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In our last session, a player of mine spent the last 30 min blowing up on me for "restricting" her character's story, and the story of the campaign, when I would not allow her to bring back another character that left because the player left the campaign for personal reasons, and she was unhappy how I had that character leave the game. I explained that I made it that way so that if that player decides to return, his character's return can be as open-ended as possible, and I made the decision to not allow him to return, even if another player plays that character.

I made it clear that it is one character per player. This spiraled down into other issues she had with how I DM, including how I determine what her NPC companion does (which I made clear that I determine his behavior from the beginning), complaining that I'm not Matt Mercer from Critical Role (not that I know what she means by that — the only thing I can think of is that she is comparing my style to his — but Mercer's been DMing for like 20 years and I just started with the 5e Starter Set 4 months ago), among others.

Her background in roleplaying has been involved in MMOs, where her experiences have been almost exclusively one-on-one and completely character involved with little in the way of group dynamics. I've noticed that lately, she has been dominating the roleplaying aspects of the game, from interrupting players talking to NPCs so she can butt in and handle the situation, to cutting into other players' RP moments to develop hers, and I've noticed it has become a problem because the other players check out when she does this.

Additionally, her roleplaying exploits have prevented the plot from progressing and the party from moving forward. Lately, she bullied another PC, forcing him to give her the reward gold for a couple of quests by threatening him with her sword; which, due to me being a green DM, foolishly allowed.

What I want to know is, how should I deal with a player like this in terms of how I should respond to her when she tries to take over the game with her roleplaying, and how to appropriately respond when she gets upset when I don't let her get away with it?

I haven't yet talked to her about this, since this happened just a few days ago. I don't handle drama like this very well and I get very analytical over these situations, trying to wrap my head around it. And that's part of the problem; I don't know how to talk to her about it. From when she blew up, she made it sound that I was responsible for a lot of her frustrations about how the adventure was going; at least that's the impression I got.

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Firstly, you should talk to all your players about the issue outside of a session. You can get some personal impressions first with one-on-one conversations, but ultimately the entire group should sit down to discuss the problems. Make sure the discussion is democratic in nature, though. JohnP points this out in a related question: "The group setting can be dangerous, as it can turn into people digging up old grievances or ganging up on a particular person."

During the discussion you should ensure that everyone is on the same page about how they want the game to be played. The same page tool is a useful set of questions that will drive the discussion in the right direction. Just make sure everyone is fully involved in the discussion and are voicing their opinions clearly (no passive-aggressive bs). If your players are open to compromises a consensus should be reached.

Secondly, make sure your friend is not suffering from My Guy syndrome. If the description matches (and it sounds like it does), show her the link privately and let her think about it. It should help her be more aware of her role as a player and hopefully remedy some of the issues.

You also mentioned your player gets upset as a result of your decisions. This related question contains a lot of suggestions for how to handle players that take things personally, ranging from studying your own approach to kicking out the problematic player.

In the end, though, you are the GM. You are the writer of half of the story, the referee on all mechanics, and the leader in the quest for fun. The way you drive your campaign is part of your style and your players should respect it. They need to be aware that your goal is always to increase the enjoyment they collectively get out of your game. A certain level of trust and respect is absolutely necessary. If this is impossible to obtain in your group, then the group as it is cannot function. Kicking out players or stepping down as GM would be the next steps to try.

Because the GM is so special, though, new players often fail to grasp just how complex the GM role can be, and can at times see him as an enemy and spoilsport. A neat "trick" you can use to show your players what being a GM is really about (that also gives you some rest from the responsibility of being a GM) is to have another person in the group be the GM for a few sessions. It doesn't have to (and most often shouldn't) be the same campaign you're running. Instead, it can be a few sessions of an off-shoot campaign. It's fun for the players because they get the chance to try out new (and often times silly) character builds, and the new GM will discover what it feels to have all this responsibility. Once everyone has GM-ed a couple of sessions, you will all have an idea of who's best at it and will work towards keeping that person as GM in the future. There's a chance it might not be you, but in the end it should result in a better experience overall.

