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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?:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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!

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    \$\begingroup\$ When you say it like that, it does seem simple, huh? I guess I'm afraid of either 1) being in the wrong objectively somehow and acting like a novice/fool in front of my more experienced friends, or 2) just not successfully tender-footing around my (sensitive) friend's feelings, but I'm happy to have a reality check. Thanks for being straightforward with your advice! \$\endgroup\$
    – insouciant
    Sep 7 at 1:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Critically important question: Did your problem player (forget about the character, just focus on the player) know that the other characters were criminals? How many (if any) did he know about? \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Sep 7 at 1:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for asking! They only knew one was a criminal (my fiance) because that character is basically the "criminal" class. The other two characters (co-workers 1&2) were only criminals in secret. Should I tell my friend that, even though its supposed to be secret? \$\endgroup\$
    – insouciant
    Sep 7 at 3:15
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    \$\begingroup\$ I notice that a multiple answers talk about the importance and use of Session 0, but you also mention having had one. I'm left wondering: what happened at your Session 0, and why did it allow the tension in the party to get this bad? It's also extremely unclear to me why the same character wants to wave a firearm around in public all the time and also get the police involved when there's any justification to do so. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 8 at 0:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ i would never have PLAYERS keep secrets from other PLAYERS - whether the characters do not know about their criminal habits is unimportant. we had multiple arguments up to outright "end friendship" situations in my old group because one player felt the need to be a snowflake and have 100s of secrets from the other players, plotting their own story with the gm - and thereby ripping of my character, killing off an important npc anc acting antagonistic from head to toe besides other things ... maybe it's the PP who's in the right here and your group acted poorly \$\endgroup\$
    – clockw0rk
    Sep 9 at 12:38

9 Answers 9

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You keep mentioning that "they are an experienced GM" – and that may not mean what you think it means.

Being a great GM doesn't necessarily make you a great player. As a forever GM myself, in recent games as a player I've noticed myself steering the plot and taking up too much of the spotlight time, which I've had to try to tone down. Roleplaying is also one of those skills where 'more experienced' does not mean 'better' - you can easily become set in your ways or convinced you are perfect when you very much aren't.

You also mention that they take negative feedback poorly, a few times. That's a red flag for me when it comes to tabletop, as it's a cooperative, talk based social activity. Just like storywriting, stage acting, and academia it's prone to people getting precious about their skills or work and refusing feedback or criticism, which leads generally to a death spiral in terms of it working out for anyone.

My guess based on this description and other roleplayers I have interacted with over the years is that your GM/problem player:

  • a) thinks that as this is a side-story and they are GMing most of the time rather than playing, that while playing a character they should be the star of this particular show
  • b) is not used to sharing the spotlight or not being able to force the story in a way they prefer (however skillfully or subtly)
  • c) is not hugely invested in this concept/theme of game and would have preferred a different genre
  • d) will probably react poorly to having this pointed out to them (which likely you already know, as you're asking here instead of just bringing it up with them).

To expand that last point a little, I'm not suggesting there would necessarily be fisticuffs or a tantrum if you brought up your point of view. But I suspect there would be ill feelings and bad blood over it, as nothing in the behaviour you have listed and my experience of similar situations gives any indication they would take it in stride, and, like I said earlier, being precious about this kind of activity is very common even if people are even-keeled in other aspects of their lives.

Therefore, I suggest that you simply don't say anything about this. Alter the game so his character achieves success. While everyone else is playing Noir Detectives, he's in a car chase with police to distract the police while people find the clues, or what have you. He gets a bit more screen time than any other individual player (but less than the group as a whole) and a lot more action, and his car comes crashing into the building the others have detected the location of purely by chance or something. 'The incredibly lucky doofus' archetype, the offbeat note in the otherwise serious story. It will detract from the tale you're trying to tell, but getting more spotlight and action will likely solve a lot of the problem at the table.

And if you're wanting to run another game some time, form a group that doesn't include this player. Awkward, and potentially something that could form the basis for ill feelings, but still what I think to be the best solution to this situation. Your description simply did not strike me as something that can be resolved by honest dialogue - there were too many things there that struck personal warning bells I've set up after many years of roleplaying with all kinds of people.

