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I am a fairly new DM. I am playing with a group I have tried to DM and have played with as a PC. There is one person in that group that plays as a PC that says no, AKA he is the opposite of a murder hobo.

When faced with a decision or a turning point in the story he will say no to most of the possible outcomes and bring the story to a halt because either the DM is trying to come up with another method to put to the players, the party is arguing about what to do now, or the other players just want to follow his lead and he doesn't want to do anything.

He does this to see how frustrated the DM can get before giving up and then complains that we don't play because no one wants to deal with this every single time.

I am the DM for the next campaign and I am looking for advice on how to deal with him. The common methods of just killing his character or excluding him aren't acceptable here. I want him and everyone to have fun and be a part of it, but I also don't want to get frustrated with his play style.

What can I do to either deal with him as a PC, or can I do anything as a DM to help the story without the mental state of "No I am God you will do what I tell you and that is the story"?

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    \$\begingroup\$ "He does this to see how frustrated the DM can get before giving up" Has he said this is the reason for the way he acts or is that your interpretation of why? I'm curious as to the player's exact motivations because that is likely key to your solution, and so I want to make sure we have it right. \$\endgroup\$ – Rubiksmoose Jan 21 at 17:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding "saying no to most of the possible outcomes," can you expand on that a little bit? It sounds a little like you're presenting him (and the group) with distinct options to choose from. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 21 at 18:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ Incidentally, welcome to the stack, and if you haven't already, please take a look at the tour, linked below. Please also know that we're asking these clarifying questions so that we can provide better answers. rpg.stackexchange.com/tour \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 21 at 18:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ You might find some helpful ideas in this question: Players skipping side quests just to have a laugh at the DM \$\endgroup\$ – WannabeCoder Jan 22 at 14:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ What outcomes is the player saying no to? It is not up to the players to decide on outcomes but on actions they want to take. The DM will then decide what the outcome is. In the basic interaction there is no yes/no question \$\endgroup\$ – Helena Jan 22 at 19:20
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As ever, there are two approaches: in-game, and out-of-game.

Out-of-game:

It's a cliché on this stack, but for a reason: talk to this player about what they want. As mentioned above, not biting on plot hooks could be a simple result of not finding those hooks interesting. I recommend trying this first because it is not clear to me that the problem player is necessarily, intentionally forcing the games to stop (a similar-seeming situation could arise from other sources).

Explicitly asking this player in advance about what story elements they'd be interested in pursuing might clear the issue up very smoothly. If the player has no stories they're all that interested in pursuing, you can request that they make some decisions anyways-- doing nothing at the table isn't very much fun, and apparently this player complains about no play occurring already, so they might be willing to move the plot forward even if they don't have much personal interest in doing so.

If the player is flat-out not willing to stop forcing gameplay to a halt, and you don't want to work around them using an in-game method, then there really aren't a lot of options that don't involve excluding the player altogether. Refusing to play or refusing to allow the game to be played by others is not a playstyle.

The situation you describe, as written, suggests that this player is simply toxic to your table, and would be to any table. It's not 100% clear to me that that impression is correct (edits to the question can clarify), but a "player" that refuses to bite at plot hooks, refuses to present any plots that they would pursue, and won't stop forcing the game to a halt is not a person that you can work with to provide a fun game any more than a football team could work with a quarterback who refuses to run or throw the ball.


In-game:

I've never had a player so resistant as the one described in the question, but when a PC doesn't go for any of your plot hooks a useful strategy is to offer an open choice rather than a list of options:

OK, you've got your character built, with backstory and motivations and everything. You're in [location], and you've turned down offers for work from the Adventurer's Guild, the City Council, the Society of Assassins, and a direct appeal for help from the Goddess of Plot Advancement. So your character has some unstructured time ahead of them. What would you like to do?

Declining all plot hooks and story prompts can indicate all sorts of things, from a frustrating and intransigent player, to unclear plot hooks, to stories which simply don't interest a given player. Letting players develop their own goals can serve as a sort of reverse story prompt: they tell you what the adventures should be about, and you build content around that.

As above, a player who resists all suggested stories and also has nothing they want to do of their own accord isn't demonstrating an unusual "play style", because they aren't quite a player any more-- they're rejecting any interaction with the game.