Keep in mind that not everyone is fit for GM-ing, or willing to try at all. Don't force players to GM, and if they decide to try, encourage them to design very short adventures (no more than three sessions). They can always expand on them later if they like it, or end them early if they don't. The player that questions your decisions often probably thinks they can do a better job, so they're likely to accept your offer to prove themselves.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good advice in general, but I recommend not pushing too hard on the "neat trick" if your players don't seem receptive to it. I've known players who would take in the responsibilities and effort involved in GMing and decide not to turn up next session. \$\endgroup\$ – GMJoe Nov 5 '15 at 23:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe That's a good point. I'll work on rewording that section a bit, but my main idea was that a player who questions GM decisions often usually thinks that they would do a better job. Having such players GM a few sessions could prove them wrong (and hopefully silence some of their complaints in the future), or even prove them right (and either take over as GM or help the original GM develop his technique). \$\endgroup\$ – DaFluid Nov 6 '15 at 7:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaFluid Your description of My Guy Syndrome is spot on to one of the problems I am facing. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperZeo Nov 9 '15 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ +1 for thoroughness and the same page tool. I'd give another +1 for the "why don't you try GM'ing?", since most people who have the audacity to complain don't have the gumption to step up. \$\endgroup\$ – smiley trashbag Mar 17 '17 at 20:44
  • \$\begingroup\$ @SuperZeo If this post answered your question, you might want to accept it. \$\endgroup\$ – AntiDrondert Dec 6 '17 at 13:50
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About Spotlight Hogging and Bullying in an RPG

There are two core issues to address:

  1. From what you described, this player is someone in the role of Spotlight Hog. Managing Spotlight Time for your players is an art: there is some good advice on it from one of our high rep contributors here.
  2. The second issue you address is bullying behavior. This isn't unique to roleplaying games, but it can be a buzz kill for players if it isn't brought under control. While there are books a-plenty on "how to deal with bullies," here's a way to address it that may help:

    • First talk to this player, in private, and make it clear that you noticed her being a bully, that you noticed the impact that this had on the other players, and that it hurts both your fun and their fun. The game is supposed to be fun for everyone. Tell her plainly that you've noticed her taking more of the spotlight time than the others, and was she aware that she was doing that?

    • Second: listen closely to her response. Interpersonal relationships among players at a given table can be complicated. (Sad but true). Listen for how she describes party interactions, particularly how "we" and "I" balance out, if they balance at all.

    • Third: ask the other players (off line) about what they do and don't like about how the game is going. It's important to do this in private to avoid the "ganging" up perception.

    • Fourth: as others suggest, review the same page tool, or at least get each player to try to describe their expectations for the game. This should be done in an "out of game" setting, informal, before play begins. Your objective here is to get a consensus on how to all of you get fun out of the game, to include the DM. It's why we do this: for fun.

As we don't know how deep your friendships are with your various players, it is difficult to gage where you have to draw lines.

  • It is possible that this player is simply toxic for your table.
  • It may be that she is blissfully unaware of how her approach to the game is influencing other peoples' fun. Any of us, when alerted to a situation that we are blind to through friendly feedback, can make an adjustment. There's hope.

Dialogue and sincere listening is the first step in fulfilling that hope. The rest depends on what the real life interpersonal relationships are between the people at the table.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for the clarification; I used "too much Roleplaying" because I was unsure on how to word it. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperZeo Nov 5 '15 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ Interpersonal relationships among human beings can be complicated. (Sad but true). \$\endgroup\$ – Tim Lymington supports Monica Nov 5 '15 at 23:16
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Firstly, this type of player seems like someone who when you confront her is going to get you lost in the minutiae of details in order to win her argument (whatever that is). You need to avoid the details altogether and keep the conversation at the 50,000 ft view. Explain that (not how) her actions are rubbing you and the group the wrong way. Don't throw any other group member under the bus when she asks "who?" but rather be the firewall between this player and the rest of the group for this discussion.

Explain that you aren't telling her how to play her character, but you are dictating that she cannot continue to "rule the table".

In our group we have quite a diverse set of players, we have our diplomat, we have our action takers and we have our head bashers. I tend to be a tie breaker or mix things up a bit with my character when I see one player dominating the table too much whether it's too much diplomacy while I watch everyone else get bored, or putting my character between our headbashers and whomever it is we don't want dead quite yet. As a player though I always let everyone else do their thing so long as it's not stopping the game or making life difficult for the others to bare.

