Problem players in D&D are vast and varied. You cannot make an article based on ‘5 tips on dealing with problem players’ so I will go a bit more in-depth.
Problem players in D&D are a blight upon your game. You need to accurately identify them and then deal with their specific problem.
Over my past 18 years of D&D I have had to deal with quite a few problem players. After failing to deal with them properly, learning, and then dealing with the same types of players, later on, I want to share my knowledge with you and ease your suffering.
Identifying a problem player
Most dungeon masters do not identify problem players well.
This may seem a little strange. How can you not identify a problem player when they will make your life hell?
Most people don’t act like they would in D&D. D&D for I would say most people turns on a switch and allows them to go wild. That is why we have murder hobos which lead to diablo style hack and slash games with many new groups.
If you want a bit of hack and slash you might actually like our campaign addition. It is called the cube and adds a small mini-campaign in your own game that involves a lot of combat. Combat is fine but identifying problem players is well…. a problem.
You only realize problem players in D&D after they have been a problem for a long time.
This is because we want to see the best in people. You kind of have to in order to be a dungeon master worth their salt and not just boot people when they ask questions, are curious, you get the idea.
Because of this, we give a little too much credit to people sometimes. We think that they are just confused, wanting clarification, going through a phase, whatever. We justify these actions because justifying them seems reasonable at first.
It is even more reasonable to justify these actions with a new player. If a new player becomes a problem player they can be extremely hard to deal with. You are trying to teach them the game, expect them to do some mistakes or not know how to not be a problem and guide them along. But a new person who becomes a problem player is a nightmare.
My point is that when people ask why it took so long to identify that problem player it is not just you. You are completely justified in not knowing.
Some red flags are:
-If the player is extremely pushy.
-If the player is dismissive of others.
-They try to keep getting more and never stop.
-They have to win.
-Always being the victim.
The problem with these signs are that they don’t mean a person will be a problem player automatically. You can have a jock join who is physical and be fine to play. Someone may want to powergame but doesn’t understand there is no win condition in D&D. Someone is more assertive in their daily job and is naturally a bit pushy but fine when things are explained.
These signs above are red flags to watch out for but they do not mean a person will automatically be a problem player.
If you can catch these red flags early on and figure out that the person will not change we will cover how to deal with them in the section ‘last resort.’
For most of us we will gradually find out a person is a problem player during the campaign and we need to deal with it. We will go over quite a few types of problem players in D&D and try to cover the most common ones but leave a comment if we missed one. I would be happy to try and help you any way I can.
Problem veterans are some of the worst problem players in D&D. These players have been playing D&D for years and a person wants to be a dungeon master for the first time. First, good on you for being a dungeon master! Second, if you need help we have an article to help you start as a dungeon master.
The reason why we have that article is so that you can feel more confident. Confidence is essential when dealing with problem veterans. They are preying on your insecurity as a dungeon master since you haven’t learned to hide it yet.
They will try to get away with rules that only benefit them, manipulating the system to make themselves gods, and ruin the game for everyone or just you. You are also a part of this game and should have fun so do not discount yourself as many dungeon masters do.
The only way to deal with these players is to get more confident and make the rules not a big part of the game. You can tell them that you are getting used to the system and will do a more fluid game. Try to say this in session 0 if you can so that no one is surprised.
Once you have made it clear that the rules are there as a guide and you are playing them a bit loosely veterans will lose their ammunition. Now they need to figure out how you are running the game instead of making you run the game their way.
Still, try to follow the rules and explain why things are different if you can but don’t let them push you. Be confident and state that you think this way is better and that you are sticking to it.
You need to be clear on these new rules though and you cannot cover them all so you need to talk to your players. Ask them what their intent is before they do an action. If it will not work tell them that it probably won’t work and why. This is much better than it turning into a shouting match after they are punished for something they didn’t know.
This sounds a lot like our next section actually, but there are some key differences.
DM vs. Player
Usually, the dungeon master is the problem in this scenario where they try to win and don’t like it when players keep beating their monsters. This is a terrible mindset, but players can have it too.
Players will decide that they need to beat the dungeon master or ‘win the game’ by any means necessary. Generally, these are problem powergamers and should be dealt with accordingly.
These players still view the game as a normal video game where there is a set win condition. Not just a video game, but a sport or even a tabletop game. All of these games have a win condition and many people will expect there to be a win condition in a game.
It is up to you to, first of all, explain that this is a game where you don’t really win. You can relate this to a game like Minecraft or if they have not played it winning at work. In most jobs you do not win and everyone has a job. This generally works the best in my experience to explain that winning isn’t the point but can cause some to lose interest once a game is compared to their job.
