I started up a play by post game on roll20 for a group of friends. A co-worker, and friend of another player, had asked to join in. Let's call him P1, or Player 1. I said sure, we got the game going after some slow start up.

The party is meeting for the first time in a tavern. They get the adventure hook and agree to work together. P1 is playing a gnome wizard. My wife is playing a human paladin. She thought it would be funny, since her paladin isn't the brightest of the bunch, to pick up the gnome and get them on the road. P1 responds by wanting to not be picked up. I ask both for a strength roll. P1 loses. So I ask him what his response is to being picked up. His response was to quit and leave our discord server we were using for ooc talk.

While I don't miss someone who would bail so quickly, I do wonder if I could have done something better. I'd like to learn from this to avoid such a situation in the future. Should I have stopped my wife before she even tried to pick up P1? Was it wrong to let the dice decide who won the conflict of being picked up?


4 Answers 4


"Is that in character or out of character?"

Whilst it's good to try to catch these issues before they come up in a session 0, some things are not apparent until the game is running. It is impossible to prepare for and anticipate everything, and this situation to me seems like exactly the sort of thing that a session 0 could miss, and needs to be handled on-the-fly when it comes up in play.

Whenever I'm not sure of conflict between players is between the players, or between their characters (and the players are fine with it), I'll ask them. In your case, I would recommend:

P1: I don't want to be picked up!

DM: Is that in character or out of character?

P1: What?

DM: I mean, is that you saying you're not happy with this, or is it just what your character thinks?

This can go one of two ways. Either the player says: "Oh, this is just my character, I'm cool with it, but X wouldn't be!" in which case no problem, carry on, roll strength checks, etc.

Or the player says: "I don't want my character to just be picked up all the time just because I'm small". Now you know this is the player objecting. You might not need to say anything else. The other player (your wife in this case) would likely react with apologies, the "bad thing" never happens (i.e. is retconned), and now everyone is a little clearer on what is and is not ok.

It might be worth having a conversation afterwards to make sure everything is fine, it depends on whether you feel it is necessary depending on how well things seemed to recover in the session.

But what do I do now?

In your situation, the thing to do next, whether you want to invite this player back into the game or not, is to talk to this offended player. Admit that you didn't realise they were offended, not just roleplaying their character being offended.

If you want to invite this player back into the game, offer to discuss ways with the group (including P1) to signal when things bother you out of character, since it's all too easy to assume everything is in character. At my physical table, we use the "time out" hand gesture, but this doesn't work online when you only have your voice, so it might be as simple as just stating "out of character"; or stating "in character" before every in character dialogue. If these terms are agreeable, maybe P1 can rejoin the game and things can continue. If not, then maybe it wasn't such a good fit after all...

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a fantastic answer. I've been sitting here for five minutes trying to codify "Read the room better," into an answer, but this is it: This is how to pro-actively read the room. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jul 1, 2020 at 18:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ I completely agree with this answer. Assuming one does try to re-invite the offended player (either OP or someone else in a similar position) I think it would be very worthwhile to clarify if this player is going to have a problem with anyone trying to pick them up, or if it's just the fact that another player was doing it that bothered them. For example, a monster might try to grab the gnome to toss them away - or to swallow them whole - and if the player's not okay with being picked up (or touched) in general, that's something the DM will need to work around when planning encounters. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve-O
    Jul 2, 2020 at 13:34

Build in ways for players and the DM to communicate discomfort

Some situations, even imaginary, can make some people extremely uncomfortable. It is important to not pressure someone into playing a game that causes them distress. The player who left your table was not necessarily bailing too quickly. They might have been doing what was necessary for them to be okay. Being picked up in the game is a simulation of casual physical violence and a violation of consent. This can be a very sensitive subject.

As Anagkai notes the risk of players being put in distressing situations can be mitigated with a session zero where players and the DM can communicate situations that they won't be okay with.

What you can also do (and set up at a session zero) is create a means for anyone to communicate if there is a distressing situation.
This site offers one such system but you can choose to adapt it to meet the needs of your group. The crucial bit it to make sure everyone at the table knows that they can communicate when a situation is unacceptable for them and that their needs will be respected.

