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I DM for a group of 6 people and we play once a week.

Two of the players barely ever show up (less than once a month), and when they do we have to stop, and recap a huge part of story, just for them, which takes a long time. It slows down the whole rhythm of the game and I can see that this reoccurence annoys my "commited" players.

And when these two do show up, they basically spend their time joking around, and placing ill-placed remarks and comments. Their attitude and lack of involvement also has started to dampen my "good" players' moods.

The whole "pretend they're out to do something else", or that "they're there, but not really..." has gotten old, and I just want to keep my "good" players happy. I'm not looking for how to handle their characters while they're absent, though, I want to know what to do with the players.

At what time would it be "ok" for me to ask these disruptive players to step down from the group? Is there any way to deal with them that isn't just asking them to leave?

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    \$\begingroup\$ What is their reasoning for not showing up on a timely basis? Do they have some form of commitment where they actually can't do so (There is a player of mine who goes between two locations, so he joins us via Skype when he can't be there in person), or are they just showing up to your game willy-nilly and with no announcement if they are or aren't coming? \$\endgroup\$ – Dumpcats May 12 '16 at 3:28
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Tell them what the problem is, give suggestions on how to fix it, define a set of rules, and if they don't follow kick them out.

First, set expectations. Good gaming practice is to have a session zero that goes over not just house rules, tone, theme, character building, but also table rules, like 'no cellphones' or 'keep chatter to a min'. It's too late to do that this time, but not too late to have a conversation.

Before the next game say you want to have a discussion about table behavior. Perhaps do it online since these players don't show up regularly. Bring up the problems that are happening in the game(though do your best not to make it an attack on these players, because that increases the chance they'll get defensive and it will end in an argument). Explain that you want the game to run smoothly and in order to do that, you need X, where X is a certain amount of agreed attendance (or a way to mitigate lack of attendance, such as characters that are designed to disappear and reappear and are OK not knowing whole swathes of plot) and a certain respect for the game at the table. Suggest what rules you're OK with and elicit feedback. Make sure you don't end the discussion without saying, "These are the rules and this is what I'm holding you to." Total agreement is the goal but since this appears to be your game it's not necessary. Just make sure you have a reasonable set of rules most of the group is OK with.

When people start breaking the rules, pull them aside and mention it privately later. During the game simply ask them to tighten up a bit. If it's rare, give them more chances. If it's frequent, boot them when they have broken the rules 3 times or so, depending on how severely disruptive they are. If they kill a whole game session after the talk, once is enough. You want to make sure you give them a chance, recognizing that they may be trying but not good at it. One of the problems with RPG's is that they are also often friend hangout time and most people want to relax and enjoy hanging, not do serious 'game face' acting the whole time. There needs to be a balance but that includes recognizing that slipping into bad gaming behaviors is an easy habit to acquire. The important part is that they are trying, getting better, and not being overly disruptive. They need to show respect for the game and those who want to take it seriously as well.

This is the rule I follow whenever I run a game; it works very well. My group is particularly bad at showing up and not being disruptive. When other people step into the GM role it tends to be much worse, sometimes we lose whole sessions doing almost nothing. Because I set expectations no one is mad when I enforce them. Because I talk to people separately they are less likely to be defensive and more receptive to my point of view. I've never had to kick anyone out either. They will generally leave on their own if they can't follow the rules because they aren't having the type of fun they want; it essentially becomes a mutual break up. That may not work in your case depending on how mature these players are but mine are hardly the most emotionally developed.

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Other answers have covered that the thing to do that's less drastic than immediately kicking them out is setting expectations (it's a bit late, and yet never too late) and then holding everyone to them (make sure you are holding everyone to the same standard). That way if you have to ask them to leave, it's not just your decision - you outlined what would need to change, and they decided not to.

I'm sensing some hesitation, though. You asked:

At what time would it be "ok" for me to ask these disruptive players to step down from the group?