At that point you have a couple of options, and to be clear we're scraping the bottom of the barrel to find them. Trying to force someone to play a game they don't want to play is a bad place to be. These options are, effectively:

  • Railroading. Story events happen to characters, and they are not in a position to accept or reject anything. As an example, being kidnapped and brought to some ritual site where they will be sacrificed means that refusing to play leads directly to PC death
  • Cutting the character out of decisions. If the player's only contribution to in-game, plot-related decision making is to prevent any decisions from being made, but they are still willing to play in other capacities (like participating in a battle), you might consider giving their decisions a weight of zero. This means that the other players at the table are making every plot decision, and this player's character can come along for the ride or not

Neither of these options is great, but I cannot emphasize enough that this player has chosen to specifically not play the game, and prevent anyone else from playing it as well.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I was about to right a very similar answer and saw you beat me to it. This covers it. But I would emphasize 2 things. First, in this situation as described the "out of game" approach is probably the right thing to start with first. Second, feel free to ask the player what they actually do. If they reject the plot hook (assuming an open-world type campaign), let them, but then ask what they actually do. \$\endgroup\$ – TimothyAWiseman Jan 21 at 18:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TimothyAWiseman The reorganization is a good suggestion, I've switched the sections around and added a line about why out-of-game approaches are good to try first. \$\endgroup\$ – Upper_Case Jan 21 at 19:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ If this is happening very often, I would recommend out-game strategies. It's important to understand the person behind the character. \$\endgroup\$ – Francisco Melo junior Jan 21 at 22:46
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    \$\begingroup\$ Lots of good advice already here I would only add that in my eyes the game is a cooperative story telling game, Sure the GM has more influence than the players but he is not alone. I give my group generally a few possible plot hooks and then let them decide, If one says he is not doing anything and wants to do nothing I ignore him and ask the others what they are doing, want to do. If the whole group says they don't want to do anything I would pull it to OOC and ask the players how they see this story progressing if their characters are so uninterested. \$\endgroup\$ – ChoTimberwolf Jan 22 at 6:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sometimes it helps when talking to the player/group to compare the situation to one outside of roleplaying. Imagine you wanted to play basketball with your friends - and every time he gets the ball he would just stand there and hold the ball, not passing to anyone, nor dribbling and going anywhere. Maybe he can see how toxic this behavior would be and can see the similarities to his own behavior at the table. \$\endgroup\$ – Falco Jan 23 at 11:39
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You've written that you think your problem player is actually doing this on purpose, "to see how frustrated the DM can get." If that's definitely true and the player is determined to wreck your plot in order to mess with you, the only good solution is to not invite them to your game. But you've also written that your problem player always complains because there's not a game happening, and that makes me think their motivation might be something else.

I've had a related problem, which is that sometimes my players reject my plot hooks as being "too risky" — as in the player says something like:

The Duke is asking us to rescue this princess from a dragon, but the dragon is too dangerous and the reward won't do us any good if we're dead. Screw this, let's abandon the princess to her fate and head to the next valley and see if there's anything safer we can do.

This is a common problem which is actually sort of the DM's fault — it happens when the DM has genuinely failed to provide the group with motivation to go risk their lives on a quest. This problem is so common that I suspect it might be the root cause for what your problem player is doing.

The solutions I use for this are:

  • Tell the players their characters are responsible for problems in this area -- as in "you guys are the official adventurers for this town, and in exchange for a salary you've promised to deal with any problems that crop up."
  • Tell the players to build characters that want to do the mission -- as in, "the Duke has put out a request for adventurers, and your adventurer is one of the ones that responded to the request."
  • Make the problem personal for the characters -- as in, "the dragon has captured the princess, and also it kills anyone who tries to leave the valley, and also it eats someone from the village every day, so really there's no way to run from it or ignore it, you have to fight it or it'll eat you."

