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I've been running a D&D campaign, and I've got a problem player (I'll call him Archel) who keeps adding extra features or unknown backstory points to his character.

For example: a few sessions ago, the PC party got into a heated discussion with the leader of a town which they were trying to get access to. This town is heavily indisposed to travelers, and at best turns them away - at worst, it resorts to violence to get travelers out of their midst.

At the end of the discussion, when the PCs had already decided on an alternative way of entry and were about to leave, Archel barged in, claiming that he had ties to the leader's family. (Note: Before the event, Archel had never mentioned this. Thanks @Eddymage for the comment.)

I would have shut this down, but the rest of the party seemed OK with the idea, and we got access to the village peacefully (instead of implementing a very well thought-out plan that another player, Eistera, had devised).

I have a problem: conflict between Archel and Eistera.

Eistera's become annoyed with Archel, to the point where she's openly trying to put down any ideas Archel suggests. The thing is, Archel doesn't seem to be aware of the problem - the other members of the party don't really mind him either. I'm worried that, since Archel's making the campaign too easy, it's going to be a very long time before the PCs level up, which will inevitably lead to the PC party getting annoyed (from experience, this is what happens whenever the PCs don't level up).

I'm worried Eistera's going to leave the campaign, as she's visibly frustrated. She's one of the most strategic players on the table, but her plans are constantly left behind in favor of Archel's trivial additions. I also don't want to confront Archel head-on, as the other players don't have a problem with him.

What can I do to resolve this conflict?

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    \$\begingroup\$ So the party likes Archel's ideas instead of Eistera's ones, Eistera is annoyed and tries to undermine Archel. It seems Eistera is the problem player, not Archel. Why do you insist the problem player is Archel? \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 13 at 10:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is not clear to me how you, as a DM, are allowing to add convenient details and shortcuts on the fly. You are in power to decide what is coherent with backstories and the like, not the players. Are there any precedent or hints in Archel story that there were actually ties with the leader family? Per your description, I feel that Archel is just "cheating", adding convenient things to their character for overcoming the issues the party is facing. Did you provide us all the information? \$\endgroup\$
    – Eddymage
    May 13 at 10:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ "Archel's ideas make it difficult for the players to run the campaign as a whole - it's become too easy for the players. In addition, it means I can't level up the players through fights" this seems like an entirely different class of a problem to two players having a conflict in play. \$\endgroup\$
    – VLAZ
    May 13 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ Are you sure the other players don't mind this, i.e. they explicitly told you, or you're assuming they don't mind because they don't speak up? That a player doesn't say anything doesn't always mean they're ok with what's happening. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    May 14 at 9:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is Archel coming from experience in one of the other game systems where this is encouraged, or possibly improvisational performance? It's definitely common in group-storytelling systems, but not in a traditional RPG with a DM/referee role. \$\endgroup\$ May 14 at 18:45

7 Answers 7

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This is going to be a hard ride.

You don't just have a player pair of clashing styles. You need a few stern words that might sound harsh, but I have learned over years of GMming, that sometimes you need to hear the truth that you messed up. I might be loud for the next paragraphs, it might read harsh, but I will do my best to put together a way out in the end, or at least give you a pointer on what I would do. So bear with me, ok? So..

You did not live up to your goals.

You start your tale with this:

I would have shut this down, but the rest of the party seemed OK with the idea,[...]

And then, right away, let's stop here for a moment. You did not want it? But you are the GM. You are the one-and-only final arbiter in the campaign. You could have stopped it, and yet you didn't. Remember, the DMG tells you that You are always right for a reason. Yes, we all know that with great power comes great responsibility1. And your responsibility is to enforce the one and only rule that is written down as "Rule 0" at times: make sure everybody has fun. And sometimes, that requires you to say no.

You say:

I'm worried that, since Archel's making the campaign too easy, [...]

That can only happen if you always say yes and always allow whatever Archel suggests. But that is not how you run a game of Dungeons and Dragons. That's how you play a game of or a , where every player is allowed and encouraged to bring in new aspects and create the world together. It's a behavior that is at home in games like , which has its own mechanics to add such stuff at the cost of stress, or , where making up stuff to detail the situation gives a bonus on the related roll. But the game you play is more hardline on what it allows to players, and it is much less freeform.

In Dungeons and Dragons, it is your task to make the world and make rulings so that everybody has fun. It is your solemn duty and power to shut down things if needed to tell a good story.

