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This is kind of a two part question, firstly about the bad character thing and secondly wrangling table drama. For context, I am currently DMing D&D 5e Curse of Strahd, with 5 players. Some of you might think this is one too many which I would agree with, but our group was founded as a social thing for friends so we don't want to exclude anyone. The friend thing is also why I've been trying to avoid being heavy handed with authority.

Problem 1: player treats his characters as disposable

I have a player in my group, who I'll call Carl. Carl has a constant problem wherein he builds one-trick pony characters, gets bored with them when they aren't as good as he thought, and then stops trying to keep them alive so he can build another one. I don't approve of this behavior because a) constant character death in a story and knowledge heavy campaign like Strahd is detrimental and b) he drags the party into his terrible decisions and risks other players' characters as well. I understand that character death is a part of campaigns, but I also believe campaigns (particularly a published one like Strahd) are designed around the general assumption that characters will try to survive, so the way he plays really throws a wrench in things, especially since he's the only one doing it. To disincentivize player death I instituted a rule where the second character has to be built off of point buy stats (they all rolled above average stats at the beginning) and the third character has to use the standard array. This rule came into effect the first time Carl's character died (trying to fight Vladimir Horngaard alone) and he built his next character off of point buy.

Problem 2: The player got frustrated, threatened to quit

This last session (Amber Temple), Carl's character gained a lot of flaws from curses and his alignment changed to evil. At the very end of the session, he announced that he was attacking the party right before a long rest. He also played the "My Guy" card. As his death is almost certain next time, I told him to make a new character with the standard array. I wake up the next morning to a text saying that he's rolling stats for his new characters, and if I don't let him he's taking the Strahd book and grid map (which he had previously donated for us to use) and quitting. I managed to talk to him about it and he said he felt that I was unfairly punishing him, that he didn't think it was a problem for everyone else, that he felt his character wasn't performing as well as the other melee fighters (he's an Eldritch Knight with a Barbarian and a Paladin), and that he felt that new characters get treated badly by the existing characters and he isn't having fun. The last thing he said was that he might just quit, but leave the materials so we can keep playing.

What to do, friends?

The basic questions are:

  1. How do I deal with a player who doesn't care if his character dies and drags the party into risky situations because of it?

  2. How do I make this guy feel like playing again?

    Honestly if this wasn't a group of friends I would have kicked him for his behavior and bought new materials, but I don't want to do that to him. If anyone has dealt with a situation similar to either of these problems I would love to hear about it.

To answer a couple comments, we are all 25. Players have expressed frustration with his play at the table, as well as to me individually. I'm hoping to resolve this between us because I think bringing it up in the group setting might make him feel ganged up on. I'm also trying to keep it between us because I think he'll be ashamed of his behavior eventually and I want to let him save face.


The Unexpected Conclusion

Well, Carl's girlfriend just went into early labor so he has to quit anyway, so this kind of took care of itself. I appreciate the input and will use it going forward.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As a note, an Eldritch Knight can potentially be an overall better melee combatant than a Barbarian or Paladin due to the way Extra Attack works, provided they have a good build. While they can have higher melee nova damage, the Barb & the Pally will both have to spend resources to continually do so, and be slightly less reliable damagers due to making less attack rolls (4 attacks are more likely to do at least some damage than 2 attacks are). The "is also a wizard lite" toolkit also provides great versatility, even if it's less raw power than other fighters. It may be worth helping Carl... \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time 2 Reinstate Monica Jul 27 at 23:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ ...explore the character's potential more, rather than simply letting them die. A well-timed grease or web can be much more game-changing than a divine smite, for example. \$\endgroup\$ – Justin Time 2 Reinstate Monica Jul 27 at 23:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ I suggest you remove the "Unexpected Conclusion". (1) this isn't a reliable solution for readers with similar problems and (2) in case "Carl" is reading this question, he must now know he is Carl. \$\endgroup\$ – Cliff AB Jul 28 at 19:37
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Step 1: be a good friend, be fair

Your rule about replacements for dead characters not being rolled up is needlessly penal.

he said he felt that I was unfairly punishing him, that he didn't think it was a problem for everyone else,

And he's right. With bounded accuracy, the character's stats aren't going to make that big of a difference (stats are slightly better on average with a roll up). Being assigned a different method when he rolls up another character is contributing to your interpersonal friction. Let it go. When he wants to create a new character, roll up is the default way to do this in the rules, and takes the same amount of time. Rolling versus point buy isn't your problem, but you are making it one.

