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Hot Button: The Moody Player

While proofreading the final draft of Focal Point [1] I re-read a story I presented about a time when I was a less-than-stellar player. I’d allowed an encounter that went bad for me early on hang over the entire session and I’d resisted any attempt to get back on board no matter how hard the GM and other players tried. Not only did it ruin the session, but it cut the heart out of the campaign and it died a session or two later.

As a GM, I’ve periodically had to deal with a player that, for whatever reason, gets into a funk and starts resisting the adventure. Sometimes they just sit at the table and passively-aggressively resist; other times they act more directly, technically playing in character but taking it to an extreme that they ordinarily wouldn’t go. In any case it can really disrupt the mood of the other players and threaten the campaign.

Over the years I’ve tried various methods to “cool down” the offending player but what I’ve discovered is that, the more I try to engage him or her, the more I only feed the fire. The player really needs to ride out the feeling and re-engage at his or her own pace. One thing that I have definitely learned is that ignoring the player and continuing is usually not a good idea.

Here are some methods that have worked for me in the past.

These are some things that have worked for me; how about you? Has a moody player ever destroyed your session/adventure/campaign? Do you have any particularly good techniques for bringing moody players back into the game? Has a technique surprised you with its effectiveness? Have you ever spectacularly failed with a particular technique?

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7 Comments To "Hot Button: The Moody Player"

#1 Comment By Macona On June 30, 2015 @ 7:13 am

I have GMed for a number of moody players. Just say your piece as objectively & non-confrontational as possible and move on. There is absolutely nothing you can do to save that session, but don’t make a ‘thing’ out of it by stopping early.
Talk about it next session if they bring it up (once they’ve had time to calm down), but most of the time it will be forgotten.

#2 Comment By Swanthony On June 30, 2015 @ 8:43 am

I don’t know if I agree – there are a lot of reasons for stopping early.

Someone could be leaving in an hour, but you found the perfect cliffhanger.

The PCs have ventured in wildly off-the-road territory and you really need to give the new direction (and all its implications) some thought instead of just improvising a crucial point in the story.

The players (or the GM) is just not feeling the game and it may compromise expectation for future sessions if you continue.

What the article is referring to is the last and I think it’s very reasonable to be a compassionate, empathetic friend instead of an impartial lawbound GM sitting uncompromisingly in judgement over the players. If the session can’t be salvaged, either To Be Continued when everyone has settled or reconsider your goals for the session. Two cents.

#3 Comment By Roxysteve On June 30, 2015 @ 8:21 am

I dunno. I get playing into a moody player if you have a regular group and heartily agree that the causes often lie outside the game, but retconning to “defuze” the situation seems counter-productive. I think you have to play that by ear.

Beware the “moody” player whose moods are tied to a pharmaceutical regime. There are more of these out there every year, and if you run public-invite games you are going to meet them. Two bad experiences have made me very twitchy around “moody” players.

Also the moody player whose moodiness is actually mild but disruptive Aspberger’s Syndrome (such people can be attracted by the seeming order of the rules in an RPG, but often become dismayed at the looseness in which they are applied in extreme outlier cases).

I had one walk-in who insisted everyone be absolutely quiet while he, late to the table, was doing chargen, then attempted to dominate the game with his needs at the expense of the other players.

I also shared a game with him on the other side of the screen in which his constant needling and second-guessing, in the words of the song “drove me right back to being a child”. A five year old to be precise. I have never been so close to hitting someone in my adult life. All over a game.

Which I quit, though I had been looking forward to playing for a very long time. I figured I would never be able to share a room let alone a table with this person, and since the GM didn’t seem to care much either way it was up to one of us to go lest the game be shattered. The obsessive couldn’t walk away so I did, which I guess makes me the Moody Player in that one. 8o/

#4 Comment By Swanthony On June 30, 2015 @ 8:58 am

I think it takes a lot of character to walk away from something you don’t enjoy. I live in a major metropolitan area so I have no shortage of players (in fact I have a waiting list), but I can empathize with a small pool of potential players.

