Years ago, with a different group than I run for now, I had a friend who was a “colossal dick” at the table. He was a spot-light stealing player. He had a solution to everything and wanted to take the party lead role in everything that was done. He was a friend of ours. Everyone was polite and didn’t overtly challenge him, but the frustration levels spiked every time he interrupted someone talking or stood up, looked at the map, and said “This is what we’re going to do!”. I laid out a situation with a well lit courtyard crawling with guards, at a party they were trying to infiltrate. He decided to sneak directly through the guards, failed a sneaking roll, but proceeded to tell me how the guards wouldn’t see him anyways. The party’s thief was trying to pick a lock on a huge basalt door and really getting into the attempt, he cast a spell to unlock the door, saying it would be quicker. Something had to be done for the whole group.
Why Is The Player Like This?
The first step in dealing with a player like this is figuring out why the player acts like this. Is the player dealing with self esteem or self confidence issues? Is the game the place he or she is trying to grab some control in their life? Are they not picking up on social cues? Step back from the situation and ask yourself why the player is like this. What is the root cause, because that is what you want to attack, especially If the player is one of your friends and you want to make the situation better long term.
The Root Cause
Usually the root cause of a situation like this is esteem or confidence based. The game is an outlet for the things the player can’t do anywhere in real life. Using the single hero template found in movies and books, the player probably sees their character as the heroic lead and the rest of the characters, and by extension the players at the table, as sidekicks and supporting cast. This notion has to be undone in some way.
Some people will pickup on hints that you drop. “Ok THIEF, how are YOU going to get the REST OF THE PARTY past this obstacle.” Emphasizing words that reframe the situation or intently focusing on another player while talking are ways to politely control where the spotlight is pointing. You’re not outright saying that it is X person’s turn, but using your body language and position of authority as the Game Master to control the spotlight and which player is in control of the situation.
Confront, Off To The Side
Some people aren’t going to take the hint , and you’re probably going to have to tell the player that their actions are disrupting group fun. Do this off to the side. It’s pretty common sense, but frustration levels in a situation like this can run high, and it can feel very satisfying to take someone to task in front of a group. However, that isn’t going to help get the game back on track and EVERYONE having a fun time. Ultimately, you need to confront the player, but in a way that gets them back in line with the group, especially if it is a friend who is the player.
To make the player understand, you need to make sure they know that it is their action that is causing a problem. You also need to do it in a way that lets them jump right back into the game without making them feel ashamed or fuming about the situation. This will get them lashing out even more at the table. Whatever you have to say, try to phrase it as non-confrontational as possible, while still letting the person know they need to change their actions long term. That is not something easy to do.
Fulfill The Base Problem
A long time ago, I had a player like this in a long term game. I realized he was hitting some hard times and using the game as a chance to take control. He was a decent guy and I didn’t want to see him ostracized by the group for his actions at the table. I pulled him aside a few times and got him out of the mindset for about an hour each game, but eventually he lapsed back into it. Other players started talking to me about the game, and I had to do something bigger.
Final solution? I ran a solo adventure for his character, over the course of 10 hours in one day. We hung out, talked a lot, gamed, ordered pizza, etc. I made sure to let him know about the issues in the game and the things people were saying about it, but only after he knew everyone was still friends with him. He spilled a lot of his problems and apologized for “being a colossal dick at game”. After getting a lot of his control issues out in the solo adventure, without feeling the need to perform in front of everyone, he felt a lot better, at least when he came to the table. Like a lot of problems people have, he realized he had it, but didn’t feel like he could stop. Running the solo game helped him redefine what the group game was about for him. It was an almost immediate change at the table. He decided to switch characters a session later, saying he didn’t want to keep playing with all the bad stuff attached to that character. The game went on for a year and everyone had a great time with it.
So have you had this problem in your game? How did you deal with it?