Our DM pretty much doesn't steer our group much, or if she does you can't tell and I think this is a good thing as the game become open ended or has the appearance of that, but she doesn't get involved in inter-player squabbles. That's where I (and sometimes the others) step in to break it up as it were.

We all end up having a good time (some of us a little too much) and no one has quit yet. We have a very large group with 3 DMs and a revolving door of players that continues to grow even though some players may miss a week or two here and there. We are getting ready to need a 4th DM because our tables are getting too big again.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ We all end up having a good time (some of us a little too much) Can you really have too much fun? \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 5 '15 at 17:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Yeah we can get disruptive with the humor and laughter :-) \$\endgroup\$ – Escoce Nov 5 '15 at 17:13
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The other answers are all very good but there's a focus on how you will fix it and given that you've said "I don't handle drama like this very well " and "I don't know how to talk to her about it." perhaps your best approach is to find someone who's better at this kind of thing and ask them to mediate. I know this sounds a but formal but it'll take the pressure off you and make it tougher for this person to bully her way through your conversation.

This is going to sound critical, but part of the problem is that this: "a player of mine spent the last 30 min blowing up on me ..." is you allowing that player to take focus away from the group. It's REALLY tough to say "That's a valid complaint but we're in the middle of something here so can we talk about it later" but that's an important message for the other players to hear. If you just react to this player's control attempts, so will the players.

The other point I'd like to raise is that you haven't mentioned what the players are doing. I've had groups that had other strong players who would shut this down without me needing to step in and groups with mainly conflict-averse players who would just stop coming. It sounds like you're dealing with the latter in which case I'd suggest a couple of options:

  • If you know a strong, experienced player ask them to join in for a few sessions to guide the other players in handling this behaviour. It's a party problem and the party needs to help manage it.
  • When this happens in-game, stop and ask the other players if they're OK with it. You're not trying to start a fight so don't be confrontational, you're asking the party as a group how they want you to manage the session. Don't let that go on more than five minutes - ask for guidance and then move on.
  • Don't start by privately discussing this as I've found that private conversations with other players can turn into a witch-hunt and that raising the question publicly provides the other players with a platform from which to make a statement that they might not make unprompted.
  • Ask any players who have left if this behaviour was a factor in them leaving. This needs to be done carefully as it fits the "talking about people behind their backs" that I can't stand so make sure that you're focused on solutions. Ask them if they'd come back to the group if this player was managed more tightly.

Unfortunately there's a good chance that at some point you're going to have to get tough. That's part of being a GM and you'll have to learn what works for you and what doesn't by doing it.

  • If that player interrupts someone else ask them to stop and ask the other player to continue.
  • Don't accept statements from the overbearing player if someone else has the focus.
  • Limit the time their character dominates. I only remember very rarely having to say to a player "You're out of time" and asking someone else what their character was doing but it's a useful way to signal to someone that they're hogging the limelight.
  • Don't let that player take over. You're in charge while the game is in session.

Don't be afraid to fix problems retrospectively. You don't get everything right on the night so it's OK to start the next session by saying "Sorry, but I handled (x) badly and I think we need to make a correction to the characters". An example you've given is "Lately, she bullied another PC, forcing him to give her the reward gold for a couple of quests by threatening him with her sword; which, due to me being a green DM, foolishly allowed.". Your tool here is Consequences. That was a robbery, a crime. Maybe start the next session by asking the player if they want to report it to the town guard. Maybe have a witness report it and have the character arrested yourself. If it wasn't witnessed it's definitely a factor in any future magical test for dishonesty or thief characteristics - ask the player whether she realises that a spell asking for dishonesty or theft would now show positive for her and does she want to change anything given that?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ That's a fair criticism, and one that I have been hard on myself for allowing to happen. \$\endgroup\$ – SuperZeo Nov 9 '15 at 19:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ Don't beat yourself up - GMing is tough to get right and it sounds like you're headed in a good direction. I learnt things about group decision-making and change management that I'm applying in my professional work to this day. \$\endgroup\$ – christutty Nov 10 '15 at 2:44
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Well, first of all.

