Sunday, March 4, 2012

Handling Difficult Players

Everyone finds dungeon mastering hard, especially at the beginning.  The game itself is terribly complicated; the level of creativity required carries the same doubts and inadequacies any artist has; and inherent are all the difficulties a new manager faces when promoted over his or her friends.

I think it is probably easiest on the young.  At fifteen, an individual isn't nearly as introspective or doubtful as they are at 25.  At fifteen, one is more likely to take on the task out of sheer stubbornness, with little or no concern at the prospect of 'managing' friends, or concerns about 'screwing up.'   At fifteen, screwing up gets to be a lifestyle, what with parents, teachers, coaches and every other authority figure explaining how you have, ad nauseum.  It is harder to screw up at 30, particularly if you've gotten good at your job, you have some authority and no one beyond the occasional driver has called you a fuck-up in years.

If you keep at it - diligently, mind - you will eventually learn all the rules; you will develop tools to enable you to create more elaborately and efficiently; and you will manage even large groups with the confidence of an experienced executive.  After a year or two, you'll find yourself comfortably facing a collection of rowdy players with the knowledge you were born to do this.

In smoothing out your campaign, you'll come to decide what rules you will or won't play.  You'll consider your players, debating with them what you'll propose, but in the end you'll make the decision you want, that better facilitates your personal style as a DM and the particulars of your world.

If most of your gaming consists of running one party year after year, changes in your campaign will become calcified.  Character creation and combat will cease to change.  You'll find it hard to play in - or relate to - other campaigns.  You'll chuckle when you hear someone is playing a rule you abandoned ten years ago.  You won't believe people won't play with a modification that's proved magnificent for you, that you began using before Y2K was an issue.

These rule changes - and your ease in getting and keeping regular players - results from your confidence as a DM.  You're entitled to do what you want.  Those who play in your world have abandoned their other game experiences because it is worth it to them to accept what you say as gospel.  Not only because it's the DM's world, but because you're giving them something they can't get elsewhere.
I don't encourage a DM's world to run as unquestioned dogma.  Players should point out flaws in my reasoning when I run; I want players to comprehend the rules, and to know that there are reasons why a particular element of the game is played this or that way.  I don't like the words, "because I said so".  There has, however, been a calcification of certain rules in my world; not because I said so, but because I have had and seen so many people play by these rules, I know how they affect the game and I know that players are able to adapt to them.  Further, I know the problems in the game that are solved by such rules, and I don't wish to throw out the rule and regain the problem.

I've been playing for thirty-three years, and as such, there are many such rules.

I have noted the problems with my world arise with players due to two inflexible positions:

1)  I am doing this, no matter what anyone says.
2)  I won't do that, no matter what anyone says.

The first applies entirely to actions the player intends to take.  Usually, it is something that will result in almost certain death; where the death is uncertain, the odds are long, often ridiculously long.  More often than not, it is other players who will beg the one player to get down off the ledge.  As a DM I find myself forced to make a decision about whether or not to argue a player down about every fifth session or so.

In part, the phenomenon occurs when tension in the campaign increases to a point where the players feel powerless and desperate.  Usually, some indeterminate solution will take hold of a party - it's a little scary to watch them build themselves up - then like Linguini bursting through the door in Ratatouille, it will go something like, "LOOK ... I know it's stupid and weird, but ... so let's do this thing!"

I try to be understanding and forgiving, and not kill parties when they do this.  I often have lots of time.  While the party is squabbling and wrestling with their tactics on how they're going to take on this enemy that I know as DM is going to seriously kill them (I don't balance encounters), I'm thinking hard for reasons why the enemy won't want to, or how I could spontaneously get some help for the party (maybe the servants in the surrounding houses could flood out into the street with brooms or something).

Human beings, if driven to the breaking point, will do stupid things; if your party is doing stupid things, then you, O Dungeon Master, are driving them to the breaking point.  Congratulations ... you have achieved immersion.

On the other hand, there are particular individuals who consistently play their characters as deliberately obtuse as possible:  I don't care, I'm stealing that pouch; I don't care what the Lord says, I'm doing it; screw you, its my armor, I found it; well, you can go if you want to, but I'm staying here; fine, you stay here, I'm going.  And so on.

I don't have any sympathy for these players.  Most of the time they are so bullheaded, selfish and dumb that they don't last long; or they quickly get upset with not being given their special place in the sun that they pack their books and head home.  I've had parties enter a dungeon with one player who steadfastly refused to go in - so I ran the party that went down the stairs, all night.  The one recalcitrant player sat around for four hours, sulking, reading or otherwise amusing himself, ignored by the rest of the party - good for them! - and ignored by me.  He never came back.

What he expected, of course, was that I would put the other four people on hold and invent some wonderful adventure solely for him.

This last is an example where number 2 above, people who WON'T do something, applies to the character's action in the campaign.  Rarely, however, this applies to the rules themselves - those same calcified rules I've gotten used to playing.

