By Mark O’Reilly.
player’s favourite character class is unquestionably an accurate
interpretation of their vision of life and the way they would
like to run it.
How do I come to this conclusion?
Well, being a DM for about 22 years, I have meet some wonderful
players, each of them have a distinct way of playing and each
one usually migrates back to the same class whenever given
the chance to play anything they would like.
Many like the sensation of
being typecast, although many of these players do gripe openly
about being ‘pigeonholed’, but they seem to clandestinely
enjoy this branding.
So what’s wrong with this?
If controlled, absolutely nothing, but it can go too far.
Let’s take, for example, a
player who is playing a Paladin, who instead of protecting
the group from an assault from a hoard of Goblins, actually
befriends the monsters – helps slaughter the group, then loots
the bodies. (Ok, it’s a worst-case scenario. And incidentally,
the player really likes playing thieves, and seems incapable
of breaking the mould).
When the game stops, the players
are supposed to say things like “that was a great game (insert
DM’s name), I really enjoyed the way that (insert players
name) stabbed us in the back and left us for dead. He really
had me fooled! I was sure that he was playing a Paladin though…well
his character sheet had that written on it… The scallywag!”.
As you may guess, that isn’t
what happens, people don’t want their character to die through
the fault of incompetent role-play of others. They become
justifiably fanatical about the death, verbally ripping flesh
from the individual who played the character improperly. And
when the guilty player can yield no more blood, they turn
on the DM.
Why? The answer, quite simply
is that they have spent a lot of time and effort on their
creations. Personally I don’t blame them getting so passionate;
on average each role-player will spend at least 60 hours a
year rolling up characters, most players can spend much more
And what caused this particular
death? A player that either can’t play the class he or she
has chosen, or worse – a player that thinks that they can
interpret the chosen class successfully, but can only play
many classes the same way, usually their personal favourite.
It is a DM’s job to try and defend their group from players
that are ‘loose cannons’, but how do you do this without upsetting
the player in question (who usually don’t know that they are
the cause of much anguish and concern)?
If the DM doesn’t do anything
but put their head in the sand, hoping that the problem will
go away, It won’t – It gets worse. Things become personal
and players will leave the group. I ran a successful role-play
guild many moons ago and I have witnessed this happening.
It upsets everyone, especially the DM, who just didn’t know
how to handle the situation.
You can approach the problem
from two distinct angles; I will try to give some advice on
The personal level:
When you are running your group,
it soon becomes clear if a player is having trouble with a
particular character. They normally become remote, smart-alecky
and generally not very supportive of group activities. They
may also start to devise their own storylines, which usually
involves acquisition of power and moving away from the group.
This is the first warning bell. Overlook it at your peril!
You should ask to talk to the
player in private and explain the problem you are having.
Be bold, you are the DM, you have to keep order. Make it clear
to the player about the faults in their interpretation of
the class that you have observed. If they start waving books
at you, gently remind them that you are the law, not the books,
they are just guidelines.
Don’t make the mistake of continuously
slapping down the player while at the game table, or ignoring
it entirely, this can cause revolt within the group. Soon
they will form their own ‘lynch mob’ (complete with burning
touches and pitchforks), intent on extracting revenge on the
problem player. After this happens, the poor player has no
chance of redeeming themselves and worse of all; the control
over group order is now bestowed onto a player not the DM.
One last note about this method:
Be consistent with your rulings, don’t be harder on the player
causing grief than you would with any member of the group.
Set down your standards, indicate that they should abide by
your guidelines and keep to them.
So, to recap – Nip the problem
in the bud early on with a private chat with the player. Be
consistent with your rulings (it is difficult to be nice to
a player that is being a prize pain, but try!). If necessary,
change the players’ character not your rules.
The group level.
This method of solving the
problem player only really works if you establish it early
on in the gaming groups history.
It effectively works on the
theory that if you allow the group to govern it’s own actions,
you achieve a much more ordered gaming atmosphere.
Before we reveal a method of
creating order, here’s how not to try and get some order in
The first thing that DM’s try
and do is to ask everyone what is wrong with the player in
question. In most cases this has to be done in private, and
many of the problems mentioned to the DM are either exaggerated
or inaccurate, as most people only see how that player is
annoying them, not the group. So you get a rather one-sided
From others in the group you
get nothing negative about the problem player. This is because
either 1) the player hasn’t actually been affected or 2) the
player doesn’t really want to “tell tales” on others in the
group. So you get a rather hotchpotch collection of complaints,
comments and exaggerated truths.
Another way is to just come
out with the question while at the gaming table with everyone
present “What is (insert problem player’s name) actually doing
wrong in this game? What does the group think about this?”
Not very sensitive I must say!
This type of direct questioning reveals nothing of great value
because the DM more often than not only hears the protests
from the dominant members of the group. The rest just nod
or keep quite. They don’t want to shake the boat. So that
method is out then.
So which one works?
The best way of sorting this
problem out is by first ascertaining if there is a problem.
If a problem is identified, then there should be some type
of club rule that dictates the actions. Rules that everyone
in the group has knowledge of and agrees to abide by.
I personally have devised a
contract for our club, which details role-playing standards
in the vein of “Not designing a character to deliberately
annoy or hinder other players in the group” (this is designed
to bring to an end the Barbarian players bashing the hell
out of Mage characters at early levels!). The players read
the rules and have to agree to play your game (a signature
is also helpful).
How do you set the rules?
You should draft 5 key rules,
get everyone together and explain that you are going to draw
up a role-playing agreement (you will be surprised how many
serious role-players will like the idea). You should then
read the rules and ask for any suggestions or changes. Once
the entire group is happy with the rules, you can get them
drawn up properly and get the players to sign it.
Right, now we have the rules
set down, we just need to know if they need enforcing.
As I said earlier, getting
the whole group to decide something this important is quite
difficult. But there is an answer!
We have started to use a way
that we can get a group decision without fear of members being
pressurised by the mouthy ones in the group.
Get a large opaque bag (we
have one made from a rectangle of spare material), two sets
of D6 (or balls, counters etc) which are 2 different colours,
making sure that there is enough dice (ball, counters etc)
to give each member 2 (one of each colour).
(For this example, we will
be using white D6 and red D6.)
You as the DM, announce that
you would like the group to decide if (insert players name)
has broken rule (insert rule number) stating that the white
dice signifies a ‘No’ while the red dice signifies ‘Yes’.
Pass the bag around and each
player put the colour dice in the bag that signifies there
answer (keeping this secret). Once the bag has gone around
the table once, the bag is emptied onto the game table, if
there are more red dice than white dice then the group has
made a decision. Pass the bag around again to collect up the
You then must follow up the
You may think that this is
rather over the top, worthy only of a large hush-hush society,
but it does work. It basically informs the problem player
that they are being a pain, the group as a whole have registered
this and they are saying “Hey! We are not going to put up
with this. We have rules and you are breaking them. Stop it!”
Even if the problem player
survives this time, they will certainly think twice before
doing it again, next time they may lose.
This is only a suggestion to
how a DM could create some law and order in a group. Please
use whatever method works for you. I personally use a large
stick with a nail poking out of the end!