Over the holidays I struggled with what kind of article I wanted to start 2013 with. For me, the winter holidays are always a time of renewal and reflection and I wanted to begin with something that was broadly applicable. For a while, I was coming up empty, but sometimes the answer falls right into your lap.

I was banging away at a project in my office when the Gnome Hot Line rang. The call was from a fellow GM and friend I’ve known for years. He just had a player leave his game in a fit and wanted to know if he’d done anything wrong. I asked him what happened.

He explained that a player in his D&D group had been really playing up the “chaotic stupid” act to the point where he’d been annoying the other players for several sessions with his antics, which often ruined their plans.* He also performed many juvenile acts along the way (making my inner 13 year old giggle but my outer 40 year old roll his eyes), and finally, the GM decided he’d had enough and changed the PC’s alignment from chaotic good to chaotic neutral.

There was more, but I stopped him right there. I asked him why he hadn’t confronted the player directly. After all, if he was ruining the game for the other players then why continue the pretense of playing?

It’s a fine line we tread sometimes. We want to be true to the RPG experience and confrontations amongst a group of friends is rarely fun, especially if someone takes offense. In spite of my flabbergasted response to my buddy I have to admit that there were several times in the past where I did exactly the same thing; I tried to solve problems in-game that rarely had the effect I’d hoped.

In this case, there were some warning signs. Another player mentioned that she’d talked the offending player out of quitting that gaming group several times. Any one of those times would’ve also been a good time to inform the GM about the problem (as far as I know she remained silent). While a discussion between the offending player and the GM may not have solved the problem, it would at least put all parties on notice. At best it could have solved the problem.

If the offending player still decided to leave then it would’ve been better all around. If he stayed, then after a few of the “antics” the GM could have paused and asked the offending player if he was frustrated, as his actions were out of place. Perhaps the other players could have helped him along the way.

So, in beginning this new year, the best advice I can give is don’t be afraid to use the direct approach. In my experience it’s led to much better gaming experiences.

What say you? Do you prefer the direct approach? What were the consequences when you chose to use it or deal with the issue some other  way? As you evolve as GMs, do you use the direct approach more often or less often?

Happy New Year and Good Gaming!

*I want to be clear here that the biggest problem was the fact that the behavior was impeding on the other players’ enjoyment. If everyone at the table is cool with the “jolly anarchic jester” then no harm no foul!