These are people who haven't quite gotten comfortable with the DM having control over their own game.  They want to play by certain rules that they are comfortable with, and when they find those rules aren't established in the campaign, these players "exercise their option" to walk out of your campaign - always, of course, with the mandatory apology for "having wasted your time."

Now, as a DM, you're going to run into this issue, and there are things you should keep in mind.

First, anyone who approaches, enters and runs in your campaign, with the idea firmly in their mind that leaving at any time is an option, is going to be trouble.  As Mark Twain said, "Never allow someone to be your priority while allowing yourself to be their option."  It would never occur to most DMs to have it firmly in their mind that booting a player from a campaign on the turn of a rule was an acceptable practice.  As a DM, you take it upon yourself to be responsible for your players; you organize the campaign for them; you try create circumstances in which they can succeed or fail; and you attempt to do this without taking advantage of the player's vulnerability, nor lording your supposed power as DM over them.  If a player makes a mistake, do you scream at them, demand to know what the fuck is wrong with them, and then boot them from your campaign?

No.  But you will have players do this to YOU.  They will declare that you've broken player trust or that you've deliberately ruined their chances or some other ridiculous accusation - any of which, if they were true, would have probably been due to the DM making a mistake somewhere along the way, a mistake that could certainly be fixed within the structure of the game.  DMs make mistakes.  Everyone makes mistakes.  But if the mistake made by a player carries with it the understanding of the dungeon master, it follows that a mistake made by the dungeon master ought to be understood by the player.

The other thing you must understand is that your rules will undergo criticism from time to time.  Remember that players will, it is sad to say, come and go.  Those who are not happy with your rules will find someone's rules they are happy with, or will settle down and make a world of their own.  But your world will be in your possession for a long, long time; and you should play by the rules that make you comfortable and happy.  The game cannot be played without you; but you can play your game without a given player.  So do not become too upset if a given player doesn't see things your way.  You've been working on this world since the beginning.  They've only been here for a few weeks.

While they will be sorry for having "wasted your time," you need not be sorry for having wasted theirs.  After all, their time is only wasted because they made the choice to pitch the time they spent on a frivolous bit of stubborn selfishness.  Save your apologies for when you - irrationally - turn to a player and decide you don't like the cut of their jib:  "Hit the road, buddy.  Sorry I wasted your time."


That's a good place to end the post, but this one isn't quite done yet.  I've had some trouble with players on the net lately, the kind of trouble I haven't had since I used to run strangers at conventions ... and wow, do I hate conventions.  I've had three particularly troublesome players in the last two years, and being that I'm a scientist at heart, I've got enough of a sampling now to make a hypothesis.

(Mind you, that's a hypothesis: a deductive prediction of the outcome to be determined from collecting data.  I don't say this is fact.  Please take note of the English words I use)

I am noticing certain elements which I feel might be used to determine who is a bad player.  I don't suppose I've ever deduced these elements before, because I've almost always had good players - i.e., I've stayed away from conventions.  Here are some warning signs I'd like to advance:

1)  Consistent dissatisfaction with the entire character generating process, particularly with incorporated advice on how it might be done differently, how other games manage the process, and comments upon things your particular process has or doesn't have.

2)  An unusual number of questions about your campaign which can't possibly be relevant to a first-time, first-level player.  If the player is entering your world, knows they are running with a low-level party, and is filling the character creation process with questions about what sorts of men-at-arms they'll get when their ninth level, or whether or not there are oliphants in your world and if they can be ridden, the player is almost certainly going to prove extraordinarily demanding and expectant where it comes to treasure/reward.

3)  A preoccupation with the amount of armor/number of weapons available to the player.  This is particularly so in reference to how concerned the character is with the possibility of being hit.  If you point out that the character's chance of being hit in battle is only 15% - and they express dissatisfaction with that - expect trouble.

4)  A clear disinterest in many peripheral details about the character that you've included but which don't seem to make much of an impression; this could be anything, really, as it depends on your world.  But if you as DM think that something is important, and the player fails to notice despite several statements on your part, a serious disconnect will occur.

5)  Strong dissatisfaction is expressed regarding scarcity - too few hit points, too little wealth, too few magic items, not enough combat, too much difficulty in obtaining supplies, or the player has generally too much trouble with the ordinary business of surviving ... anything beyond an infrequent complaint about any of these or other scarcities suggests a problem.  Everyone has a right to complain.  Most people know when to stop.

6)  Any pervading preoccupation or obsession with things that happened previously in the campaign; players who don't live in the NOW, but continue to concern themselves with mistakes they made once upon a time, and the need to atone for those mistakes.  Atonement is a terrible, cloying thing that is never really possible, but will nevertheless effectively kill a player's ability to enjoy the campaign.

I think in the future, if and when I ask for online players, instead of asking what they'll do with their characters, I will instead ask their opinions on the above six points.


Nebu Pookins said...

If a player makes a mistake, do you scream at them, demand to know what the fuck is wrong with them, and then boot them from your campaign?

