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I am the DM for a group of players, 4 of which are very new to the game, and one of which is a very experienced player.

I have run into a problem now where the experienced player is effectively trying to play everyone else's characters (telling them what they should be doing, getting frustrated when they don't do what he says, etc..). This player is also a massive rules lawyer, making it rather frustrating for me. He argues against rules he dislikes, and tries to get me to change rules unfavorable to him. Example: He got into a 10 minute argument trying to get me to change the damage vulnerabilities of animated rugs to include fire because he thought they should, and he was a fire elemental at the time.

Additionally, he continues to play optimized characters that make it difficult to form encounters of any kind, because if an encounter works against him, he complains about how I am "specifically trying to nerf his character because he knows how to play." Specifically, the optimized character issue is an Aarakokra druid. Flies above you, turns into an elephant. He complains when I put anything that can hit him when he's in air.

I have tried to talk to him about it, but he won't back down from his position, and I'm not sure what to do. I would respectfully ask him to leave, but I DM at an after-school intramural (high school) and I am unable to make him leave, because of the nature of school clubs. We are both students. We have a faculty advisor, but they don't understand the issue.

And everyone agreed to let me DM at the beginning because I was the only one with DM experience. We have run and enjoyed one campaign together already.

Anyone dealt with a similar situation and had a solution work for them?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 13 at 3:52
  • \$\begingroup\$ According to comments to my answer, your characters are at least Level 12 - Is this the case, and if so, did they start at level 1 and work their way all the way up to 12? \$\endgroup\$ – colmde Mar 15 at 12:03
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There are several issues with this player, so let's split this into manageable chunks:

Pushy player

Telling other players what to do is simply not acceptable. This rule should be stated clearly, and repeated before each session if needed. There are specific exceptions when telling others what to do is OK, like:

  • Dungeon Master saying "guys, please, please don't split the party, it makes my life hard and I doubt I can manage"
  • In-character noble or team leader giving orders to other characters, and roleplaying being frustrated when they wouldn't listen

If someone tries to tell others what to do, the only course of action that ever worked for me (and I DMed in a RPG club with little control over who plays my game) was to pause game and say something like:

Josh, it is OK to remind fellow players about some rule or character ability they might be forgetting, but please, do not try to tell others how to play. Nakravein is played by James, not by you. Please, respect that. I understand you just want to help*, but you are not helping by taking control and fun, from fellow players.

James, what Nakravein is doing?

* half of the time this part was a bluff on my side and I didn't really believe they want to help, but very useful bluff that lowered the chance to further antagonize problem player.

This sets borders quite firmly and gives control back to player who should have it. If "Josh" is still frustrated and trying to tell other players what to do, all you can really do is to repeat the process. You need to set borders and make it clear you will not allow them to be changed, and game will not continue with him acting this way.

Sometimes 1 on 1 conversation after session can be helpful:

Josh, other players wants to get their experience somewhere, and wants to have their fun and their spotlight. You are all equal at my table.

That should be a good start. Your club has some supervisor, I'm sure. If you ever need to repeat this 1 on 1 talk, invite said supervisor. You cannot tell problem player to behave or leave. Supervisor can.

A massive rules lawyer

If he is not respectful, then there is little you can do:

  • Give ruling. If he argues, tell them that this is only a temporary ruling and invite him to talk about it after the game. Firmly set "no arguing at game table" as boundary you are not going to let anyone to cross. Reinforcing such boundaries - see previous section.
  • If you can, arrive for your gaming session early. Tell that everyone who had issues with rules and rulings, or who expects to have such issues, is invited to arrive early and discuss them with you. Stress that once game starts, there will be no discussion.
  • See How can I handle a player who pre-plans arguments about my rulings on RAW?

If he is respectful, employ him!

I have a player who is massive rule lawyer. When party is leveling up, I can let him answer most of the questions knowing that he won't make any rulings on his own, and anything he will tell other players will be strict RAW. Takes massive load off my shoulders. I can give him XP number for encounter and forget the math. I can ask him about spells I don't remember so I do not need to browse a sourcebook. This works great because I have help I need, he feels important (and rightly so!) without any chance to disorganize my game, and other players have someone who they can ask things if I'm busy with another player.

Designing encounters against his character

This looks little unfair. Let's use my last character as example: I made him excellent liar. If I would then realize that my Dungeon Master pumped up NPC to recognize lies more easily, I would feel frustrated. OK, of course you shouldn't let him to breeze thorough all encounters (like, giant spider didn't care about my speech, neither did traps), but if he built a character that is good against things he could reasonably expect to encounter in your campaign, and now meets things that are specifically designed to be especially effective against him, then he is right and you are nerfing his character. And it is hardly fair.

