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I’ve been having a problem in D&D. I love the game, perhaps too much.

I keep finding myself trying to control the other players' characters (telling them what they should do, or where to go), and I want to stop. I’m ruining everyone’s fun. And I don’t know how to stop!

I want everyone to have fun, but I’m having a hard time restraining myself. Anyone else who has this problem: how do you stop yourself?

My DM took me aside the other day to talk about this. Since I have no experience in these matters, this is the first place I went to find out what I should do.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE. Please take the tour and visit the help center to see what the strengths of this format are. I am not sure if this question is scoped well enough to meet our format's limitations. Please take a look at how to ask a good question and see if you can focus on one discrete problem to solve. It is OK to ask more than one question if you have more than one problem to solve. And yes, I edited the title since we prefer to use friendly language in our discourse here. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 25 at 2:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ What methods have you tried for adjusting your playstyle? Have you discussed this with your DM and fellow players? \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 25 at 2:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ As a heads-up, this comment section here is usually for clarifying the question. If the issue requires more back-and-forth discussion, then we can have a chat room set up. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 25 at 2:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. Are you playing a particular edition of D&D in which you're having this problem? The [dungeons-and-dragons] tag is more for questions that relate to multiple/all editions of D&D. Also, have other players complained to you about your micromanagement of their characters? What did your DM say to you about it? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 25 at 3:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I can't say this is very relevant, but what edition of D&D do you play? \$\endgroup\$ – enkryptor Jul 25 at 8:30
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You are not a problem player

You said "I'm a problem player", but also have the self-awareness to recognize "I’m ruining everyone’s fun". This means you are not a problem player. You are a player with a problem. You are looking to improve and willing to work for it. You will be fine.

You are spending time with some friends. Everyone is trying to have fun, but only some people are. This can happen because not everyone has fun the same way.

I recommend the following steps to improve the situation.

Learn

Fun is a surprisingly well-researched topic. Different people enjoy different things, and it's important to know what you and each of your friends are looking for in an RPG. Here are a few resources to get you started.

  • The DMG. In every edition of D&D I've seen, the Dungeon Master's Guide has advice for the DM about different play styles. In the 5th edition DMG, this is on page 6. It has a description for each, but the list is Acting, Exploring, Instigating, Fighting, Optimizing, Problem Solving, and Storytelling.
  • This page is a summary of a popular theory known as 8 kinds of fun with links to the source research. This list is Sensation, Fantasy, Narrative, Challenge, Fellowship, Discovery, Expression, and Submission. [Note: this is the same source as the Angry GM article, but in a more family-friendly style]
  • This video lists a few other player archetypes. In particular, based on the description in your question I think you will relate to the Tactician, described at around 7:12.

I'm not sure there's a definite One True List to use. I recommend looking for a few more lists on your own to get a feel for what's out there.

Reflect

Now that you have some more background, think about each of the players in your group, including yourself. You may have pegged certain friends to certain roles the moment you learned about the role. Others are either a balance between two or more roles, or their motivations are a mystery to you. It's worth explicitly taking the time to grab a nice beverage and think about all this before you move on to the next step.

Talk

The other people at your table are your friends. You have a shared goal of having fun together. You should feel comfortable talking to them about it. Think of it like going out to dinner together. Some people love Thai, while others prefer Italian. Be aware of stronger restrictions; a vegan might not be able to eat anything if you go to the wrong place.

Remember that the group has two goals, in this order:

  • Nobody gets hurt
  • Everyone has fun

Here are some brief DOs and DON'Ts for this kind of conversation. For more advice, consider asking over at the interpersonal sister site.

Do apologize, to the group at large or to specific individuals, if you think you were being a jerk at any point. Do talk about yourself and your motivations, as well as what you find boring or tedious. Do let others talk about their points of view as well.

Don't declare things about other people, such as what play style you think they are. Let them conclude that on their own. Don't dictate how they should play, based on some stuff you read on the internet.