I have the impression that you did react like this, to a certain degree, in a prior online campaign you had run. Is it that I had misunderstood your reaction then, am I misunderstanding what you're saying now, or have you "grown" as a DM and changed your opinion about this issue between then and now?

The campaign I am referring to is, specifically the passage:

I think it is pretty clear that this format for playing the game requires insight from the players, which I am sorry to say I don't see on this thread. I also feel it requires a level of commitment to the game as I play it, that I also don't see here.

Therefore I am surrendering this thread and retiring the Buffalo campaign. I just can't waste my time with it any more. Further comments on this thread will be deleted. I have no doubt that this will create hard feelings, but there you are. I feel I have no choice

Oddbit said...

From what I've seen, all but four are obvious signs of upcoming trouble. Four however could be a problem I suffer from, I just miss the important point and just latch onto the wrong thing. It will still result in problems, but I think could happen to anyone...

Alexis said...

Really Nebu?

So, basically, if I run the campaign, and none of the players responds to 90% of what I say, or I get only indifference in response, or the players only make any effort to respond 1 day in 4, I should be their slave for the rest of my life?

I worked on that campaign for three months, and got NOTHING in return. I don't feel I'm amiss here.

lige said...

I was also one of the targets of the post Nebu references and while I feel that it was your right to terminate the game I don't think the circumstances have much to do with your blog post. I can't speak for the other players but as far as I can tell I didn't exhibit any of your six warning signs. I was probably too cautious to start with and I didn't bite on a pretty good adventure hook but I feel like I took your game seriously.

aNonSapient said...

4 is definitely the weakest indicator, and from Alexis' wording, ("a serious disconnect could occur") I assume he agrees. After all, its only an issue if the disconnect DOES occur.

4 can be the fault of the dm or the player, to be honest. Just failed communication, an issue that will harm any social game.

Butch said...

I think asking for "opinions" on those six points is kind of tipping your hand, no? (I suppose, by writing this post, you did more than tip them... you laid them out on the table and explained them one by one.) I mean, if I'm a bad player, and I want to play in your game... I can just crib from this list and see what answers you don't like, and go from there. But perhaps that's too much effort for a bad player to make.

But I do like the idea of using these traits as a kind of screening test for potential trouble. What do you think is the one unifying thread? 3 and 5 -- and possibly 1 and 2 -- would indicate to me a power-gamer, someone who is trying to create the ultimate bad-ass that can kill anything in your game from day one. 4 could be related to that; I don't care about your world beyond what I can kill in it and how I will be rewarded for those kills. 6... I dunno. I suppose you could say that's related to... the player who lost his beloved 1st level character oh so long ago, and will never again make the "mistake" of being anything but an invulnerable killing machine.

I'm curious about the counter-post to this... the six elements you might use to determine if someone is going to be a good player.

Alexis said...

My my my, another one carrying a grudge after two years. I don't know whether to be baffled or flattered.

After Vespasiano insulted the Islamic merchant Omari by suggesting that he had seen a doxy (that is, a prostitute) in public, he would have almost certainly would have gotten him a dagger in the guts if I had not ended the campaign (by a thief who knew how). At the time, I thought I was seeing a player do one more blindly stupid thing (there had been a long line of them). Turns out, he was being deliberately stupid, "to shake things up." This I interpret as, "Bored with DM now."

Why people so obviously bored with my campaign should now be peeved for being thrown out of it, I can't imagine. I remember mostly that getting the party to make a decision or act at all was like pulling freaking teeth.

Holy shit people, why do you even care?

aNonSapient said...

Alexis, he was apologetic, if anything. (Lige, that is).

Alexis said...


Really? I was raised a Lutheran, and as a Lutheran they taught me an apology included repentance. That is, it isn't enough just to say sorry; it is necessary to actually BE sorry. I detected no repentance.

Nor did I ask for any, as it happens. I made no request in this post for any previous player of mine to step forward in any capacity whatsoever and make any statement at all. What I did is describe what I personally believe are the reasons I take the position I take, and to hypothesize about the sorts of questions I'm asked by new players.

As a further point in fact, I wasn't talking about the Corfu campaign at all. I was talking about a bard who inexplicably committed suicide, an assassin who acted like an asshole from first appearance and a paladin who walked on account of the combat system. I said three bad players, and I meant THREE bad players. It is really not my fault if Lige or Nebu are quick to snap the handcuffs on themselves.

I know everyone carries such a load of baggage that if anyone says anything bad, it MUST be about them, but in actual fact I wrote the post because there's only about 10,000 would-be dungeon masters out there putting up with this shit asking the question, "What the fuck did I do?"

I thought those people might like an answer.

Wickedmurph said...

So, you don't consider your comments to be rude, dismissive and ill-tempered? In regards to the guardhouse encounter specifically?

You don't feel that you utterly failed to provide your players with the information they required to make good decisions?

You feel that, despite a number of people having difficulty with the complexity of the combat systems, that responding to questions with "your questions makes no sense, try again" is an appropriate way to respond?