Is it a good story and everybody has fun when everybody does add some details? Great, play it loose. You're not playing by the book, but the goal is to have fun anyway.

But here you have two players clashing: One player wants to play a much more freeform game and a character that appears to be somewhat similar to the main character from "A Trekkie's Tale"2 (Lt. Mary Sue): She knows everything and everyone and has a solution up her sleeve... And that can be fine until it impedes the fun of others. And it clearly does, as Eistera feels bothered and wants to shut down Archel's additions for it.

And let me be frank here: The problem is not Archel and Eistera, or their clashing styles, the problem is, that you as a GM have to draw a line, and enforce it. It is your job as a GM to say: Stop, no, you can not do that. It is your job to make sure everybody can have fun. And everybody includes you. You say:

I also don't want to confront Archel head-on, as the other players [But Eistera] don't have a problem with him.

You forget about one person: Yourself. You have a problem with the situation. You have come here to ask for advice on how to handle it. So let's grab a hold of the situation and see what we can do!

A few pages from my experience

I am somewhat seasoned, I'd say. I mean, I play since more than a decade, I have played with some bedrock people that started with 1st or 2nd editions, I have played at cons and in RPG clubs. I have not seen everything, but I have seen a lot. And some of that seems applicable to make you become a better GM and aim to achieve your goal:

Communication of expectations and rules is key

You need to step up and state clearly what is and isn't acceptable at the table. You should come up with simple table rules that are easy to enforce. Best, this is done during a Session 0, but I have introduced table rules later with some success. The biggest point is to talk about it. In effect, you want to form a Social Contract at the table. A set of rules everybody is bound by. I think you can feel inspired by the very basic rule that was introduced by Traveller:

Obnoxious, obstreperous or rude behavior is not conducive to the enjoyment of play. Loud, disruptive players merely irritate everyone concerned. Do not engage in such behavior yourself, and discourage it in others.3

For your specific situation, let me suggest a rule that I use in a game where experienced players are allowed a wide latitude of bullshitting stuff and situations up, usually to flavor interactions:

  • If you invent or make up a fact about the world, it can't be a painless, free, and perfect solution to a problem you face. The GM has the right to veto such suggestions wholesale and alter them as required.

That sets expectations and indicates that you as a GM can and will enforce consistency with the world. Other typical rules I have and encounter - at times unspoken and which might help you steer situations, and most of them are basically :

  • Don't talk over one another.
  • If you are overwhelmed, make the GM aware with the X-Card/X-gesture/timeout-gesture or loudly say Stop.
  • Keep off-topic to a minimum.
  • No Rules Lawyering.

Learn to say No at times

A big part of the situation came from you not saying no at all. Or at least letting things happen as suggested with no negative consequences at all.

But the advancement of the plot always has a price.

If you want to get into the town by pulling Vitamin Connection, there is a price to pay. Things backfire (remember, you can demand charisma checks to see if your bluff or story took hold!), and even the best shoddy plan has holes, usually big enough to walk an elephant through. Think of it as an escalation strategy:

  • If you disagree with the suggestion fundamentally, just tell them: "This does not work", or "no".
  • If you agree to the basic premise of a suggestion, but not all of it: Say yes, but... and let them fail forward.
  • If you agree, but see problems they might need to work around let them roll for success.
  • If you agree wholeheartedly and there is nothing to lose, say yes.

Have the sheets less fungible

It might help to have the players pin down their backstories a little more.

For such, I suggest something I encountered in a game: we wrote down places where our characters have been on the continent at specific points of the timeline, or what they did then. This later allowed the GM to not just feed information to characters that were at a specific event as required, it also allowed them to interconnect characters. Not every field was mandatory, but the more you filled in, the less fungible other fields became. Some stuff was filled in during the game as players decided, but the very idea of writing down things for later referencing helped us to constrain the backstories.