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    \$\begingroup\$ As someone who struggles with this himself: Your first sentence is spot on. Been gming for 10+ years, still am not a very good player. \$\endgroup\$
    – Patta
    Sep 7 at 6:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Can second that first bit too - had a decent GM who really didn't take things well whenever they didn't go his way as a player. A GM is always right, a player is at the mercy of their GM - some find it a difficult power flip. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7 at 12:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ I upvoted. However, I see "detract from the story you are trying to tell" as a red flag itself. It may be the right advice here, but it's a mindset that leads to unhappiness. \$\endgroup\$
    – fectin
    Sep 7 at 13:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Best will on the world but change the game rather than talk to a friend can't be good advice. A friend should be able to talk to a friend, or they aren't real friends. Not being real friends is very common however, especially if the usual DM is the 'power friend' in the group \$\endgroup\$
    – SeriousBri
    Sep 7 at 20:04
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    \$\begingroup\$ I didn't downvote but I don't think bending over backwards to please a problem player is a good advice. OP mentions that they already take the lead most of the time and your advice is to give them even more spotlight? Also you seem to be forgetting about all the other players at the table, they are also there to have fun and rewarding problematic behaviour by giving the problem player even more spotlight than they already have isn't going to go down well with them \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Sep 8 at 10:10
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Oh hi, are you my old player/game master? Silly me, that was fifteen years ago.

Different RPG, but most of the players rolled petty (non-violent) criminals, I rolled a meticulous incorruptible bureaucrat, and the GM wanted gritty gangster action. I distinctly remember a scene where I left the others who were breaking into an apartment to call the cops on them, and another where the rest of us were hiding from two thugs behind the group's most combat-able member, the seductive femme fatale.

Your situation smells to me more like the lack of a coherent vision of the game, what a session 0 is supposed to promote.

  • To you, the actions of the "other three" make sense, since you know they have criminal pasts (presents?).
  • To the PP, the other players are more concerned with moving the plot along ("powergaming") than they are with seeking legal in-world justice for their comrade, or at all respecting the fact that he was assaulted.

My general take is to let backstory secrets be the realm of the GM. The players, if not the player characters, should be familiar with the other players' characters. A session 0, to me, involves hashing out these different viewpoints, so the actions of the "other three" are more transparent to the PP and his fiance.

And my advise in this situation would be to start the next session with a meta-discussion where you do just that.

  • Talk to the PP beforehand and explain that you want to make sure everybody's on the same page, and ask for their support in this meta-discussion. Make them your ally.

  • Start this mini-0 off with explaining how you felt the secrets between players was making things awkward, and want each player to present their character's backstory in brief. Make sure the PP does not go first.

  • Ask the table if they feel the dissonance between criminals and non-criminals have the potential to create a more immersive story, or will it distract from the plot. Make it a discussion, ask questions. Try to present the options as equally valid, and not to take a side.

What you are trying to do is set up an out of character environment to discuss the in-character frictions. Here, it is important to emotionally support the PP. Not support their take on things, but to validate their experiences and viewpoint.

If things are settled, great! If, however, the PP can't resolve the group dynamics for their character, pull them aside and ask them if they could consider creating a new character to help the other players get their ideas working.

The goal is to have the PP see themselves as a GM assistant to an inexperienced GM, you, and focus more on helping you keep things on track than exploring the boundaries, which unfortunately forever GMs tend to do. Again, make them your ally.

Then use this "partners in crime" relationship for any future problems that arise. Rather than "forcing" their character into things, you're asking the player to help you.

Will this work for you? Maybe, maybe not.

Is it a bit manipulative? You are a new GM, you came here for help - there is help closer at hand, and it has the capability to actually help at the table.

Also note that I am manipulating you by presenting it as you manipulating the PP, this could just as easily have been framed as "just ask the PP, them being an experienced GM, to help you keep the table focused on the plot". I believe the more circumspect route is preferable, to tidy over lingering issues from the first session(s), but group dynamics is a Hard problem.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Well said. Some of the best roleplay can come from the players knowing each other's characters' secrets, because then you can work together to set up dramatic or meaningful moments, rather than being annoyed that the other members of the group seem to doing things that don't help you all accomplish your goal. Sometimes other players can even help come up with a course of action that helps the story along, rather than putting the PCs at odds with one another. \$\endgroup\$
    – V2Blast
    Sep 7 at 15:28
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You've written:

I consider the GM (henceforth "problem player" or PP) and their fiance as some of my best friends. [Our long-term Pathfinder campaign] is literally one of my favorite things in the world right now, and I think the problem player is a great GM

It sounds to me like preserving your Pathfinder campaign is more important than anything else that happens. If you think there's any risk at all of drama derailing that campaign -- and it does sound to me like that risk exists -- then you should do whatever you can to minimize that risk of drama.