I'm asking because I've been a DM for 20 years myself, and all that seems like your problems, not problem players. I mean, if it just keeps happening time after time... maybe it's not them.

JB said...

@ Alexis:

I assume that my character was the asshole assassin to which you refer. As such, I'll throw my two cents into the conversation.

I don't deny I proved troublesome to the on-line campaign, wasting pretty much everyone's time with my obnoxious behavior on January 30th.

However, I don't believe I exhibited any of the six warning signs you list in your epilogue. I enjoyed the character creation process of your game and don't recall complaining about it (nor did I find any complaints voiced in my emails to you outside the blog...I still have those saved). Furthermore, while I DID ask a number of questions they were, for the most part, simple clarifications between your rules and the usual ones (like how much food I needed to eat daily)...and I never suggested there was a "better way" to run a particular aspect of game play.

Nor did I complain about scarcity of gear (except for thread and salt!), nor did I have a preoccupation with weapons and armor (I asked if throwing dagger and melee dagger were the same proficiency), nor did I inquire about which options would open to me at higher levels (I DID ask how one could learn more about making poisons, as well as how to find training in falconry, because the system for such was unclear...I asked about guild masters simply to know if I was beholden to one as a 1st level assassin).

Yes, I acted arrogant and self-centered, but I would say this was out of intense interest in my character and his "peripheral details," not disinterest. I was trying to get a handle on my Hungarian assassin in Germany, whose parents were fishermen and who suffered from an intense "ticklishness" that prevented him from wearing silks or a scabbarded weapon more than two feet in length. As for an obsession with prior campaign events...I really have no idea how I exhibited this warning sign (seeing as how I was called out for NOT paying close enough attention to the campaign's prior history).

Clearly, I was not a good fit for your gaming group, and I am sorry for that - your campaign seems like a very enjoyable one. But honestly, I don't see where I tripped any of these advance warnings that would have tagged me as a "bad player."

Alexis said...


No, with respect to the guardhouse, I consider my comments to be frustrated, confused and ineffective. I felt that the responses you gave were deliberately obtuse, challenging and on the whole incomprehensible. When I said you questions made no sense, try again, it was because you asked four or five questions all at the same time, they made no fucking sense and YES, I wanted clarification. And upon that point you became rude, dismissive and ill-tempered.

When I made comments like, "bangs head on table" and "if we have to be here until April," these were moments of levity to lighten the increasing tension. You took them as directly insulting. You were looking for a fight; you said as much, in describing your situation at the time this argument went on. You were looking for a fight and you got one.

AND no, I don't think I was lacking in description. I don't feel that every 7th level fighter will automatically be in plate mail and carry an ornate axe. There are good reasons not to wear plate in my world (mobility) and there's a long military history of commanders deliberately looking the same as their men. In a world where magic can be targeted against the commander, its in his favor to look exactly like the grunt standing next to him.

continued ...

Alexis said...

The fact that I don't decorate my high-level characters like a Christmas tree for the player's convenience is just tough luck. And the fact that you had to run at triple speed to attack your first man in the time frame you wanted PROVES the banded mail you bought was a bad choice; it proves the combat system limits the super-awesomeness of heavy armor; and the damn system proves that first level players who have never played the damn system before should shut up and LEARN something instead of pouting and stamping their feet - but I know, you design games, you've been a DM for 20 years, you you you. I've heard a lot about you, but on the ground I'm not very impressed.

Finally, I like this cheesy last statement about "if it just keeps happening time after time." Yes, IF it keeps happening. But you know what, it doesn't. I started with four stand-up guys back in September and when things got hot between us - as they inevitably will with an incredibly complicated, emotionally-charged game played online with text, where we're all strangers and we can't even see each other smile to smooth out the rough spots - THEY didn't pick up their ball and bat and march off home. They toughed it out and we got past those bad times.

Problem is with people like you, Murph, you want it to be fucking perfect, ALL THE TIME. Well, life ain't perfect. Sometimes misunderstandings occur. Sometimes people say things that are charged and mean. Sometimes there are arguments. But ADULTS stay around and work that shit out. CHILDREN fucking walk.

Alexis said...


Your situation with me is very different from Murph's. But please believe me when I say that yes, you did exhibit a couple of these characteristics. Not all, no; but I wasn't thinking about just you. Nor was I thinking about the thread, the salt or the dagger - all of which were good calls.

I understand you don't see it; you can either take my word for it that they were there, or ignore me. But I won't discuss which points publically (I haven't done so with anyone).

JB said...

@ Alexis:

Fair enough.

Wickedmurph said...

OK, about the answer I expected. So let me ask the question another way. Were you going to change the combat system?

I think we both know the answer. No. You've been playing it for 20 years. Or whatever.

So if I determine, based on reading your write-up of your combat system, based on the amount of time that playing with this combat system looks like it will take, based on the limitations of the medium, based on previous examples of the DM's general lack of patience in explaining said combat system, that I don't feel like this will work for me as a player - what SHOULD a "good" player do?