Instead, you can their job as a springboard. You can ask if they win at their job and if they win with their family. Not a spouse, family. This keeps it broader and people do try to win against their spouses at times. You can then go into if you win at cooking or other activities. Make it broad to give the person the idea but not just 1 thing for a person to latch onto.
If you only give one example that isn’t fun and enjoyable experience they will quickly associate D&D with the feelings that activity brings. This usually helps problem players in D&D who don’t understand the game isn’t about winning.
If they still don’t get it, look at that problem powergamer article.
Related to these types of players are those that push the envelope.
Can I get more?
These are some of the most annoying problem players in D&D.
They can be problem powergamers who just want to get more. These players don’t’ necessarily think the game is about winning. They just want to be powerful. They might also want to be great enough for everyone to look at them and thing ‘wow. If only I could be as great as him/her.’
You think I am kidding but this is what most of these players ambitions boil down to. Being powerful and living out a power fantasy or getting the admiration of everyone else/having the game centered around them.
The power fantasy is dealt with in the problem powergamer article, but the desire for attention is a bit worse.
If the player desires attention to the point of depriving their fellow party members then you will have a handful.
These players are hard to talk to and even if they say that they understand most of the time they do not. Instead, they keep acting the way that they always do and isolate others.
In this instance, you need to treat the game as if you are in a big group. Give everyone the same amount of time and attention. Move to another person when that player is done and if they want your attention say that some others asked for it first and you will get back to them.
Normally this player will get the hint after a few sessions. During the first few sessions you adapt this they will try very hard to get your attention like a puppy would. Just treat them this way and like a puppy, they will get it and adapt.
You have to be stern and do not cater to their demands. If you do all that work has gone out the window and you will have a much harder time fixing the problem.
This may sound like a social problem but oh no. There are far worse social problems.
Socially problem players
There are many types of problem players in D&D and socially awkward players are the most uncomfortable to deal with. These players might not have deodorant, say strange jokes that are not funny and make people uncomfortable, or just do uncomfortable and almost unnatural things.
This may seem like a harsh description but it is an accurate one. Not everyone who plays D&D has had a lot of social encounters and they might not have a lot of friends. I have seen this with a lot of nerds and geeks who play D&D over the years and it can destroy your game.
That is right, it can destroy your game. People stop showing up because they feel uncomfortable or just don’t enjoy the sessions because of that person.
The truth is that the person is not trying to be bad.
They are not trying to destroy the game.
They just don’t really know yet how to behave and act.
I want to make it clear that I am not saying those people are terrible. They don’t even know half the time that they are causing these problems and are generally some of the most dedicated players out there but you still need to solve the problem.
How to deal with this is very simple if it is a hygiene issue. Talk to them and ask them to fix their issue. Wear deodorant, explain that no one else farts all session and no one thinks it is funny, discuss what needs to be discussed. At these times you will feel like a parent because you kind of are. That is sometimes the job of the dungeon master.
The hardest ones to deal with are socially awkward people. It isn’t just a quick fix like take a shower or stop farting all session. No, these people do not understand others.
These problem players just want to have fun and be with others. They are trying to do better but don’t understand how to do so. For these players, you should tell them when things are inappropriate or not great for social situations in a lighthearted manner.
The worst thing is for everyone to just go silent when this player tries to interact. Yes, it will get them to leave the group but leaving the group is a last resort. If you can guide them these players can become some of the best. You will have to act like a parent for a bit but this should help most problem players in D&D who have social issues.
There are however just immature players.
First off, if you are playing with kids read this article. There is nothing wrong playing with kids. The problem is when adults act like kids.
These adults are immature and act like children when playing D&D. For most of these players, they think that you should win the game. Look at the DM vs Player section to figure out how to deal with this. Other immature players try to get more and check out that section for details on how to deal with that.
Some immature players use a notorious line that lights up every dungeon master’s red flag alarm.
I’m playing my character
This line. This accursed line. “But I’m only playing my character.” or “that’s what my character would do.” Okay, two lines but they are basically the same.
Of all the problem players in D&D this is the one that gets away the most and it should not. These players are the type who try to get more. In the get more section you understand how they think a little bit but these players can also think differently. These players can be actually trying to roleplay and play the game but instead, make everyone’s life miserable.
If any player ever utters one of those two sentences or anything like it tells them that “That is fine. If your character won’t work with the group or be with the group then the group also has the right to leave your character behind or kill them (if the character is harming the group). Next time, make a character that everyone can play with.”
This makes them understand that you will not put up with their crap and that they have to play the game with everyone else. The game is not just about them.
The reason why this excuse is so effective is that you should not tell people how to play their character. Players should be allowed to make their own decisions and not be told what to do by the dungeon master. If you do that is railroading and railroading is bad.
