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Background

You can skip to the end for a (very) short summary though...

We are a group of good friends, we've all known each other for 7+ years, since high school, and have been playing DnD since then, first 3.5 and then recently 5th edition. Currently, there are 6 players, including the PC "played" by the GM in our campaign.
One of the players, let's call him John (who also DMs regularly, we will come back to this) has always been a good friend and constructive member in the various parties we have played.

John is not only a good friend, but also usually a very pleasant person to be around, and by no means troublesome, in most situations.
Our problem is, he becomes a very problematic player when someone else is a DM, and lately this has grown to such proportions that it became somewhat toxic for the group.


John likes being cool. Here's a list of John's examples to illustrate the challenges he presents to the DM and the group

  • as a level 3 Rogue, spending 5 minutes trying to convince an NPC merchant to buy a broken wooden wheel for 10 GP, before trying to sneak behind the counter while the merchant could still see him (no magic, no tricks, just... going around crouching trying a stealth roll), and of course getting caught trying to pick pocket the NPC, keeping the DM from interacting with other players the whole time.
  • with the same character, trying to steal from a treasure in the hold of the dwarven ship we were protecting, after multiple warnings from the DM on how both the magic protections and guards would make it hard for a confirmed burglar to pull it off, needless to say quite impossible for him (and of course, nowhere to run once he was caught, we're in the middle of the sea).
  • stealing a horse in daylight in the middle of the biggest city in the realm, because the merchant didn't want to lower his price, in front of said merchant, with guards all around this part of the city. Note that even if we weren't pressured in any way, nothing that would force us to act quickly, we did on the other hand know that the king there would take the first opportunity he could get to have us locked away.

    In most of those situations, when he was presented with consequences - that were honestly really moderate considering the foolishness of his character's action, take the failed theft on the boat (we managed to convince the dwarves not to iron a "T" on his head for "thief" and had him simply imprisoned for the duration of the escort mission instead) - he would get mad and sulk, taking any occasion he got to make it known that he was upset and holding grudges. This kind of behavior ends up ruining the mood for everybody in the party, not only the DM.

Since John grew more cocky as the quests went on - since we as a group would rather shrug his attempts off than wasting time having him be in jail, punished, and so on - he actually is the very reason the two other DMs (my co-DM included), have regretfully resorted to applying more logical punishments in their own campaigns, which isn't really a problem for anyone, except John when he messes up.

I have read the very good topic about the My Guy Syndrome, and I believe this applies to John's behavior very well.

As an example, I shall take his latest "feat".
He attacked an enemy camp we were just meant to scout, by himself, despite the warnings from the DM and attempts from the players to explain that it would most likely mean death and mess up the quest, saying "that's what my character would do".
The camp being occupied by approximately 40 to 50 well trained, armored soldiers, a lone Level 5 barbarian stood no chance, and so the DM talked openly with him about the consequences.

John was proposed with various scenarios, among which were the simple death of his character (and the introduction of his future new one in the story shortly after), or being captured, interrogated, etc... and then presumably rescued by us later, which was his choice.
It was also agreed that after suffering grave injuries as a result of both the battle and his imprisonment, his character would be severely weakened for the next session, which meant various debuffs, that John seemingly serenely agreed to.

The next session, John just showed up with the firm intention to sulk the whole time, playing on his portable device most of the time, arguing that his battle oriented character was impossible to fight with and hence could only do "boring stuff his character would never want to do".
Note that his character has also refused every opportunity presented to him to be involved in roleplay while his imprisonment lasted during the previous session, which didn't prevent John from openly complaining about how boring this part of the quest was for him.


For those of you that survived reading all that (congratulations!), you might be wondering: " But why don't you discuss this directly with John ? "

And this is the reason we've decided to ask for help, because what we thought would be the only logical way to address this issue has failed. We have tried talking about it with him, in a very diplomatic and honestly friendly way, not putting him on the spot, and his response is usually to lash out, as he experiences it, in his own words, "as a personal attack".

This is where I have to bring up the fact that John also is a DM, for his own campaign, which BTW is very enjoyable for everyone. But you would also think that this allows John to know what it is like to DM (he has for years now), and that it would help him understand how his behavior is problematic.