Finally, ask them for help. They may have suggestions of their own. Generally, I have found that open communication works best. Simply let them know you are aware of this problem in general, but rarely in the moment. If you start doing it again, they should interrupt you and let you know. Then, if someone asks you to stop, you stop doing it and thank them for helping you be a better player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Very nice sources on "the science behind fun". +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Jul 25 at 3:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ Did you purposefully include the bit about food as a kind of metaphor for different play styles? Or am I just reading into that? \$\endgroup\$ – Reginald Blue Jul 25 at 12:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ if your archetype is the tactician, maybe a more complex character can help. a summoner will have to deal with thing like positioning and resource management for multiple units in a fight \$\endgroup\$ – Reed Jul 25 at 14:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ @ReginaldBlue Yes, that was the intent. It seems a good comparison for everything from mild preferences ("sure, whatever") through multiple or complex preferences ("I like Italian and Thai, but not together"), all the way to lethal ("peanuts will kill me, so Thai is a bad idea"). That last one applies to disagreements that kill groups and/or friendships. Fortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case here, so I skipped it. \$\endgroup\$ – Joel Harmon Jul 25 at 16:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Reed a necromancer is a great character for someone who wants to scratch the mass tactics itch \$\endgroup\$ – John Jul 25 at 18:00
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As a person who started playing D&D as a 'de-facto DM' for his group for 8-10 years, this was a big struggle of mine when I started sitting at the table as a player !

I had very precise ideas on the "why" and "how" every NPCs and monsters would/should act, how the World should work (I was especially harsh on one of my friends who 'dared borrow' my setting, the Forgotten Realms), etc.

The worst of it is that just like you, I knew I was doing it, I knew it ruined someone's fun, I was trying to refrain myself and it was a real struggle for a short while.

the thing is there is no definitive method or answer to your question

You seem to realise that your behaviour is problematic. That's part of the solution, for sure. The first step for me was actually catching myself when I started doing it and then apologizing to my group when I was doing it, against myself.

Have humility.

I cannot answer for you on the "how" you should do it, we'Re different persons with similar experiences. But personally I went back to the most basic of questions: "Why do I enjoy D&D so much over all the other options I could chose for my free time ?".

Answer this question and figure out if D&D is for you.

To me, the essence of D&D is to enjoy the chaos of many different minds trying to write a story together using the medium of roleplaying (and surrounding mechanics). That's what I love and enjoy the most in this activity. The GROUP is important, the individuals can all be replaced.

You said it, you believe you are ruining everybody's fun. You have to realize that YOUR way is not necessarily THE way. Other people have different ways of seeing the world than you. If you think something is 'wrong', shut up about it. Instead of making comments about it, try to play with it, have fun with it.

Basically, try to be fun and original, rather than bitter and aggressive. Might be easier said than done, but you'll never know if you don't try and give it time ... that's how all interpersonal relationships will work throughout your life ...

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I had a similar dm to player problem, I had trouble giving up control.

I broke myself of the habit by playing several characters in a row who were purposefully designed to either do the wrong thing in many circumstances or who would have no idea what to do. (reclusive wild druid, fearful panicky shapeshifter, obsessive forgetful wizard). Characters who in many situations would not want to be in command, characters whose decisions I would not want to push on the group. I basically used my own obsession against myself until I got used to having fun with less control. I started finding the fun in flawed characters and decisions. I still think about optimizing things but now it doesn't bother me when it doesn't happen and I no longer feel the need to push other players. It made me a better DM as well, since I had to start thinking about how to encourage other players to make decisions, and how to have fun facilitating or reacting to them instead of trying to control them.

Note if you do try this telling the other players that you are purposefully building highly flawed characters and why helps.

At one point I tried using an old rule, that you could not say more than six words in a round, it is a lot harder to boss people around with only six words and it is completely impossible to harp on them. It was however a lot more frustrating at least at first. Once I started getting more in character it helped.

