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One of my players seems to have the impression that you can't be a jerk if you are doing a good deed. How should I address it?

For example, when pursuing one of his character's motivations, earning extra gold to help support his family while he looks for a new home, he will do so in an extremely greedy or rude manner, demanding money even for helping his fellow players. He has handled every interaction in a similarly rude way and will even interrupt interactions the other players are trying to have. He's preventing the rest of us from having fun and one of my other players is close to quitting at this point.

We've all tried to have a conversation with him about his somewhat abrasive play-style but he gets really defensive (I think mostly because its an aspect of his real personality and not just his character's). He doesn't seem willing or perhaps able to pay attention to others' feelings or impressions. One of his favorite lines to use when I try to talk to him about it is "I'm not being a jerk! I'm doing this for (insert good deed)!"

Complicating this: he's my dad and we're all playing as a family activity because he's just returned from deployment but is stationed away from the rest of us. (He used to play in college and was super excited when we proposed to play.) We'd like to keep playing, but I'm not sure how to bring up this issue again without making it sound like a criticism against him personally, especially since it would be coming from his daughter.

I've done some research and I do intend to refer him to the "my guy" article, but what else should I do to stop him from ruining everyone's fun?

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Disclaimer: This is a serious enough issue that in a lot of circumstances, it would be appropriate to kick this player out. I can see why that's not your first choice here, but just know that you may not find a perfect solution.

Situation

Here's what I'm getting from your question:

  • Your dad used to play DND in college (presumably a while back.)
  • He plays as if the ends justify the means - he doesn't expect to have to be nice to people if he's doing it for a good cause.
  • He kind of has this attitude in other areas of life as well (we try not to psychoanalyze people over the Internet, but you brought it up more than once, so I'm taking your word for it that this is relevant.)
  • Family dynamics are complicating the game dynamics.

Based on the above premises, I'm not going to suggest you have a big Talk About His Behavior; for one thing, you already have and it didn't work, plus you're concerned that he'll interpret that as a personal attack, and you know him best. So I'm going to suggest something a little unusual for the problem-players tag: Let the Wookiee win. By that I absolutely do not mean let him steamroll over you and the rest of your players/family and continue to make the game miserable for all of you. But I do think you need to apply a principle that's as true of RPGs as anywhere else: find what works, then do that. More specifically, I think it's worth trying to find a play style that he can be fundamentally happy with, and then seeing if you can accommodate that in a way that's still fun for everyone else.

Find the Fun

So, what does he want out of this game? I can't tell you that. You might formally ask (as I've done in this survey of player motivations), or bring it up more casually, or employ trial & error and see how he reacts (not my preferred option but may be necessary if you're not confident you can have a productive conversation about it.) Ideas to get you started:

  • Blowing off steam/escaping from stress into a world where things go smoothly, your decisions matter, and you're able to exert influence over your environment
  • Challenge/escaping from boredom into a world where things are exciting (not as contradictory with the last point as it sounds, though there's certainly a balance)
  • Recognition - being famous, admired, greeted by cheering crowds, etc.

There are many more motivations for playing RPGs worth exploring, but I highlight these three because I have a hunch, based on the information you've given, that one or both of these things are true:

  • Your dad is used to playing in a more straightforward dungeon-crawl/hack-and-slash style game, where NPCs say "Please rescue the prince and we'll give you lots of gold", and then you go beat up some monsters, rescue the prince, and receive lots of gold. Implicit in this style is that the ends do justify the means; your characters can be mercenary or rude, or even wreak havoc out of boredom, and it's all taken in stride because you're there to save the world. It's not everyone's cup of tea, but if you come from that to a style where NPCs don't know you're the heroes, have more nuanced personalities and problems, and react accordingly, it can be jarring.
  • He feels, out of character, that he's made sacrifices for good causes over the years and people don't respect him or cut him enough slack for it, and is frustrated to perceive that dynamic being replicated within the game.