Is a "good" player one who will soldier on, spend hour deciphering your wall-of-text writeups, take the abuse, deal with the gloating about how you are going to kill the party in the name of verisimilitude?

Would you not prefer that said player, myself, decide that this isn't going to work? I'm curious, and I'm also not very impressed. You spend an awful lot of time justifying your own poor behavior.

I'll cop to mine. I was in a shit mood. I should have spent more time earlier going over the combat system. But the fact is, the way you run combat wasn't going to be fun for me, or worth my time. So I walked. Should I have stayed?


Alexis said...

I'm not justifying my bad behavior. I'm flat out telling you my behavior wasn't bad.

I don't have anything to apologize for. I didn't waste your time.

What should you have done? What I asked you to do. READ my blog before joining the campaign.

Posts describing the depth and direction of my combat system, and how important I consider it to be:

You Have to Love Combat
Mass Bloody Butchery
Still Loving Combat"
Round 4: Things Get Worse
Round 6: Darien Dead"
Mounted Combat
Combat Actions

The most amazing part of this back-and-forth, Murph, is that you were SURPRISED to find I play my combat this way. Shit, I posted the last two posts of the above in 2008 & 2009; I' posted the Combat Actions AGAIN on the Same Universe Wiki - and STILL you were like,

"DUH, I thought I was playing AD&D ..."

Holy shit, fella. For almost 4 years this blog has been going on about my combat system and you don't know it? What the fuck? Did I not say when I asked for players, know what you're getting into?

Hey, fella? Did you know I was going to write this answer? Did you predict every word? If you did, then why the fuck didn't you know what combat system I was running?

Wickedmurph said...

Sooo.... your thought is that since I failed to completely read and understand the 800+ posts on your blog going back 4 years, that makes me the at-fault one here. That's the Alexis perspective, alright.

I'm not terribly surprised that you spend so much time developing the fantasy world you run this game in. You certainly don't inhabit the real one.

aNonSapient said...

Alexis, are you saying one cannot join your game unless they have read through ALL the backlogs of your blog? I like reading it a lot, but seriously don't know anyone with that kind of time. Maybe over the course of 6 months.

lige said...

I think what we are all saying is that we were kicked out of your game but not for any of your six reasons unless you really stretch things. I think you might want to rethink your warning signs.

Andrej said...

In my unquestionably broadest and deepest experience with Alexis's online game, those who have come willing to initiate action, learn the rules and not try to change them or assault a party member with social combat on their first day get along just fine.

Andrej said...

Of course, in listening to what I said above one might have to put some credence into my practical experience and what has actually been documented on the other blog so far instead of their own emotion, rhetoric and/ or hyperbole.

I'll say one last thing, for what its worth, then bow out of the comments section here:

Alexis is prickly, fussy about his systems and his world and at times comes across as pedantic. He's also created an impressive set of rules and world. He is concerned with the mutual enjoyment of his campaign to a fault. He cares that his players enjoy the running so much that a seemingly disruptive, new player is on a short leash. Look at what JB did when playing. I really don't mean to harp on you JG because I think you've shown yourself to have been a great sport about the whole thing and I really respect and appreciate that. But taking JB, his greatest sins, as they were, were committed against the other players not Alexis. Alexis stepped up and did what he felt he had to do to keep the game fun and enjoyable for the established players, not feed his overweening ego.

The guy puts a huge amount of work into the game so yeah, he expects his players to put some effort in too. I don't think its unreasonable.

Given all of this, if you want to play just come prepared to work a bit to understand what's going on, be an interesting and good player and don't be a dick or storm off and take your ball home at the first sign of trouble.

Alexis said...

Thank you Andrej,

But you know, the fault in the argument between me and Murph, or me and JB, is plainly obvious to anyone who can read.

Yes, it's true, I am prickly. I'm an absolute asshole. But I spent quite a lot of time setting Murph's character up, answering his questions, creating a set of cards for him, designing that gate for the party to fight in front of and just generally describing things about the campaign directed personally AT HIM with the intent of making him feel at home. And the total respect he gave me back for taking this time? Well, it's right there for anyone to see.

You don't have to defend me, Andrej. I don't care about the opinion of anyone who can't see the painfully obvious; and everyone else is on my side.

SupernalClarity said...

While I would hate to distract, Alexis, from what I'm sure you're finding to be an absolutely insightful debate, I would also like to field a question tangentially related to the subject.

What are your opinions on the matter of player-redemption? I do not mean in the sense that they use their characters as a proxy for some sort of atonement, as you deplore in your sixth point. Rather, how do you feel about the possibility of problematic players, once the problem has been pointed out, being offered the opportunity to prove their continued participation worthwhile?

I know that, unfortunately enough, none of the players you have had to remove from your online campaigns thus far have been willing to recant, without bandying words, the opinions that lead to their removal in the first place. If one of them were to have done so at the time, however, would the apology have been accepted? To what extent do you think it's worthwhile to give new players a second chance? Surely, they should not be cast aside at the first indication of difficulty (your currently players, Andrej and Ahmet, are testament enough to that), but how much leeway do you think is right?

