1
\$\begingroup\$

Backstory

I'm a newer GM (I've only run 3 3.5e games and 1 5e game over the last 20 years of playing RPGs). My group has a DM/player who is extremely experienced and knowledgeable about all things RPG. We'll call him Chris. I was running a game online because the other DMs in my group were run down.

This was my first time DMing for this group, but I got their input in the game while I was making it to ensure it was what they were expecting. Chris helped with a lot of the modified mechanics. I let everyone create very strong characters because they are playing as heroes as long as they didn't do anything game-breaking.

Our "session 0" was essentially an email chain and everyone was given the backstory of the campaign. The main point being that they are not a government entity and technically operating illegally, but some areas tolerate them because they are heroes. Everyone was told what their expectations were and I asked them for feedback on what they wanted from the game. (They decided unanimously that they wanted split combat and story).

Everyone was told that as a rule, I won't stop them from doing something unless it is unfair to the rest of the party (I.E. Attempting to betray the party). If they want to try to jump off a building, they are more than welcome. They were told that their actions will have consequences. Jumping from a building is probably going to hurt, even with a decent save. Killing someone can hurt their reputation and may end with them being hunted down.

The first two sessions went great, we established how the game would be run and there weren't any issues aside from the dice rolls. Because we were running online, we using a dice roller. All of the players and myself rolled low constantly. Chris rolled 5 nat 1s on the first game alone. I gave them the option to roll at home and use the honor system, but everyone decided to keep with the roller.

My enemies weren't designed to take them out, but to be obstacles with one or two strong opponents to give them a challenge. With the bad rolling, I was hitting them about 1 out of every five attacks. Our third session is where the problems started.

I gave them options of where to go for their mission, they chose a factory. At the factory they had checks to find information. Three people rolled very low and couldn't get the information. I gave them extra opportunities to get that information, let the NPC help them, and eventually they got the info they needed. They go to the next place where they were encountered by a murder robot. It wasn't meant to be a challenge, so they took care of it quickly.

Then they found a computer that was trapped to wipe the memory on a botched computer check. The player (we'll call him Brian) had a very high computer use skill, so it was very possible, but not a given. He rolled a nat 1. Chris then said that if they unplugged the computer then it would stop the memory wipe (not how it was supposed to work, but I allowed it because they were having a rough go of things). I allowed a reflex save to see how quickly they could unplug it. Bryan had a low roll, but not an auto fail, so I told them they could recover some information from it later.

Then I told them that they heard police sirens. Everyone except Chris wanted to run and he somehow convinced everyone to stay and talk to the police. Chris' character had a very high Diplomacy, so I allowed him to roll when the police got there. After a successful check, I told them that the roll is keeping them from being arrested, but the police still aren't friendly. Chris then tried to pull rank on them in an attempt to steal the evidence.

The rest of the group and myself reminded him that they don't have "rank" and have zero authority over the police. Chris then continuously antagonized the police. Making fun of them and telling them how to do their jobs condescendingly. Then the police chief showed up. I made it very clear that the chief didn't like them and that he didn't want them anywhere near the case. Chris took this opportunity to start antagonizing the chief instead. This is one of the places I messed up.

Chris touched on some very key indicators that the police chief was corrupt and I felt that he was leading towards making that connection. Our group doesn't like to railroad the players, so I let the scene go longer than I should have and Chris just kept making fun of the Chief and then essentially asked him to hand over all of the evidence to their group.

At this point, I made what was probably another bad call and told him that his attitude wasn't helping the situation and the chief would no longer talk to him. Chris then blamed Brian for the scene going the wrong way and both of them quit the game early.

After the session, I spoke with the remaining players and they felt that there was nothing wrong with the story or how I handled things. They defended Chris by saying he was stressed, which is understandable. I didn't have any hard feelings towards him, but I did feel like he took things too far.

Brian told me that he quit because Chris blamed him for his own mistakes and that it's a recurring issue.

Then the next day Chris messaged me and told me that I was taking my frustrations out on the party because my NPCs weren't doing damage and that I cared more about them than I did the players. After I explained that the police chief was corrupt and what I was attempting for him to pick up on, he told me that making a corrupt cop that they couldn't control was too topical and that's why Brian was upset and quit. I told him the real reason was that Chris blamed Brian for his own mistakes.

Now, all of the players and DM's are upset and nobody wants to run a game.

The question (and this is the only question): How should I go about continuing my game now without completely getting rid of my story, and without just letting my players do what they want with no consequences?

\$\endgroup\$
  • 8
    \$\begingroup\$ @StopBeingEvil This seems like a complex interpersonal issue with multiple moving parts. It would be helpful not to boil it down so much but have a simply laid-out timeline of concrete events, like a list of things that happened summarized. \$\endgroup\$ – Axoren Jun 24 at 23:42
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ You're playing modified 3.5 what, exactly? I don't think it's critical to an answer I am working on, but it might help other immensely to add a system tag or to clarify exactly which game system you're playing. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jun 25 at 1:28
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ @AnthonyVinson Questions on problem players often accrue a large number of answers, so you may find it beneficial to wait 24 hours or more before choosing an accepted answer. \$\endgroup\$ – Quadratic Wizard Jun 25 at 1:51
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Novak 3.5e with some d20 modern ported \$\endgroup\$ – user-63873687 Jun 25 at 2:27
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @user-63873687 Are you another player in this group, or did you happen to spot something in the Q I can't atm? \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jun 25 at 20:47
10
\$\begingroup\$

Offer to run a different game.