All of these solutions have worked well for me.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your second bullet point is a big one. In an RPG where the players are playing adventurers, it is the players' responsibility to build characters who will go on adventures (even if only "reluctantly" in-character). If the character will not go on adventures, then they are not an adventurer and, therefore, not suitable as a player character - so make a new one who is open to adventuring. \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Jan 22 at 14:59
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1, this happened to me once where the DM had a very simple formula of creating quests: "We have an issue. Go into the crypt of the undead, slay all the baddies and retrieve the MacGuffin" I played a cowardish but greedy Gnome wizard, that didn't have any motivation of just risking his live to save the village. Me: "Do you really think it is a good idea to go in there?" Palladin: "Yep" Me: "Should we not at least have a plan?" Fighter: "We have a plan: Kill all the undead!" Me: "Good plan, you do that, I will stay behind and guard our stuff. Good luck" \$\endgroup\$ – Helena Jan 22 at 20:16
  • \$\begingroup\$ My plan wasn't to sabotage the game, but I wanted to play the "reluctant hero", and I felt there was plenty of options to motivate my character to join the fight, but the GM chose the worst way possible of railroading me into it "voluntarily" engaging the foe, and I it was the last time I played with that GM. \$\endgroup\$ – Helena Jan 22 at 20:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. I'd add that it is not just the level of risk but the level of reward which may be lacking. My group once sarcastically described our GMs plots as "being paid £10 to attack the Death Star with a teaspoon" (they made more sense than that). In character we told his NPCs that we weren't attacking the Death Star for a mere £10 and with the only permitted weapons being teaspoons. We (as players) were expecting haggling to begin, and eventually to head off with £10K and photon torpedoes. The GM sulked and said we were refusing to do his plot. \$\endgroup\$ – DrBob Feb 24 at 18:05
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You mention that:

When faced with a decision or a turning point in the story he will say no to most of the possible outcomes and brings the story to a halt [...]

Also:

He does this to see how frustrated the DM can get before giving up and then complains that we don't play because no one wants to deal with this every single time.

These sentences show clearly that his actions have a direct negative effect on the rest of the team.

However, roleplaying games are team games. Their purpose is for everyone in the group to have fun.

How to deal with the player:

1. Discuss this with the rest of the group before talking to him

Ask them whether they feel the same. Sometimes, something that bothers us does not necessarily reflect the group's feelings. If your group feels the same:

(Several comments suggested that this part may be considered as talking behind one's back, so either dismiss it or proceed very carefully)

2. Consider that he may not be aware of it

Sometimes, we do not realize that our behavior is problematic. Maybe, in his mind, he's trying his best to give the group the most efficient solution. Maybe he thinks that this is fun!

3. Talk to him in person and out of game

Be friendly and honest. Describe his behavior and let him know that when this happens it affects the group in a negative way (remember to discuss with it your group first). Depending on his reaction it's up to you how to proceed. If he insists on his behavior ask him why he does it. Try to find out whether it is simply an ego thing, i.e., he wants his way to be the way things happen, or whether he has good intentions. After understanding his reasons talk again with your group and collectively decide how to deal with this.

If you don't want to confront the player or the team does not share your feelings:

Offer alternatives

The simplest way of dealing with this is calling for a majority vote. If the group stumbles upon a disagreement, ask the players to suggest one solution and then call a vote. The idea with most votes becomes the way to go. However, be sure to ask for the group's permission before the session starts.