  1. Stan Lee: Amazing Fantasy #15 (1962).
  2. Paula Smith: A Trekkie's Tale, In: Paula Smith & Sharon Ferraro: Menagerie (1973).
  3. An Introduction to Traveller (1981)
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well done Trish, you saved me a lot of typing. +1 What Archel is doing is a lot like a Flashback in Blades it the Dark-where the player retcons "yeah, we brought the block and tackle with us to lower the piano out of the apartment window' , but those flashbacks have a cost. (You add stress to your character, which can create problems for PCs when too much stress builds up. (I think Feng Shui has a similar mechanic, but I've not played it). \$\endgroup\$ May 13 at 17:48
  • \$\begingroup\$ Blades is a PbtA sytem iirc. As a different example, Exalted 3e calls something similar a stunt, which just makes a roll easier, but does not guarantee success, and it is up to the GM to rate the stunt on a scale of 1 to 3. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    May 13 at 17:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ It is certainly PbtA adjacent, but it's a bit different in a number of ways (fixed setting, far more stuff on the char sheet). I think goes by "Forged in the Dark" as a family. Man, I miss our BitD game, but I just can't make that time slot anymore. 😪 \$\endgroup\$ May 13 at 17:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you! This is some great advice, I'll see if I can implement it during the next session. \$\endgroup\$
    – Redz
    May 13 at 22:39
  • \$\begingroup\$ Also what I think might be a good idea is to try and phrase things to not "undermine" the players ideas. E.G. instead of saying "roll for charisma to win your bluff because you obviously don't have any connection" you can say "roll for charisma to see if the guards believe you since they've never seen you before and without proof anyone might say that". The result is the same but you are implying "it's not you trying to trick them with some BS, is them being good guards and not believing you at face value" \$\endgroup\$
    – John Doe
    May 16 at 12:51
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It seems Archel and Eistera play different games

First and foremost, adding things to a character story is not the problem. We do this all the time:

Player: Do I recognize this symbol?
DM: Make an Intelligence (Religion) check.
Player: 17
DM: Yes, you know it. It's a krakenar insignia.
Player: Of course I know this — I was told about krakenars in the monastery, when I was an acolyte!

Many backgound features in 5e assume the character might had possible connections, without the need of introducing particular NPCs in advance:

Feature: Safe Haven
As a faction agent, you have access to a secret network of supporters and operatives who can provide assistance on your adventures.

And so on. There are games (like Blades in the Dark) which explicitly allow retrospective planning. Many games (Fate, Dungeon World) encourage players to introduce new elements to the world itself. In this games players work as "directors", contributing to the story on par with the DM. It's probably how Archel sees the situation.

However, Eistera is more like an "actor". She doesn't try to change the story directly — she is only responsible for actions of her character. It's a very good approach, but it doesn't work well with the Archel's one.

What you want to do is to explicitly articulate this — what game do you play — out of the game itself (see What is a session 0?). Allowing players be "directors" can be entertaining, but it can also spoil the fun for people who prefer more realistic approach.

You are in charge

When all the players come to a consensus about what style they want to play, your task as a DM is to enforce this style. Also, your task is to make sure that all players get a comparable amount of playing time when their personal actions have an impact (so-called "spotlight").

her plans are constantly left behind in favor of Archel's trivial additions

You, the DM, is responsible for the spotlight control. If Archel steals the spotlight — it's the DM's problem, not Archel's. You have all the tools for steering the players to the most plausible outcome:

  1. Strictly disallow — "There is no chance you know his family. You came from too far away".
  2. Give a lesser result — "This is a well-known noble family, of course you know them. But they are seeing you for the first time."
  3. Introduce a cost — "You're not from a noble family, so he doesn't treat you as an equal. Maybe some other thing could impress him?"
  4. Use the "yes, but" approach — "You know his cousin, who he doesn't get along with. What do you say?"
  5. Ask for a dice roll — "This is unlikely, but let's make a check."
  6. Make this a complication in the future. Connections with one leader are not likely to please other ones.

Don't be afraid to say "no". There is a difference between contributing to the story and cheating. "The door is locked" — "I open it because I had a key in my pocket" is not a clever solution, it is cheating. It's just not how RPGs work. All the facts you or players introduce should be consistent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Your lock and key example is an excellent end-member analogy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Notso
    May 14 at 3:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Re: "I open it because I had a key in my pocket" is not a clever solution, it is cheating. - In D&D, I would regard every single one of Archel's "trivial additions" that @Redz has given examples of as cheating, every bit as blatant and egregious as your "I had the key in my pocket". They should have been instantly vetoed from the start, and I'm a bit baffled about why they weren't. Given that, it is completely unsurprising that the blatant and egregious cheating is making the campaign too easy. \$\endgroup\$
    – Douglas
    May 14 at 16:34
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If I may make a judgement on very little information, I think you have two problems going on here at the same time, and if you try to solve only one of them, it's going to lead to future issues. One problem is creating facts on the fly that bypass challenges, and the other is spotlight stealing.