As I read this story, it can be summarized as follows: Chris is usually the group's DM, but in this instance he's a player in OP's campaign set in a modified version of an established comic book property. Chris attempts to Diplomacy a corrupt police NPC, but fails due to a mismatch between his and OP's expectations for the setting. This immediately leads to inter-party conflict, which leads to hurt feelings, and Chris leaves the campaign, citing the controversial portrayal of police conflict as too similar to current real-world issues.

I perceive a few issues here, some of which you can solve.

  1. Chris appears to be familiar with the setting from the published works it's based on, and has different expectations. He believes his character is a member of a government authority capable of pulling rank over police, and has trouble accepting that this does not work in your alternate version of the setting where they are illegal vigilantes.
  2. Chris seems unused to accepting your authority as GM. As he is usually GM, he's used to having the authority to interpret the source material of the campaign setting.
  3. You allowed a Diplomacy check, but it failed to allow the player to achieve his intended goals despite the playing having a Diplomacy-focused character and achieving a high result. The player may feel you are railroading the campaign and denying his sense of agency. I once ran a campaign where a player rolled a very high Diplomacy result, and I allowed it to change a hostile NPC into a friendly one, despite the fact that this meant re-working my plans.
  4. Your portrayal of a police character as a direct antagonist to the player characters may be too controversial a theme to explore at the current time, when police conflict is such a hot-button topic. This can lead to arguments which hurt feelings, and I've recently seen other communities place bans on discussions of politics as a result.
  5. Chris holds a position of authority within the group. You can't exclude him from your campaign without the risk that he will retaliate by excluding you from his campaign, which may ultimately result in the dissolution of the gaming group.

Unfortunately, a campaign where the players are part of a modern-day vigilante group is likely to involve conflict with police as one of its themes, and as such may be too similar to current events to run without causing out-of-character conflict. Using SHIELD also sets up the unintended expectation for this particular player that they are part of a high-ranking government group, and this particular player does not enjoy playing a character who finds themself powerless.

As such, if you continue to run the SHIELD campaign, at least one player is going to have a bad time, because their emotional needs aren't being met. They may already have decided not to return to that game. Making sure all the players are having a good time is, in my opinion, one of the most important roles a GM has.

As such, an elegant solution would be to shelve the SHIELD game for now, citing similarity to real-world events, and offer to run a different roleplaying game or setting. Be sure to take on board player feedback (for example, we've learned that Chris does not like to have his control blocked or expectations quoshed), and to manage player expectations; I've heard of (but not used myself) something called the Same Page Tool, which is often recommended to ensure players go into a campaign with a mutual understanding of what the game will be about.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I was writing an answer but this summarizes it. Just wanna include this phrase: FOR GOD'S SAKE HAVE A SESSION 0. Seriously, half of these problems would not show up if things were properly discussed a priori. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 25 at 1:53
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ So SHIELD the show has multiple different points where SHIELD isn't an actual government agency. This did come up in "session 0" when one player asked what the time frame was and I told them. As for your third point, I told them outright that the Diplomacy check allowed them to not get arrested, but that they didn't want them near the case. \$\endgroup\$ – ADDO Jun 25 at 1:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure that's what the story tells us about Chris. \$\endgroup\$ – T.J.L. Jun 25 at 20:29
8
\$\begingroup\$

You have multiple problems. Communication is the biggest.

First and foremost, I find assigning blame in these situations is almost guaranteed to lead to a result that you don't want. Blame results in a combative discussion that is rarely productive in producing a solution. This is a thing that happened, now it is time to work as a group to move forward in the best way possible.

Safety Tools are Important

I won't try to make a judgement on you or your player and what is or isn't appropriate, that is for each table to decision for themselves. What I will say is that it is important for all tables to have a defined way to communicate when you feel the content is no longer enjoyable. Chris said:

"even though it's more realistic, having a cop in front of your character and not being able to do anything about the situation is too topical. That's why me and (the other player) left"

Note that Chris didn't say anything until after the session. To me that indicates one of two things:

  1. You are lacking the safety tools to effectively communicate sensitive topics during play.
  2. Chris realises he might be in the wrong and is making excuses for his behaviour.

Regardless of if the second point is true or not. If the first point is, it is something you need to resolve ASAP. Tools like the X-card or others from the TTRPG Safety Tools Toolkit will enable your players (and you) to communicate when topics become uncomfortable during play. They can then be quickly resolved, ret-conned or played out off-screen to reduce the risk of harm to the people playing the game.

Campaign Expectations Matter

You have a game where you have told everyone it is like "Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D". I assume all your players are familiar with the MCU and what sort of things the agents can do. Then you have sent out a backstory to the game for players to read on their own time that changes some of these expectations.