How to avoid this in the future

These matters are usually resolved during Session 0. Session 0 is an out-of-game session where you discuss with your players what is expected from each one, what is allowed and not allowed, and overall how to make sure that everyone is having fun. You can make it so you discuss during Session 0 how to handle disagreements. (1) (2)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Discuss this with the rest of the group before talking to him - Ah yes, talking about people behind their back, the best solution to any problem. Talking to the problem player by themselves should always be the first step, never the last. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 22 at 15:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @RevenantBacon Here's how a healthy discussion usually goes: "Hey guys, I noticed that X often does Y which sometimes ruins the fun for me. Since I'll be the GM for the next session I'm unsure how to handle it. I'm thinking of talking to him about it. What do you think?" No one is talking behind his back. It's a discussion between friends. The point of (1) is to make sure that this is actually a group issue. Also, I know that comments are not answers but it takes minimal effort to not assume the worst and raising a potential issue in a friendly manner, instead of a sarcastic one. \$\endgroup\$ – Aventinus Jan 22 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Sarcasm aside, I stand by my original statement. Talking privately to the player that you have an issue with should always be the first option, never, ever the last. The privately part is pretty important too. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 22 at 21:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ This sounds like a fast way to piss the person off. This can easily (probably?) be viewed as ganging up against the person. And if you influence the others, even if unintentionally, and they all then support doing something against the person, then are ganging up. And yes, you are talking behind his back. This answer should only be used against dire problems, like hot-headed problem causers who you can't have a reasonable talk with. I stayed my hand against -1'ing the answer, but I'd really like the feature to -1 the comment. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jan 23 at 17:05
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    \$\begingroup\$ I did have something like your answer used against me once. I was making every possible effort to be as good as possible, 2 people who had an issue with me talked in private with others and it ended up being almost everyone against me, they called me a troublemaker even though they were the ones falsely accusing me of things, as OP might be doing. It caused friction until there was animosity and people started fabricating lies just because they no longer liked me. They got what they wanted as I left eventually due to their terrible behavior. The group was toxic. I made every effort. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jan 23 at 17:09
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While I think, that Upper_case' answer and others sum already up an exhaustive variety on out of game solutions, and I think that definetly should be the way to go here, I still want to put some focus on the in character solutions you ask for, ignoring if this player is worth the effort and just taking the question how to deal with such a player, at face value. If they have truly toxic intends, they might still resist, but that (and the consequences) being up to them then.

I prefer this ingame option over others having been mentioned here before, as it neither takes away player agency, nor it requires the player to change their behavior as such.

As a disclaimer, I haven't used this at a table before, but I have used it in other intersocial situations, when forcing others to make a decision.

Design plot options in a way that any action resolves a decision

Given their habit of denying to take a decision. Very straight forward, make stepping back from a decision or declining to accept a specific quest (as even saying no to something is something you have to decide to do) an decision having consequences. Where these consequences are driving the plot forward or do what ever you required as a subset of the specific results of an decisions.

So lemme give you an easy example to easier understand the idea:

The PC's are in a kingdom with emerging civil war over the past year. Their actions happened to intersect with those of an king sworn general. While they didn't directly interfere with his business, their motives aren't clear to the general. He offers the group to give an oath to the king and no one will question the intend of their prior actions.

Very simple. Decide to give the oath and consider the plot being driven further as being for now, gofers of the general. Or decide to not do so... Which will lead to the party being considered in partisanship with the rebels. If the player sticks to his prior behavior lets assume he isn't willing to give such an oath, give the party a few hints over the next days that

the kings military gets suspiciously about them and in the end if they don't decide to take to their heels, they will be arrested soon.

Another decision has to be made... Not doing anything is a totally valid option here and leads to its very own consequences. If the group is interested in playing a jailbreak adventure... That's even the way one should take.

If the group decides to escape, they might be caught by some of the rebels at one point. And one could come up with ideas how also not deciding to join the rebels would drive the plot ahead. Or even considering prior actions done by the group when escaping from the generals army, and given specific social structures in this kingdom, the rebels don't offer membership, but just treat them as such. Said player might also just decline any request for help made by the rebels....

Since this very important task couldn't be fulfilled by any of the rebels and the party wasn't willing to help their new alliance out in this regards... a spy of the king was able to gather and share the intel of one of the rebels major outposts with the king. Their army being expected to arrive within a couple days and with death certainty they will level everything that's still here by that time.

Great, So apparently it turns out to be an hide and seek adventure the group is interested in, rather than pursuing your prepared plot by direct means... So may it be.

tl&dr

So the point here is, don't just remove player agency as others have proposed. Nor force them into situations where its "either you make a decision or your PC dies", but make them simply not have an action available that is an uncovered decision.

I doubt as others have proposed aswell, that this would help with this specific player if he's as toxic as you described. But in other situations, this is a really interesting tool, to drive a plot with an somewhat unpredictable party.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with this pretty heavily. If they don't want to make a decision, then not committing needs to become a decision point in of itself. The only other suggestion I would add to this is set up some sort of time limit on how long they can debate before the plot starts moving along anyways. After all, that General isn't going to sit around for 30 minutes listening to them argue about whether or not to swear fealty, he's got a war to run, supplies lines to organize, strategizing that needs to be done. \$\endgroup\$ – RevenantBacon Jan 22 at 16:17
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0. There's nothing I can say about talking to the individual out of game and aside that hasn't already been mentioned in the other answers.