I ask in large part due to my having recently turned over the reigns of Dungeon Master to another player for the first time in years. Sitting on the other side of the table, watching this good-intentioned fellow deal with the dickishness of some of our new players, I have to wonder when enough is enough. Both of us have made it a point to address the issue outside of the game with the folks in question, but to little avail—and though I doubt the new DM would ever dream of kicking one of them out, the question of whether or not it's worth trying to "reform" them is something that I've been mulling over quite a lot myself. Indeed, I was already beginning to identify in those players some of the same flaws you outline in your post above.

Alexis said...


I do not find this an insightful debate; if the occasion calls for it, I will explain my actions and position, whatever language this requires. But I despise emotional entreaties for pity, hurt feelings, incompetance and laziness.

To answer your question.

Regarding the character Delfig, chgowiz and I came to a meeting of minds long ago, and I would have been pleased as punch to have him write up a new character and join this campaign. The door is still open for him. But chgowiz has quit online D&D - as his blog testifies - and I haven't heard from him.

JB didn't insult me so much as he did the party, and the party knows it. They did not want to deal with him, and I feel certain the party was glad I took the heat - which is my role as referee and gamemaster. I don't know if JB has made a personal apology, off line, to the members of the party; I am certain that the party feels he could dust off his assassin anytime. If he wants, he can join the clambake in progress (if I don't hear any objections from the party). I personally wouldn't mind - but there would be a very lightly handled short leash, to use Andrej's words. I wouldn't tug on that leash, though; if JB showed none of the tendencies he showed the first time, I'd forget the matter pure and simple.

Murph is trickier. I'm less concerned about his unwillingness to play the combat system than I am about his belief that I need to play by the Cliche Handbook of D&D; but it was a stupid situation, the party did talk themselves into doing a stupid thing, and true to playing a DM in a sandbox campaign, I LET THEM. Whether I should have is a debatable point; but I can't very well argue a world without rails if I drag out semaphore flags when things get dangerous.

In fact, I don't expect a player to read every word of my blog; but if he or she won't, then he or she needs to choke down the rules when they're proved to have been in place for literally years. Not just with combat, but with whatever else may 'surprise' Murph.

If he wants to accept that he's not running the campaign; and if he wants to make a commitment that he won't leave if things get heated, given the difficult circumstances of playing this game online - then he come back and play. I don't even give a shit if he gives an apology; I don't need one and I don't want one. What I want is a change in outlook and the ability to count on him in a pinch.

I'm not a rabid dog, Supernal. The fact that you're asking the question - the only meaningful question at this point - suggests that you and I could probably have a fistfight and still work it out. Unfortunately, however, the people who ought to be asking this question aren't; they're convinced that I'm stiff-necked.

You see Supernal, I don't have pride; I have principles. As long as my principles are respected, I'm quite comfortable with second chances.

SupernalClarity said...


Firstly, to clarify, the beginning of my post was intended as nothing short of sarcasm.

More importantly, though, I think that you raise another good point here:

"In fact, I don't expect a player to read every word of my blog; but if he or she won't, then he or she needs to choke down the rules when they're proved to have been in place for literally years."

This sort of behaviour—an unwillingness to fully grasp the rules, both social and mechanical, that a group of people plays with, accompanied by the audacity to balk at those selfsame rules despite any demonstrable precedence—seems oddly endemic to the D&D-playing populace. Hell, I've had players who weren't even willing to put in the modicum of effort required to read the pertinent parts of the Player's Handbook (or, at the least, to ask me what they ought to know), and yet they complained quite vocally when I had to explain why such-and-such an ability didn't work they way they thought that it did.

I'm not sure where it stems from, but I would have to say that one of the most common traits among bad players is the propensity to pretend that their own ignorance is the fault of the DM (or even their fellow players). I've gamed with a few excellent folks in my time, but by far the majority who've come and gone have been this sort of person: the sort who would, rather than risk looking like a fool, prefer to fall back on combative attempts at self-justification. I don't think I have ever once seen one of these players recognise just how much bigger of a fool they made of themselves by acting this way.

You are not, as you say, a rabid dog—but I'm sure that some players find it easier to see someone like yourself, who is quite unabashedly serious about his game, as a scapegoat for whatever problems do arise. After all, they just came here to have some fun; how is it their fault if things don't run smoothly enough? (Again, sarcasm.)

Alexis said...

Now THIS is an insightful debate (no sarcasm).

I confess I would have made the point earlier Supernal if I'd even conceived the point had to be made. Isn't this painfully obvious? If you play any game, if you participate in any activity - if you want to pursue a vocation - there is going to be one hell of a lot of information you're must "get up to speed on." I think its baffling that people who supposedly "love" D&D don't view it as something that demands expertise and by god even training. They want to believe deep in their hearts that it ought to be precisely the same as checkers or tiddly-winks, and by god if they have to learn more than what it takes to flip their index finger they DON'T want to play.