If you want to do that, do that in style. Let him win against unaware enemies. Make second or third encounter hard, as his character gets famous and there are in-game reasons for baddies to be prepared against him, especially. New bugbear tribe or new town shouldn't be aware and prepared any more than they are for regular adventurer.

If he optimized his character, it is only fair that some encounters will be easy for him. And when bad guys prepare especially for him, he should struggle, but he should receive it as a badge of honor: "I was so dangerous they made me their primary target! They were afraid of me!" - struggling for PC, but in a way that doesn't punish the player, or at least does not feel like it.

Take his Fly -> Polymorph -> Fall tactics. It is OK that enemies who never heard of it would fall for it. Given that this is not in the RAW, it is your job to decide if it is an attack (attack roll that can miss) or something that gives the target Dexterity Saving Throw. In no way this should be auto-hit, like a Cow Kill spell in Baldur's Gate. He should get full falling damage, hit or miss. And after few uses enemies will have hunting falcons (or worse) to discourage this, because enemies are not that stupid (unless, you know, he only attacked stupid ones that way - then they are).

And if you think it'll give him too much spotlight, then by all means, prepare situations where other characters will shine. Or struggle, for that matter. But if you will continue to nerf his character, his frustration will grow. Worse yet, his urge to force other players to optimize their characters will grow, because only when they are even there is a chance you will stop targeting and punishing him. Or, that's my guess based on Dungeon Master mistakes I made in the past.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Mar 13 at 3:52
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Give the player a challenge.

One way I've dealt with power gamers in more "noob-friendly" (for lack of a better word) games, is to give the player an optimization challenge. New players will likely have characters of a lower power level than a power gamer which can lead to less enjoyment from them. Instead, give the power gamer a restriction on character building. This will artificially lower his own power level while letting him continue to enjoy the optimization process.

example: "To keep things balanced between party members, feel free to optimize your character as much as you like, but here's a character building challenge for you: play a fighter who only uses his racial/feat spells to attack -or- play a life cleric who only prepares non-attack spells"

Usually, if a player is receptive to cooperative play, this will allow them to flex their knowledge of the game (with a cool and unique character) without disrupting the fun for the rest of the group. If the player is simply intent on his/her character being "better than the other characters" this method won't work as well. Instead, look to Mołot's section on Designing Encounters against his character for some great advice on parties with characters of differing power levels.

I also impose these types of restrictions on myself when I am with a group of newer players as I personally enjoy the optimization process quite a bit. It tends to land my character squarely in the correct power level, while also allowing for unique character types, like a sorcerer who uses a greatsword, or a barbarian spellcaster.

Let the power gamer shine from time to time.

While the power gamer should not be the center of attention all the time, he/she should have some of the spotlight on occasion. Sometimes, the motivation for hyper-optimization is to feel important to the story. If you let their concentrations affect key plot points (no more than other players, but make sure you allow it), this will satisfy that desire.

I'm not sure of them motivations for your specific player, but making sure the players (all of them) can influence the story in meaningful ways will remove this as a potential cause for disagreement from the player.

example: A character has a ridiculous Thieves' Tools skill because of guidance from Magic Initiate: cleric, rogue's Expertise and Reliable Talent, and dragonMark of Warding from Eberron. It would be helpful for that character to have doors he can open that allow for shortcuts or secrets since he focused so much on that aspect of the character

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  • \$\begingroup\$ If the player is trying to influence others player actions and is so much complaining for every effort of the OP to challenge him through a fight, I doubt he'll accept such challenging restrictions. But I agree with your answer for general power players. \$\endgroup\$ – Zoma Mar 12 at 14:59
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Work with the experienced player to facilitate a learning experience for the newer players

First and foremost, this answer relies on the player being a good sport with the idea, and it requires that you and he sit down and talk about what the current problem is and how you'd like to fix it with him. Remember during this talk that HE is not the problem, but that you both share a problem: you need to help the newer players see what DnD is and what it can be. If your player isn't receptive to collaboration and isn't respectful of your authority, this answer won't work for you.

When playing with inexperienced players and an experienced DM, I, as an experienced player, have found great success in working alongside the DM passively and actively to facilitate a good experience for the new players. In the same way, you can work with the experienced gamer to make the game exciting for everyone.