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    \$\begingroup\$ +1 for casual physical violence and violation of consent. D&D seems to desensitise people towards doing things they would never do in real life. The rules only really cover attacking and forcing your will on people, so players often see that as the best option. This is rarely ok when there are real people behind the characters who may have experienced that in real life and use the game as escapism from that kind of thing. Leaving doesn't make someone sensitive, it is the offender who needs to look at themselves, not the victim. \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Jul 1, 2020 at 10:39

You did not have enough information.

What you describe sounds like a rather harmless interaction, a priori. It does not seem like you could have foreseen the results. Therefore, the main thing you could have done better would have been to put yourself into a position to have the necessary information to foresee such problems.

Establish the expectations of the participants beforehand

There is no one correct way to play RPGs, although there can be one correct way for a specific person. If you have a group of players with too different expectations, this will most often result in conflicts and reduced enjoyment for all participants.

Ways to address expectations before the game are a session zero (session to discuss expectations and playstyle with everyone) or the same-page-tool: https://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/the-same-page-tool/ (collection of questions to define a specific playstyle). Generally, this allows too divergent expectations to be evident. Then, the participants can discuss what is okay and what not, or leave the game before the first session if no compromise is possible.

Now, obviously, the exact situation you describe will not be considered beforehand. However, if a player designates their character off-limits for such interactions (which I have often heard off with halflings and gnomes), the other players can respect that. If they don't, the divergence in expectations is probably too big. Additionally, even if nobody had thought about such interactions (which are,in the end, harmless), other potential problems could have been identified and it is entirely possible that the player would not have wanted to play in your game in the first place, since it doesn't meet their expectation. Obviously this depends en the other player's experience. If they have never or not often played before, it is difficult for them to assess their expectations.

One example, where I could resolve different expectations beforehand is the following: A friend of mine wanted to bring another (way more experienced) person to the game. I agreed and asked that other person hand in their character. They wanted to use a character they had made for another game, which I said was fine. I quickly checked their sheet and found that their stats were a lot better than the other players'. She told me they had rolled the stats. I was concerned that the high stats might discomfort my other players with point-bought stats, so I asked her politely to modify the stats, expressing those concerns. She didn't want to join any more after that.


Never allow Player Versus Player rolls

The other answers are tending to how to manage conflict at the table. My solution is that this is one source of conflict that isn't needed at the table. My opinion is that Player versus Player (PVP) rolls easily lead to the dissolution of a group. I don't allow them at my table, and I won't roll them as a player. This is always covered in my table rules document and session zero.

My solution when one player does something like this: P1: "I pick up the gnome! lulz!" DM: "P2, are you okay with this?" P2: "No." DM: "The gnome slips from your grasp." P1: "I roll to grapple!" DM: "Your grapple attempt fails." P1 (not getting the concept yet): "I roll again!" DM: "You take 4 points damage, slip and fall on your butt. The gnome is unharmed and ungrappled." Continue until P1 is unconscious or figures out this isn't okay.

Obviously some fun competition between players when they all ask for it can be an exception here when they're rolling for fun, but allowing one player's character to do anything to another is a recipe for disaster.

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    \$\begingroup\$ While I very much agree with you, we do accept a plurality of playstyles here. Many tables do enjoy this. \$\endgroup\$
    – NotArch
    Jul 1, 2020 at 15:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ May I suggest: Instead of making there be sort of like a "force field" protecting the character you explicitly do not allow it at all. -- P1: "I pick up the gnome! lulz!" DM: "P2, are you okay with this?" P2: "No." DM: "Okay. P1, you don't do that." Then if they don't pick up on it, P1: "I roll to grapple!" DM: "You don't. P1 expressed they aren't okay with this. Stop." You want to put your foot down if someone is uncomfortable. Also, you could risk this being a running gag, like people try to pick them up but can't, and if the player doesn't want it they likely don't want it attempted. \$\endgroup\$ Jul 1, 2020 at 19:44

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