Specific advice

If the above rings true, I suggest doing the below:

  • As GM, modify the game to be more like what your players want, possibly like I've described above: get a quest, achieve it, get the reward. Depending on people's familiarity, this may also be easier for everyone as you're getting into the game. Tynam's answer has some excellent specific techniques for tweaking the game style to meet halfway and helping him achieve his goals without running roughshod over everyone.
  • Encourage everyone to make sure their characters reflect the type of game experience they want to have. (I would freely allow people to change or swap out their characters for this reason - this is no time to stubbornly prioritize continuity.) If someone wants to play a socially coarse brawler, let them, while making sure they understand that this will incur certain reactions from NPCs and will require others to take the spotlight during social scenes. If someone wants to play a friendly, gregarious type, make it clear you expect that to be borne out in their dialogue.
  • Check in frequently to see how everyone - including you! - feels about the game. If people aren't happy, adjust where possible. If his behavior doesn't change, make sure you've made it clear that this is not only irritating, it's a deal-breaker for the rest of the group.

Outcomes

I see a few possible developments here:

  1. You discover that there's a particular style of game your dad likes, everyone else likes it too, and the day is saved. Hooray!
  2. Your dad likes one style, everyone else likes another. Suboptimal, but once everyone's aware of this fact, it's usually possible to compromise so everybody gets their favorite thing at least some of the time, and can tolerate the other segments for the sake of continuing the game. If this is the case and he's having fun sometimes, he might mellow out the rest of the time.
  3. You can't find a style he likes enough to choose not be miserable to play with, or his idea of fun is honestly totally incompatible with the rest of you.

If it's #3, you have some tough decisions to make. At this point you'll probably have to choose one of the following, depending on how you're balancing the various relationships involved:

  1. You all placate him, doing whatever he wants for the sake of continuing the game. I really can't recommend this - "fun" activities where not everyone is actually having fun can sour people on RPGs (not to mention family activities altogether) for years to come. I mention it because it may be suggested, particularly if someone in the group is REALLY prioritizing the relationship.

  2. "Look, you don't seem to be having a good time, and the rest of us definitely aren't - I know it's frustrating, but I think the rest of us are going to try doing this the way we want to do it, and we'll find some other way to socialize as a family."

  3. Dropping the game entirely. It was a nice idea, and you gave it a shot, but it wasn't working out in practice as either a fun game or a good way to spend time together as a family, so it doesn't make sense to continue. Hopefully a substitute can be found - Netflix, 20 questions, whatever.

If this were just a friend or acquaintance, I'd've likely jumped straight to one of those last two, considering you'd already had a conversation about the specific issue. But you said you really want to try to make this work, so hopefully the above will help with that - and if not, you've still got options.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So much good information here, I think you're exactly right with his being used to play-styles where the ends justify the means, the older dungeon crawl d&d editions as well as his favorite game, Skyrim. It doesn't matter how terrible you are in that game because you're the dragonborn. I did sit down with everyone individually before starting to discuss what sort of game they wanted to play, they all said a story based campaign where we start humble and become the heros as the game goes on. I may try throwing in a few things now and then to see where the fun actually is for them though. \$\endgroup\$ – Loss TwoRL Apr 2 '17 at 21:10
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Disclaimer: This answer has some specific approaches for this situation based on things I inferred from the question. This is a tricky situation, and it may not be useful to you.

It sounds like you have, in part, a case of expectations mismatch. I'm guessing his college years campaigning were some time ago, back when roleplay as we now understand it wasn't always emphasized the same way. He's treating the NPCs not as people but as playing pieces in a game.

Here are some suggestions:


Encourage roleplay by giving examples

It sounds like his in character speech simply isn't being separated from his out of character declarations of actions. When he walks into a bar and is rude to the bartender, demanding information she'd never tell a stranger, what he means might be "I want to walk into the bar and make a Gather Information check".

So perhaps you can encourage him be more descriptive of his planned actions, and worry less about his exact words. Fill in the blanks for him - by the questions you ask, you can give him a hint as to how to make it go the way he wants.

I ask the crowd to tell me rumours about Garth the Smith.

"OK. Are you just walking up and asking them to tell a total stranger their secrets, or are you going to buy them a few drinks and get them chatting about their families first?"

Show him how a small change can get what he wants.


Make the party dynamic explicit

One idea may be useful in discussing the group dynamics. You say he's "just returned from deployment but is stationed away" - is he a serving member of the military? In that case there's a very good example you can suggest to him for interactions with other characters: his squad. (Or equivalent if he's in some other service.)

Military people get trained to back their squads up, no matter what. It doesn't matter whether you actually like your squad mates. Your life depends on them, and theirs on you.

Point out to him that D&D treats the party as a squad, and D&D 4th ed especially does so - the encounters and character classes are balanced by assuming the players are a combat team who support each other.

