If you DM long enough, you’re going to run into problem players of one type or another. While there are many different ways with dealing with these players (that don’t include boiling them in oil), there’s a tried and true method that should be utilized first:
Take them aside and talk to them like an adult.
I know, I know. Tabletop players are not generally known for being assertive, especially when they have problems with the people they’re gaming with. But honestly, it’s a much better solution than silently stewing about the player, talking about them behind their back to other players, and slowly learning to despise the person to the very core of your being. It’s important to keep in mind that there’s a reason you asked this player to game with you. They’re most likely a fine individual outside of the game you’re playing. You don’t want to ruin a friendship over a game. Do your best to not be accusatory; it’s highly likely that the player doesn’t even realize that they’re being a problem. Try to come up with solutions to the problem together. A player is going to be more likely to change their behaviors if they were part of the problem-solving process. And most of all, be nice. This is your friend you’re playing with, right? Don’t be a jerk to your friend, even if they’re kind of being a jerk during play.
Types of Problem Players
The different types of problem players are as numerous as the monsters in the Monster Manual. Luckily, you won’t have to stab your problem players in order to resolve your conflict. Here we’ll outline several common types of problem players and give some suggestions on how you can (tactfully) get them to stop being a horrible human being.
Munchkins, Power Gamers, or Min/Maxers are players who have optimized their PC to be the most effective at what they do. Normally this isn’t much of a problem, but when taken to the extreme they can cause a lot of unrest for the group. Normally a DM will see issues pop up in battle: when 3 of the 4 PCs are doing around 20 damage per attack, the Munchkin will be doing around 100 points of damage. And while some groups might enjoy quickly destroying your well thought out monster encounters (that you definitely didn’t spend hours carefully planning), some players may feel that the Munchkin is making their character worthless in battle. There are several different ways of tackling the Munchkin. The easiest one is to take them aside and ask if they wouldn’t mind supporting the other players instead of taking all the glory every time. If they can’t seem to help themselves from single-handedly destroying every monster in sight, try adding one very powerful monster that focuses solely on that PC. Make them an HP sponge while surrounding the other character with slightly lower level minions. It’s important that these minions still pose a challenge for your players, otherwise the Munchkin is always going to be the “real” hero. Alternatively, you could add more role playing challenges that don’t focus on combat or those specific things that the Munchkin is good at. As long as other players all get a chance to feel like a hero, it won’t matter how maxed out a player’s stats are.
The Murder Hobo
Murder Hobos are a classic trope for trouble D&D players. It doesn’t matter what type of NPC you put in your world, the Murder Hobo will find a reason to kill them. The best way to deal with your murderous friend is to have consequences for their actions in your world. If a player kills a random city guard, make the entire city guard come after them endlessly until the player is captured and put on trial. If the player kills a villager, have the village run the party out of town torch and pitchfork style. Have NPCs be very direct about not wanting to deal with PCs that they don’t trust to not stab them in the back. You can make story-driven solutions to correct your players’ actions instead of having rocks randomly crush them. Your players will either learn to play nice with your NPCs, or they’ll have a much harder time getting around in a world where they’re a wanted criminal.
The Space Cadet
Hour long gaming sessions can wear out the attention spans of best of us. But the Space Cadet is constantly off in their own world. Whether the group is coming up with a plan to get through part of a dungeon, it’s their turn in the initiative order, or an NPC is actively engaging your group, the Space Cadet usually isn’t paying any attention. Technology, glorious as it is, has recruited more space cases than NASA. With tablets, smart phones, and laptops at the table, it won’t be long until a text or tweet steals the attention away from the game. This only exacerbates the issues of a player who has problems following along regardless of outside interference. The best cure for space sickness is to actively engage the player at regular intervals by name. Perhaps they don’t feel personally engaged in the story because it’s not happening specifically to them at all times. Try to cut down on the amount of distractions. Maybe make a rule that there’s no technology allowed at the table. Letting players know when they’re up next in the initiative order is also a good habit to start.
There’s something inherently sad about someone who fudges their rolls. A person who plays a hero in a fantasy setting somehow doesn’t feel heroic enough and needs to lie in order to get satisfaction. This is unacceptable behavior for anyone under the age of 12. Even then, it should be stomped out as soon as possible. A solution to this nonsense is very simple: make dice towers mandatory. Having players roll their dice in front of everyone will get rid of a lot of the subterfuge surrounding PC success. And if there are still problems with how you think the player is adding, have the person next to the problem player double check their math. Failure is as much a part of RPGs as it is of life; your characters won’t grow or become interesting if everything always goes right. Actions become predictable and, worst of all, BORING. If a player wants to constantly be godlike and refuses to use a dice tower or have their math checked, tell them to go play a video game instead.
