Knowing what kind of players you have in your game is helpful and lets you tailor things to suit the group that you have. Different players with different needs can lead to problems in the group but actual problem players are a breed apart. Any player can be a problem player in combination with whatever other kinds of player they are, but that doesn’t mean they have to stay a problem, you can either fix it or, provided there aren’t other issues in the way, you can exclude them from the group. You shouldn’t be afraid of being selective over who you play with, even when it can be troublesome getting a group together. If someone consistently ruins games and can’t be ‘tamed’ or moderated, then, frankly, you can be better off without them.
Other issues can be tackled…
The Centre of Attention
Problem: This player constantly wants to be at the lead of the action, always wants to be the one moving and shaking and getting things done and resents it when other players are in the spotlight, practically vibrating in frustration and pent up need to be leading the action. If allowed to indulge this they’ll marginalise the other players, if not their presence can exasperate and upset the other players since their disquiet is obvious.
Solution: If they can be made to recognise that they’re having an issue then maybe they’ll moderate their behaviour. You can also deliberately play up the roles of the other players by emphasising the skills and abilities that their characters have so that everyone gets their time in the spotlight.
Problem: OK, so RPGs aren’t competetive, they’re storytelling exercises, even so, without risk, without the role of randomness in the game you might as well just be sitting around telling stories. Risk, the chance of failure, adds spice to the game and so when people cheat, lie about their die rolls, alter their character sheets, they rob the game of some of its appeal and their in-character accomplishments of worth. They also marginalise and sideline the more honest players, who can’t match their ‘success’.
Solution: As the Games Master you can do some things to moderate cheating behaviour. You can insist on public rolls in a box or through a die-rolling tower, you can insist on making all the rolls yourself or you could even institute a mert/demerit system within the game, rewarding people for paying attention and playing nice and punishing people for being disruptive and cheating. You could also shift to playing more indie/story games, where there’s less emphasis on the vagueries of random chance and more on the story, less chance to cheat.
Problem: It’s a great strength of the role-playing community that we’re so welcoming and so non-judgemental. However, it’s also a great weakness since we allow in and tolerate people that would be thrown out of a furry swinger’s club. If you’ve got a greasy-haired living-potato at your gaming table, in semen-encrusted jogging bottoms, reeking of cabbage and stale sweat and gently massaging their genitals over hermaphroditic ocelot porn between turns, you have a problem.
Solution: Kill it with fire.
The Disinterested Tagalong
Problem: It’s all very well when friends and loved ones take an interest in your hobby but not everyone likes roleplaying and when someone is playing who isn’t really interested and is acting like a martyr, only because they want to show an interest in their friend/partner, it drags the whole game down into a hole.
Solution: “You know, you really don’t have to be here if you don’t enjoy it. Not everything is for everyone.”
The Frustrated Gamesmaster
Problem: Some people just aren’t happy unless they’re in control. Every Games Master is different and many have very different playing styles to each other. The way one Games Master does something can drive another Games Master crazy and some have a bit of an issue letting go of control and relaxing in order to enjoy playing.
Solution: The best way to solve this problem is to remind the player how they’d feel if someone was second guessing them in one of their own games. If they’re a half decent Games Master that should be all it takes to get them back on the straight and narrow. Another possible way to get around these problems is to share the Games Mastering duties and work together.
Problem: A big age difference in a group can lead to a little bit of disomfort and a disconnect. This might be because you’re at a gaming club where there’s little or no control over who joins the group, it might be because you’re at a convention or it might be because a younger sibling is foisted upon you by a well meaning but ignorant parent.
Solution: Frankly, we should do all we can to encourage younger players to game and maintain an interest. If that means moderating your language and playing slightly less adult game themes, then so be it, so long as it’s not forever. If you’re playing a more mature game then a frank explanation to the parent, or even the kid, might do the trick. If need be you can always organise kids games seperately.
Problem: The munchkin issue has been satirised and played out in a huge number of ways and the munchkin has almost become a figure of affection. Games like 4th Edition D&D even seem to go out of their way to acknowledge and encourage the munchkin, legitimising ‘character builds’, optimised for specific purposes and exploitation of the rules. Regardless, munchkins are an issue for games, overpowered, playing the rules rather than the game and tending to drag other players along in their wake, simply so that they can compete and feel useful.
Solution: More of an emphasis on story and roleplay will disarm the munchkin a little, as will using puzzles and other non-rules oriented game problems. Munchkinism can often be a ‘stage’ that a player will grow out of. Even so, it can be fun to engage with munchkinism sometimes and to play a game where it doesn’t matter so much, just so you can all get it out of your system.
Problem: It needn’t actually be a ninja, but there’s something that this player is obsessed with and seeks to play some version of in every, single game they ever play, even where it’s completely inappropriate. Needless to say this can get annoying for Games Masters and for other players as yet another ninja makes their presence felt in a game that’s supposed to be about sentient clams, or whatever…
Solution: Gentle encouragement to try other things might work, so long as they get to indulge their fantasy once in a while. Wish fulfilment and fantasy is, after all, a large part of what gaming is about. They just need to learn to accept that they need to moderate their needs with that of others.
Problem: Having someone in the room who isn’t playing the game can be distracting, disruptive or embarassing. Let’s face it, gaming is a strange passtime and we can all be a little self-concious about it. Someone who isn’t playing is a disruptive presence, especially if they’re bored out of their mind and watching TV, playing on their DS, reading or constantly interrupting the game. This usually happens when it’s one of the player’s girlfriend or boyfriend.
Solution: Whoever is bringing along the person who doesn’t play is the person you need to talk to, though the issue can also be with flatmates and others who don’t play. In that case you can possibly trade favours to be left alone while you’re gaming.
Problem: Some people just turn up to games, munch all the snacks, drink all the drinks, crash over without properly asking and make a big mess. They’re basically taking advantage of hospitality and that eventually breeds resentment, no matter how generous and good natured you all are.
Solution: Even if they’re dirt poor, some sort of contribution to munchies should be possible, however small. The rest of it’s just down to politeness and it’s better to take a firm hand on sooner rather than later, before it becomes habitual.