This method allows you both to collaborate on his powerful character and his character's role in the story. It allows him to keep being optimized and strong without stealing too much of the spotlight. But having the spotlight in and of itself isn't a bad thing, as his character can be a good example of what is possible in DnD. So his spotlight time has a purpose. Think of him as similar to a character like Goku, from DBZ. Goku is ultra-powerful and he basically wins all the time. But the writers of DBZ have found ways to make the rest of the party have the spotlight by giving Goku other things to do or by playing against this strengths. You can work with him by giving him specific obstacles that his character can be really helpful in solving while also presenting situations where he loses the spotlight to the newer players.

This technique relies on the fact that when he is given a task -- when he is more involved with the campaign -- he will behave better, for lack of better phrasing. Giving him something to do WITHOUT taking things away from him will make him feel important and give value/incentive to the idea of holding back a little bit. Rather than telling other players what to do, he can see the value of hanging back (as a DM would) and letting the party solve problems on their own, while still being involved. This, again, relies heavily on being on the same page.

There are two ways he can work with you:

Actively

Working actively with the DM means you and he can plan on certain story arcs, encounters, experiences, etc that you want the newer players to see. It means that he needs to be respectful of your authority as DM in making certain rulings that conflict with his desires. Rules lawyering is a problem all it's own. It also means the choices he makes regarding his character build also can reflect your intentions.

Working actively means that his character's actions have a specific purpose, no matter how powerful they are. It moves the value of his actions away from "beating the encounter" and towards "make the story/experience great". This is something that all players need to learn and you'll sneakily be teaching it to him and the rest of the party.

This also means that you may want to shift some of the balance away from being combat-heavy and towards non-combat encounters, like solving a mystery or over-coming a social obstacle. This I strongly advise no matter what course of action you take regarding this problem.

Passively

Working passively is all him. He needs the tact and wherewithal to recognize certain situtations that he can just sort of "sit back" and let the party figure it out. He can still be involved in discussion, but he can withhold a little bit. I find this technique as a player really rewarding and fun, as does every DM who watches their party learn and grow. In the same way, you should explain to him that you want to watch the party grow, and he can help facilitate this growth by not controlling everyone's behavior.

As a passive player, I like to give the party options when they seem unsure of what to do. Again, this rests heavily on his good attitude. Explain that to him as well. Don't stop him from collaborating with the players, but rather suggest that he offer options for the players. He shouldn't tell the party what to do, but he can (and maybe should) give them options in combat. We do this all the time for timid players and I do this all the time for new players. Remind them of certain outcomes they can work towards. For example:

Problem Player: Billy, you should try to stop that guy from casting spells if you can. Or maybe you could shove this guy down so we can attack him more easily. Or maybe there's an object nearby that we could use. Or you could just deal as much damage as you can, here are the spells you have that deal the most damage, and their likelyhood of hitting.

He needs to offer outcomes and options, but always allow the player to decide.

You need to tend to his behavior when picking this option as one would tend a garden. I would expect he might stray from the path after you first talk, so make sure you continue to realign him. Remind him of what you're trying to do. But most importantly, recognize that you're collaborating and that he has ideas and intentions too, and you should respect that as any DM would. This process is a give and take and will require compromise on both sides. Make sure both of you understand that. And make sure you have this conversation in person and that you're as respectful and tactful as you can be. If he truly is a problem player and he isn't cooperative, then you have a different, more serious problem.

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(This doesn't quite match the tags, but I'm new and don't have the points to add comments.)

This player is also a massive rules lawyer, making it rather frustrating for me. He argues against rules he dislikes, and tries to get me to change rules unfavorable to him. Example: He got into a 10 minute argument trying to get me to change the damage vulnerabilities of animated rugs to include fire because he thought they should, and he was a fire elemental at the time.

Your problem player is the opposite of a rules lawyer. Problem rules lawyers argue that when a rule contradicts other rules or the internal logic of the setting, it should be upheld (interpreted in his/her favor). They don't demand that the rules be explicitly changed to favor them. Monster stat blocks especially are sacrosanct, because that's the yardstick for the rest of the game's components.

The takeaway lesson here is you shouldn't let him push you around using his gaming expertise as leverage, because he doesn't have any.

Additionally, he continues to play optimized characters that make it difficult to form encounters of any kind, because if an encounter works against him, he complains about how I am "specifically trying to nerf his character because he knows how to play."

He doesn't play optimized characters and he doesn't know how to play.

