign (if he knows it's a play-to-the-end kinda game) by having everyone introduce their characters to the other players as he sets up a scenario to bind the party together.

  2. Some characters are open and some are reserved, so if a player chooses not to share about their character, it's within their rights. (I used that later on creating another character who was shy about his race). However, it's best to talk to people while you're idly traveling or camping.

  3. The DM is the master of all possibilities. Yes, it is his job to create a fun experience, and going by the book can help guide the quest, but a DM can modify any part they want at any time. He used this power sparingly to help the game progress, either to create consequences for problematic players or to create events to keep the story going.

  4. When in doubt, ask, don't tell your DM things. Basically, it's a player's job to focus on living vicariously through their character and the DM's job to paint the scene. If a player is too focused on how the DM is working, then they should be more wary about what their character is doing.

and 5. The DM's job is to please the table, not the player. In other words, you can't make everyone happy, so focus on making the group happy in general and (he says) the players will start controlling events to help you out (like a fighter hitting an annoying goblin player because it's both in character and the player is annoyed). These are the fun times in a campaign.

(again those are his words of wisdom I just wanted to share.)

My suggestion is to use a bit of DM magic to refocus his character. For instance, in your example

His approach to learning about the other characters is somewhat unorthodox. He will wait until they are chased down a mountain by a band of orcs and are hiding in the lowlands under cover of darkness to talk about his bedroll, and will go out of his way to ask the other characters what they think about his family crest that adorns the otherwise plain blue bedsheet that he keeps throughout his adventures. The other characters, recognizing the potential danger they are in, pay little mind to his antics, which actively frustrates the player of the half-elf bard, who feels as though it should evoke the other players to share their backstories.

Wait until he is done talking and DM something like "As the bard poetically speaks, a rock flies silently through the night and lands on the bard's head, causing (1d4) damage. It seems that the orcs are closing in and are very attentive to sound."

I remember a similar situation where my DM pulled this. When accused of a personal attack he simply said "Not at all, the orcs are coming and they heard you. They simply threw a rock towards the sound to see what would happen. Are you getting up to tell them they are being cruel?"

I think that, as a player, it's a great way for a DM to give gentle reminders of the severity of a current situation. Later, when your party is camping for the night, you can ask your bard if he's going to try again to familiarize himself with the party, as this would be a good time to do so.

Hope that helps

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    \$\begingroup\$ I really like the creativity to this answer; I'm inclined to add moments into scenes where the paraphrased actions take place if he continues to act that way, and I'm fine with him acting that way, as it characterizes him. Thanks for the eloquent answer. \$\endgroup\$ – user52772 Mar 4 at 16:03

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