Making Things Up

It's nice when players add detail to the setting of their own volition, but generally that's done as the minor filling in of blanks or to explain odd die rolls, not to avoid dealing with a problem that has already come up. From my perspective, defusing a tense negotiation by just declaring that you're the other guy's distant cousin and that fixes everything, is cheating. There should be a cost for making a change to the story like that. In some systems, there's a concept of Story Points or Destiny or Hero Tokens or what-have-you that a player can spend to create a new fact about the game world (with DM permission). If this were at my table, I'd say that you can spend inspiration on a check to convince the leader to let you in, and the explanation for the advantage you gained is that we've created the fact that you're distantly related. It's still an "out of nowhere" fact, but there's a clear cost and a clear effect.

I don't mind a player inventing backstory links to whatever is going on, provided they're not the instant-win button and that it's relatively rare. Introducing a new fact should encourage a deeper connection to the situation, not put a stop to the situation.

Like, "Hey, can we say this is the school where I studied magic?" is a fine question (but the DM should have veto power on it because it might be part of the story that you don't know the people here), but at the same time, if you're doing it every time there's a difficult problem at hand, it starts to feel like it's just a cheat code for bypassing hard situations. In the example, this being your old school may allow for "You know exactly who you need to talk to about this--" but should not allow for "You have a free pass to go anywhere on campus because you're an alumnus."

Stealing the Spotlight

But more than that, this is a problem where one player is taking the spotlight away from another. This is entirely apart from the "creating new facts" issue; we could have this same problem if one player just came up with a plan and another says, "Krog is tired of this, he hits the guy with his axe." The player who just came up with a clever plan doesn't get to have the spotlight and enact their idea because another player just made himself the center of attention instead.

Managing the spotlight is tricky, but as the DM it's one of your primary duties. It doesn't need to be an even split -- some players only want to be in the spotlight occasionally -- but when a player has clearly expressed that they want to have the spotlight (for example, by saying "Okay, I have a plan..."), they should be allowed to have that moment. Unless that person is just always the Plan Guy and they've had a Plan for the last three scenarios, and now it's time to let one of the other players be In Charge for a scene, of course.

At my table, I very often have to tell my more boisterous players to slow down so we can hear from the less outgoing players, especially when I hear one of them start to suggest a course of action but they immediately get steamrolled by one of the loud folks. (This is a skill that's useful in the business world as well, actually.)

To me, this sounds like a time when the DM should have stepped in and said no, both because this kind of addition to a character's story on the fly feels dishonest, and because it stomped all over another player's excitement for getting to be in the spotlight. (And "the other players were fine with it" is not really relevant -- most players won't actively voice their dissatisfaction with something like this even if they don't like it, seeing it as between the player and the DM to decide. Silence is acceptance, but not necessarily being happy with the outcome.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ There is a mechanic in Blades in the Dark where the player adds "stress" to their PC in order to retcon something. It is a cost. If too much stress builds up there's a big Consequence. It's a bit of a "risk reward calculus" thing. This is a lot like what Archel is doing. (I am sure other game systems do something similar, but BitD is the first that came to mind. Not sure if this would be useful to add to your answer or not. \$\endgroup\$ May 13 at 17:53
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Tell him No

The root of this issue is that Archel is fundamentally not playing the same game, and you are allowing him to. This is to the detriment of yourself and the other players who are there to play D&D 5e as described in the rulebooks (namely Eistra).

Other answers have mentioned other TTRPG systems that do include rules and mechanics for what Archel is doing. Indeed, some people even try homebrewing this sort of thing into D&D. However, the basic rules are very clear on the fundamental gameplay loop:

  1. The DM describes the environment.
  2. The players describe what they want to do.
  3. The DM narrates the results of the adventurers’ actions.

None of these steps include "let the players describe the environment" or "discuss as a group and come up with a description for the environment". That is soley the responsibility of the DM (read: you!). But that is what you're letting Archel do, and blatantly to his own benefit. By your telling, he's not even asking if his PC has ties to the leader's family -- he's declaring it!

Meanwhile the likes of Eistra, who is playing by the basic rules, carefully figuring out what her PC is going to do next, is left in the dust. Her plans predicated on the DM's description of the situation are suddenly invalidated by Archel's retcons.

Archel's way of playing does not agree with the basic rules, what you want, what Eistra wants, and likely what the other players want. It may ultimately end up being more boring for Archel as well.

Addressing Archel

Remedying this will require sitting down with Archel one-on-on. Explain to him thr basic pattern of play for D&D that everyone else has agreed to, and why his current approach is detracting to everyone's experience.