Also, I feel like there might be some problems with your plot. You wrote that involving the police "was the objectively sane thing to do" and also "was pretty much the worst thing that could happen as the scenario was described in the GM guide" -- so bad that you had to put your thumb on the scale to stop it from happening. Honestly, if I hit that situation, I'm pretty sure I'd be mad too.

My advice, for future games that you run, is that you try to make sure that all possible player decisions lead to fun outcomes. They don't have to necessarily lead to good outcomes, but if there's a reasonable-looking player decision that would break your game, that is a problem which you need to fix before running the game.


You've told us that you put a lot of love into your game prep, and you don't want to cancel it. I can respect that. But I'd recommend that you think really carefully about what you're risking if you keep running the game.

(If I were you, I'd cancel it.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ I’d also suggest the unfortunate possibility that this is exactly the goal of PP. Many GMs have control issues. It’s possible that this is essentially sabotage. \$\endgroup\$
    – Preston
    Sep 7 at 22:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ I have to wholeheartedly agree that if "the objectively sane thing to do" is also "pretty much the worst thing that could happen", there's a major story problem. I disagree with the idea that all possible player decisions should lead to fun outcomes, but only because I have great faith in players being able to make absolutely absurd decisions. Unquestionably, though, there was a story issue here that needs to be avoided in future sessions. \$\endgroup\$ Sep 7 at 23:20
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This pattern is pretty common

From my experience, GMs tend to get specific habits as GMs that do not work when they are players. Nothing uncommon here, really. A typical trait of this pattern is the discrepancy between what an interesting NPC and an interesting PC are.

  • The NPC usually only get a short amount of time to express that they are unique and have a personality, so they tend to easily get silly quirks.
  • A PC gets the whole campaign to express themselves: they can be more subtle and still not feel like generic-human-#52.

Here the PP built a character that would be great as a NPC: it could be a witness, a suspect, the goofy sidekick or even a bit of both. However, as a PC it doesn't work well because your campaign is about all the players solving mysteries that they are interested in seeing solved, not all the players minus one that is only there by mistake.

From what I see, all your problems seem to stem from this character that simply doesn't work for your campaign.

What you could have done

It is too late to do that now, but keep it in mind for next time.

It is common practice to have a session 0 at the start of a campaign. One of the aspects of this session is to get on the same page about what would constitute a good PC. If you notice a trend that most players want to play criminals you can emit the idea that everyone could be one: maybe not the same kind of criminal: one could be a hardcore hitman while another would have committed tax fraud, but that would constitute a theme. (it still could be secret: everybody would know that other PCs are criminals but no other detail, unless their PC is vocal about it).

For your campaign, if you want all the players to engage in solving a mystery, then there has to be a hook that links them to this mystery. The players must acknowledge that the link exists, and that it is a big deal (for their character at least): they are ready to risk things to solve it. Examples of such hooks are:

  • the PC needs money and someone promised to pay them a lot if they solve this
  • a dear friend of the PC died and their last words are about the mystery
  • they are a reporter on the wane who desperately need a scoop to save their career
  • etc

As the GM, it is your responsibility not to let anyone play a character that can't work for your game.

What you still can do

From what you describe, this PC looks done to me. At least, this PC as it stands now, unless a radical change happens to him. As the GM, you can't change this PC: it has to come from the player, and for this to happen you will have to talk to them.

Of course, you don't have to tell PP that their character is terrible, especially not in front of everyone. What I advice is to talk to them one-on-one, outside of the game, and explain to them that you feel like your campaign isn't great for their character. You can present things in such a way that the blame is not put on them nor their character, but more on the miscommunication you had. Now, depending on what they want, you can work together to find a fix:

  • maybe they think their character doesn't have enough to do: in that case you can offer them to change it. Maybe the PC dies mysteriously between two sessions and their next character is a detective who takes personally the case of what they think is definitely not a suicide.
  • maybe they are ready to let their character change to better fit the tone: in that case you should let them change it a bit, maybe switch some skills on their sheet if they think it would help. Maybe you can agree on some kind of event that would justify the change as to avoid any kind of narrative dissonance (their "twitch channel" got mysteriously terminated without any warning after they uploaded mysterious footage about the case, and now they decided they wouldn't hesitate to turn to crime if it could shed light on this mystery...).
  • maybe they don't like that campaign after all: being a player is just not their thing, or they can't bear the setting, or they got so mad at your coworkers that it simply won't work out. In that case it is better that they stop playing this campaign: don't kick them away, but if you came to this conclusion while talking together as adults, then there should not be bad blood between you.
  • maybe they actually don't see the issue at all: from their point of view they are having fun and the campaign is very nice. I have been this player before, and it is not an easy situation: the other players didn't seem to have any issue with my character, I followed the leads to the plot when the GM threw me some, I was invested in the story, was helpful during fights, ect... My hypothesis, ten years later, about what was wrong, is that the GM felt like they had to make concessions to my character. I was ready for them not to make any: I was ready to pay the price of my character's foolishness (or at least I though I was). If you are in this situation I advise that you explain what concessions you made and ask them if they would rather have you not make them. It should help either for them to understand that there is an issue, or for you that next time PP's PC point their gun at someone you can make it so that they end up in jail.
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Light Your Game on Fire

In general, I would not give this advice. Your situation is unique: you have a stable, long-term activity which you and everyone else are very satisfied with, and which depends on one guy putting in a lot of labor. You are taking a short break from that long-term activity. The "break" activity is causing unhappiness, because the one guy who is foundational to your long-term activity is being kind-of-a-jerk.

So: burn the short-term activity to the ground, if that's what it takes to preserve the activity you actually care about.

Other answers have (correctly) identified that GMing and playing in a game are different skills. And that's true! It's entirely possible that he's like this all the time, as a player. Here's what I see though:

  • He did zero prep work. Presumably, if he is running a long-term game, he is doing tons of prep work every other week.
  • He is not taking this at all seriously. Presumably, if he is running a long-term game, he is forced to take all the characters seriously, every other week.
  • He wants some sort of full-gonzo, unserious game. Presumably, if he is running etc.

Basically, it looks to me like he wants to play an RPG, but is just about burned out on the grind of the campaign he has been running. So everything you're complaining about is him behaving diametrically opposite from how he does when he runs the game.

So, just humor him this time. It's really fine. Run your game as a zany farce, and just let everyone enjoy it. I know full-well how irritating it can be to have hooligan-players come mess up your perfect story, especially if this is one of the first times you're trying to run something. But you will not help your current game or your long-term game by clinging too tightly. You're getting together to have fun.


Long term, I have three pieces of advice, and they're all play it straight. By that I mean, don't get shocked by the antics; do allow the players to act, and narrate the effects; don't go out of your way to "punish" the players.

  • Playing it straight helps reign in the disruption. For example, see this public playtest of what eventually became 5e. I don't know why Mearls thought this was a good idea, but it's a startlingly similar situation to yours.
  • Playing it straight is where comedy comes from. Farce doesn't work if the characters are being silly; it works when very serious characters are in ridiculous situations and try to react seriously to them.
  • Here's the best one: playing it straight lets players get invested. Your players are doing a throwaway bit about hiring the monsters to turn an empty building into an Inn? Sure, go with it. Figure out what pay the monsters want, and what their idea of a great inn is. Rolling with jokes like that shows that their decisions matter. And now that's not the GM's weird, trap-based, comfy inn; it's their weird, trap-based, comfy inn; their own little bit of setting. So even with a ridiculous entry point, you still suck people back into taking it seriously (one of their kobolds is getting shaken down, and it's making him late to work? That's the stuff players actually remember for years!). And nihilist joke-characters finding reasons to care in a cold universe is a rich source of actually-good story. Short version here.

This is probably not a solution to your problem though. I generally think this approach is good regardless, but it seems to take 8-10 game sessions to really flower. YMMV

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While I really like all the other answers here, to me it seems like it's a lot simpler than that.

Your GM, who runs a great campaign that is normally well very prepared, is exhausted and needs a break. They even told you explicitely they need a break. People normally only do that after they have reached the point where it became too much for them. So your former GM is exhausted.

And yet, you are surpised, when

the [...] player did not prep

What part of "I need a break" did not come across when they told you?

They do not have time or motivation for lengthy preparations. They need a break.