The advice given previously is difficult to enact sometimes, but sagely given. I hope you roll a very high Wisdom save to understand its intent, and crit on Charisma to explain your case to the player in question.

In terms specific to your objections to this problem player:

he is the opposite of a murder hobo.

Not being a Murder Hobo is fine; however, being obstinate and refusing to participate isn't table appropriate for D&D.

When faced with a decision or a turning point in the story he will say no to most of the possible outcomes and bring the story to a halt[...]

If the player is asked "what do you want to do next" and the response is "I dunno, Nothing," please follow a suggestion below.

He does this to see how frustrated the DM can get before giving up[...]

Frustrate People is not a game sold by Wizards of the Coast and is not the game famously made by Gary Gygax.

What can I do to either deal with him as PC or can I do anything as a DM to help the story without the mental state of "No I am God you will do what I tell you and that is the story"?

The recommendations below should help, and sorry, but you're the god of gods. You tell the Player's characters what information the gods they know give them, and the enemies the gods they DONT know throw in their way. Good luck.


1. Plot happens to players.

When a hero rests inside a dungeon full of skeletons, I often accost the resting hero before their rest can be completed with the aforementioned skeletons.

  1. This is a lack of planning and understanding on the player's part.

  2. This is also a failure on my part as a GM to explain or demonstrate clearly that the world moves on without them, and doesn't always move in their favor.

    If a particular player refuses to budge from the starting town and doesn't stop the [X] from taking the [Y], then I highly suggest you bring the [X] to the player fully armed to the teeth with [Y]s and all the spoils therein. The theme of this style would be very close to

    "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing," -Edmund Burke*.

    and turns up the respective dials of urgency and necessity. If, perhaps, direct conflict with powered up bosses isn't your favorite, news of nearby towns being taken over, with each new report getting closer, or situations in neighboring villages getting worse (starvation, disease, werewolves, or whatever else the Big Bad Evil Guy is into) can reach the party's ears.

    For a more immediate example: The Boss is in the next room, do you want to drop down from the ceiling or go in the front door? If your problem player says "No," Then the boss just comes to the party and they fight there. Bye by, Advantage!

    This is the most narrator appropriate suggestion I can make to you; saying the location is "here" should require the least amount of work.

2. Plot can leave players behind

Someone else can become the hero right under the player's noses. I will warn you that this can be a severe kick in the pants and will possibly alienate stubborn players, especially if handled poorly. It should be foreshadowed until it is obvious that other heroes are coming, and that they're willing to do the job. These heroes don't give 'those losers' {the party} the time of day. Drop hints about how their heroes guild is the real deal (plot hook: rivalry). Oh, by the way, they succeed, don't suffer deaths, but do come back bruised and battered - and victorious.

You missed your chance to be the hero.

If the NPC party is successful with just a hand wave this removes a form of agency from the players, but it also forces you into a role where you are narrating what other people do to an encounter the players aren't experiencing, and will rely heavily on your abilities as a storyteller to not become boring cut-scene material.

If you don't want to rely on other heroes entering the picture, the townsfolk themselves can step up and band together. For a bonus tug on the heart-strings, [party size number] teenagers can step up who are under-equipped, over eager, and had an idea that they don't bother sharing with the party. They're probably going to die horribly, but at least they gave it their best shot (and last breath)!

After letting a good portion of the town die - remove their resources, stop giving them convenient local adventure hooks, and offer their characters a chance to settle down to a nice quiet and uneventful life of farming. The town needs rebuilding after all.

3. Split the party

A party with a Lawful Good Paladin, a True Neutral Druid, and a Chaotic Evil Warlock may not see eye-to eye on a great deal of things; however, this often doesn't stop the Paladin from worshiping their deity in private, the Druid from communing with nature, or the Warlock from scheming and daydreaming. Each of these situations are opportunities to introduce new information for their eyes and ears only.

These missions are by invitation only.

To be quite frank, you could give the other party members the mission and let the stubborn player decide to stay back on their own. Combat Ratings can be re-structured, which requires work, but also means you get to play. And the non participant gets to watch.