And you'd be right, John actually happens to be a reasonably strict DM, with high expectations for his players when it comes to both role play and commitment to the quest, and that is 100% fine for everyone involved.
What isn't fine for our players, on the other hand, is to see someone so demanding as DM behave in ways he would never tolerate in his campaign, and berating others on their lack of role play, for instance.
In general, we are a "happy go lucky" kind of group, and we all enjoy role playing as much as we like making jokes and comments "out of the game", as players and not characters, which doesn't sit well with John when he DMs, and apparently now annoys him as a player too.

What really pushed us to ask this question here, was that even though the last quest was still fun, John's behavior is sometimes getting out of hand, and his constant sulking and post-game remarks are starting to be a real weight on the group; his latest comment on how he "knows that D&D is not a passion and does not involve a significant investment from everyone" really is ticking us off. All of the players are really passionate and involved in both their characters and the campaign.

Just to be clear, we do not want him to play his characters in a certain way, this is not about coercing him into what we think is THE WAY to play, OUR way.
As a group, we have always agreed on the fact that in the settings built by the DM, the PCs are free to do whatever they want, so that they might RP what they feel like, and feel free to find any solutions, any path, etc.
This is about destructive behavior that ruins the fun for everybody, using freedom of action as a pretext for "YOLO" actions.
And even though we are upset about this current situation, this is in no way a "vent our frustration" question; we really feel out of options and seek for advice on how we should handle this situation


TL;DR : A party member regularly plays his character in such a way that endangers not only himself, but the whole group and sometimes even compromises the campaign.

He is aware of it, but also very defensive about it, he also turns into an insufferable grumpy kid whenever he has to face consequences, ruining the party's mood, and gets aggressive when confronted about it.

We do not want to exclude him, as he remains a very good friend and we would rather solve this problem in a way that allows him to play, along with everyone.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Question about the statement "John likes being cool"- does he get the opportunity to do so? To gear the question toward your examples, does his barbarian normally get to take on hordes of baddies, does his rogue regularly get asked to sneak into secure chambers, etc.? Or do such things run counter to the style of game you're playing with him? \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Jul 28 at 0:40
  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast Currently, there are 6 players, including the PC "played" by the GM in our campaign \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 28 at 11:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TheVagrantDog Thing is, John had lots of opportunities to be and feel cool, both with his Barbarian having good fights and roleplay as the "intimidating brute" as he likes to, or his Rogue having to infiltrate a nobleman's party to steal an important artifact, or pass behind enemy lines for an assassination, etc... The problem might lie in the fact that what he sees as cool is kind of what you can do in Skyrim, for instance : pickpocketing anyone, convincing NPCs of anything, and so on \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 28 at 11:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ The usual way that we get clarification from a comment into the question itself is by editing the question to clarify or add to the question based on what is in the comment. I edited in your response about the number of players. If further need for clarification comes up, it's fine to edit the question to address it . \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 28 at 16:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ Cool, that's helpful in narrowing down why John thinks it's a good idea to act the way he does. Next Question- does John behave in a disruptive fashion when he gets to "be cool," or does this only tend to crop up when your party is engaged in something he thinks is boring? \$\endgroup\$ – TheVagrantDog Jul 28 at 16:57
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The way I understand it

Your problem player rejects your concerns when you try to address behaviours that the whole group agree are problematic and would be also be problematic for the problem player if one of his players had the same behaviours in the game he masters?

Seems to me like he is asking people to tolerate a behaviour he would not tolerate from others. IMO he should meet you halfway instead of rejecting your arguments, but he's not.

Discussion did not work. More discussion might?

So trying to talk with him doesn't work and it sounds to me like it does not work because this player is being very childish, transforming his group's valid concerns into something they are not, i.e. personal attacks.

He also seems to have a double standard when it comes to how he behaves.

I personally can be very firm while also being very diplomatic. Honestly, someone who would twist my arguments into personal attacks and try to turn himself into a martyr would get an earful from me about the fact that we are discussing valid concerns and the fact he's acting like... let's say a child.

It would be a very serious discussion about how I do not appreciate his being childish, and if he keeps proving to me than he cannot be civil and respectful during our exchanges, I would totally lose any kind of interest I have in interacting with him.

When a problem player does not want to even start considering that his behaviour might be problematic, when diplomacy fails, there are not many options left: endure, leave or kick him out? Different people/groups have different thresholds for that, but that's an immutable fact of life: once you hit the "point of no return", then your options are very limited.

Trying to deal with the "my guy syndrome"

"My guy would do this" is not automatically a logical or valid argument that answers every situation. This argument can always be debated!