A few notes:

  1. 16, 14, 13, 12, 10, 9 is the average result for a dice roll. Standard array is slightly off. There are a number of Q&A on this site that discuss character generation for D&D 5e.

  2. I have found that 5 is the optimal number of PCs. But that's my experience, and if 5 is a bit much, see the note at the bottom.

  3. Consider doing what @DarthPseudonym suggests in that good answer, and what can be done at any Adventurer's League table up until level 5: recreate the character (from the roll up or point buy) if after a few sessions the player isn't satisfied with how the character is working out. That may or may not satisfy all of the troubles you all are having, but it is a rule that is used in formal play up to 5th level. Perhaps that will help your player find a sweet spot and avoid him feeling the need to suicide a character that isn't working out.

Step 2: find out why (if) he's playing competitively

There is an undercurrent in your narrative description of your problem that this player feels the need to be better than the other PCs. You need to talk with him about that before the next session after you relax your penal character generation rule. Relax that rule as a peace offering as soon as this conversation starts. Show that you will come half way.

The whole point of this conversation is "This game, and particularly this Strahd adventure, works best for all of us when the PCs work as a team. You deliberately dying detracts from that, and by doing a suicide missions you are only making it worse. Try teamwork."

The last thing he said was that he might just quit, but leave the materials so we can keep playing.

That may work for this game, but what does that do to your friendship? I think you are right for trying to heal this.

Step 3: Get the other players involved in a neutral setting

From your comment.

Players have expressed frustration with his play at the table, as well as to me individually. I'm was hoping to resolve this between us because I think bringing it up in the group setting would make him feel ganged up on. I'm also trying to keep it between us because I think he'll be ashamed of his behavior eventually and I want to let him save face.

Clear the air. Get all of the players talking to each other about their suggestions for what the coolest character "Carl" could make for his next attempt. You'll need to go off line with them ahead of time, and explain that a change in tone might help "Carl" with melding better into the group. Ask them to take a positive approach to his next character generation. The change in tone/mood can sometimes change a group dynamic.

and that he felt that new characters get treated badly by the existing characters and he isn't having fun.

If the group (and that means the other players) is in fact treating his new characters badly, that needs to be solved before the next play session. You've got a dysfunctional group who need to make amends before play continues. Go to the "take a break" note for a suggestion on a way to get things headed in a healthier direction, as an addition to what I suggested above on selling a change in tone to the other players. Solicit their change in tone for the health of the game. (Part of the message can include: Come on, man, he bought the stuff we are playing from. Let's all come half way and work with him).

You say he "makes bad characters"

Offer your own advice, and solicit help from the group, for how to make the best version of his next character based on the dice he rolls. Help him optimize, but if he doesn't want help ... well, you need to find out if he'll accept some advice or not. At least make the effort.

To answer your two questions:

How do I deal with a player who doesn't care if his character dies and drags the party into risky situations because of it?

Try again, but this time try to encourage a change in tone from the other players before the next play session starts. They either form a team or they don't. Your position in this is to encourage them all, including "Carl", to work better as a team. If they can't form a team as a group, I don't think you have a solvable problem.

In aid of that, for his next character, look at the classes and sub classes that all of the PCs are playing and ask "Carl" to make a character who fits into his own niche so that he does not feel so much of a need to compete with the other characters. (Maybe a Hexblade Warlock? It's hard to guess as I don't know the levels and classes of your whole group).

... he felt his character wasn't performing as well as the other melee fighters (he's an Eldritch Knight with a Barbarian and a Paladin)

How do I make this guy feel like playing again?

By being a better friend (and thus advocating to the the other players on his behalf) and by being fair. But really, you can't make him feel that way. All you can do is come half way and show him that you are still his friend. That is, IMO, the most important element to this problem. Actively getting the other players to try and change the tone can help with this.

Note 1: Out of the box idea that sometimes works: Carl plays the monsters.

If you have five players and you think four might be a more perfect fit, I've seen this work well twice over the years, but it's very situationally dependent.
Have "Carl" play the monsters during combat, and in some other selected encounters.
This frees you to DM and do all of the role playing and thinking for the NPC side while he takes care of the mechanical bits of combat: rolling, damage, subtracting HP from hit monsters, etc.