4. Stoop to his/her level.

Oh No!

"Roll Perception" [Any roll]; "Your shadow is the wrong length."

"Roll Insight" [Any roll]; "The townspeople are looking at you funny."

"Roll a Wisdom Saving throw" [Any roll]; "You are completely right, that didn't happen, and you don't do that"

"Roll an Charisma Saving throw" [Any roll, but the book says it's DC 13]; "You see yourself standing next to the party, from behind"

Narration: You have been ejected from your body. Attached to your floating spectral body is a silvery cord thicker than your fist. It seems you cannot get further than 10 feet away from your body. As you look up , you can see yourself turn towards your floating body, pretending to rummage through one of your bags. "Ah, there it is. This one is totally mine." Your body stands and smiles at the party, positively beaming with a happiness that is both shocking and pleasing. "Let's go guys! I'll follow your lead," you see yourself say, positively dripping with camaraderie and pleasantness your face has surely never known.

The PC is now being controlled by a (Chaotic Good) ghost and will try to help the players in any way that it can. Give the ghost levels in the original player's class with "reasons" or a custom ethereal magical item, like a "Choker of recovered destiny!" or something.

"There was a ghost here?" he may ask.

"Yup" you may reply.

"Why?" he may ask, while thinking of why this doesn't happen to him.

"You should figure that out," you should reply, confident that you are in charge of the scene.

"There can't be ethereal magic items!" he may say.

"Actually, the 7th level Transmutation spell "Etherealness" lets you spend 8 hours at a time in that realm, and sometimes wizards just get BORED, you know? Anyway, I'm sure he's a nice ghost" you can reply.

(CR4, Monster Manual, Page 147)

Possession (Recharge 6). One humanoid that the ghost can see within 5 ft. of it must succeed on a DC 13 Charisma saving throw or be possessed by the ghost; the ghost then disappears, and the target is incapacitated and loses control of its body. The ghost now controls the body but doesn't deprive the target of awareness. The ghost can't be targeted by any attack, spell, or other effect, except ones that turn undead, and it retains its alignment, Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma, and immunity to being charmed and frightened. It otherwise uses the possessed target's statistics, but doesn't gain access to the target's knowledge, class features, or proficiencies. The possession lasts until the body drops to 0 hit points, the ghost ends it as a bonus action, or the ghost is turned or forced out by an effect like the dispel evil and good spell. When the possession ends, the ghost reappears in an unoccupied space within 5 ft. of the body. The target is immune to this ghost's Possession for 24 hours after succeeding on the saving throw or after the possession ends.

Alternatively, he likes to NOT decide; a True Neutral ghost that is a former farmer in the area. The disruptive PC says they aren't feeling like themselves (True) and they are going to go back to town (True) , and that maybe adventuring just isn't for them after all (True). Congratulations PC, you no longer have to decide! Your body becomes a farmer! No more decisions to make, just crops to grow.

... ugh.

To be fair, you should give him some arbitrary way out or you'll look like the toxic one at the table. I haven't even met this player, but I'm pretty sure I don't like them. Good luck.


*disputed source

These suggestions and reccomendations come from a mixture of personal experience as a player:

-D&D 3.5,

-Spycraft - observing problem PC

-Pathfinder,

-D&D 4th edition - being the problem PC

And as a storyteller/GM:

One session of a Larp as guest Storyteller -PCs don't leave.

D&D 5th edition - PCs avoiding plot

These ideas also come from exposure to D&D media for storytelling (the adventure zone, knights of the night, critical role, etc), some classes on creative writing I took like ten years ago, and other GM/DM advice than can be found on this site.