When one of my players uses this "excuse" without further explanation, I probe them further for an explanation, for deeper insight into their character's psyche.

A simple way to do it is to ask him, "But why would your character be/think/act this way?". Ask questions but do not "say stuff about his character" like "He would not be smart/dumb enough to do that", since that would be crossing a line where you start telling him how he should play his character.

Challenge him on his excuses. Like in the instance of the barbarian deciding to invade a whole outpost by himself, when he clearly has no way to win and will clearly end up "badly" for his character, I would have asked him, "Is your barbarian smart or tactical enough to realize he has no chances? Or does he have a death wish?".

Of course, that's really not foolproof because it is a more passive approach and still depends on the problem player's reactions/decisions...

...which brings me to my next point.

If "my guy would do this" is okay for him, then it is okay for other players.

Never forget that you are a group of people. Usually, permissions given to a player are implicitly given to other players... else, you have an unfair group and this will lead to frictions/frustrations for some.

So if the logic of "my guy would do that, there's nothing you can do about it" is valid for him, it is also valid for you.

For instance, I once had to deal with a problem player who was a bit similar to yours: strong-headed, constantly shifting arguments to turn a debate about the game into something personal between players. He was also passive-aggressive in how he showed his discontent at the table and was very stubborn that everything he did would be possible (even though that never was our argument; we were very clear that possible does not mean believable or desirable).

His favorite argument was, you guessed it, the "my guy would do that, it totally makes sense" line that he would give to us constantly. Frustrations were building to the point we decided we needed to have a talk about it... which did not work. Basically all we got from him was "you guys want to control my character", when what we really were trying to make him realize was that "Our characters did try to influence him, in-game, which is something our characters would do and makes total sense... but since it did not work we now have to have this discussion out of character".

I used all the tricks, showed him parts of the DMG which tackle group interactions and how it is important for the group to establish clear guidelines for what we're looking for, etc. to no avail.

When the discussion got heated between him and the GM, I suggested that we stop it there. I asked the problem player to think about what we said while stressing that this is nothing personal and is only about "managing the game" and I said "hope to see you all next week".

The next week we had a full table (surprisingly), but the problem player kept being problematic. He did more in-game shenanigans which impacted the whole group and derailed the game, once again, when he actually tried to sneak into the King's Chamber during the night we were spending at the Castle to try and steal the King's spellbook. He got caught and thrown in prison, and our group had to undergo a "trial". We succeeded in convincing the King that the thief was acting alone, and the GM salvaged the situation by having the King "punish us" by sending us on a quest.

But here's when the problematic "my guy syndrome" also became a solution: When the King asked us if we needed the thief for this quest, my character acted according to his own beliefs and personality and said, "No, let him rot in jail and hopefully let this be a lesson for him for when we get back". I have to specify we knew the quest would be done in less than 1 session, so I thought this was a brilliant way to have our problem player get a taste of his own medicine.

When he got frustrated at the table saying that it would be very boring for him to just watch us play for 3 hours and that I was being a bitch, I calmly told him about "those many times where we had to watch him for more than an hour because of his PC's shenanigans and the fact that if my action would cause 3-4 hours of boredom for him, his actions in the past cause at least 10 hours of boredom for me and all others around the table, minimum". I was polite but firm, and when he kept complaining I told him, "that's enough, I don't want to have this debate with you, especially if you are gonna be childish about it". And that was it. He sulked; we played.

But I believe that made him realize that we had just as many ways to influence the game and his character as he did, and that we just had chosen not to do so before, but that we would start enforcing consequences for his character's dumb moves in character.

