[RPG] Dealing with a problem player not playing to their character aspects


A player in my Dresden Files game joined the group with a kick-in-the-door, "shoot-first-ask-questions-later"-style cop. The character had some fairly "meh" & a couple of potentially OK aspects. Since the majority of the group was pretty new to Fate & he was enthusiastic about earning, I didn't want to trash his initial character attempt by criticizing the "meh" aspects too hard; instead, I went with lots of minor milestones to let him adjust organically over time. His two decent aspects, however, describe a character wildly different from what he's been playing.

He'll frequently stomp on the brakes with both feet to prevent others from doing risky things, like disturbing the sanctity of a crime scene. He'll try to use semantics, "word games" and precise language — along the lines of "can you tell me everything that this course of action will trigger across the entire world?" — to nail down a winter sidhe into answering questions about things it couldn't possibly know… trying intently to pin down an an absolute answer (when he kept getting answers amounting to specific things that it would & would not do) while standing in the way of letting anyone else proceed. All the while, he'll insist that his character "would never do something like X"

He has no social skills & this went on to the point where I dropped the hammer and declared I was absolutely enforcing social combat for all social interaction and the summer changeling in the group was arguing that we help this winter sidhe!

In the past I've tried gently suggesting he modify his aspects & pointing out the problems with his existing aspects, but just got pushbback and that he "likes where is character is at now". but he keeps regularly crashing a sandbox game to a grinding halt over things like "nobody enter, we need to protect the crime scene & call in the cops" &the sidheexample trying to stop the other players from proceeding with no aspects to justify it even though he has no investigative/social skills & I've demonstrated that mortal cops +supernatural threat=carnage repeatedly. The only potentially extralegal action that he didn't throw up a fuss about has been white council tries and executes a warlock while the group is invited to watch the whole drawn out afair.

I've pretty much decided that I'm going to either start making him suffer consequences of straying so incredibly far from his core nature (his aspects) & start forcing him to buy off frequent compels at an elevated cost to do so or force him to work with me on adjusting his aspects. I'm not sure if that's the best course of action, or if I'm missing some key piece of the puzzle.

Best Answer

To me it sounds like your player is a mix of being impulsive and a newbie to roleplaying. The newbie elements (needing stuff explicitly explained and such) should work themselves out with time. The impulsiveness usually needs a little bit of work.

Here's what I did once to rebuff the impulsive players in my campaign:

  1. Set up a wonderful campaign arc that involves the "imminent" death of the party.
  2. Put impulsive character in a situation where he finds the important "cure"/MacGuffin.
  3. Both the MacGuffin and dilemma turn out to be fake.

I did this to deal with a combat monster who kept doing stupid things (shooting up places, making a "peace gesture" that got the party shot at, and spooking an extraction target [leading to his death]), and it worked pretty well- he was the face of the group, and decided that when the "nanite antidote" that was supposed to cure the party's impending doom nanite fun death he would drink the whole thing to ensure he didn't die (because only two party members were actually really in danger of death, him being one). Turns out that there were no nanites, and the antidote was cyanide.

That was the opposite of what I should have done.

Mind you, it didn't destroy my group, the player stopped being impulsive, and life went on (for all but that one guy's character). But it was a stupid, brash, inexperienced GM maneuver, and it could've cost me a player. It did have the upside of making everyone else more paranoid, but the impulsive people are still impulsive, they just put a layer of paranoia on their actions (which I guess makes them less impulsive by definition, but doesn't promote good decision making).

Ultimately, you will run into these brash and (frankly) obnoxious players. It's not even a personal fault in them; the three or so I have/had (as their various states of rehabilitation qualify them) in my group are all really nice guys, but they just don't create a coherent character. So here's what I've started to do with them:

  • Common Sense; Shadowrunners will recognize this as a name of an edge, and it basically reads like this: "Are you sure?". I encourage my players to all take this edge for all but the most oddball of characters (usually not an issue, since they tend to be played by the players who can handle themselves well).
  • "The Talk"; tell them it has to stop, plainly and explicitly. I actually had to do this with one of my players (the cyanide one, in case anyone was wondering) when they played a crazy sociopath Malkavian in Vampire: The Masquerade. Go to the player and tell them in explicit language that their characters' actions have to stop. No qualifications, no debate. If not, character goes bye-bye entirely, due to the fact that he [insert appropriate gaffe here] (the Malkavian was on the intersection of "Shot up the First National Bank at dawn while wearing a Speedo" and "Built a functional nuclear bomb, fumbled while stashing it away", with the former being slightly more likely).
  • Veto; most games include very prominent "ask your GM" clauses during character creation. Call that in. The player will fuss about it. They may leave. If they are that disruptive to the game and the group, however, it may be a necessary evil to tell them that their character cannot a) remain under their control and b) remain in the campaign. It doesn't necessarily mean that the character vanishes from the universe and never existed, but he's a NPC now, retires suddenly, or goes out in a blaze of glory. He does not, however, continue acting as he has and sticking with the group.

Disclaimer: You may have other factors leading to this issue.

Wrong Game: The player isn't actually interested in playing this game; even if they're interested in the setting and mechanics, they don't want to abide by them. This is what I call the "Sparkle Vampire" syndrome I occasionally have to deal with from a player who read all the supplements and got a bunch of ideas ("But the book says cyberzombies are only really, really, really hard to create!) that they then assumed would apply to their characters. These are the sort of people who want to play sentient variants of high-level D&D Monster Manual entries, fully sapient human-form mind animals, and the like. If they were playing Eclipse Phase they'd go for the Octomorph and give it a fancy cybernetic suite including jet thrusters.

Bad Player: I hesitate to call someone a "Bad Player", but it's true that some people prefer to play things revolving around them. While this is natural, some people take this to an additional extreme, and must make everything they play revolve around them all the time. Sometimes this leads to "The Talk" (see above), and sometimes this just means they won't have fun in the game and should pursue something else.

GM Ineptitude: Note that I'm not accusing you here, and I'll keep the examples my own. I used to run an Eclipse Phase game, and I made the players into hard hitting immortal cyborg soldiers. It lasted three runs. My players got bored because they had no consequences for failure. I ran a Remnants game. It failed because the players kept running into issues where their (overly large) group kept falling apart on matters of dogma or running into massively high power gradients. This same group has been in a Shadowrun campaign that lasted for almost a third of a year with weekly sessions, and the reason it ended was due to scheduling conflicts and getting far outside the realm of mortal power. It's not that this even means I'm a bad GM, it just meant that I was aiming for something and my players weren't, and there was a communication breakdown or I tried to push it on them too hard (or I over-hyped them).