A friend of mine has started preparing a pbp Mutants & Masterminds campaign, and one of their players is someone I know to be problematic.

Already, the player has started to show signs of being troublesome for the DM's campaign. The player has requested excessive help in designing their character - from requesting guidance in coming up with their own character's powers, to asking for personal one-on-one RPs with the DM to flesh out the unfinished character concept.

As an example, the player has asked in group-chat what their character should be like as a cat. The DM informed them it could be anything they wanted, which they player said was 'unhelpful'. When the DM and other players offered the chance to go over the mechanical aspects of it, the player refused to do so, 'humorously' saying "Too hard, let's move on ;p".

This player has been problematic in campaigns I've been in before. In a Truth & Justice pbp campaign with a different DM, the player regularly took over a week to post their character's actions, by which point other players had to start describing what their characters were going to do. The player then got upset at the DM, accused the DM of being a bad friend, and abruptly left the campaign.

This spilled over into another pbp campaign the same DM was running - a Maids: RPG campaign, which the problematic player also left because of this conflict with the DM. The rest of the players carried on with the campaign without this problem player, but it greatly impacted my own characters, because I'd gone out of my way to make my own characters someone this problem player could interact with.

This player can be creative when pressed for it, and can be fun to play with, but they require a lot of attention, both from the DM and from the other players. They're also very sensitive, and react harshly to any perceived slight against them, but don't see their own behavior as problematic. I am concerned that any future campaigns with this player, including my friend's campaign, will be sabotaged by this behavior.

What can my friend do as a DM to help accommodate this player, and is there anything I could do as the problem player's friend to help them curb this problematic behavior?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Personally, I feel that the question title doesn't jibe with the question content. "Hand holding" to me implies a player who doesn't know what they're doing and needs to be walked through everything, not an attention whore that deliberately monopolizes the GM's time and throws tantrums. "Diva", as described in thatgirldm's answer is infinitely more appropriate. \$\endgroup\$
    – Sandalfoot
    May 19, 2015 at 18:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Sandalfoot I may have been trying to be more generous to this player's attitude, but you might be right. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    May 19, 2015 at 18:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just an OT side note - for me as a non-native English speaker referring to single person as 'they' is extremely confusing, requiring me to focus more on whom is the OP talking about rather than the substance of the question. If somebody really wants to stay gender-neutral, wouldn`t it be better to just use 'this/that person/player' or s/he? \$\endgroup\$
    – kyooryu
    May 20, 2015 at 8:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Kyooryu I've taken note of your suggestion and edited the question accordingly. If it's still confusing, let me know. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    May 20, 2015 at 13:13

2 Answers 2


The best way to handle attention-hogging "diva" players is to set limits, then enforce them.

Set Limits

Divas, whether in RPG groups or in real life, take advantage of the social expectation to be polite and accomodating in order to get away with their behavior. So to protect your own sanity and your game, you need to create an alternate social expectation up front. In the case of a play-by-post RPG, this could mean rules like "if you take longer than X days to post your actions, the GM will declare a neutral action for you and continue without you", and "if you're repeatedly unable to come up with actions or ideas for your character, the GM may ask you to create a new one you're more comfortable playing."

The key here is to set the limits as a group. Don't single out the diva (they'll probably feel singled out anyway, but that's beside the point), just take some time before or during the opening of the game to state these ground rules. Emphasize that they apply to everybody and that they will be enforced in order to keep the game running smoothly for all players.

Enforce Those Limits

An important part of setting limits is declaring how those limits will be enforced. Otherwise it's like a parent who says to their toddler, "You'd better get over here right now! I mean it! Now!" but never actually takes action to address non-compliance. The toddler knows she can ignore the warnings because nothing will happen to her if she does, and she gets to keep doing whatever she's doing anyway.

Therefore, once you've set your limits for the game, enforce them. If the diva player (or any other player) takes too long to post their actions, do as you said: declare a neutral action for them, then move on. Ignore whining and complaining; refer back to the limits established at the beginning of the game: "I understand you're frustrated. You agreed to the limit of X days at the beginning of the game, and it's been X days, so I had to move on for the sake of the rest of the players."

It's perfectly fair to give warnings (such as a message a day before the deadline saying "Hey, you agreed to post within X days and it's been X-1 days. Just wanted to give you a heads-up!"). However, the important part is enforcing the limit after it's been broken, and doing so consistently and calmly.

Keeping Your Own Sanity

Divas thrive on getting attention, whether positive or negative, from others. Setting and enforcing limits helps take away a lot of their avenues for getting this attention. They'll try to get it back by throwing tantrums, complaining, and otherwise table-flipping over the "unfair" rules and "getting picked on". This is why it's so important to set the limits for everyone at the beginning of the game. That way all you have to do is calmly and repeatedly fall back on, "You agreed to these rules. That's all there is to it." As long as you keep your calm and ignore the diva's attention grabs (and make sure the other players don't get drawn in), you'll remove the diva's incentive to act that way and make the game more enjoyable for everyone.