James C. said...

Oh, I don't think it's a desire to make it easier, Alexis. I suspect most of the people who are willing to follow D&D blogs are DM's and therefore perfectly willing to put some work into the game. I think it comes down mostly to incompatible expectations, inflexibility with a dash of ego and a pinch of "not being used to not running the show", seasoned to taste.

One of the reasons that we ever start DMing in the first place is nobody else amongst our friends who started playing wanted to. The reason we kept at it is that we're control freaks and within our circle of friends/ gaming community, were probably the best at doing it.

Over the years one develops tastes and preferences that are taken for granted as you yourself recently pointed out in a blog post, Alexis. When one steps out from behind the screen and decides to play in somebody else's game, one need be willing to relinquish the control and keep an open mind.

Before joining your game, Alexis, I had been at times a terrible player. I'd bully, cajole or trump the DM's rules knowledge, and it was no fun for anybody, myself included. Thankfully I grew, matured and gave up on trying to run the game from both sides of the screen. I'm a much better player these days, I hope.

SupernalClarity said...


I'm not so certain you can claim that simply being a DM means you're willing to put in the work to sustain a good game of D&D. There are a lot of players out there who I'm sure would jump at the opportunity to get on the other side of the table—after all, everyone has their own bright idea for a setting to run or their own little story they'd love to tell. A lot of these people, unfortunately, don't realise the kind of effort that's actually required.

I once had a pair of players who were incredibly eager to become Dungeon Masters themselves; they made it a point to vocalise their enthusiasm on an almost weekly basis until, for the first time ever, I relented and agreed to hand over the reigns to somebody else. Despite all their self-proclaimed excitement, however, they were shit: their games were just one blunder after another. They hadn't read thoroughly over the rules, or taken time to prepare all the necessary materials, or put in any of the effort that is needed in running a halfway decent game—but if you asked them, they would inevitably claim the contrary. I eventually gave up trying to explain to them how "I spent so much time building this cool new world" and "I worked for, like, three hours yesterday coming up with these new rules" did not equate to the simple, essential task of grasping exactly how the game itself worked.

Yes, they had the desire to DM a game. Yes, they wanted to have fun, to entertain, to tell a story, or whatever—but they weren't willing to face the fact that success is difficult. Artistic endeavours like this often require a lot more effort in the end than you could have conceived of in the beginning—but when the need for that extra effort becomes apparent, if you simply sit down and say "I've tried hard enough already," well, you're only going to get so far.

James C. said...

Supernal, are those two former players still DMing somewhere?

SupernalClarity said...

Sadly, yes—though not with my old group, fortunately.

James C. said...

I'm a little surprised at that, Supernal. I've run across that sort of DM before, but my experience has been that those conditions never last. Either they quit, lose all of their players or eventually get better. Calling oneself a DM is only a small part of actually being one.

I've always assumed the bulk of the online D&D community, particularly those identified with the older editions, weren't just calling themselves DMs and were therefore not afraid of working on their game. I suppose I could be wrong on either point.

Nebu Pookins said...

@Alexis, RE: "So, basically, if I run the campaign, and none of the players responds to 90% of what I say, or I get only indifference in response, or the players only make any effort to respond 1 day in 4, I should be their slave for the rest of my life?"

No, that's not reflective of my beliefs. To clarify, I'm not saying you made the wrong choice back then of kicking us out of your game. I'm saying that I'm having trouble reconciling that behaviour with the advice presented in this blog post, and wanted to make sure I hadn't misunderstood something.

Perhaps another point worth clarifying: I'm not all that upset over being kicked out of the campaign. Sure, all things being equal, I would have liked to keep playing, but if it wasn't working out, then it wasn't working out.

@Andrej, RE: "those who have come willing to initiate action, learn the rules and not try to change them or assault a party member with social combat on their first day get along just fine."

My self-assessment is that I was willing to learn the rules, did not try to change them, and did not assault a party member, socially or otherwise. (And if my self-assessment is totally at odd with Alexis, I'd appreciate him educating me, though of course he is under no obligation to do so).

For "initiating action", I suspect there were a series of errors which led to the cancelling of the campaign. I had thought that the "main mission" we were to undertake involved a job with an art collector, and so this whole section with the ship was to "set the mood" -- an introduction, of sorts. As such, initially I was probably much more passive than Alexis would have wanted.

At some point, Alexis made comments about how we should have investigated the body. So I attempted to investigate the body at that point, but it turns out it was too late, and as Alexis informed me that the NPCs would have become suspicious of my strange request to see the deceased body.

I think at this point, it was already clear that Alexis was somewhat upset with the players, and as such there's a chilling effect, at least upon myself, where you're no longer sure which of your actions would further upset the DM.

Perhaps the comments here aren't really addressed at me (Alexis mentions Murph and JB a lot, but not me), and so I can understand how these remarks I just made might come off as being "defensive". So in anticipation of this, I'd like to clarify that my intent is not to "defend" so much as to "analyze". I'm mainly interested in understanding what exactly went wrong.