Also don't be afraid to tell the other players, "I'm trying to be less bossy, If I start harping on something give me a signal because I'm trying to be more self-aware". A non-verbal signal works great here (we used a cough and a wink) since it is less confrontational and less disruptive and thus easier for the other players. Sometimes just knowing you are trying to change makes it a lot easier for everyone else. It is also really helpful because you will get a signal when your problem is being the most disruptive which is what you really need to work on.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Great answer, I would try to highlight the 3rd paragraph about warning the other players and making sure they are fine with the character. Because going into My guy Syndrome is a danger \$\endgroup\$ – 3C273 Jul 25 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I did that do. I loved playing the shy fighter guy, who knew the answer to the puzzle the group was desperately trying to solve but didn't tell anyone because no one asked him. \$\endgroup\$ – Helena Jul 25 at 17:34
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First of all, good on you for taking your DM seriously and wanting to improve your behavior at the table! As other answerers have said, this already proves you're not really a problem player. It sounds like you've been doing your best to contribute to the fun at the table, it wasn't working out for reasons you didn't realize, your DM talked to you about it as two reasonable friends, and you're listening to your DM. This is exactly how things are supposed to work. You have an incredibly healthy friendship with your DM and fellow players. You're doing fine ;)

My advice to you is that, for me personally, a lot of DnD clicks when I play to optimize fun first. There's storytelling, trying to win combats, roleplaying, staying in character... All of these are important, but they're all in service to making the game fun.

I say this because, if you've been trying to control other players' characters without realizing it, I'm guessing there's something else you're playing to optimize for. Maybe you have a clear idea of how to overcome each challenge the DM throws at you, and you're playing first to win the game? If so, it's going to be difficult to watch other players make decisions that go against a clear path to victory that you see, no matter how you adjust your attitude.

However, if you instead make your first goal to make the game as much fun as possible, the dynamic will shift for you. When other players are trying out their own ideas, you'll be looking to enhance their fun first, which means actively making the decision to share the spotlight with them and allow space for them to leave their own mark on the game world. Rather than being a frustrating waste of time towards accomplishing your goals, seeing your fellow players all exercising their agency becomes the goal. I find it a very satisfying way to play myself.

A big part of what makes it satisfying, I think, is that it isn't always obvious what the most fun approach is! So it still is a game, not just being polite: Trying to read the situation and reason through which choices will keep the game as engaging for everyone as possible. You're still trying to win, there still is a score, you're just changing what you're measuring to determine whether you've won - whether everyone (including yourself) is enjoying themselves.

(This isn't the only way I've found optimizing for fun to make DnD more enjoyable. It also makes it easy to solve a lot of other thorny problems. What's the right balance between roleplay and playing to win? Whichever is the most fun. Is it ok to break out of character? Sure, as long as it's done in a way that makes the game more fun. How does the table avoid a DM versus players mindset? By the DM running monsters to make the game fun, not just for the monsters to try to win. If you adopt this way of looking at the game, I think you'll find it to be surprisingly deep and something that will help you avoid a lot of problems later on.)

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It is already a great start to be aware of your effect on your group (and to be willing to improve), because bossy players can clearly be the difference between a good and a bad group in my opinion.

To add my contribution to the other great replies, I would say that you are maybe "meta-thinking" the game too much, your character may not know all the informations that you are trying to tell your group to do, or maybe your character is not intelligent enough to know about tactics, or too selfish to care about their abilities. And if your group's actions lead to bad situations, that can be fun to play too!

Keep talking to your group and DM, it's the best advice you can get, you'll solve this together. I had a heavy "rule lawyer" player in my group last year, we talked about that together, and it all went better in weeks.

Good luck!

PS: There is no loving D&D too much!

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. You should support your answer by elaborating on your experience (that you mention in a single line in the third paragraph) to explain in more detail what you did and how it solved your problem. Hope you stick around! :) \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 25 at 9:20

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