While I have been DM/GM'ing for a long time I have had a player suddenly change their attitude towards the game. They are not an experienced player, but they are not new to the entire role-play situation either. They have played several campaigns and two different systems (Pathfinder, Cortex and now D20 Modern) and have been roleplaying now for around two-three years.

Recently we ended our last campaign due to real-life events with everyone in the group; we could not meet for months on the old campaign, several people left and we could not continue. We started fresh in the new campaign, new world, new characters etc.

Since starting this new campaign they have been overly sensitive about their new character. Any time this character is injured in combat, they complain because they could not dodge the attack (we are playing D20 Modern, and they have played DnD & Pathfinder previously), then become angry when they are injured. If they fail a skill check, they become agitated and sullen for the next few rounds. I roll my dice first out in the open and tell them the result; this has been to avoid the pouting of this player.

Usually if I sit them down and talk with them (before/after a session) they stop the drama, (and the in-party fighting) but lately it has been an incident almost every session.

I am going to take a break as a DM/GM for a few sessions (we have a GM rotation with another GM/Player) and hope that I can guide this player as a player-player as opposed as a GM-player.

How have the rest of you dealt with the "Sensitive Player"?

  • \$\begingroup\$ They are all adult players. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 21 '16 at 19:23
  • \$\begingroup\$ Good, my answer assumed that. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '16 at 19:24
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just a quick point - its generally a good idea to wait a day or two before accepting a best answer, particularly for questions like these. Accepting an answer as early as you have tends to discourage others from answering, and you never know, there might be a better answer that hasn't been posted yet \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Mar 21 '16 at 19:31
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    \$\begingroup\$ It sounds like the new behaviour is associated with a new character. I have an answer in mind, but some details about their PC would help me make sure it's useful and on track. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Mar 21 '16 at 21:48
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    \$\begingroup\$ Probably better to try to resolve the underlying social issues than worry too much about the symptoms these expose in the game... \$\endgroup\$ – Mala Mar 22 '16 at 11:53

Changing Expectations Require Some Effort to Work Out

Your group's social contract is either changing, or needs to be reviewed and renewed. You and your players appear to have different expectations of what play will be like in the d20 setting. You need to iron that out as a group before your next session. Unless everyone on the table is on the same page, you will probably get more of this kind of behavior and feedback.

  1. ...they have been overly sensitive about their new character.

  2. Any time this character is injured in combat, they complain because they could not dodge the attack (we are playing D20 Modern, and they have played DnD & Pathfinder previously),

  3. then become angry when they are injured.

  4. If they fail a skill check, they become agitated and sullen for the next few rounds.

  5. I roll my dice first out in the open and tell them the result; this has been to avoid the pouting of this player.

Besides communicating after each session (it appears that someone isn't actively listening) you already took a great first step:

I am going to take a break as a DM/GM for a few sessions (we have a GM rotation with another GM/Player) and hope that I can guide this player as a player-player as opposed as a GM-player.

GM's need to have fun too.

That point -- when you are GM your fun is hurt when players sulk -- needs to be part of the discussion. If everyone isn't having fun, something has to change at the table. "Something" includes the chance that this might be the wrong game for your table, or that the player's expectations need to change to fit the game, or that this player and this game are not a good fit.

Your decision to lead by example (as a player) is a great way to teach by doing.

Before your next session as a GM, open and sincere communication is where your hope lies in integrating this player into the new system. Just accept that this system might not be the kind of fun that this player will enjoy.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I have talked with this player before on the issue, but we are running a relatively new group. Only two of us have decent experience with gaming, and I think the lack of "Guide" has hurt. The other experienced player is 'okay' but even they admit they are not sure how to guide newer players, which is something I have done several time. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 21 '16 at 19:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ Being in a position where you can lead by example is one of the best ways to demonstrate the positive aspects of the new system. It looks like multiple players can benefit from your leading the way. You can lead a horse to water, but it might want beer instead. :-) \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '16 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last paragraph gave me some insight, I think they 'built' a character with one idea but had another goal in mind. I might sit down with them and help them 're-build' their character and/or guide them towards something more towards what they would like to play. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 21 '16 at 19:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @juskom95 If it was the comment that helped, maybe I should move that into the answer. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Mar 21 '16 at 19:33
  • \$\begingroup\$ It was the "player fun" comment. While they have played this system before, they were not a 'veteran' of it. A short break will help and I can guide the two new players some and have my character die gloriously. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 21 '16 at 19:43

It sounds like this behaviour started when that player began using a particular character. This may be important: the player may have started using a character which doesn't mesh with the system's attitude toward failure.