I've personally seen or done everything as suggested on points 1, 2, and 3 with some regularity to move a story along. I have seen 4 used in a different context, but felt the application could work for your situation.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast #4 is untested personally, just observed and in a different context which wasn't answer relevant. 3 is often, I'd say 3 out of twelve sessions for a short story arc of this one player does their own thing- a side story. After which the player was ready to rejoin the party. #2 I don't do very well, but do regularly, because as soon as I describe something other than my PCs they grab their phones and ignore the content. #1 I do VERY often, for various reasons (missed clues, forgotten content, needing XP or resources to complete goals). \$\endgroup\$ – B.A. Thomas Jan 22 at 23:46
  • \$\begingroup\$ I started to add this comment elsewhere but it fits much better here as I agree entirely that the world goes on without the players. That kidnapped princess? The King paid the ransom and the BBEG now is better financed (or she's returned in pieces in a grimmer narrative). That gnoll cave with the plot hook item in it? The villagers who eventually went in recovered it and sold it off to pay for some of their healing but not before talking about it so the players hear about it. \$\endgroup\$ – Alchymist Jan 23 at 12:56
  • \$\begingroup\$ thanks for adding in that last bit \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 24 at 21:44
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You have, essentially, two good options, having eliminated 'not playing'. 'kill his character' is not a solution it is a tool and, for this problem, it is almost always a very bad tool.

Preamble

There's this thing about playstyles. People treat them like they are immutable things. Someone has 'a' playstyle and maybe it matches with 'the group's playstyle' and maybe it doesn't.

This is wrongheaded. The way we play can be an important part of our identity as an RPGer, especially when we are inexperienced, but there's never only a single way we play, nor does any way or combination of ways we play spring into being fully formed like Athena from the mind of Zeus.

We develop our initial playstyle(s) from formative experiences with our first RPG community or other initial RPGing experience coupled with who we were as a person at that point in our lives. That development also takes time-- the first bit of RPGing we do, especially if we start as an adult, is usually full of exploratory bits and pieces of playstyle, as we come up with new guesses about how this activity might be done and test them out to see how the group responds and how the gestalt experience makes us feel.

As we come into a sense of mastery over our participation in a certain RPG context, and especially when we are confronted with differences between groups or RPGs, we attach meaning to certain ways of playing. We might, if we grew up playing AD&D 2.0 and just saw people playing high-op 3.5 for the first time, remark something like "Bah! Those kids and their theoretical optimization! None of that should be allowed if their GM was at all competent. Back in my day, our bonuses were never enough to just steamroll any kind of problem without thinking about the risks first. We cared about Player Skill instead of just having every game be a Monty Haul campaign!" In so doing we have assigned meaning and value to different parts of the RPG landscape-- we have determined that in-play decisions rather than character creation choices should be of primary importance, for example, and we have made value judgements about the quality of art the other is producing.

My point, here, is that there's no reason we need to stop at this particular place in our development of playstyle. Rather than insisting on a single paradigm for our assigning of meaning, it is actually better, in my experience, to classify RPGs into categories according to certain traits the play groups exhibit and by certain values said groups hold. Not doing so is sort of like learning to paint realistic portraits and then using the same rubric you use to assess the quality of said portraits on cubist works.

Solution 1: Learn Adversarial GMing

The playstyle you are describing sounds like the kind of player who enjoys an adversarial RPG, like is normatively played when using Paranoia and Hackmaster 4e. The basic idea of adversarial GMing is to set up a game where, at least on some level, you are playing against the players and are trying to win. In this sort of game, the sensible response to any plan the GM has is to try and frustrate it, since 'frustrate the GM's plans' is literally the point of the game. Not every method of frustrating the GM's plans is a good idea, of course-- if you decide "screw the mission, I'm going out for burgers" in a game of Paranoia Friend Computer will presumably identify you as a rebellious commie mutant traitor immediately and execute you on the spot. If you do it in Hackmaster you've Split the Party for the GM, and that is a Bad Thing (or a good thing, but, like, extra wandering monsters and stuff).

This is, of course, not the game you are currently playing. You would have to learn, and it would probably take a fair bit of practice to figure out how to do and enjoy this, especially if you are committed to a particular multi-purpose system and don't have a group that already does a good job of playing this way with that system from which to learn.

Solution 2: He learns to play nonadversarially

This is likely the better solution, because you already have a group that (presumably) works well with some other style of game, which the player in question could then learn from. It also involves less work overall, since only one person has to significantly alter the way they play to a way they are not yet comfortable playing.

To play nonadversarially means to not think of the game as a competition between the GM and the players, but rather to work with the GM in pursuit of some goal, whether that be fun cooperative story-telling or the illusion of challenge or a verisimilar rendition of some setting/cosmology or a cathartic exploration of the nature of grief or whatever else it is your group does.