Note that this may result in the diva threatening to leave the group. If they do, say calmly, "it's your choice whether to leave or stay. If you stay, these are the rules you've agreed to." Then it's up to them whether to leave (and get no attention at all) or stay (and get less attention than they'd like, but still some). If they do actually leave, just say, "Thanks for gaming with us" and let them go. The point here is to not give them any attention, since that's what they're after. Giving them attention in response to threats or flouncing only reinforces that they can get what they want by doing these things. So just stay calm, be polite, and let the diva figure out that their bad behavior is no longer going to get them anywhere.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Big +1 Nice and clear; agree at the start, set the limits and stick to them. A minimal social/expectation/absence contract at the start of any game is sadly a must \$\endgroup\$
    – Rob
    May 19, 2015 at 15:42

To me, the player you describe doesn't sound like a "diva" so much as simply extremely insecure.

(Mind you, there's no reason they could not be both.)

It sounds as if the player is (consciously or subconsciously) afraid that, unless their character concept and actions are perfect, they will be mocked or chastized by the other, (in their mind) more experienced players. They may be feeling like the other members of the group have some "secret" insider knowledge or skills that are just out of their reach, as evidenced by the fact that everyone else seems to be playing the game effortlessly and without being made fun of. They may even be feeling that, if someone just showed them how this character-creation and role-playing stuff really worked, they could learn how to do it right — but the epiphany they're waiting for never comes, since there really isn't any secret trick to it (except for confidence, which is the one thing they lack).

Unfortunately, this kind of insecurity is often self-reinforcing — the insecure player is afraid to act, causing them to stall the game, which invites criticism from the other players, which makes the player even more insecure and reluctant to act.

If this is the case, enforcing "rules" and "consequences" on the player, in an attempt to get them to act faster, may just serve to convince them that the rest of the group really doesn't want them to play. Eventually, they may just have enough and leave, which, while it may solve the gameplay issues for the rest of the group, might be a suboptimal outcome otherwise.

Alas, there is no single solution here, as all people are different and may react differently. That said, here are a few things you could try:

  • Talk with the player. Explain that it's perfectly OK to make a character that isn't perfect, or act in a way that isn't "optimal" or perfectly "in character", and that nobody will mock or disapprove of them even if they do. (If necessary, also talk with the other players to make sure this really won't happen!)

    You can also directly tell the player that their reluctance to act is causing problems for you as a GM (or fellow player), and that you'd prefer if they just did something, no matter how silly. But try not to phrase it in a way that an insecure player could interpret as "You're a bad player and you should feel bad."

    Remember that actually telling the player that you like them as a person, and that it's fun to play with them when they do participate, is rarely if ever a bad thing — no matter how many times you may have said it already. Fixing a poor self-confidence takes a lot of reassurance.

  • Reduce the pressure by explicitly allowing the player not to act if they don't want to. For example, you could make a rule something like this:

    "It's totally OK for a character not to do anything special, and if so, they'll just follow the rest of the party, hang back and generally react reasonably if engaged (e.g. defend themselves if attacked, respond non-committally if spoken to, cooperate with other party members if asked to, etc.). However, if you do want your character to actively do something specific, you need to say so within X days."

    In every mechanical respect, this is basically the same as the "if you take longer than X days to post your actions, the GM will declare a neutral action for you and continue without you" rule suggested by thatgirldm, but phrased so as not to put any extra pressure on the player. They can act if they feel comfortable, and not act if they don't.

  • Give positive feedback when the player does do something. Just a simple reply of "Thanks!" or "Cool!" or "That sounds awesome, I can't wait to see what happens!" will go a long way towards relieving anxiety and establishing positive conditioning.

    Do this especially if you're a fellow player; as players, you're "on the same side", and so your approval is potentially even more significant than if it comes from the GM.

  • As the GM, consider suggesting simple actions where reasonable. An occasional private message like:

    "Hi, I noticed that you haven't decided what to do yet. Would you like to ask the guard about the keys / climb the ladder like Player Y suggested / swim across the river / hit the orc back? Or do you have some other idea?"

    might help the player realize that the simple actions they were considering themselves do actually make sense.

    Obviously, be very careful about suggesting actions that might have negative consequences. On one hand, it might actually be a good idea to sometimes suggest actions that seem reasonable, but turn out to be mistakes (e.g. picking up an item that turns out to be a trap), just to make it clear that such mistakes are reasonable, but you don't want to come across as trying to trick the player and make a fool of them. You might even consider slipping the player a private hint like this:

    "Would your character like to pick up the key? (Just as a fair warning, since it's my suggestion, let me note that the key is actually trapped. But none of the characters know that yet, so it would still be a perfectly sensible thing for your character to do.)"

  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ While this is entirely possible, the group that this player is in does all fot he things you suggest. This player continues to act this way in spite of our better intentions. But I do agree that a positive approach should come first. \$\endgroup\$
    – Zibbobz
    May 20, 2015 at 0:00

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