My best guess is they would be happy as pie, if they could just play a first level barbarian, kick in the door and roll for initiative. With no complicated backstory, no motive and no second guessing everything except cracking an Orc skull or two. A break from "complicated" and "prepared".

Since you value your original campaign, I would suggest actually giving your original GM the chance of an actual break. You can do that by:

  • Switching pace. You like the people, so just play a board game. One of the many "Quests" (Hero Quest, Warhammer Quest etc) if you want to stay true to the pattern of kicking down doors and bashing skulls, or maybe another strategy game. Where all the preparation needed on their side is to show up and have fun.

  • Presenting them with a backstory that is easy to handle and plays well with all others since you wrote it, knowing all the others. Filter the reading material down to what they need to read.

  • Drop the whole backstory and connect them to another character in a very simple way. They are another character's bodyguard. They go where that character goes. They protect them. No hidden motives, no secrets. Plain and easy, they can sit down at the table and jump right into it.

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The Standard Advice...

The standard advice in a situation like this is to talk to your problematic player and/or the group. But that advice is so anodyne and wishy-washy that it's almost useless on its own. But your recent answer in comments about what your player(s) know about each other might put enough meat on the bones of the situation to provide some useful guidance.

The reason I asked about what that player knows is because of the so-called "My Guy" syndrome. The linked thread is excellent reading on this topic, even if you've already heard of it. The gist of a My-Guy is a character which, when played to its logical conclusion, creates a bunch of problems because "That's what My Guy would do!" It's a way for the player to clean his or her hands of the negative consequences of the character's actions, and it's an annoying and recurring problem in the hobby.

But there are two possible situations here:

  1. The player is a "classic" My-Guy. They either knew ahead of time and created a character that would mess with the others by being law-abiding to a fault, or they did it accidentally, found out later, and decided to stick with it.

  2. The player is a genuinely accidental My-Guy who doesn't actually know that their in-character actions, calling for legal involvement in a party where most/all of the other characters are criminals and law-avoidant.

These two cases call for different solutions. In the former case, my preferred solution is to give the My-Guy a stern talking to.

But your answer indicates that this may be the much more rare (in my experience) second case in which... you may bear some responsibility, here, in allowing a set-up where one player is really blind to salient characteristics of the rest of the group. And the solution probably doesn't run through the single player, but through the whole group.

That Seems To Be The Core Issue

That seems like the core issue, to me, the one you're going to have to resolve before you can make any progress on this at all. And even knowing this is a group discussion situation doesn't make it easy.

My experience is that most settings and scenarios do not do well with players harboring major secrets from each other. (There are obviously exceptions.) It just tends to add friction to a game in my experience.

But even knowing that, I as a GM would have a hard time just unilaterally bringing those things into the open. So I'd start by trying to get buy-in from the secrets crowd to have an open discussion with everyone about how to handle all of this.

But It's Only The Core

But that said, it seems like there's still more going on that just this one tangled situation. Player ignorance of other characters' criminality helps untangle this one situation about getting the law involved or not. There's still a laundry list of mild to severe anti-social behavior (waving a gun at a taxi driver? In a post office?!) that read like classic My-Guy behavior to me. Those still have to be dealt with.

I have to say, I don't really envy this situation where you might have a classic My-Guy who (maybe) accidentally stumbled into a scenario where they didn't even know they were causing issues. That's the worst of both worlds.

So my advice, distilled down to the basics, would be this:

  1. Get your other players to agree to a discussion in which these secrets get aired
  2. Deal with the big complicated situation
  3. Then deal with the rest of the My-Guy behavior.
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Dealing with (1) an Alpha Dog and (2) an expectations mismatch

I picked up on two key issues you mentioned. I'll take you at your word that this was an accurate depiction, even though we only get one side of the story here. There's also a problem that I have run into myself - transitioning from GM to player - that I'll address at the end.1

  • Took the lead and acted boisterously in every encounter, swamping the other players who are generally quieter and who are newer to TTRPGs

  • ... 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.

On the face of it, you've got

  1. Someone who can dish it out but can't take it in a behavioral sense - but they are used to being the maestro in their GM role. Getting out of that role takes effort if that's the usual role someone is in a part of a small group of players.
  2. Two subsets of players: high prep and low/no prep
  3. To compound the above, you are using the "I've Got A Secret" scheme that is popular in a number of RPGs but isn't necessarily a prominent feature of your usual game: the Pathfinder campaign that you have all been enjoying. That may have contributed to an expectations mismatch among your players.