Mind you, the two games I recall where this worked best were more like dungeon crawls, so they were combat heavy. This may not be a great fit for the Strahd campaign. If the group are not making headway in forming a better team, you can suggest that "Carl" will be your DM's right hand and will play the part of the monsters in combat. See if that gets a positive response.
It is hard to guage this from across the internet, and I think it is a last card to play if you want to preserve your group of friends with this particular game.

Note 2: group health. Take a break for a week

Run a session of Paranoia for a completely different experience. That may allow you and he and any others feeling friction to let off steam. And every body gets to die, multiple times even.
Fiasco or Inspectres might also fill the bill, in terms of letting players tackle a different kind of RPG to get a breather from the darkness of Strahd.

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I won't attempt to compete with KorvinStarmast's answer; this is more in the way of a secondary note.

First, consider giving your player the opportunity to rework their character if things aren't working out the way they hoped. There are many opinions on how to go about this, but in general, I prefer to allow retcons and rebuilds rather than force somebody to play a character they dislike or intentionally kill the character. If the person has built a one-trick-pony that doesn't work out, letting them change some character options to be less pony-ish isn't a bad thing. And if it's so pervasive that they'd rather kill the character than continue on, why make them go through legitimately dying? As the DM, either arrange a death-by-cutscene sort of thing that gives it a story purpose, or let the player simply retire their character without explicit death.

Second, if the alignment change is what I think it is, doesn't that explicitly put his character under the DM's control? Turning evil from the Amber Temple's dark gifts is effectively character death anyway. You shouldn't have to kill his character explicitly; he just runs off into the night, is now an evil NPC in Ravenloft (hardly a rare thing), and the players may have to deal with him later. Roll up a new character.

As a side discussion: I personally feel that any effect that forcibly changes your character's alignment is potentially an effective character death. If it's temporary for a plot point, like a bout of lycanthropy or a cursed weapon that turns the character evil for a while, or if the player is cool with changing how they play, whether for now or forever, that's fine -- but the point where you're telling somebody "Your guy is evil now, and you don't have a say in how they act" is the point where the character is effectively dead. It no longer really belongs to the player.

At any rate, lot of what you've written gives me the impression that you feel constrained by the rules of the game, unwilling to bend or break the rules even if the players want you to. You're all at the table to have a good time, and if a rule is making somebody have a bad time, you can and should change or ignore that rule. If you were my DM and requiring that we follow the letter of the law to the detriment of our enjoyment, I think I might want to abandon your table, too.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a solid answer by itself. Respec is a way used at a variety of tables, and at AL tables until level 5. I think this may be a core piece of the path ahead. tips cap \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 27 at 17:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ The more I think of it, the more I like your approach there. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 27 at 17:14
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Being heavy-handed with authority is your job as a GM

And it is also justified in the kind of game you decided to play.

Your player's actions, once in a while, are okay. Unplanned deaths happen or sometimes a character just isn't fun to play for a given player and they ask for a reroll. I see no reasons to not allow that when it happens, but I also never had issues with a player who constantly asks for it.

As a rule of thumb, as a GM I ask myself, "Would I allow all players to do the same thing, without good justification, every time?"

The fact you are asking here tells me your own answer to that question is "no", when it comes to allowing anybody to reroll PCs at will, on a whim. You don't want to deal with that prospect while GMing Curse of Strahd... and I will do the same if I ever run it.

After reading some comments ...

... especially about this being a zero sum solution, I 'll say I might not have insisted enough on the key part of my way of dealing with it.

It is not so much about telling the player 'It's my way or the highway' since I would allow him to reroll characters, but only if he has a better reason than "I got bored with that one" or because he simply killed one more of his previous PCs off by doing stupid stuff.

What I'm trying to stress here is NOT to kick the player out or not allowing him to reroll a new PC ... it's about explaining to him that this is something which is difficult to manage for the GM, detrimental to the group's fun and, more importantly, that giving HIM permission to do as he pleases would force the GM to give the same permissions to other players.

Explain to him that it would make the game unmanageable, tell him the why and how. If you two are friends, he should at least give you a chance to explain.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 28 at 6:38

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