Specifically, the optimized character issue is an Aarakokra druid. Flies above you, turns into an elephant.

This is not a competent build, it's a cheap trick that someone on the internet said "like, totally works, dude", and you fell for it. (My condolences.)


Any time someone uses a cheap exploit, or a clever legal rules combination, or invokes physics, you should look at the levels of abilities involved and answer these questions:

  • is the effect too powerful for its level?

  • can it be repeated for credit and trivialize the game further on regardless of situation?

  • will it break the setting if it becomes common knowledge?

In your case, the answers are YES to all. This is how I'd rule if someone tried to pull this on me in D&D Third Edition:

Argument from rules: There are no rules for attacking via falling on top of someone, only special Dive attacks possessed by certain creatures. An elephant is not one of them.

Argument from physics: Freefall is relatively slow and can't be easily controlled. Flying up is also slow. Combatants can react to enemies entering and leaving particular squares while moving, and they will be able to react to an aarakocra getting immediately above them.

Therefore I would not allow the character to make an attack and use their scaling attributes, I would make the enemy roll their scaling statistic against a static DC to avoid a generic hazard, to give the tactic an expiration date, and I would have the elephant take falling damage as appropriate.

(But don't get bogged down in rules debates. Game-breaking is game-breaking and it's bad for the game everyone came to play. The player should be persuading you the tactic is not out of line, not that it's technically legal if you squint.)

This applies regardless of whether the game-breaking tactic is a cheap trick or an amazing discovery, if the player came up with it him/herself or saw it on the internet. (Anyone who knows the game well enough to author a game-destroying build will have realized it's unplayable before the work is done.) S/he attempts to use it, you say, "Oh wow, what an excellent find, but you do realize this'll be totally gamebreaking, right? Sorry, but this goes directly to the ban list, otherwise you'll just wipe the floor with the setting. I promise the enemies won't be using this either."


However, your player has somewhat of a valid reason to be annoyed. You made the call. Game-breaking referee decisions, like handing out powerful magic items or making exploitable rulings, are normally dealt with out of game. You apologize for your mistake, explain how it was bad for the game, and take it back, then, as a group, come up with the best way to incorporate the change into the plot: the artifact had a limited number of charges after all and now they're exhausted, the player gets cursed or blessed, or you simply agree to forget about it.

(Good luck on dealing with your particular player, though, he sounds like a handful.)

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For inexperienced players, stick to basic rules

A few good answers already, but thought I'd add:

For a beginners group, you should probably not allow PCs like Aarakokras and Fire Elementals - Stick to the basic rules from the PHB, which means use just the races therein. These have been (hopefully) play-tested and therefore are as balanced as possible in the eyes of the creators of the game.

This balance is screwed up when you allow players play other races, you risk introducing game-breaking abilities such as you've seen, therefore they should be reserved for more experienced groups and GMs.

He might argue that he is an experienced player, but the rest of the group aren't, and so the balance is lost even if you allow all the players have whatever race they like. If he doesn't like it, he should join a game with a more experienced group which does allow those races.

This doesn't solve your overall problem of course, but it might mitigate it somewhat. (although it might be too late if the campaign is already under way)

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Just FYI, from the descriptions it looks like they are at level 12 - that's when Moon Druid gets Elephant form, or so I've read. So they are way past character creation stage. \$\endgroup\$ – Mołot Mar 13 at 10:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ fire elemental comes from the druid ability to turn into elementals from moon druid. Elephant is just a beast he can turn into with combat wild shape. \$\endgroup\$ – CollinB Mar 13 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ I believe the point Molot was making is that an Elephant is a CR4 beast, and druids can't use Wild Shape to change into a CR4 until they reach level 12. \$\endgroup\$ – R. McMillan Mar 15 at 11:07
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A good way to start is by explaining to him that you are running a game meant for fun. When I have players make characters these days, I tell them to make a person and not a stat line, and that the more ridiculous the characters, the more ridiculous the challenges. So if they build based on fun stories, fun stories are what come back in turn.

It might be worth suggesting board games to this player over RPGs if their main objective is the more mechanical and about "winning".

When it comes to "quarterbacking", it's always worth reminding people about how metagaming takes away from the experience, and even if the players can communicate, there is rarely an in character way of describing what's going on. Perhaps this player could do well with an in character leadership role, but one where they have to play support. It forces them to act in character and have limits, and maybe this bridge allows them to have the level of control they feel they need to have over the situation.

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