[RPG] How to handle a player that cannot be convinced his actions are a problem for both GM and party



You can skip to the end for a (very) short summary though…

We are a group of good friends, we've all known each other for 7+ years, since high school, and have been playing DnD since then, first 3.5 and then recently 5th edition. Currently, there are 6 players, including the PC "played" by the GM in our campaign.
One of the players, let's call him John (who also DMs regularly, we will come back to this) has always been a good friend and constructive member in the various parties we have played.

John is not only a good friend, but also usually a very pleasant person to be around, and by no means troublesome, in most situations.
Our problem is, he becomes a very problematic player when someone else is a DM, and lately this has grown to such proportions that it became somewhat toxic for the group.

John likes being cool. Here's a list of John's examples to illustrate the challenges he presents to the DM and the group

  • as a level 3 Rogue, spending 5 minutes trying to convince an NPC merchant to buy a broken wooden wheel for 10 GP, before trying to sneak behind the counter while the merchant could still see him (no magic, no tricks, just… going around crouching trying a stealth roll), and of course getting caught trying to pick pocket the NPC, keeping the DM from interacting with other players the whole time.
  • with the same character, trying to steal from a treasure in the hold of the dwarven ship we were protecting, after multiple warnings from the DM on how both the magic protections and guards would make it hard for a confirmed burglar to pull it off, needless to say quite impossible for him (and of course, nowhere to run once he was caught, we're in the middle of the sea).
  • stealing a horse in daylight in the middle of the biggest city in the realm, because the merchant didn't want to lower his price, in front of said merchant, with guards all around this part of the city. Note that even if we weren't pressured in any way, nothing that would force us to act quickly, we did on the other hand know that the king there would take the first opportunity he could get to have us locked away.

    In most of those situations, when he was presented with consequences – that were honestly really moderate considering the foolishness of his character's action, take the failed theft on the boat (we managed to convince the dwarves not to iron a "T" on his head for "thief" and had him simply imprisoned for the duration of the escort mission instead) – he would get mad and sulk, taking any occasion he got to make it known that he was upset and holding grudges. This kind of behavior ends up ruining the mood for everybody in the party, not only the DM.

Since John grew more cocky as the quests went on – since we as a group would rather shrug his attempts off than wasting time having him be in jail, punished, and so on – he actually is the very reason the two other DMs (my co-DM included), have regretfully resorted to applying more logical punishments in their own campaigns, which isn't really a problem for anyone, except John when he messes up.

I have read the very good topic about the My Guy Syndrome, and I believe this applies to John's behavior very well.

As an example, I shall take his latest "feat".
He attacked an enemy camp we were just meant to scout, by himself, despite the warnings from the DM and attempts from the players to explain that it would most likely mean death and mess up the quest, saying "that's what my character would do".
The camp being occupied by approximately 40 to 50 well trained, armored soldiers, a lone Level 5 barbarian stood no chance, and so the DM talked openly with him about the consequences.

John was proposed with various scenarios, among which were the simple death of his character (and the introduction of his future new one in the story shortly after), or being captured, interrogated, etc… and then presumably rescued by us later, which was his choice.
It was also agreed that after suffering grave injuries as a result of both the battle and his imprisonment, his character would be severely weakened for the next session, which meant various debuffs, that John seemingly serenely agreed to.

The next session, John just showed up with the firm intention to sulk the whole time, playing on his portable device most of the time, arguing that his battle oriented character was impossible to fight with and hence could only do "boring stuff his character would never want to do".
Note that his character has also refused every opportunity presented to him to be involved in roleplay while his imprisonment lasted during the previous session, which didn't prevent John from openly complaining about how boring this part of the quest was for him.

For those of you that survived reading all that (congratulations!), you might be wondering: " But why don't you discuss this directly with John ? "

And this is the reason we've decided to ask for help, because what we thought would be the only logical way to address this issue has failed. We have tried talking about it with him, in a very diplomatic and honestly friendly way, not putting him on the spot, and his response is usually to lash out, as he experiences it, in his own words, "as a personal attack".

This is where I have to bring up the fact that John also is a DM, for his own campaign, which BTW is very enjoyable for everyone. But you would also think that this allows John to know what it is like to DM (he has for years now), and that it would help him understand how his behavior is problematic.

And you'd be right, John actually happens to be a reasonably strict DM, with high expectations for his players when it comes to both role play and commitment to the quest, and that is 100% fine for everyone involved.
What isn't fine for our players, on the other hand, is to see someone so demanding as DM behave in ways he would never tolerate in his campaign, and berating others on their lack of role play, for instance.
In general, we are a "happy go lucky" kind of group, and we all enjoy role playing as much as we like making jokes and comments "out of the game", as players and not characters, which doesn't sit well with John when he DMs, and apparently now annoys him as a player too.

What really pushed us to ask this question here, was that even though the last quest was still fun, John's behavior is sometimes getting out of hand, and his constant sulking and post-game remarks are starting to be a real weight on the group; his latest comment on how he "knows that D&D is not a passion and does not involve a significant investment from everyone" really is ticking us off. All of the players are really passionate and involved in both their characters and the campaign.

Just to be clear, we do not want him to play his characters in a certain way, this is not about coercing him into what we think is THE WAY to play, OUR way.
As a group, we have always agreed on the fact that in the settings built by the DM, the PCs are free to do whatever they want, so that they might RP what they feel like, and feel free to find any solutions, any path, etc.
This is about destructive behavior that ruins the fun for everybody, using freedom of action as a pretext for "YOLO" actions.
And even though we are upset about this current situation, this is in no way a "vent our frustration" question; we really feel out of options and seek for advice on how we should handle this situation

TL;DR : A party member regularly plays his character in such a way that endangers not only himself, but the whole group and sometimes even compromises the campaign.

