Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Rash Actions

As I wonder if my credibility has faded due to the rant in the last post, I find myself thinking of two occasions when I have, literally, thrown people out of my campaign.  I do not mean telling them on the phone not to come again, or informing them in some other benign way.  I refer to ejecting them in the middle of play.

It is impossible to keep personalities out of these things, and I certainly have one myself.  I'm not easy to get along with.  It amazes me that I don't have a dozen stories like these ... but there are only two.

In the first case, the fellow had once been my best friend.  I met Cal the first night I played D&D, immediately liking him because he laughed at everything.  Well, everything remotely funny.  We got on great, made worlds together, switched playing as DM and player, and hung out for years.

After high school, though, I began to find him distressingly juvenile.  He seemed to resist growing up.  I was all of 19, feeling like an adult, feeling like I wanted to take things more seriously ... and Cal's laugh began to rankle.  We still played D&D and hung out, but as time went on, I found myself getting more condescending towards him.  Cal noticed, naturally.  It was only a matter of time before a blow out happened.

During a combat, Cal hit a string of bad luck with his d20 and couldn't hit anything.  He naturally became more and more frustrated, leading to cursing loudly every time he rolled the die.  Finally he threw the die at the table, it bounced off and shot across the room.  I remember we were in my parent's basement at the time ... I was still living at home.

Peevishly, I told him that he needed to take responsibility for his actions.  He replied, "What, for the dice?  They're random.  How can I take responsibility for something I have no control over!"

"Well," I said, "The dice can't take responsibility, they're inanimate objects.  So I guess that means YOU have to."

Some time after that, but not long after, with tempers high, he threw a die at me.  Whereupon I shouted at him to get out of my house.  He refused.  It's a response that has always baffled me.  I roared a few more times, he refused a few more times, whereupon I jumped him, and wrestled him foot by foot up the stairs and out the back door.  He fought every step of the way.  I threw him out, went back for his stuff, threw that out at him, and slammed the door.  Scratch one friendship.

I've often wondered about that.  I was obviously looking for a way to end the friendship, and took it.  I don't think I'd do it the same way now.  No, what I wonder about is Cal fighting all the way.  Was it only spite, or did he want the friendship to last, and that's what he was fighting for.  Even when a couple of years later we met at university, and talked, and buried the hatchet - which didn't start the friendship again, that was gone, though I could say hi on the street to him if I saw him - I couldn't get an explanation out of him about that.  He did not remember fighting me as I threw him out.  He didn't remember any of the particulars, except that we fought.

I think many of us have stories like this; we don't write about them, because we don't come off looking good.  But I don't look so great right now anyway, so I have nothing to lose.

The other tale is stranger, and less violent.  I would have been about 23.  I was living in a townhouse with my wife, playing D&D every Friday like clockwork, running the same world I'm running now - less sophisticated, but following the same principles.

The number of players had been expanding steadily for months.  Many of you might know how it goes - players have a friend or a girlfriend, or you meet people you haven't seen for awhile who are looking for a campaign ... and another person starts showing up.  At the point whene this story takes place, I was running 14 people in my campaign, pretty much every night.  I remember that included my wife Michelle, three fellows named Mike, the one Mike's brother Craig and another Mike's brother Todd.  Mike with Todd had his girlfriend Carol.  There were the brothers Darcy and Tom, and there was an ex-girlfriend of mine Nicole and her boyfriend Barry and Barry's friend P.J.  And finally there was Donny and his girlfriend, who I think was named either Karen or Kathy.

These were the regulars.  Sessions got pretty rowdy, with people drifting into the kitchen or the back yard when I was running these four people who went down that hallway and then after these five people who broke into this vault.  The logistics were a nightmare, as any DM might guess ... but I handled it, evident in that the people kept coming.

(I'm slipping into it with my present off-line campaign just now ... five people became four people, who are now six people with two more wanting to join)

But, as it happened, people were not quite as accepting as they might have been.  In all that crowd, the continous hang up was Donny and Karen or Kathy.  He had trouble with a lot of the comments, and I have to just say that she was just plain stupid - with regards to D&D, anyway.  She was there because he was there, and everyone at the table knew it.

Out of the campaign, people pressed me to stop letting him play.  I understood their frustration, but I felt bad for the guy.  He did really want to play, and he did try ... he just couldn't quite get it.  I think if he hadn't had his girlfriend in tow, she just sitting and taking up space and clearly anything but conversational, people might have begun to warm up to him.  But they all resented the silent, stony anchor he carried.  I got to resent her, myself.

I was clearly cracking under the strain of running 14 people; things that night had been complicated.  One of those combats that involved a round-the-table die-rolling session every round.  I had most of them trained not to hem and haw when it was their turn, which let things go fairly well ... but sometimes it got so aggravating I could just scream.  Sometimes I did.

That night, I felt the pressure.  I don't remember what exactly was happening the moment I realized I was going to have to ask Donny and his girlfriend to go.  I didn't shout, I didn't insult them - I was too exhausted.  I told them patiently, and probably peevishly from their perspective, that they weren't welcome anymore and that they'd better go.  The room was very quiet.  No one backed me up ... but they knew I could handle it.  They knew I didn't need help.

Donny shouted.  Donny insulted everyone and went out in a fury.  He was entitled.

I never saw him again.  I had never really been his friend, I only saw him for D&D.  We didn't go for drinks or hang out in any way.  I can't remember now how I even met him ... he didn't go to university, he had a blue collar job.  He wasn't extraordinarily bright.  So our association is a mystery to me now.  Michelle used to say I had a talent for bringing home "lost puppies" ... people with nowhere else to go.  That must have been the case.