TL;DR: your characters do not have to rescue the barbarian the next time he derails a mission. Maybe your group will start thinking they are better off without him ... and that's totally legit. It is in characters' reactions to a fellow comrade's actions and is totally legit and even uses the main argument of the problem player against him, in-game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ But I believe that made him realize that we had just as many ways to influence the game and his character as he did... So did his behavior change as a consequence? \$\endgroup\$ – sgf Jul 28 at 8:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for this great answer ! We have tried multiple times to talk about this but it never goes well, he's too defensive about his "roleplay" and freedom as a player, and at best he ends up sulking. I guess we will try to "confront" his character's questionable choices with open questions, nothing that could feel like it infringes on his freedom, as you pointed out this would make us the "bad guys". But most importantly, as disheartening as it is, we will take this advice and stop going out of our way both as players and PCs to rescue him, and give him a taste of his own medicine. \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 28 at 11:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ @sgf it's really not a given that it would work every time ... but that's something I remember us talking about after the problem was settled and that player started being more considerate. Weirdly enough, the "in character solutions" to most problematic players are not often considered by most players and GMs. Once I opened eyes about that at this table I won't say we never ever had anymore problems with the player, but those remained in character and never spilled out of the game (and and and also got a whole lot easier to manage to EVERYONE'S liking, since everyone learned it could be done) \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Jul 28 at 19:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind, it is not a method of preventing such issues like doing a session 0 to explain everyone's expectations, limits and preferrences ... but once that has failed, this is one of my favorite solutions, ie. dealing with the issue in character exclusively. Keep in mind that this part of my solution can also backfire ... \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Jul 28 at 19:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Catar4 Yes, we also thought we'd try to discuss the way he behaves off-game and explain how it makes the others uneasy and generally unhappy, before we mix it with the "my guy" behavior he has as a PC. We would of course rather avoid getting to the point where we have to agree that we'll stop going out of our way / accommodate his whims, but we might get to that if he really can't understand how his way to deal with frustration is not tolerable, never mind the fact that the way he wants to play really frustrates others much more, and that his "frustration" comes from childish expectations. \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 29 at 17:38
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It sounds like the problem is not how he plays; that is just a symptom. The problems are:

  1. he does not care about the enjoyment of others in the group
  2. he does not take criticism like a an adult.

    So that is what you should be talking with him about. He is not being self-aware either intentionally or accidentally.

Asking him if he would tolerate a player doing what he does is a good lead in. Ask him that when he has some time to actually think about it.

Having other players, and not just you as a GM, speak to him will help too. He may not realize this is how everyone sees him; he may see it a one-on-one confrontation.

There is a wonderful video about this specific problem: Matt Colville's The Wangrod Defense, Running the Game #76.

And there is a great part of it. When he says "I'm just playing my character", the answer is, "We are all just playing our character, but you're the only one making other people unhappy."

D&D is group storytelling, not a single-player video game where your actions don't affect anyone else.

But if his fun is ruining other peoples fun, and continues to, then you may have to un-invite him and tell him why. Tell him: "It's not just about you." If his behavior ruins other peoples fun and he doesn't care that's probably going to start bleeding into other interactions anyway.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer :) He is aware of these issues but not willing to do anything about it, and to be fair, we will try again to talk with him with everyone here, but even though he'd never tolerate a player like himself in his campaign, it's more "I don't want to accommodate, I can do whatever I want" than "I don't realize I'm making others unhappy" He is simply stubborn enough about this to antagonize the whole group invoking the holy "my guy" argument (nice video btw, thanks) Also, pretty funny to read it might "start bleeding into other interactions", since it has started \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 28 at 11:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Much of the time this is a player who lacks maturity and you have to decide how long you are willing to wait for them to mature. It may be worth uninviting them and in a few years you may be able to invite them back and they may be able to handle it. \$\endgroup\$ – John Jul 28 at 14:03
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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 For the Wangrod Defense. That is a great video. Also for recognising the actual core issue. \$\endgroup\$ – linksassin Jul 29 at 2:53
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A method I have used to varying effect with different GMs-turned-players is to ask them right when that specific scene happens and he starts to get grouchy about how you are GMing it:

"Okay, how would you GM this scene if I was the barbarian and wanted to attack a camp with X guards level Y, this amount of defenses etc.? What would happen?"

This way you shift his perspective around. Give him time to think here.

Mind you, this can lead to an interesting and long discussion where you yourself (as the current GM) might feel attacked, so make sure you are actually open to feedback and don't get frustrated yourself.

Through this process, you might even find out that you are just not compatible with each other when he is a player.

About varying play styles as player and GM

It is fine to have different preferences for style of play whether you are a GM or a player (no one mentioned this so far). Some people want to GM crunchy games but play in cinematic or more rules-lite games. His style of play might genuinely just be completely different from his style as a GM because he experiences the game(s) differently as player and GM.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting answer ; both for allowing us to get insight on how John sees the situation both from a player and GM perspective, but also for giving us a way to put him in the current GM's shoes and actually not only get his opinion on how he'd deal with that, but also open a discussion about it. Thanks ! \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 29 at 17:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks to both KorvinStarmast and LaBaguette, hope it helps :-) And yeah, I thought the whole play style difference was important to mention since it seemed a huge source of confusion for the whole group. \$\endgroup\$ – psycoatde Jul 29 at 19:04
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I don't think My Guy Syndrome is your problem.

