You’ve got a player and he’ s making game sessions less fun for everyone else in the group. His behavior isn’t so bad that you feel you need to kick him out immediately, but the rest of the group is putting pressure on you, the GM, to deal with problem. You know you need to talk to him, but how exactly do you go about it?
Step 1: Arrange a time to meet him out side of the game session. You don’t want to deal with problem issues during game time. Not only does it put the player on the spot, but it makes him very defensive, which means he’ll be less likely to hear what you have to say. I also recommend you do this on “neutral” territory. Go to coffee, or meet for lunch.
Step 2: Talk to the player one-on-one. Describe the specific behavior and why it’s a problem. The best format for this I’ve seen is to phrase the problem like so:
“When you do [specific problem], I feel [description of the effect the specific problem has on you]. I need you to [specific action that will help solve the problem] because [reason action will help].”
Here’s a example:
“When you arrive a half-hour late to the game, I feel caught between you and the rest of the players. I don’t know whether to wait longer for you, cutting into playing time, or to start without you, which means I maybe short a crucial player. I need to you to call me if you’re going to be more than 5 or 10 minutes late because then we can talk about what your character would do if I start the game without you so that the rest of the players don’t have waste time sitting around.”
[I got this formula from a book called Joint Custody with a Jerk. Even if you’re not dealing with divorce and custody issues, I highly recommend reading it. It’s got a lot of good information about dealing with problem people can apply to many areas of life.]
This formula is great because it helps you focus on specifics and give a constructive solution. Don’t let the player distract you in the middle of this, or it weakens the statement. Finish the statement, then address any questions, excuses, reasons, etc.
In my experience, this formula throws the player a little off-balance, which means he’ll actually listen to what you’re saying, rather than sit there formulating their “argument”. People tune out criticism. This focuses the conversation on what they can do, rather than on how bad they are.
Often a player doesn’t realize he’s causing a problem. Once he does, usually he’ll be happy to try and correct it, especially if you’ve given him an idea of a specific step he can take to solve the problem.
Step 3: Set up a trial period. If it’s a problem that’s been going on for awhile,The player’s not going to be able to fix it over night. Habits are hard to break–doing so requires consistent practice. If the problem isn’t severe, set up a trial period to see if the behavior improves.
One thing you can do is to work out a code word or hand signal that you can flash to the player when he starts repeating the problem behavior. It can be small or subtle, so you don’t have to call attention to the issue with the other players. It should be meaningful to you and the player, but doesn’t have to make sense to anyone else.
For example, my son has ADD. When we play together and he starts to get distracted, I can say “shiny” and he’ll realize that he needs to come back and refocus. I use “shiny” with him because we call his tendency to get distracted the “Shiny Effect”, as in: “I’m going to test this chest for tra….oooh, shiny.”
Don’t drag out this trial period. It usually takes less than a handful of sessions to realize whether or not the player is sincere in his promise to change. If he’s putting in great effort and you can see improvements, no matter how small, you may decide to let him remain, as long as he continues to work towards improvement.
On the other hand, some players will promise you anything to end the difficult conversation, then make no effort to change. Or they’ll make a token effort, then stop when they achieve the outcome they want (usually to remain in the game). In these cases, you’ll need to move on to the next step in the process—holding the player accountable for his actions with the rest of the group.
These suggestions assume that the problem is still at “annoyance level”. If a problem is serious or your other players have reached the point where they want the problem player gone right now, you’ll need to sit down and talk to the group about what they want to see happen.
If a player’s actions are many any member of the group feel unsafe (even you), even if you can’t point to a specific reason, you need to remove the player from the game immediately. Always trust your gut instincts when dealing with other people. They’re usually right.
This is an excerpt from the GM’s Field Guide to Players, the up-coming book from rpgGM.com, due to be released this fall.
[Photo courtesy of Between a Rock via Flickr Creative Commons]
- Dealing with Problem Players: The Munchkin (rpggm.com)
- Ask The GMs: How to Deal with Players Who Disagree with Game Calls (campaignmastery.com)
- Being A Better Player from RPG Musings (rpgmusings.com)
- My Players Really Want To Kill Each Other (dicemonkey.net)
- How Not to Rise to the Challenge from Age of Ravens (ageofravens.blogspot.com)