Of course things went awry! There are a lot of moving parts here going in opposite directions (why does that remind me of a helicopter?). You have a set of related actions to take to get things all moving in the same direction:

  1. Discuss the GM-turned-PP, in private, that you'd like him to be a little less aggressive in grabbing the spotlight, since there's a new player in the mix. This is done as a request, 'for the good of all the players', and particularly the new one.

  2. Explain to the GM-turned-PP that the high prep / low prep mismatch has contributed to the group not gelling as well as you would have hoped. This point opens the door for a couple of options:
    "Would you like to remake your character before next time?" or "Would you like to make a character who is a better fit for the group?" Offer to assist with some of the heavy lifting in Character creation and backstory: he's using this game a break from GMing - which is prep heavy.

  3. After 1 and 2 are done, have a short session 0 (again, one can always be called, even after a few sessions) before play starts next time for all of the players to discuss openly (1) who they are, as a group of characters, and (2) how they want to work together for the next 3 to X sessions. You don't have a whole campaign to go through the forming / storming / norming / performing cycle before the 'it's a break' game hits its last session. A bit of storming and norming needs to be front loaded here.

  4. Don't prep plots, prep situations. This linked article by The Alexandrian is very good advice for any GM: new, somewhat experienced, veteran. Please read the whole article. Here are a couple of key points:

... the problem with trying to prep a plot for an RPG is that you’re attempting to pre-determine events that have not yet happened. Your gaming session is not a story — it is a happening. It is something about which stories can be told, but in the genesis of the moment it is not a tale being told. It is a fact that is transpiring. {snip} Don’t prep plots, prep situations.

What’s the difference?
A plot is a sequence of events: A happens, then B happens, then C happens. (In more complicated forms, the sequence of events might fork like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, but the principle remains the same.)
A situation, on the other hand, is merely a set of circumstances. The events that happen as a result of that situation will depend on the actions the PCs take{italics mine}.

See how you can adjust your material to that approach. Let the play and choices drive the outcomes. Every DM/GM I have pointed to this article (includes me, but I got pointed to it here at RPGSE) has benefited from Alexandrian's advice.

1 Transition from GM to player can be difficult.

I have had this problem a couple of times in the last few years - going from GM role to Player role means I have to not default to my GM-brain as we play. In my case, as a type A personality, I have to forcefully remind myself to take off my DM hat during play and stay aware of not being DM anymore. It helps.
I'd suggest recommending this to your GM-turned-PP friend as a way to help him get into "just another player" for the next session. Let him know this advice comes form a long time DM who uses it, if need be.

Lastly, a general approach: let consequences come from player actions and choices.

@Fectin's advice to "Light Your Game On Fire" strikes me as a good approach, specifically this:

you will not help your current game or your long-term game by clinging too tightly. You're getting together to have fun.

While it's your first GMing effort, and any of us loves our creation as GM, it is also for you a learning and training opportunity. Don't cling too tightly is a good first thought before each session begins.

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A party with conflicting interests/views is a classic TTRPG (and fiction in general) trope and can be fun to play as long as the group is still held together by a common purpose or threat.

By delaying the moment the group becomes officially antagonistic, secrets add an interesting but dangerous twist to this. Outside of games specifically designed for it, character secrets that are also unknown to players can prompt bizarre looking moves and foster misunderstanding at the table.

I would suggest not holding back the individual backstories for too long - after all, what's their point if they are not revealed at some time in the game? Actually, dark secret reveals make for some of the best dramatic scenes you can get in a game and now might be the ideal moment to have one.

My suggestion is to have a big in-game cathartic talk-over where the covert criminal characters explain their past reaction to the cops thing. They don't have to be very specific, just to not so subtly imply - as mobsters would do - that it was not in their individual interests for the cops to show up and that the PP's character did well to bite the bullet and give up on calling the police.

Airing the dirty laundry between the characters will hopefully clear the misunderstanding between players. If the PP doesn't agree to follow their companions' agenda, at least they will have been able to express their disagreement in character ; the misalignment is now explicit and will in any case be funnier to play than the current awkward situation. You as the GM just have a bit of work to put pressure on the group for them to stick together, but you probably already knew it could happen as you accepted these secrets initially.

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