The Wiki-to-PDF project, one half of which deals with problem players, got me to thinking about this story.

Not long after I moved to Salt Lake, I ran a D&D game for several players and one half-player. Our half-player made the evening memorable, but she was pretty forgettable — we wound up referring to her as Wife Unit, and the nickname stuck. (I know, I’m a bad person.)

I suspect you’ll recognize Wife Unit — she was a perfect example of a half-player: a player — of either sex — who isn’t really there for the game, and thereby makes everything weird.

Although I’m framing this with the Tale of Wife Unit, half-players can be of either sex, and they aren’t always spouses — it’s a general term. (I’m also not talking about my own wife, Alysia — she isn’t a gamer.)

Wife Unit was (appropriately enough) the wife of one of our other players. When I started up my D&D game, he mentioned that she was into D&D and wanted to play — excellent, the more the merrier.

Cue what turned out to be her final session. After arriving an hour late, they realized that they’d left a bunch of candles burning at home — but unfortunately, they’d also just locked their keys in the car. So we waited for the towing guy to come take care of that, and then for them to drive home and back (about a 90-minute round trip).

When we finally sat down to game, it became painfully clear that Wife Unit wasn’t a gamer. There’d been signs at past sessions, but never quite like this.

She obviously hadn’t built her own character, she didn’t even bother to look at the results of her die rolls (or understand them, I suspect) and worst of all, she just sat there. And stared at the rest of the group. And said nothing unless spoken to.

It wasn’t hard to imagine that she was frustrated by the past three hours, what with the car doors and the candles and the driving, but so was everyone else — it didn’t stop us from getting into the game.

No, the issue here was something else entirely: Wife Unit wasn’t there to game. And based on how the evening played out, my guess is that she not only wasn’t there to game, she would have preferred if her husband wasn’t gaming either.

Which made for a weird night. It’s hard to maintain momentum when one player kills it every time their turn comes up in combat — and stares at you in stony silence the rest of the time.

She wasn’t a bad person, and I enjoyed interacting with her and her husband when we first met. And it seemed like he overstated things when he said she was into gaming; my guess is that she was there solely to be supportive, but disliked it so much that she dragged everyone else down with her.

And that’s what I’m getting at: My gripe here is with people who don’t come to the table to play. They’d rather be somewhere else, doing something else, with other people. And that can make for a weird evening.

Even if it’s born out of a desire to support a spouse, a girlfriend, a friend — whoever — it’s kind of a shitty thing to do. There’s a passive-aggressive element involved that really bugs me.

Unfortunately, I don’t have any advice to offer based on my experience with Wife Unit: After that session, we never saw her or her husband again. Not all half-players will bolt after one night, though — and even in this case, we would really have liked to keep gaming with her husband.

The other players and I had gotten as far as discussing the situation, so I know we were on the right track — some kind of discussion should always be the first step in any situation like this.

My instinct would been to talk things over with her directly, starting with the question, “Was everything okay last night?” There might have been stuff on the sidelines that we didn’t know about, after all.

And that would have led, I suspect, to the ultimate complicated player situation: asking her not to come back. With the help of the TT community, I covered that topic in detail in How to Kick Out a Player and Respect Yourself in the Morning. But what about the lead-up, the part where you try to resolve the situation before you have to kick someone out of the group?

So how about it — what’s the best way to deal with half-players? And what advice do you have for tackling the knotty problem of a half-player whose significant other is also a player?