If you can't handle it, at all, stop asking her to games.

The nuclear option is to simply run games for people who aren't this person. This solves the problem.

Secondly.

Ask people who are aware of stuff like this if they concur.

Not everyone pays attention to interpersonal dynamics. Even if it involves them. If there are people in this group that you feel do pay attention, you could have a private word with them about it, to confirm that it's occurring (you are a fallible human - repeat that in front of the mirror 5 times daily and you'll live a better life), and to gain allies in dealing with it.

Thirdly.

This is a social dynamics situation - office politics, friendship drama, relationship issues, this falls into that paradigm. It's not unique to roleplaying.

This person wants a thing that is negatively affecting other people (you, potentially others) and is using manipulative techniques (accusing you of partisanship, requesting special considerations, getting angry, insulting or socially putting down others (negative comparisons to other GMs, etc)) to get that thing in the face of resistance.

That's the main problem. If this person was reasonable about it and not using socially manipulative methods to attempt to acquire it, you could just have a sit down and say 'maybe let other people talk more,' instead of getting into half-hour arguments.

That the person is female, in a hobby that is male-dominated, is another red flag. The 'big fish small pond' situation tends to apply to some people in that scenario - they tend to have social power of a sort because nerds both want to impress and don't want the 'rare female nerd' to leave.

Fourthly, and finally,

Talk to this person outside the gaming setting first.

Before you start the whole talk to others, think about excluding this person, gather allies, plan campaign, subtly introduce storylines that play to this player's desires so they stop causing trouble, or whatever, just book a time to go chat to this person outside the group setting.

Lay out everything the way you did in the OP. Tell them this is making the game not fun for you. Tell them you had some expectations about the game - players only control one character, players share spotlight time, bad things happen to characters and then players have to escape from that in order to create excitement, the GM has the final say on rules and npc actions, etc. Say that perhaps they didn't understand those premises, or you didn't express them clearly, and ask if that person can agree with them.

Explanation, admittance of fault (even if you don't feel you were/are at fault), request for agreement of some kind.

If that doesn't work, go on to the next steps, etc. But a lot of the time, simply treating things as a misunderstanding while emphasizing that it's actually important, will result in the problem being sorted out. Whether it was a misunderstanding in the first place or not.

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    \$\begingroup\$ An organizational point ... I think you should put the "fourth thing first" based on your bolded lead in after "Fourth and Finally" that a discussion with this person needs to precede the other potential steps. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Nov 9 '15 at 18:55
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I'm going to offer a couple alternatives that I've seen work very well.

First, complaining about a DM/GM is incredibly rude to all involved. Interrupting game play for this nonsense is a simple two strikes rule and she already burned one. Next rant is her last at the table.

Second, How she hogs the spotlight makes the difference. Is she in character or out? In character hogging can be handled in the following manner.

1.) Listen to the "star" PC. Always!

2.) Ask the rest of the party, "Are you going along with this?" or "Are you going to allow this to happen?" If they don't interject assume they are comfortable. They'll get the message that you see this as a potential gaming problem.

3.) Alternatively you can listen to the "star" PC and simply say "noted." Turn your attention to the others and ask them what they'd like to do in response to your original statement. This shows them that their actions and decisions have equal weight in the story.

Using the sword point robbing example I would have handled thus: "Ok, as you reach for the handle on your sword the small voice in the back of your head tells you this is a major turning point. You've robbed people before but never your good friends. This is someone you've battled and bled with."

That gave her the warning. If she goes through with it change her alignment on the spot. She'll likely protest but it matters not. Treat her as chaotic evil until she redeems herself. Hopefully the other PC's can defeat her in battle but if it makes sense have NPC witnesses help (stack the deck.) Instead of the death of the character I'd have her stripped of her possessions and hauled away in chains to the castle dungeon and end the session. Next week, I'd let her know she's free to attend but she'll be playing a minor role as her teammates rescue her. If they choose not to have her make a new character that they meet during the old character's public execution.