@SupernalClarity, RE: "none of the players you have had to remove from your online campaigns thus far have been willing to recant, without bandying words, the opinions that lead to their removal in the first place."

I think that in some cases, one issue may be that it's not clear which opinion it is that lead to the removal, thus it's not clear which opinion should be recanted.

JB said...

@ Nebu:

Just for clarification, I believe Andrej is speaking of my character who DID indeed attempt to initiate social combat with a player character over a perceived slight on the second day of play. This was in direct contradiction to Alexis's own rules about "no PvP combat" which he has addressed before on his blog, and which I had read but (stupidly) forgotten.

And anyway, initiating PvP conflict in the first day or two of joining a new group is pretty retarded any way you look at it.
; )

Andre S said...

Wrote up a great big long reply.. and the website won't let me publish it not sure if it's just my PC being evil :P .... sent a copy to you on facebook hope it arrives :) ... in short though was so impressed I purchased "How to Play a Character and Other Essays" on the spot :) ..

Alexis Smolensk said...

Andre J,

Probably too long; I think blogger has a 4,000 character limit or something on the length of comments. Just split it in half; no sign of anything on my facebook.

Andre S said...

(part 1 ;) )

In my humble opinion I have to say this amazing - made me look over your others posts which made me purchase "How to Play a Character" on the spot ...

In my opinion there are two schools of GM'ing

- the school where the GM bends over backwards and does his best to rearrange the entire campaign when a player is unhappy. It SOUNDS good on the surface in terms of players saying " Wow look at how accommodating that GM is", some GM's will flat out declare that they want to do this but ... let's face it, RPG's are complex as all hell and it's an experience that takes place completely IN OUR HEADS...sooner or later a player's mental picture of the way things should be going is going to conflict with the GM's... how the player handles it says a lot about their level of maturity...

I go into a campaign assuming there will be at least 6 instances where a GM is going to do something I personally disagree with and I don't make a federal case out of's more than possible a GM's play style isn't going to match up with a player's expectations and when this happens I politely advise the GM that the campaign just isn't for me, give an explanation as to why WITHOUT ATTACKING THE GM and reassure the GM that I think s/he's doing a great job and that it's nothing personal...

Immature players in my opinion will make a federal case out of it any time the game doesn't "go their way".. being invested in the campaign as a player is one thing sure... but there comes a point where a certain type of player's behavior will begin to bear an unsettling resemblance to Sheldon's from The Big Bang Theory.

Andre S said...

(part 2 ;) )

- the other school is GM's who say " Look, this is how it is, love it or leave it"... I can imagine players screaming in outrage over this kind of approach especially online players who haven't met you in person and who might be less inclined to treat you as.. well,like a person.

When I finally get my campaign up and running... I'll do my best to be polite to said players and probably not as blunt as I made it sound but ...basically my approach is going to be something alone the lines of "Look, I have a certain GM'ing style I default to automatically and I've got so much going on during a game it's probably the style I'll keep defaulting to whether I intend to or not"... I'll do my best to spell it out for the players in advance so they're warned in advance at least .. if they have an issue with the campaign world I've written up my response will be something alone the lines of " I'm sorry you don't like X, Y or Z but ... rewriting the world just to make you happy would require a time and effort commitment I'm just not in a position to make right now"

I've found that the kind of player a GM wants in his campaign is someone who has a certain flexibility in their approach to RPG's and their expectations.... someone who's less likely to say " No I want it THIS way and that's final" and more likely to say " Okay let's try going with the flow, making it as fun as possible for the GM and other players as well as myself and see what happens"... if said player gives it a whirl and isn't having fun said player calls it quits, politely explains why, thanks the GM for the opportunity and explains there are no hard feelings.

If you put a lot of work into your campaigns... which I've been known to do and which I think Alexis does as well ... there are going to be a LOT more "restrictions" for lack of a better word, a certain existing framework you need to work yourself into... as a player I would be at least willing to give said framework a try in order to enjoy what could be a rich, complex experience that the GM has created for me even if I have to bend and flex in ways I didn't originally plan to at first... and if the player in question is just flat out "rigid", it's their way and that's that... well this definitely isn't a good candidate for your campaign (or quite possibly any campaign for that matter ) ...

Alexis Smolensk said...

When you finish reading the Character book, Andre, be sure and pick up my Advanced Guide. I cover the argument you've just made in all its features over about a hundred pages, bringing out a lot more about legitimacy, appreciation, opportunity, exploitation and knowing what the player wants, who the player is and how to adjust for the player's needs.

connor mckay said...

To answer the question of how long it would take to read all of the posts on this blog up to this point (excepting the online campaign posts) it takes roughly 30 days, without to much effort.

Just a random factoid I though I'd throw out there, to mark my progress.

P.S - if you have problems with my thread necroing, I can stop. I'm sure I will be caught up enough to post on new topics in another month.