Apparently he was the only one who didn't read the back story.

If a player misses reading the backstory and therefore has the wrong idea about the campaign and has the wrong expectations then you likely didn't have a clear enough conversation about them to start with. Session-0 and things like the Same Page Tool can help align player expectations with the campaign you are running.

Personal Experience

I've been on both sides of this situation quite recently (likely due to the increased tension everyone is feeling at the moment). As a player I had an encounter with an NPC where I tried everything I could, rolled well and still didn't get the information I wanted. Like Chris I ended the session somewhat frustrated and felt there was no opportunity for me to win and the DM should have made that clearer.

After the session I had a conversation with the DM about how I felt the NPC was unreasonable and that I didn't understand why we were given the opportunity to talk to him if they were never going to give us anything. My DM admitted that he didn't handle it as well as he could and was unprepared for what we were trying to do. We talked through some things he could try next time and everyone felt better afterwards.

As a DM, I have one player who is quite stressed at the moment. They have lashed out a few times at other players and generally seem frustrated during play. I had a long conversation with them trying to determine what the cause was. Some of it was things I could solve (mechanical issues with their class, style of combat not suiting their character), others needed to be discussed with the entire group.I facilitated a discussion with the entire group before the next session, allowing that player to express their concerns. Once made aware the rest of the group committed to adjusting the game to ensure everyone could enjoy it.

None of this could have been possible without open and honest communication. Everyone expressed how they felt and what they wanted as a resolution. Then we worked together to reach that resolution.

Where to from here

You need to listen to Chris. I say listen rather than talk, not because you should do everything they say, but because listening and understanding their concerns is often the first and most important step to finding a solution. Have a conversation with them, outlining how you saw things and asking for their perspective. You may find that they have some valid points you hadn't considered.

Then have a conversation with the entire group. Figure out what the group wants and what the impediments are to getting it. Dwelling on the incident and continuing to assign blame will only drive the group further apart. Focusing on the solution and working together will help everyone get what they want.


I feel it is important to say that Chris leaving might be the best solution. But that isn't something you should assume because you are frustrated with them. If after the discussion you all feel that the game can't continue with Chris in it, explain it to them and give them the chance to accept it gracefully. It will be better for you in the long run than kicking someone out after an argument.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

You've asked: "one of the experienced players is keeping the whole group from gaming, what can I do to get us back on track. Do I need to talk to him again before asking everyone if we should kick him out?"

From reading your story, it sounds like you don't have the authority to kick this other person out of your group, or even of your game. You're one of many DMs in the group, and not the most experienced. It sounds to me like, if you tried to kick this other person out of the group, it would lead to severe drama, and most likely would result in you getting kicked out of the group instead.

Instead, just keep running the game. Tell this person that he's welcome to join your next session, but you'd like to run it whether he joins or not. That way, if he drops out, that's his decision.

It might be that your group decides that they'd rather play in some other game, or that they'd prefer not to play at all. You've written: "I spoke with everyone individually and everyone else agreed that Chris was the problem", so it sounds like this is not a risk. But if it does happen, try to accept it graciously and not stir up drama over it.


If there's something that the group needs to find in order to advance the story, it's a good idea to include several ways for the group to discover it. There's an article, The Three Clue Rule, which goes into this in more detail.

Usually, when there's something that my group absolutely needs to learn in order to progress, I'll not ask for a skill check at all. I'll just say: "okay, you've got a +16 Computer Use skill. Don't even roll for this. You hack into the computer and extract the evidence."

It sounds like this might apply to your corrupt-police-chief situation as well. You wrote: "I let the scene go on too long when I probably should have forced a sense motive check", but why ask for a Sense Motive check at all? Just say: "this guy is obviously corrupt, and no matter how high you roll on Diplomacy, he isn't just going to give the evidence over."


It's a surprisingly common problem, when the DM for a group becomes a player in that group, for there to be conflicts between the old DM and the new DM. Everyone is used to deferring to the old DM, and the old DM is used to their word being the law, and it takes a lot of effort to resist those old habits. I haven't found a solution to this problem, but just know that you're not alone in having it.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ I feel like this is a great answer to another question. Right now, what seems to be the problem is that two of the players left and the OP doesn't know how to proceed the campaign. Should he just play without them, should he ask them to come back, etc.? And I don't see how your answer helps with that issue. \$\endgroup\$ – HellSaint Jun 25 at 1:26
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ @AnthonyVinson You probably want to try harder to include multiple paths to success, then! \$\endgroup\$ – Dan B Jun 25 at 1:48
-2
\$\begingroup\$

It sounds like Chris is the main problem. I would recommend talking to your group in general about it or maybe even try to start a game without him. I know sometimes GMs with a lot of experience feel like they can do no wrong and if he helped make some of the mechanics he may have felt like he should have a say in what happens in the game as well. It would also be worth looking into if this is a recurring issue. If it just happened once, you can try again, but if it's a recurring issue, then I'd say try to game without him.

| improve this answer | |
\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center for more guidance. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jun 25 at 3:58

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.