If you're here asking strangers on the Internet that question, I strongly suspect the time to make a change is now. But I'm not in your group, so it's possible I'm wrong. So I will say 2 things to help you decide:

  1. Think about the future. Ask yourself: would you (and your players) still want to play together if this behavior continued for another month? Year? Five years? Because if you don't say anything, that's likely what will happen. In Captain Awkward's domain, this is known as the Sheelzebub Principle. On the flip side, imagine a future where you have kicked them out of the game - does everyone miss them, or feel relieved?

  2. You don't have to be mean about it. You want to do one thing (play seriously and with some commitment), they want to do a different thing (get together occasionally and joke around); it makes sense for you to each do the thing you want to do separately. At the risk of quoting myself:

    Note that this doesn't have to be personal, though it's difficult not to take something like this personally, partly due to Geek Social Fallacy #5: the idea that friends do everything together and therefore not wanting do do a particular activity together must mean you're not friends. To mitigate that, you could suggest specific, reassuring alternatives: "I don't think this game is working out as is, but maybe you and I could do [ACTIVITY] on [WEEKDAY] instead?" Don't suggest that if you wouldn't actually enjoy it, but perhaps you could arrange for someone who would to do so.

    That answer also has some details about getting everybody involved in the conversation that may be relevant here; basically, social problems are everyone's responsibility, not just the GM.

Best of luck to you. I'm confident that if you think it over and talk to your players, you'll make the right decision.

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At what time would it be "ok" for me to ask these disruptive players to step down from the group?

Well, the simplest answer is, "Whenever you've decided you've had enough."

The longer and probably more accurate answer is, "Whenever you've had enough and have enough support from the rest of the players that you won't shatter the group by dis-inviting them." Because that is always the concern in my mind: Gaming groups are often groups of people who are friends already, and dis-inviting someone from a game can often have social blowback both in the game (good players feeling like they have to take sides and support the other players) and outside the game (hurt feelings, splintering real world friendships, etc.)

In this case, that doesn't seem like much of a problem.

Is there any way to deal with them that isn't just asking them to leave?

Nothing that is guaranteed to be successful. You cannot force people to take something seriously (in attendance or in tone) if they do not.

What you can do is sit them down and explain to them that running a game is hard work, and that continual recaps due to absences make your life harder, as do constantly trying to keep the tone of the game where you want it. You can also point out that, as they obviously know due to their poor attendance, leisure time can be a scarce commodity these days, and their constant recaps and wandering off-tone is actually reducing the amount of fun that the other players have. (Make sure they are actually on board with that statement, though.)

In other words, guilt trip and implicitly threaten to kick them out-- the first time-- without actually showing them the door.

You might also ask if there are reasonable accommodations that can be made to get better attendance, although in a group of six, coming up with a scheduling change is probably going to be very difficult.

If your other players are game, you can also let them start handling the characters, but with the implicit understanding that... while you're not actually trying to kill the characters, the handlers aren't expected to put the interests of the absent players' PCs above their own, or even equal to their own. If they end up being damage soakers, who get less than a full share of experience and loot, and use precious resources, well... so be it. (Note that this may go over poorly.)

When push comes to shove, though... be ready to axe them. Don't make a bluff if you don't want someone to call it.

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I've dealt with this a few times, both in my live group and in my online game, both with groups of more or less random people who met through a service to play, and with friends from school/work/life. I have handled it well, and I have handled it incredibly poorly. You learn a lot from those mistakes, but it can hurt.

There are a lot of variables you haven't mentioned, too many to give you a single answer. For example, are these friends, friends of friends, strangers you met on the internet? Are there any real world issues which might be interfering? Are there any group dynamics which might result in spillover to the rest of the group if you boot one player?

However, there are a few general thoughts which might help, and a few common factors to keep in mind for every situation.


Manage Expectations

Be clear about what you want from your players, and make sure you have a clear understanding of what they want from you. Make sure any real world issues which might affect the schedule or time together are known. Job, transportation, smoking, medication, blood sugar issues, etc. Ideally, do this when you form/join the group, but it's never too late to have that conversation with the entire group.