He is aware of it, but also very defensive about it, he also turns into an insufferable grumpy kid whenever he has to face consequences, ruining the party's mood, and gets aggressive when confronted about it.

We do not want to exclude him, as he remains a very good friend and we would rather solve this problem in a way that allows him to play, along with everyone.

Best Answer

The way I understand it

Your problem player rejects your concerns when you try to address behaviours that the whole group agree are problematic and would also be problematic for the problem player if one of his players had the same behaviours in the game he masters?

Seems to me like he is asking people to tolerate a behaviour he would not tolerate from others. IMO he should meet you halfway instead of rejecting your arguments, but he's not.

Discussion did not work. More discussion might?

So trying to talk with him doesn't work and it sounds to me like it does not work because this player is being very childish, transforming his group's valid concerns into something they are not, i.e. personal attacks.

He also seems to have a double standard when it comes to how he behaves.

I personally can be very firm while also being very diplomatic. Honestly, someone who would twist my arguments into personal attacks and try to turn himself into a martyr would get an earful from me about the fact that we are discussing valid concerns and the fact he's acting like... let's say a child.

It would be a very serious discussion about how I do not appreciate his being childish, and if he keeps proving to me than he cannot be civil and respectful during our exchanges, I would totally lose any kind of interest I have in interacting with him.

When a problem player does not want to even start considering that his behaviour might be problematic, when diplomacy fails, there are not many options left: endure, leave or kick him out? Different people/groups have different thresholds for that, but that's an immutable fact of life: once you hit the "point of no return", then your options are very limited.

Trying to deal with the "my guy syndrome"

"My guy would do this" is not automatically a logical or valid argument that answers every situation. This argument can always be debated!

When one of my players uses this "excuse" without further explanation, I probe them further for an explanation, for deeper insight into their character's psyche.

A simple way to do it is to ask him, "But why would your character be/think/act this way?". Ask questions but do not "say stuff about his character" like "He would not be smart/dumb enough to do that", since that would be crossing a line where you start telling him how he should play his character.

Challenge him on his excuses. Like in the instance of the barbarian deciding to invade a whole outpost by himself, when he clearly has no way to win and will clearly end up "badly" for his character, I would have asked him, "Is your barbarian smart or tactical enough to realize he has no chances? Or does he have a death wish?".

Of course, that's really not foolproof because it is a more passive approach and still depends on the problem player's reactions/decisions...

...which brings me to my next point.

If "my guy would do this" is okay for him, then it is okay for other players.

Never forget that you are a group of people. Usually, permissions given to a player are implicitly given to other players... else, you have an unfair group and this will lead to frictions/frustrations for some.

So if the logic of "my guy would do that, there's nothing you can do about it" is valid for him, it is also valid for you.

For instance, I once had to deal with a problem player who was a bit similar to yours: strong-headed, constantly shifting arguments to turn a debate about the game into something personal between players. He was also passive-aggressive in how he showed his discontent at the table and was very stubborn that everything he did would be possible (even though that never was our argument; we were very clear that possible does not mean believable or desirable).

His favorite argument was, you guessed it, the "my guy would do that, it totally makes sense" line that he would give to us constantly. Frustrations were building to the point we decided we needed to have a talk about it... which did not work. Basically all we got from him was "you guys want to control my character", when what we really were trying to make him realize was that "Our characters did try to influence him, in-game, which is something our characters would do and makes total sense... but since it did not work we now have to have this discussion out of character".

I used all the tricks, showed him parts of the DMG which tackle group interactions and how it is important for the group to establish clear guidelines for what we're looking for, etc, to no avail.

When the discussion got heated between him and the GM, I suggested that we stop it there. I asked the problem player to think about what we said while stressing that this is nothing personal and is only about "managing the game" and I said "hope to see you all next week".

The next week we had a full table (surprisingly), but the problem player kept being problematic. He did more in-game shenanigans which impacted the whole group and derailed the game, once again, when he actually tried to sneak into the King's Chamber during the night we were spending at the Castle to try and steal the King's spellbook. He got caught and thrown in prison, and our group had to undergo a "trial". We succeeded in convincing the King that the thief was acting alone, and the GM salvaged the situation by having the King "punish us" by sending us on a quest.

But here's when the problematic "my guy syndrome" also became a solution: When the King asked us if we needed the thief for this quest, my character acted according to his own beliefs and personality and said, "No, let him rot in jail and hopefully let this be a lesson for him for when we get back". I have to specify we knew the quest would be done in less than 1 session, so I thought this was a brilliant way to have our problem player get a taste of his own medicine.

When he got frustrated at the table saying that it would be very boring for him to just watch us play for 3 hours and that I was being a bitch, I calmly told him about "those many times where we had to watch him for more than an hour because of his PC's shenanigans and the fact that if my action would cause 3-4 hours of boredom for him, his actions in the past caused at least 10 hours of boredom for me and all others around the table, minimum". I was polite but firm, and when he kept complaining I told him, "that's enough, I don't want to have this debate with you, especially if you are gonna be childish about it". And that was it. He sulked; we played.

But I believe that made him realize that we had just as many ways to influence the game and his character as he did, and that we just had chosen not to do so before, but that we would start enforcing consequences for his character's dumb moves in-character.

TL;DR: Your characters do not have to rescue the barbarian the next time he derails a mission. Maybe your group will start thinking they are better off without him... and that's totally legit. It is an in-character reaction to a fellow comrade's actions and is totally legit and even uses the main argument of the problem player against him, in-game.