If you explain to the player what it seems like the problem is and what you'd like them to do to try and address it, you will probably find that solving the problem requires almost no effort on your part and you mostly just need to be patient and provide feedback while the player in question puts in the effort and time into learning.

Of course, there's always the possibility that they are not interested in and consequently refuse learning to play any way that you enjoy playing. In that case, assuming you still refuse to cease RPGing with them, you would learn to enjoy playing adversarially and follow solution one. If you are equally uninterested in that, I'm afraid "have a bad time" is your only option at that point.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Yeah, this. particularly the last few sentences, but the whole package fits together nicely. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 29 at 17:22
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Lots of good advice here that takes your theory of the problem at face value. Just in case, I'll go another way. First, a note: This is meant as constructive criticism. GMing is hard.

Re-evaluate your GM style.

There is some very off-putting phrasing in your question:

he will say no to most of the possible outcomes

How is he saying "no" to outcomes? What does that mean, and how/why are your players in a situation where they're selecting from among (predetermined, it sounds like) outcomes?

bring the story to a halt because ... the DM is trying to come up with another method to put to the players

Why are you coming up with plans for the PCs?

"No I am God you will do what I tell you and that is the story"?

Why are you considering "telling" the players what their PCs are going to do?

There are some contradictions in your description of your situation!

  1. The other players want to follow his lead, but he wants to do nothing
  2. He blocks play from continuing, but complains when play stops
  3. He sounds like he sucks big-time, but you want to keep him in the group

Now, these issues might well be explained by the plain fact that the player in question is a gigantic asshole (but your friend nonetheless, I guess), and all the answers so far approach from that angle. But what if that's not the case? What if the problem is that his ideas about what role-playing looks like aren't being served by the game you're running?

I think there's a real possibility here that you're not giving your players enough credit, or enough agency. It sounds to me like you might be presenting scenarios along these lines:

The goblin encampment blocks your path through the forest. It looks well-defended. Do you want to attack now or go around?

Most good tabletop role playing games are not multiple choice scenarios (Source: have played and enjoyed lots of TTRPGs, and GM'd some as well). I've heard of those types of games working out, though they wouldn't have at any table I've ever been a part of.

If this was your expectation/design, sounds like you're overdue for a Session 0.

The goal here is to align your ideas about what your game is with those of your players.

I envision our game as a kind of Choose Your Own Adventure scenario. I present possible outcomes, come up with methods to put to the players, and you all can say "yes" or "no" to those outcomes and methods. Does that sound like the kind of game you'd enjoy playing?

If this was not your design...

I'd suggest that you need to take a step back, relax the reins a little, and find out what your players want to do in your game - in your game.

The goblin encampment blocks your path through the forest. It looks well-defended. Knowing that you promised Prince Bethelgreen you'd deliver the Blessed Vial of Permethrene (the only thing that can preserve the purity of his beloved betrothed from The Crustacean's Curse) to his court in four days' time, and the fort is three days' travel from here if the road were clear - what does your party do?

If this player says "no" to that, then he's the problem.

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A more Concrete Suggestion

First remember that this is a role playing game, and a big part of why it is fun is for the players to play different and interesting characters.

I often give my players an interesting quirk or personality trait. Like a barbarian who is fixated with taste and loves to lick things (especially enemy's blood), or a monk who is extremely vain about his appearance (flexing at every chance). I told everyone that I'd be assigning this after character creation, and that I would be awarding in game bonuses (xp, hero points, etc.) to players who do a particularly good job role-playing their quirks.

One time I gave a player this instruction for her quirk: (not because they were a problem player, just because it was a fun role playing characteristic).

"Your character can't say no, not in the loose way that you might be thinking, but in the sense that you are compelled to agree with everyone in your party. Even when your party disagrees with each other you always try to be on everyone's side. During combat if someone requests that you do something, you'll try to find a way to do what they ask even if it isn't a wise course of action. Your party doesn't know this about you, and you should try to keep it a secret as long as you can."

A quirk similar to this would give the player a role playing imperative to stop this behavior, if he doesn't like it, then that can be an additional opportunity to address the problem he's been causing. I agree with the other answers about Session 0, and addressing this through your style of running the game.

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