I am a player in a long-term Pathfinder campaign which I like very much. The players in that campaign are myself, my fiance, the GM's fiance, and the GM's co-worker. We're all in our twenties, and I consider the GM (henceforth "problem player" or PP) and their fiance as some of my best friends. That campaign is literally one of my favorite things in the world right now, and I think the problem player is a great GM, which makes the rest of this even more baffling.
Although we are still playing that campaign, the GM expressed that they would love a break and that they would like to be able to be a player in a game along with their fiance. I am an experienced TTRPG player (mostly 5e, some experience with random systems, now pretty good at Pathfinder also) and I have wanted to GM for a while, so I was excited to offer to GM a short (3-4 session) "mystical mystery" campaign in a system similar to Call of Cthulhu (CoC). The exact mechanics of the game are not important for this question.
So in my campaign, the group is:
- Myself as GM
- My fiance
- Problem player (PP)
- Problem player's fiance
- PP's Coworker 1
- PP's Coworker 2, a new addition who has never played a TTRPG before.
Because it is my first time GMing, I went a little overboard in the prep process and got excited to play a game in a mysterious and relatively serious setting. My players (other than PP) also seemed to share this excitement and expectation and put a lot of effort into prepping for Session 0/1, including setting up detailed backstories and secrets that only I know, and that would otherwise only come up in roleplay. Coincidentally, all three of the players other than the problem player and their fiance made characters who are secretly/overtly criminals-- this is important later.
What surprised me is that the problem player did not prep this way – instead, they:
- Outright said they didn't read any of the materials I sent out ahead of time (a short description of the setting, requests for pre-session character planning, etc.)
- Planned to come with an inappropriate character archetype (think like the equivalent of a twitch streamer e-clown character for a game set in the 19th century in the middle east)
- Eventually chose to play a wealthy, naive, annoying character who elected to act like the other characters were not worth their time
- Took the lead and acted boisterously in every encounter, swamping the other players who are generally quieter and who are newer to TTRPGs
- Pushed for special item requests (they wanted a machine gun and I eventually caved and gave them a small handgun), which they:
- Waved their requested firearm around at any invitation, including in such situations as being in a taxi or being at a post office
- Generally didn't take anything very seriously-- I'd be lying if I said I didn't wish they put in more effort
I would say this behavior bordered on outright disruptive, but they are my good friend and I figured they're an experienced TTRPG player who wanted to play a heel. The story was still progressing fine, so I figured I might pull them aside after the session and coach them that if they didn't change I might lean into them being borderline antagonistic and that they could maybe give a little more spotlight to others for the next session, nothing more.
However, in one encounter, the party successfully apprehended a low-level grunt NPC who caved immediately and tearfully begged to be released while spilling out some exposition on one antagonistic group. Unfortunately, during the fight, PP's character was the only one injured (got stabbed) and they absolutely demanded that the local police be contacted and the grunt be thrown in prison. Their fiance's character agreed (and frankly in a real-world sense it was the objectively sane thing to do), but the rest of the party was made up of overt or secret criminals, so they were not going to agree to draw attention to themselves by calling the cops. Additionally, without going in to too much detail, having the cops show up to that encounter was pretty much the worst thing that could happen as the scenario was described in the GM guide, so I also felt that the game would be smoother and more fun if they chose to let the grunt go (although I didn't weigh-in on the argument).
Seeing that the party was split, I suggested that they vote on what to do, and knowing that the no-cops crew was going to win, I tried to sweeten the deal with some in-story benefits for letting the NPC go. Eventually they agreed, but it totally took the wind out of PP's sails, and they refused to let the medic-player heal their wounds, basically stopped roleplaying altogether, and generally checked out of the rest of the session. I figured this might just be because it was getting late and PP had to work in the morning, but they texted afterwards saying they felt bullied by the party in the situation with the grunt NPC and that they thought the other players were power-gaming and generally ganging up on them.
Frankly, that is just not true, but it's strange that such an experienced GM can't see that and that they seem to have a warped sense of how that situation went. I am 100% certain that co-workers 1&2 and my own fiance are on the same page about this player being borderline disruptive and that the disagreement over the grunt was a natural consequence of a character acting like a smarmy brat all day in front of a bunch of criminals.
Because I put a lot of love into setting up the campaign, I am interested in resolving this situation in such a way that there stops being friction and everyone continues the campaign and has a good time. But as this is my first time GMing and PP is a veteran GM who I am close friends with, I don't know how to approach them about their behavior when I am the "TTRPG baby" by comparison. There's also the risk that drama could be a problem because the players are professional contacts with each other, and I feel odd that I agree with my casual acquaintances (co-workers 1&2) more than my best friends (PP & fiance)-- with, of course, a potential worry being that I am not seeing interpersonal office tension that may exist between them.
Anyway, with all that backstory laid out, here's my more structured question-- which of the following solutions is the best choice, and why? Or what else should I be doing instead?:
Continue to let the characters/players work out disagreements on their own, only smoothing things over during-session and only when required?
- Might cause a fight, might derail the campaign... but
- Makes interpersonal space for my friend to handle their relationship with their coworkers on their own terms
- Avoids having to explain some of the secret characteristics of the other PCs to PP and gives a chance for it to come up naturally in RP
Reach out to PP and try and talk it out, with the major risk being that there seems to be a large disconnect between what they thought happened and what really happened?
- Afraid because friend can be a little defensive in general, and
- Afraid because friend is a more experienced GM that will especially hate the idea that they may be being a problem player themself
Specifically reach out to PP's fiance, who is also one of my best friends and who has emotional distance from the subject matter?
- Could act as emotional bridge/translator who will help me understand PP's thought process without necessarily offending them, and might know the best way to approach it with them
- But it would be backhanded to talk to their fiance instead of directly to them, right?
Any advice for a novice GM would be greatly appreciated!