Don't get me wrong, that's definitely present, but let's list your problem player's issues:

  1. He attempts things that can best be described as "it would be so cool if I pulled it off."

  2. He engages in attention-getting behavior, especially during lulls or when his character is alone.

  3. He accepts the consequences of his actions, but only until they keep him from playing the way he wants to. Then it's a problem.

  4. Your problem player, when called out, engages the My Guy defense... but also complains that others aren't taking the game as seriously as he is.

  5. When he's the DM, he is, if anything, more strict than the other DM's- players in his game are supposed to act invested.

It's #4 and 5 in particular that make me believe you aren't dealing with a case of My Guy- I think your problem player is suffering from Main Character Syndrome. I've also heard it referred to as Hero or Protagonist syndrome, but it boils down to the same thing- your friend John is acting as though his character is the important one, and the other players are part of the supporting cast. When he's the DM, this works just fine- he is both stage and director, and he decides where the spotlight goes. When he's a player, it becomes an issue- he acts appropriately protagonistic when all eyes are on him, but tends to bore easily when he's not front and center, engage in antics intended to hold onto or steal the spotlight, and sulk whenever his punishment makes him less important to the story. This stems from the quiet belief that everyone is gathered around the table to tell his story, rather than the group's story.

If this sounds right, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that I also just described my wife as a player, and since I'm not referring to her as my ex-wife, I can assure you there are ways to deal with this. The bad news is that, when I first addressed this problem with her, I tried a couple of the tactics already mentioned. They only made things worse.

As a general rule, I discourage any kind of retribution to "fix" a problem player.

I could argue that, if you wanted to keep John as a friend, metaphorically slapping his character whenever he misbehaves isn't going to help with that. I could point out that, if he's already feeling attacked, anything that boils down to "your character acts like this, so mine can too" is only going to make him more defensive. I'm not going to, though.

Instead, I'm going to tell you that I tried it myself and it didn't work.

A brief story. My wife thought it would be funny to make The Comic Book Guy from the Simpsons into an adventurer. He was exactly as annoying as you'd expect, and an epically frustrating know-it-all to boot, especially when she decided to make up lore on the spot and defended herself by saying that her character was never wrong, so if he said it, it was automatically true. After talking to her led to the My Guy Defense, I finally told her that her character acting out would eventually have consequences.

A couple sessions later, her character was mocking a priestess of Tyr when the hand of Tyr descended from the heavens and knocked him flat. The party agreed that he had it coming. My wife did not. An unpleasant fight ensued.

Open-ended questions did indeed help.

The My Guy defense came out again, this time coupled with claims that she was being punished just for staying true to her character. And you know what? That's true. If you're imposing negative consequences on a character in the hopes of changing the way their player behaves, you're punishing them. And it's never cool to punish someone for playing a game they're supposed to be enjoying.

So I did what I should have done the first time- instead of telling my wife that her character's behavior was disruptive, I asked why she thought her character should act that way. And when I did, she explained that her character secretly thought of himself as a hero, but she never had a chance to show that- it felt, to her, like everyone pretended he was an annoying sidekick.

What actually worked was remembering to say "Yes."

It's easy to forget, but role-playing games are meant to be a collaborative effort. The DM describes the game world, yes, and many (if not most) of us make those worlds ourselves... but we aren't meant to do it alone. The other players shape the world through their characters and actions, and if they take it in a direction you didn't intend, your instinct will be to push them back onto the "right path." Often, though, it's a better idea to let them wander and see where it goes.

I'm not just talking about the plot. I'm also talking about play styles, moods, and even the way the world works. Such as, for a random example, a lone barbarian taking on a war camp. Or, to finish my story, a fat little dwarf mockery of the Comic Book Guy who wanted to be a hero.

After I found out she wanted her character to have a chance to be a hero, I started tweaking the game. Every once in awhile, a sidequest would pop up that required him to be at the front of the party. He got his own solo story (that I worked out with her) about suing Tyr for assault. My DMPC, Zook, bought her character a cape that always billowed dramatically in mysterious hero-wind. The entire party ran into a fan club dedicated to their heroics. And most importantly, whenever she had her character do something that felt like breaking the game, I did one of two things- I shrugged and said "let's see where this goes," (which led directly to her character's pet owlbear becoming awakened, a ranger, and occasionally a dinosaur), or I said, "that won't work... unless you can do this other thing first" (started a riot through a combination of illusion magic and Performance rolls).