After the fact, everyone congratulated me for turfing the both of them.  But honestly, I never felt good about it.

So if you're in a situation where you have tossed players, or you're thinking about tossing players, I would recommend doing it out of the campaign.  If you feel like you have to do it right then, stop running.  Explain to everyone it isn't your night, and offer to play poker.  And then, a few days later, end your association.

You will feel better about it.  I am haunted by my two experiences.


Chgowiz said...

Thanks for this post.

Carl said...

This is a terrific post, Alexis. This side of the game is rarely explored anywhere, yet I think we all have these experiences. This darker side of the game, of complex social interaction, peer pressure, social normalizing and group dynamics is a badly under-represented topic on RPG blogs or gaming materials. Everyone has gamer horror stories, but few of them face them head-on with introspection, regret and the voice of hard-earned experience. I'll post about my own experiences soon.

Regarding throwing Cal out of your house, having been in Cal's place, I suspect he saw that your friendship was at an end and he did not want to accept that. Rejection, especially un-reciprocated rejection is very hard for a normal human to take, let alone a socially awkward human. That's why he didn't want to leave. That's why he fought you throwing him out. Of course, I can't say for certain because I am not Cal and I was not there, but that's why I refused to leave and why I fought. However, I was 10. I would handle things differently now, and have since. Rejection still hurts, though. I just handle it better now.

I'm in complete agreement with you regarding when to drop people from your game. "Managerial Actions" as I call them, need to take place away from game table, and in private. I ran a 14 player game, too. I never threw anyone out and never asked anyone to leave. I re-focused my game night from a house party where D&D is played to a D&D game where we take breaks to socialize. That shift in combination with the changing winds of life whittled my group down to a more manageable 8 and then 4 and then back up to 6.

When someone or someones ask me to kick a player because "they suck" or "nobody likes them" (i.e. passive-aggressive bullshit on the complainer's part) I try to explain to them that that person is the social outlier in the group. Yes, they are a little odd, but we all are. That person just can't hide it as well as the rest of us. Once they are gone, the group will re-focus on the next social outlier, and that person might be you, someone is going to come to me and ask me to kick you because you suck. So, are you sure you want me to kick them?

That said, I will kick people for being dicks or assholes. I will kick people for behavior that does not contribute to a dedicated gaming session -- in other words, being a hindrance to the game or harassing the other players, but I will do it after the session (unless it's an emergency, which thank the universe, has not happened).

I really love this blog, Alexis. Thank you.

John L. Williams said...

Excellent post. I have never had to kick anyone out of any of my campaigns, but I have chosen not to invite some people back to the gaming table.

Fourteen people in your campaign at one time, really? That would drive me insane.

Badmike said...

One campaign consisted of both my brothers, one of my oldest friends, his wife, and another buddy. We were in a very dicey section of the campaign and everyone was on their best game...except for my middle brother, who had shown up for the game three sheets to the wind after getting off his job at a local bar. After infuriating responses from him during some critical party actions, I announced we would have to hang it up for the night or my brother would have to leave because we weren't gaming with him anymore that night.

Things got rough as he became beligerent (he wasn't going to leave and I wasn't relenting on my decision), and the table cleared out with everyone backing away as we began shouting at each other, about ten seconds away from a fist fight. Then my younger brother launched himself at us and got us both in a bearhug...and what could we do then? We had a group hug and I told my brother I loved him and he needed help (he was pretty much becoming a functioning alcoholic at that point because of his job at the bar).

Needless to say the game broke up that night but disaster was near averted because of my youngest brothers quick thinking. To this day I still game with my middle brother (who is a productive member of society, how about that) and he's been a part of almost every campaign I've run in the 30 years I've been gaming. Who knows what would have happened had the situation escalated into a brawl....but luckily it didn't. Other than that I've never asked someone to leave a table although I have made it a point not to invite people back.

Ragnorakk said...

I've been at tables as a player where I thought another player crossed a line (or several) but never had the unfortunate experiences like those you've listed - it is good that you saw the need to take action and did so without equivocation.

R said...

I'm impressed that you handled both situations on the spot and in person, even if there were better ways to deal with it (obviously one on one in private would be ideal) - anytime I have a straggler or a complete do-nothing-dud for a player I just "end" the campaign, then restart without telling said individual. Hooray for confrontation anxiety.

Carter Soles said...

Yes, thanks for this. I have never had to boot anyone, but I have had individual sessions devolve / implode over interpersonal conflicts between the players. Once, two players' PC's attacked each other due to such conflicts!

I am a pretty selective pre-screener of players; I get to know the people I ask into my game, and I do not lean on them very hard to show up. That way, only the committed ones do.

Thanks for so boldly addressing the interpersonally weird moments that inevitably occur in this hobby.

Zzarchov said...

Its a rare thing for someone (especially in todays era of glorifying changing ones opinion or seeing flaws in past actions as "flip flopping") to be able to take an honest view of their past actions and share it with others.

That type of integrity is one of the reasons I read this blog (that and its interesting)

sirlarkins said...

That type of integrity is one of the reasons I read this blog (that and its interesting).

Took the words out of my mouth! Oh, and I like the map posts, too.

As for myself, fortunately no physical ejections so far. But then I've tended to run in much smaller gaming circles (I've maybe gamed with fourteen people total in the last 20 years, and never all at once), so I guess that cuts down on the odds a bit.