Only a certain subset of RPGs expects random failure in the areas a character is supposed to be most skilled at. In most every other form of storytelling, including many RPGs, it's weird and off-putting for a hero to just flub his expertise for no apparent reason.

D&D-like systems (including games like ) are, as you've noticed, brutally sanguine about failure--especially in combat. It's virtually impossible for a PC to be absolutely great at something when the action-resolution die is so swingy; he always has a noticeable failure rate. This is an intentional part of the game's design, and seems natural enough (because it's presented as "realistic") that many players don't really notice it.

However, this inevitable failure rate runs counter to many of the narrative tropes which D&D references. The idea of a hero who can randomly fail, regardless of circumstance, even when he's doing the things he's best at, isn't a common thing in myths, books, or movies. If this is the first time your player's PC has been inspired by this sort of exceptional competence, then it's quite understandable why a previously laid-back player is suddenly getting upset that the system is making his hero fail at things which should be trivial for the guy.

So what do you do? Well, first I'd recommend talking with the player outside the game to see if this is part of the challenge he's facing. Find out what inspired the character; there may be a way he can re-think the character to be more in tune with your chosen system's inevitable failures, or a way he can re-build the character to better realise his competency goals. It might even help round out the character and make him more compelling to play!

There's also something you can do as a GM: make failure awesome. Many RPGs mention this tool, but I've noticed that d20 System manuals tend not to. In brief, when the dice say a PC fails at something he really shouldn't fail at, you can blame external circumstances rather than incompetence.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ A nonzero failure rate even for a player's specialty is good for the purposes of realism: everyone slips up sometimes in combat (or basketweaving). But I do feel like d20 dice have an automatic failure rate (not even talking bell curves here) that is just too high (0.05) for either realism or player enjoyment. We can expect a 20th level fighter engaging a 1st level commoner to get hit one out of 20 times! Match a real-life fencing expert against a complete novice for two minutes and see if they get a hit in. This is worse for saving throws though. \$\endgroup\$ – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 '16 at 8:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Jonah While I generally share your opinions (see my link to the Goblin Dice article), I'm not sure what the purpose of your comment is. Are you suggesting that I add or change some part of my answer? I tried to avoid (potentially controversial) value judgements about the asker's chosen system in favour of just suggesting where a mechanic/playstyle conflict might be found; I don't think either mechanic or playstyle is objectively flawed in its own right. \$\endgroup\$ – BESW Mar 22 '16 at 9:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ Sorry, no. I wasn't trying to criticize your answer, or get you to change it. I was just saying that the realism justification, which you perhaps also expressed skepticism of, doesn't always seem so persuasive. \$\endgroup\$ – Obie 2.0 Mar 22 '16 at 9:35
  • \$\begingroup\$ This player has NEVER lost a character before, so that might be part of it. My other 'veteran' player is working with them to better use their character and understand sometimes failure happens. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 22 '16 at 11:50

It sounds like the player isn't 'clicking' with the harsher system. I had a similar thing happen with one of my players when we moved from D&D to Only War (a Warhammer 40K based d100 system where you're often rubbish at everything). He failed a lot and would sulk as a result. We explained to him that this is how the game works and he decided he didn't like the game and sat this campaign out. We have a group where people come and go so this wasn't an issue, though I don't know how suitable it is for your group.

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I enjoy telling my players this at the start of every campaign... "I highly favor RNG (Random Number Generators). If there is a decision to be made, I will likely roll for it and abide by the result."

This means that yes, if I am attacking you, I crit and suddenly kill you then it was unfortunate but that is how the game is played. I'v literally had a player re-roll 4 characters in a single campaign (14 sessions) because he kept being the very unlucky player who crit-fumbled or walked into a death trap and failed terribly. This sets a tone of accountability. When the player inevitably asks, "how did this happen/this should not have happened to me" I can backtrack through the random choices as to how it happened. This has a consequence of making all veteran players of my campaign highly cautious when adventuring.

Second, set a better tone for the whole campaign. People are supposed to have fun, and if they are not they are not benefiting much from playing. Make a joke, make fun of a situation, allow a ridiculous roll to have funny consequences (my favorites being epic spell failures).

Lastly, it honestly sounds like this person is having a personal problem. I'd bring them aside and ask what was going on and why they were reacting this way. A good discussion might turn everything around, or tell you that they are not happy about something you had no idea about. If you want to fix the issue, you have to find the problem.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ My other 'veteran' player is talking with them (they are also my Co-GM when I get burnt out) to help. I think me playing some will help them see another style of play and maybe let them understand that "Crit Happens" and how to deal with it. They are a 'new' player (relatively) so I give them some slack as they adjust to the entire role-playing environment. \$\endgroup\$ – juskom95 Mar 22 '16 at 11:53

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