If he agrees to change his approach, then good news! In future sessions, treat him charitbly. If he slips up and declares some fact about the world ("my PC is tied to the leader's family") gently remind him by treating it as a question instead. Make it clear that you are the arbiter of what the world looks like.

If he pushes back, things will be more difficult. He may simply not want to play the game as described in the basic rules and prefer something with more "collabortive narration". In that case, make it clear that that is not the game the rest of the group is interested in playing. He can seek out other TTRPG systems and groups more suited to that.

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Anything that the DM is not made aware of at the beginning of the campaign doesn't exist

At the start of the campaign you should have received character sheets from all players, the backstory is a part of it and once it has been approved, the players don't get to modify it or add extra features to it. So in this case, unless it was part of the character's backstory that they have ties to the leader of a local village, I would just reject the suggestion. Part of being a DM is saying "no" sometimes and something that a player came up with out of the blue and tried to retrospectively add to their character is a reasonable candidate to say "no" to, especially as it creates problems for the party as a whole and visibly frustrates one player.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I think this is generally correct, but a bit too black-and-white for a game about collaborative storytelling. It probably works for most groups, but it sounds like Archel would feel very stymied in such an environment. I'd like it more if the wording were changed to focus more on the GM allowing or disallowing narrative changes, not that characters should need to pre-meditate every choice about how they interact with the world. \$\endgroup\$
    – Ifusaso
    May 13 at 11:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ Agree with Ifusaso. The idea is here is spot-on, but it's not leaving room for things to evolve. \$\endgroup\$
    – Jack
    May 13 at 13:19
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    \$\begingroup\$ This can work at some tables, but I do not think this is the best approach. Even in something like DND, it can be helpful to have a character help fill in background details and characters are meant to evolve. Sometimes this involves adding more background from before the game. Also, while DND is not one of them, many systems have explicit systems for characters to add more. Exalted has "introduce a fact" roles (with storyteller veto) and other systems have similar opportunities to pay or roll for things like that. \$\endgroup\$ May 13 at 16:33
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, I’ve never been in a game where just blurting out “I know the family because I do” would work and it doesn’t seem much fun either. “I have a background doing <something>, is it possible that I’d know anything about <whatever>?” is pretty standard but that’s not what OP talks about. \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    May 13 at 16:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AnnaAG In Exalted 3e, you'd call that action a Stunt, and it does give you an easier roll to achieve something. It's actually a mechanic. "I know the family from the BBQ festival last month, and remind them of the baked ribs I made to let me in!" - and if you still fail... well, they had an upset tummy and blame you for it. \$\endgroup\$
    – Trish
    May 13 at 17:20
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Several other authors have suggested that you put your foot down, and stop allowing Archel to inject facts as if they were legitimate. These are great answers.

You decide what behavior is allowed at your table. Behavior you don't like will continue if you don't deal with it.

Sometimes being the GM means you need to lay down the rules in RL too.

It sounds like, given your brief description that Archel wants/needs to be the center of attention, and is making things up to be 'solver of problems'. An easy way to deal with this is just let the character claim whatever they want and have NPCs just assume they are a liar or con artist. One or two savage beatings from the town guard or a night in the king's dungeon as punishment for claiming they are related to the King might discourage this sort of thing.

I suspect they party will listen to the other player's ideas more when they see that Archel's ideas don't work and just land them in trouble.

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You use a different leveling system. Instead of exp for kill you can use milestone exp. Whenever an important obstacle or event occurs that seems noteworthy, give an amount of exp. Further, if your player is making it fun for the table, your job is to find a way to make it challenging. Perhaps the ways that this player dupes you end up somehow back firing later on, or set up other escapades. If the group as a whole save one player is enjoying themselves, that means you have different play styles among your group. Realistically, he has the right to make up new plans, however if you think his sheet doesn't give him access to the things it does, then double check. I know players who will for example leave certain parts of their sheet blank or incomplete purposefully, in order to 'discover' their player as they go. However there's usually a good explanation in character, or, if not, there should be, and your job as a dm would be to find a way to make it a challenge for archel to discover that. If the other player is regularly getting out voted, perhaps at some point she snaps and either fights with, or leaves the party, possibly causing a divide, which can then become a quest of two tales.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd add 5e has no such thing as "exp for kill". DMG gives XP for "defeating" a monster by any means. It also engourages DMs to "award experience to characters for overcoming challenges outside combat". So milestones is not the only option. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkryptor
    May 14 at 8:24

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