As a real world example, one of my players has a job which occasionally makes him work late without much notice. So sometimes he will be an hour late with maybe 15-30 minutes notice. It's not in his control, and it's a known issue, so we account for it.

Effective Communication

In all cases, it's important that you make clear, proactive efforts to communicate. Again, this ideally begins when you first form/join a group. "Hey guys, attendance is important to me, and so is keeping the cross-talk to a minimum during play. Is everyone cool with that?" But again, it's never too late to begin effective communication.

Effective Communication is always an ongoing process. It's never over. Don't assume there are no problems from week to week; make sure there are no problems by checking in with everyone. At the end of one session, ask if there are any known issues for the next? Give Joe a chance to mention that convention he's attending, or his brother in town. Be proactive, don't just assume the others will remember to tell you about stuff that's still a week away. Ask.

Invite and accept feedback on your GMing. This might seem unrelated, but I've seen players lose focus when a game isn't holding their attention, but too afraid to hurt a friend's feelings by telling them, so the result is cross-talk and more frequent absences/lateness.

Address the Issue

When problems do crop up, communication is even more important. Very little gets resolved by not communicating. Talk to the player in private. In-person is preferred in most cases. Honestly explain the issue, and keep an open mind. This is the time you might get unexpected news or feedback.

When you discuss the problem the first time, after you explain the issue, invite solutions. Don't impose one right away, simply ask if he has any thoughts. I had a new player apologize, telling me she thought the schedule would work, but it turned out to be a problem for her, and she bowed out gracefully. It's not common, but it happens.

Hopefully this fixes the problem. Joe bows out, or sees your point and agrees to be more respectful of everyone's time. Bam. Done. But a lot of the time that doesn't actually work, or it works for a while before Joe reverts to old patterns. When this happens, it's time to dis-invite Joe.

Once more, privacy and speaking in person is best in most cases. Be honest, be firm, be reasonable. "Joe, I've asked you to stop disrupting the game, and you haven't. I'm not going to invite you back. I hope you're not upset, but that's how it is."

Now might be the time you get an earful. Just be ready, and stay calm.


Ultimately, each player has a responsibility to the group as a whole to help ensure everyone has fun. The GM often takes the brunt of this, but each other person has a role too. Use the tools given here and by others to help players understand this when possible, and to remove players who can't contribute to the group fun when you must.

Good luck.

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It's "ok" at any time.

Ideally however you would start with setting expectations - perhaps they will buckle down and come regularly if you say that's an expectation of your game (which is fair). Just booting them without setting that expectation is pretty much by definition unfair however, as there are different kinds of gamers who expect different things from a game. (See my blog post RPGs as Sports: League vs Pickup Games for more, and probably RPGs as Sports: Getting Cut for this topic in particular.)

In terms of other options, back when I was in Memphis I had a large group of gamers; some were casual players and others, including me, were looking for a more committed experience. And that's fine - like with sports, there are those who want a pick-up style game and others that want a league style game. Anyway, I ended up spawning off two groups - the "serious" group, which I would GM and for which I set clear expectations (weekly, only one miss a month tolerated, all in character talk no table talk, etc.), and the "casual" group, that was just whatever - and that group we rotated GMing in. So if there's a bunch of gamers and people have enough free time they maybe want multiple gaming opportunities, that's another way to approach it.

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6+ player groups can be rough. It's a lot harder to rein people in when there are a lot of them. I don't think this is the root of your issue, but it's something you might want to look into as well.

Can they get the recap of the story out of game?

It might be useful to do the recap out of game if you have the option to. I don't know what your relationship with them is, but if you can contact them online, you might be able to get that sorted out before the session so it doesn't disrupt the flow of the game from that angle.

Social Contract:

As stated in some of the other answers, it's a good idea to set up a social contract beforehand so that everybody is on the same page when you play, and you can enforce things and not feel bad because you talked about them beforehand. Here is an example of a Google Docs page I wrote for Hoard of the Dragon Queen. I find them quite useful.