(I suggest that you point out that D&D 4 does this much more than earlier versions, because then you don't have to phrase it as a criticism. You're just updating him on the way thinking has changed between editions.)

You might ask your squad mates for help if you need money, but you don't charge them for firing bullets to cover them in action.


Share the screen time equally

You mention that he keeps interrupting other's actions. You could try enforcing a strict turn order, even in noncombat situations, for a while. That's slightly fiddly and clumsy, but it could help - simply don't let players interrupt each other's turns.


Turn constant "needs" into specific objectives

Finally, you can sometimes turn awkward background traits into controllable characterisation by turning them into specific goals.

For example, "my character is looking for money to feed his family" is kind of a generic, all-the-time thing. It colours his interactions - but one reason it does so is that it's not very detailed. He'll always need "money to feed his family".

But if you make it specific, you make it into an achievable goal which doesn't bother anyone the rest of the time. "My character needs 50gp a month to support his family" lets the player know when he's getting close - so he doesn't have to worry about every last penny the rest of the time.

Then you can make family members into extra motivational tools. Maybe his mother insists on throwing a party for everyone who's helped feed them all - hope he stayed on good terms with them! Maybe you can adjust the motivation in game time - one way to support his family is to help them support themselves. Maybe someone else has stolen the deeds to a family farm and he can help steal them back, or bring them to justice, or prove the deeds are a forgery. Maybe he can help his unemployed uncle find a job in the Big City. If he needs a new home, let him find one... if the undead can be cleaned out first.

Turn it into specific goals, then create adventures where they are achieved. (Do the same for other players, of course.)

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    \$\begingroup\$ Brilliant! I really like your suggestions and think I could easily incorporate them in a way that doesn't make him feel like i'm targeting him in any way, just asking for/providing clarification and giving clear goals behind his characters motivation. Yes he is active duty in the military, but the squad parallel may not work for him as he's the guy whos in a safe location making sure coms stay up and working for the guys on the ground and in the air. At least that's my understanding of it; very high security clearance so he can't actually tell us anything specific. But it might work. \$\endgroup\$ – Loss TwoRL Apr 2 '17 at 21:00
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My answer might not be what you expect, but here it goes.

He's clearly wrong and all your collective efforts to explain that should have paid off. Since that didn't work, then I don't think trying to make him change his behaviour is the way to go.

If he's not gonna change, then your best bet is to let him be and just play along. After all, you said he's the main reason you're all playing, so you obviously want him to have fun. Well, however mistaken he is, that kind of attitude is what's fun to him.

So, instead of trying to brake him, improvise accordingly. Next time he goes into a tavern asking about rumours, get a treacherous npc to feed him lies for rumours. Lies that might lead him to some bad decisions that might seem good at first, but the consequences will later show him he did something bad instead. Have him know that if he had acted differently, things could've been better. Maybe someone would still be alive. Maybe the village wouldn't have been raided. Or maybe he'll lean towards evil, who knows.

Once you all adapt to his style of roleplaying, things might get better. People will stop being annoyed and everyone will have fun their own way.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I agree with your first two paragraphs, but what makes you think "tragic consequences" is his preferred style? It sounds more like punishment to me - and in-game punishments for issues of group dynamics are rarely effective IMO. \$\endgroup\$ – SirTechSpec Apr 2 '17 at 19:42
  • \$\begingroup\$ I never said anything about punishment -- on the contrary, everything I said had to do with giving him freedom to act as he sees fit. However, villains exist, and they can and will take advantage of his behaviour if he doesn't think things through, hence the consequences. He wants to do good, but might be led by villains to do bad instead. That realization may put things in perspective. And it's not like the consequences need to be tragic, I was just giving a few easily conceived possibilities. \$\endgroup\$ – Pedral Apr 2 '17 at 20:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ This is helpful as is SirTechSpec's comment; I remember a while ago my dad was playing some game on his PS4 (i don't remember which one, one i've never played at the least) and there was a quest line that did something similar what you proposed. He talked about that quest for almost 2 weeks, he kept talking about how it totally threw him for a loop and how he had loved it. I think if I could incorporate something like that in his less than stellar moments in a way that doesn't feel like player punishment he might really enjoy the twist. I'd just have to be very careful with how its done. \$\endgroup\$ – Loss TwoRL Apr 2 '17 at 20:50

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