That being said, although it can be difficult socializing with those dealing with mental illness or those who are on the spectrum, it can be rewarding to play with those for whom have such intensely different perspectives on life.

Those that deal with depression are often deeply emotional people and can be much more deeply invested in a character than normal.

Those on the spectrum are sometimes attracted to the order and rules as you identified, but often for other reasons as well. The diversity of people affected by forms of autism are nearly is as large as any group.

As with everything, asking your players what they enjoyed and what they didn’t enjoy at a pilot session can put many of these communication problems to rest. That being said, sometimes people have personalities that clash and it’s best to just walk away.

#5 Comment By MysticMoon On July 16, 2015 @ 7:18 am

I managed to maintain a gaming-based friendship for a couple of years with someone who had Asperger’s. Eventually, though, the incessant need for control over *everything* got to be too much for me. One day I said no to something, and ended up breaking some bizarro social contract this person believed existed, completely ending the friendship. It generated such bad feelings between us that I had to leave an online community I had invested a great deal of time and energy into (and had developed some decent friendships around) just to get some peace. I’m still pretty bitter about the whole thing. This person is known for causing regular conflicts, but I expect the behavior gets justified based on their diagnosis, and at least one of the site mods would regularly defend them.

My experience is based around a gaming community, rather than a specific game, but I do wonder how often this comes up in games, where one member’s disorder causes a number of other players to either opt out or continue to have a bad time, because nobody wants to be the insensitive one who kicks out the individual who is suffering from such a disorder.

#6 Comment By Scott Martin On June 30, 2015 @ 9:57 am

My troubles too often stem from inter-player conflict, rather than dismay and withdrawal… but I’ve experienced that too. Sometimes it’s because the world is being [2], or the group [3] for the good of the mission.

As mentioned in the article, there’s normally a period of testing to see if the player can be brought out of their funk–we all wilt when the dice betray us. Once it’s clear that the ill feeling is stuck though… you can’t just “play through it”. Sometimes a player will [4] to break their funk, with permanent consequences to the campaign and world.

Stopping play for a break of some kind, even a few minutes of commercial break, can buy you the time for a few words with the dampened player. Empathy (“Man, the dice are hating you tonight. You wanna play through, trade dice, or something?”) confession (“I’d hoped that was going to be your spotlight scene; it didn’t go the way I was planning either”), or acknowledgement, (“It looks like you’ve checked out. Think you’re done for the night, or do you just need for the caffeine to kick in?”) sometimes work–and might be remembered positively.

Moving forward while the player’s checked out might move the game to a place where the player just can’t get back on board… or they might destroy the fiction in a fit of pique. You don’t want to lose a player over one bad night in a generally good campaign. Life happens. An evening of board games, TV, or video watching together might get you past the rough spot and back to the game you all want to play the following session.

#7 Pingback By Belated Friday Faves: 2015-07-04 | Ravenous Role Playing On July 4, 2015 @ 2:14 pm

[…] Hot Button: The Moody Player […]

#8 Comment By MysticMoon On July 16, 2015 @ 6:56 am

I can’t think of any moody players I’ve had, but I do recall a fairly recent experience where I was one. My character was doing something dumb (but completely in keeping with his character and circumstances) that was quite likely to end in his death. I had resigned myself to his destruction but I really wanted to make it as epic as I possibly could (also, thanks to a vorpal weapon, there was a 5% chance of him actually coming out victorious). Unfortunately, the dice were rolling horribly, and that epic death was beginning to look like a completely stupid one. It made me feel like I was just throwing my character away, rather than making his death worth something. I realized that I was getting a little too caught up in the experience and was ready to take a breather. The GM, though, gave me an out and let my character live and escape, for which I was grateful. I think, even if I hadn’t had the self-awareness, having that “out” would have been enough. The GM recognized what was really bothering me (the evil, evil dice) and removed the chance of an ignoble death.