I asked her, while I was writing this response, how she felt that went. She grumbled at being used as an example, but says she feels much better about her place in the game. Then she added that it'd be even better if the campaign were even more centered on her character.

Obviously, this doesn't do much to counteract the Main Character Syndrome, but hey, I'm a DM, not a shrink. What's important to me is the end result: nobody rolls their eyes or stares at their phone while they wait for her character to finish talking, and while there have been other arguments (we're a rowdy bunch), they haven't been about her character for the last two years.

My advice to your group:

You should definitely talk to John, not just to explain the problems you're having with him, but to ask him why he's acting out. It sounds like he already knows his behavior is questionable, so if he's still doing it, he's got a reason. Based on what you've said, I'm going to stick with my guess that he believes the game should be more about him, and my advice on that front is twofold: gently remind him that he's not the only one playing (it's still a problem to think like that), and then go ahead and make it more about him. It wouldn't take much to change "no, you can't stealth right in front of the merchant, he's staring right at you," to "tell you what- think of a way to distract him long enough to hide, and I'll let you roll for it." It'd take even less effort to say, "There's no way you're getting inside that dwarven vault... without inside help." As long as humoring him doesn't detract from everyone else's enjoyment, I say humor away. And if it does? Change the world, or the rules, until everyone is happy. At the end of the day, it's just a game, and it shouldn't be more important than maintaining a friendship.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Good point, and seems to be more accurate on what's causing John's behavior and how to handle it. Thanks a lot ! \$\endgroup\$ – LaBaguette Jul 31 at 17:49
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The 4e DMG has some advice for handling this player type.

Although of course you're playing D&D 5e, the earlier 4th edition Dungeon Master's Guide actually has advice on handling what it calls the Instigator player type.

An instigator enjoys making things happen. She has no patience for careful planning or deliberation. She'll open an obviously trapped chest "just to see what happens." She provokes authority figures and opens dungeon doors to bring more monsters into an already difficult fight. The instigator loves the vicarious thrill of taking enormous risks and sometimes just making bad choices.

The instigator can be disruptive, but she can also be a lot of fun for the othe players. Things rarely grind to a halt with an instigator in the group, and the stories that get retold after the game session often revolve around whatever crazy thing the instigator did this week.

The 4e DMG gives some advice on handling this sort of player.

Don't allow PK/TPK: The most important is to stop the Instigator from attacking the party, or getting the party killed. The DMG doesn't specify exactly how the DM should do this.

However, it also recommends engaging the Instigator to create scenarios that they find fun, which should satisfy the player's need for chaos. It gives three main pieces of advice:

Include objects and encounters that invite experimentation: Intentionally include encounters where the player character can harmlessly mess around without de-railing the adventure or harming the rest of the party. I like to think of this as Marge baking a second cake for Homer to ruin.

Let their actions put the PCs in a tight spot: Don't just say "no" to the player, but have their actions lead to some kind of combat encounter or other interesting scenario for the party. My advice is that this should be a brief and dramatic occurence but not seem like a punishment for the party.

Include encounters with Instigator NPCs: Have the player encounter NPCs who pull the exact same stunts back at them. You stole from a merchant? Turns out he pays dues to the local thieves' guild, who try to rob the thief back to teach him a lesson. Give the player a taste of their own medicine.

My own suggestion

My own advice might be that if the player is hoping to pull silly stunts for their own amusement, that their come-uppance would be better as more of a "punchline" than a "punishment". This will give the player the amusement they hoped for without hindering the adventure or playstyle. I'd quickly narrate the results of failed attempts to cause trouble, before moving on to continue the adventure. Examples:

  • You try to loot the merchant's purse, only to notice that he's staring right at you the whole time. He picks you up and dumps you into a horse trough outside.
  • You are caught almost immediately trying to steal the item in plain sight. A mass of guards immediately spot you and cart you off to jail. A week passes before they decide to let you free.

By making it amusing, you allow the PC to fail without taking it too harshly. By making it quick, you avoid allowing the PC to use their chaotic "my guy" antics to dominate the game, cause the minimum hassle for the other players, avoid upsetting the Instigator with drawn-out punishments, and continue the game as intended.

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