Most dungeon masters don’t have a solution to this line and feel like they have to let a player do what they do. Don’t let them get away with it. Use consequences and make them play the game with everyone else.
Uninterested and physical players.
Luckily for my sanity, there is already an article written on uninterested players here. Most of these problem players in D&D are just different and not actually a problem. The article will still help you make things better and have an understanding in place between you, them, and other players if they are on their phones.
For physical players kick them and call the police if necessary. I was going to save kicking the players for a last resort but not here. If a player is physically harmful you tell them to stop. If they do not stop that activity and respect other’s wishes kick them or call the police.
You need to act fast and tell that person to stop when they hurt someone or are too physical. If they stop that is great and 99% of the time this is the case. If a person does not listen and keeps hitting, slapping, or just creeping out other players by touching their legs, kick them and if necessary call the police.
Sexual harassment is also a big issue.
Most problem players in D&D are not sexual thankfully. It is far more likely that you the dungeon master will be uncomfortable with them trying to hit on your NPCs than a player harassing another in real life but it does happen.
If a player is sexually harassing another person it can be miscommunication and often times is. Make sure the people involved talk to one another and always take the side of the person being harassed. If that person is lying about being harassed you will be able to see it in-game or there will be no evidence for it.
99% of the time the person being harassed will not be lying. The victim also might have a hard time bringing it up to you. If you suspect anything talk to the victim, figure it out, and talk to the offender. Sometimes a person doesn’t realize they are being rejected, reads body language wrong, and just needs to be told to stop.
If they stop great. The offender may even apologize to the victim and ask for them to be told if there is an issue in the future.
If your offender does not stop they need to be kicked. I have not tolerance for physical or sexual harassment and neither should you. Kick them and do not let them back in the group even if they have changed. Only allow them back in if the victim is fine with it (and is not pressured to be fine with it) then watch for any potential issues just in case.
Now let’s transition from out of game limitations to in-game limitations.
“I want to slide past the ogre’s legs, cut his thigh, and then do a flip to jump back up into a standing position.” This character is a level two with a 10 dexterity. Do you let him succeed?
Most dungeon masters would say no and I completely agree with them. You need to explain to this player that their character is not batman or an actual superhero. There are limitations.
Most of the time these are new players who want to do cool stuff and that is awesome. You just tell them what they can and cannot do. Those players are not a problem. The problem comes when players try to do too much.
“If a monk can catch an arrow why can’t I?”
The problem players in D&D want everything. They think that it is unfair that others can do something they cannot. Whether it is ignorance or because they want to outshine everyone they need to understand that there are limitations.
Explain to them that they could catch an arrow if they were a monk because that is a class ability. Everyone is good at something and no one is good at everything.
Explain the limitations of the game and why they exist. If a level two is trying to slide past an ogre and be ultra ninja awesome tell them that they would need to probably be higher level since they are just starting out and be specialized in acrobatics with proficiency and somewhat high dexterity.
Here you are not telling the player a hard no. They can do what they want, they just have to work for it or be something different. This leads to them wanting to understand the game more and makes it better for everyone involved.
Now onto some closing tips.
Do not cater to problem players. Help them solve their own problems but do not just allow them to do whatever. Do not give them more attention than others. This will encourage them to keep doing what they are doing.
To not cater to problem players in D&D you need to be assertive. Don’t back down when you are confronted with a problem. Can you be wrong? Oh, gods above and below yes! But be firm when the game is going on and tell them that they can discuss it after the game.
Do not give into problem players in D&D or they will eat you alive. They will potentially destroy your group so do not give in! Be assertive.
If a player is playing the victim they are probably trying to get more. Read the can I get more section for more details but don’t let them play the victim. Make sure you clarify all their intentions beforehand and tell them the likelihood of success before the outcome. They should know that a ninja jump flip as a 300 lbs barbarian is unlikely to work out.
This way if a player does something they cannot play the victim since they were well informed.
Talk to your players. If there is an issue talk to them and the rest of your group. It may just be you who has a problem with the player. If so, that is probably personal and you should talk to that player. It will be better than letting it blow up and destroy your group.
Lastly, only kick a player if it is the last resort. I only gave that as an option in physical and sexual harm because kicking a player should be last resort. If they are unwilling to change, compromise, or think of others at all then they should be kicked. These are the only times that a player should really be kicked.
There are many different types of problem players in D&D.
I hope that I have covered most of the problem players that you can end up dealing with, but I may have missed some. If I have missed any leave a comment below and tell me what players you need help with.
I would love to help you out and hope that this guide on problem players has helped you out.
If you had a specific problem player that was talked about in this article leave your story in the comments below.
This has been Wizo and keep rolling!