Roleplaying games are collaborative experiences. They are collaborative storytelling games that depend on the ability of the players and GM to work together to tell a story. This is one of the reasons I love this type of game. Alex recently made a post on this blog that demonstrated this really well. I’ve also been quite lucky in that I have always had groups that appreciated this and did work together. There was a time that I worried that one of my character – a somewhat deranged navigator who had seen things that no man should see – was a a little bit trollish, but the group reassured me that it was fine and that the character did work with the group.
Last week, I ran a game of Dread for the first time. If you would like to read about that went (spoiler: very well) you can check out my full write-up on my own blog. The one thing that did not go well for me was that one player was very difficult and did something that had the potential to really ruin the game for other players. One player in particular did not take this well and seemed really quite angry about the other player’s actions. I’ve never had this before in a game. Where there has been unhelpful play, I’ve generally just slapped the player’s character down or addressed it with a few words, but these were minor incidents that did not have a huge impact on the game.
Here is an extract from my other post that explains what the player did. To be clear, Dread uses a Jenga tower in place of dice and when the tower falls, a character dies. This should give you some context for his actions:
Darren [the character name] offered his services as driver and immediately pushed over the tower, which was nowhere near falling. This meant that he effectively sacrificed himself as soon as he got into the driving seat… ugh. It also meant that the tension I had been trying to build using the tower was completely destroyed and one player was left very upset. In game terms, Darren took the wheel and immediately crashed the bus into a telegraph pole, killing himself and rendering the bus unusable. It was also suggested he leave the table.
If the player had expressed that he was not enjoying the game, or that he wished to leave the game, that would have been fine. It was a new game to us all and it’s perfectly acceptable to opt out if you don’t like it. What is not acceptable is to purposefully and knowingly ruin the game for four other players plus the GM, who had put a lot of work into preparing for the game. It was an incredibly selfish action, not helped by the subsequent attitude of the player, who found his action funny and “a laugh”. Again, it’s fine to feel this way, but a cursory glance around the table would have revealed that others did not feel this way.
As I mentioned in the above extract, one player seemed really upset and angered by this event, leaping to his feet and stammering in disbelief. I really felt for this person, as they had been looking forward to this and, whilst I’m sure they understand that it’s all just a game, this is how they choose to spend their time and money. To have it ruined on someone else’s whim is frustrating and, yes, upsetting. It’s the equivalent of the oft-joked about table flip. I’d never expected to actually see one.
I am a teacher by occupation, and I know how I would deal with that behaviour if it were to arise in the classroom. Hell, I know how I have dealt with it when it did arise in the classroom, but I’m meant to be dealing with adults here, and I certainly don’t come into the local club expecting to have to deal with this kind of behaviour. It’s frustrating and it’s not fair to anyone at the table. It also puts me in a very difficult position for future roleplaying sessions where this individual – not one of our usual group – will not be invited to participate again. I don’t like excluding people. It makes me feel uneasy to be contemplating it now, but I do need to look out for the rest of my group.
As it was, I was taken aback and did not react very quickly at the table when this individual ‘kicked off’. Part of this was a conscious effort to remain calm and composed, which I managed, but had I dealt with it immediately, I might have made things easier for the player who became distressed.
I suppose the point of this post is really to ask for advice in dealing with these situations in a way that is fair, even handed and respectful of all parties, remembering that the offending player is an adult, potentially with their own problems and difficulties.
How would you have dealt with this situation differently? What would you suggest for next time? You can comment below with your input. It would be gratefully received.