Folks may think this a bit drastic but there are many easy outs here. The other PC's can save her. You can allow her new character to be of similar exp and items, etc. Personally, PC on PC action is some of the best but it needs to be consensual. If her actions seriously bummed out another player I'd be pretty harsh.

Out of character hogging. Here are some common abuses and my favorite ways they were handled.

1.) Constant rule questioning: DM tossed them the player's manual and simply said, "Look it up." Continue game play. Hard to hog the spotlight when you have to dig for the rule.

2.) Always more details: DM listened and answered the question then while staring at the offending person added, "The doors are made of oak native to the region. The stain however appears to give them a color of a more exotic oak typically found 20 miles to the North. It's an unusual paring with the brass handles." Took awhile for the laughter to subside.

3.) Questioning a character's motivation to be on this adventure: Many times a DM can simply ignore this and continue game play. Nobody has to attend. However, my favorite DM response was, "That could make a great story arc for the next session. Figure out how your character would express that and be ready next week."

Again, a very late response but I really liked your question!

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The best option in a case such as this is to talk it out one-on-one, especially to cover the infringement during roleplaying. Honest and frank discussion is really the only way out of that situation, and there are plenty of resources both in this question and other threads on this site and others that cover this particular aspect of GMing.

One option I have found to be effective for players who tend to over-RP coughI'mGuiltycough is the use of applications like GroupMe. Group chat allows everyone to comment on what their characters are doing, saying, and otherwise responding to the conversation at hand without disrupting the actual discussion. If someone is trying to be surreptitious and hiding actions from the other players, they can use single chats to communicate these actions in real-time with the GM without disrupting everything through passing notes. Naturally, this solution does not work for everyone, but you might approach her with that solution so she can have her RP without overshadowing everyone else.

For the NPC companion she has, it would be a good idea to sit down with her and discuss who the character really is. I understand not giving her control (allowing second characters is a slippery slope), but part of the issue might be a misunderstanding of who she imagined the character is versus who you imagined the character is at heart. If the issue really is of characterization, a frank discussion could alleviate any tensions in that regard.

Finally, remember the old adage: "Spare the rod, spoil the PC." If she is bullying others in-game, let the others react. This might be treading on dangerous soil, but maybe encourage the PC she bullied into gathering support among the party. She might find that the next time she pulls a stunt like that, she loses out on her slice of the pie, or worse. If you have NPCs with the party, let them be witnesses. Maybe the threatened party member decides to report her to the local authorities, and her character has to either face the justice system or test her blade against a legion of guards. Of course, you should give cryptic warnings beforehand, telling the player in private that actions in game can have consequences. She should be able to know in hindsight that you warned her well before she suffers punishment. They key part to all of this, however, is making sure it doesn't appear as though you are targeting her; if another PC acts as she did, they should suffer similarly. Never forget that some of the most notable chapters in a tale can be the ones where the protagonists face off against one another.

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You are the analytical guy - so analytical guy, don't over think this one.

A lot of people get wrapped up in the notion that RPGs are 100% theater or story and not simulation. You can easily reset that expectation.

At the start of the next game, tell the group that you want to bring back 'old school role playing' into the game, which is more simulationist. Actions will have consequences, and no rolls are going to be fudged. Then follow through. If decisions become slow, use an egg timer (glass).

Role playing is enjoyable and you don't want to take that away from your players. I imagine it is what your problem player enjoys the most. But role playing also creates real world consequences (reaction rolls, etc).

You don't have to go out of the way to deal with her. Just set everyone's expectations and if she talks her way into a deadly fight, then so be it.

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Trust me, I know your pain.

I had been in a group with a 'Diva' player myself. Attention-hogging, and the character was strong enough to actually bully the others into obedience.

But, the GM made an object lesson on how too much attention on her might not be a good thing, too:

  1. There was an upturned pot on the ground. Nothing special. But, said player let her character look beneath it and she found a wolverine-like creature that actually got stronger when it was wounded. It gave as good as it got...
  2. Cursed magical items disabused her quickly of the notion that she always gets first dibs on the loot.
  3. Another time, a similar character got the attention of some slavers. She might have been good enough for the fighting pit, but was unprepared for being ambushed and knocked out. Suffice to say, the other party members weren't too inclined to help her out.
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