What to do now?

As for now, I think you should cater more towards the four members of your group that are sincerely there to play your game. Get their opinion on the matter, as it is a group game. If they are upset by the infrequency of the other two players, and their frivolous attitudes, then the other two people will have to adapt or leave. It's probably easier if you are stating a concern from everybody's consensus. Who knows? They may be fine with it, or they may not. It hit the ball in their court.

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I wanted to provide an alternative answer to just kicking them out.

What you have, is two groups of people who apparently want different things from roleplaying. In the blue corner, you have your "serious" RP'ers who turn up pretty much every week, and want to be serious about the Roleplaying. In the Red corner, you have a few people who enjoy playing with the whole group, but not enough to take it seriously. Perhaps these people have time committments that make regular play difficult.

If these people are friends, kicking them out could to be difficult. Instead...

Play multiple campaigns

Instead of kicking these people out, simply divide the group into two categories: Your core group; and everyone.

Core Group

For your core group, arrange to meet up every week. Agree with the group expectations and rules (as per suggestions on other answers). Agree expected attendance (obviously you have to account for occassional absences)

Everyone

Attempt to agree a much lower frequency where everyone is able to attend (e.g. once a month). Agree a different set of rules and expectations - this is a much more fun, relaxed evening of entertainment.

On these days, don't play the same campaign (you may even consider having a different DM if you also want the opportunity to play). Instead play in a different world, with different characters. Perhaps pick a different system that's more laid back and whimsical.

If you want to, you could still play in the same setting, but with different characters - perhaps ones that only tangentially touches on the "main" campaign. This has the advantage of being separate and throwaway, but allows some opportunity for in-jokes that the more serious players will get, without really spoiling the fun for everyone else.

The point of the "group" settings is likely to be different. It's about a group of friends meeting up and having a laugh together. The plots can be light and throw-away. If they can be done start to finish in one sitting, great. It's fine if they cant though, just make it easy to surmise in the next session - and don't rely on them remembering things from session to session.


There is nothing inherently wrong with having two groups of people to RP with. You may find that some people do not wish to take part in the lighter evenings - that's fine. Doing this allows people to tailor their entertainment as they enjoy.

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It always helps to talk to the person first to let them know their behaviour is disruptive and have an honest dialogue. If things don't improve, let them know you'll have no choice but to remove them from the game.

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Seems like you don't want them upsetting your legitimate game with their "joking around", but you also don't want to deny a man his dice, even when he shows up unannounced.

If your game is combat focused, it would be "okay" to dismiss the two superfluous players because they are diluting your planned experience point distribution. What I mean is that a four-player party vs. a six-player party will handle an encounter against six goblins or three orcs or eight skeletons in a noticeably different manner. A beautifully crafted difficult-yet-rewarding boss encounter could end without anyone falling below 50% HP, and then the four "good" players will have to share their hard-earned experience points with a couple of lazy bums! You should request an RSVP from everyone before you do your planning/preparation if it's a dungeon-crawler campaign.

If it's a role-playing focused game, then it would be "okay" to dismiss the extraneous players because their regular absence is eroding the immersion of your game. If they start showing up more after this, but keep acting out-of-character at the table (you describe them as "joking around"), then you should read the other four players' faces for reactions to their "jokes". If they're rolling their eyes, shaking their heads, looking down, or rubbing their faces, then it would be "okay" to dismiss them for consistently breaking character or for metagaming. However, if they are smiling, laughing, clutching their bellies, slapping their knees, or pumping their fists, then it is possible that you're the only person not enjoying the game because your players are deriving excitement from something other than your gamemastering - namely, eachothers' reactions to your gamemastering. If that's the case, then consider their reverence to your gamemastering while the "joking around" occurs - is it respectful and playful, or disrespectful and antagonizing? It is always "okay" to dismiss players who are disrespectful of the game or anybody involved in the game.

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