We all have that friend who is a living, breathing joke machine. And while having someone around to always make you laugh is an awesome thing to have in your life, you may find their constant interruptions and pop culture references ruin your game immersion. And maybe that’s ok for you. If you like a more casual, whimsical D&D experience then the Comedian will be a welcome addition to your party. However, if you’re trying to run a fairly serious campaign, you might not appreciate a wizard who uses Minor Illusion to create a dickbutt. A lot of this problem probably stems from not being clear before starting your campaign about the kind of tone you wanted your game to have. It will take the wind out of your sails if your villain is monologuing and is interrupted by fart noises. Try to channel these players into classes that will benefit from their wit and need for attention. Bards or even Barbarians might be more up their alley. If you have a very casual, light-hearted game then the Comedian will probably be a fun addition. If not, then you might want this person to sit out until your next campaign.
The “Helpful” Player
These types of players mean well, but are often more aggravating than helpful. You might recognize them as one of the following: the rules lawyer, the one who always questions the DM, the one trying to do the DM’s job for them, the one always bringing up other games they’ve played in. It’s not necessarily that these players don’t respect you. It’s that they have an idea of what the game is supposed to be like. Unfortunately, that idea doesn’t mesh with yours. Having someone else around who knows all the rules can be really helpful. But it can also be an annoying pain in the ass. It might be helpful to let this player DM a one-shot or a campaign of their own. This will let them get all of the helpfulness out of their system.
The Lone Wolf
Also known as the “dark and brooding,” these players aren’t happy unless they act like the troubled loner from an anime. You’ll find them off by themselves, in the darkest part of any tavern with their cloak’s hood up. You can be sure that they have a tragic backstory and all of their family died horribly. The Lone Wolf wants to do things on their own. The problem is they’re usually the one who pays the price for not having their team around to help them. Try to get them to help their party out in independent creative ways. Have them try scouting, spying, or checking for traps. If they insist on taking on monsters or other villains on their own, make the PC realize that they are completely outmatched power-wise. They will learn to depend on their teammates and be less likely to stray from the party. But be sure to give enough individual time for them to work on what they think is important to their character, as well as the rest of the party members.
The Quiet One
The Quiet One in the group is not necessarily a problem, but they will inexplicably cause anxiety for the DM. Their lack of participation and input is almost guaranteed to make you feel ill at ease. Chances are you will probably internalize their quietness as boredom. However, this player is usually happy to be a casual observer. They might enjoy leaving the big decisions and action up to the other group members. It might be that this player doesn’t feel as confident at the table as your other players. Try to give them opportunities to shine by focusing on tasks that only their player can do. An easy mistake to make is to constantly try to make them the center of attention. This might just make them “turtle up” harder. Take them aside and ask if they’re getting enough out of the game; you might be surprised to find that they’re having a wonderful time.
This unfortunate player can come in as many different colors as a prismatic spray. You might know them as one of the following: the party griefer, the one who steals from party members, the one who is “doing their own thing”, the one constantly derailing the story, the one who always claims “that’s what my character would do”, the one who’s there just because their significant other is, the genre hopper, the drunk, or the flake. These players often require multiple talks to try and curb their behavior. In all honesty, this is the player that you’re kicking out of your group both the quickest and most frequently. These players are either selfish or don’t really want to be playing your game. There’s not much you can do about either of those things. As much as we love it, D&D just isn’t the game for everyone. You shouldn’t take it personally or think that it reflects poorly on you as a DM. What you should do is get rid of these players before it destroys your group.
Kicking a Player out of a Group
It might come down to it that the problems that you have with the player are just not getting resolved. It doesn’t matter how many talks you have with them or how much effort you put into curbing their undesirable actions. Asking a player to leave a group is certainly your right as a DM. If a problem player is ruining the fun of the group, it’s best to kick a player to the curb as soon as possible. Don’t let someone’s attitude sour the game for everyone. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be a jerk about it. Let the player know that you’ve tried several ways to integrate them into the group, that you’ve tried to get them to stop their [incredibly annoying] habit, but it’s just not working out. Hopefully they’ll leave the group with no hard feelings. Try to remember that they’re human beings, even though you’ve been imagining crushing their character with giant boulders. Be nice, be understanding, and maybe invite them over for a different activity.
Being stressed out and angry during an activity that you enjoy is never worth it. Many tabletop RPGers agree that generally “no D&D is better than bad D&D”. If you’re not having any fun, it’s important to ask yourself why and try to fix the problem. Worst case scenario, you leave your group and try to make another. There are plenty of people who would be willing to roll some dice out there, whether in person or online; you don’t need to feel like you’re stuck with the worst humanity has to offer. Besides, games are about having fun, and if you’re not having fun, what’s the point?