Today’s guest article — on what can be a very awkward topic — is by John Lewis of RPG Alchemy. John’s loved RPGs since the early ’80s and has game mastered dozens of systems over the past few decades. He is one of the founders and authors of RPG Alchemy and is looking forward to RageCON in Reno, Nevada, this year, where he’ll be giving a seminar on player management for GMs (he’s pretty sure this topic will come up). Thanks, John! –Martin
The social structure of a gaming group is not unlike other team activities; it requires communication, cooperation, and cohesion. Participants need to work together in order to achieve their goals while understanding that “winning” the game means everyone at the table had a great time. Sometimes the roleplaying team dynamic breaks down. It may be a problem with the group as a whole or the game itself but on occasion it’s due to the actions of a single person.
We’ve all experienced the player that through their actions at the table, their poor attendance, or their general lack of consideration for others, has managed to completely disrupt the team dynamic. If, after some critical analysis, a little social coaching, and some frank discussions, you’re faced with the unenviable task of letting someone go, here are a few tips to make it as painless as possible.
Sit down with the player and just tell them like it is. Try to avoid being accusatory or casting blame. You don’t want to set up a situation of excuses and defensive explanations. Just lay out the facts, point out where the group has tried to communicate the problem with the player’s behavior, and tell them they’re no longer part of the game. I’ve had to do this to someone that I’m both friends with and a coworker and discovered that this isn’t really a discussion (numerous discussions had already occurred).
Don’t Be Emotional
By the time you get to the point of removing someone from the group any anger or frustration with the person should be gone. This isn’t an argument; analysis has been done, corrective action attempted, and a decision has been made. Odds are pretty good that the player won’t be excited by this development but you’re not helping the situation by being frustrated or angry.
Don’t Be Patronizing
Don’t make the mistake of trying to convince the person that you’re doing them a favor or that this situation is somehow good for them. The bottom line is that asking the player to leave isn’t being done for the good of the player, it’s being done for the good of the group. This is a classic case of the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. The commitment needs to be to the greater whole and the focus on teamwork and cooperation.
Obviously no one is ever going to be excited about, or thank you for, being asked to leave. The entire situation is uncomfortable and feelings are likely to be hurt. Focus on the rest of the group and why you’re doing this but once done don’t revel in it. Allow the former player the ability to gracefully exit and don’t influence their future gaming options with others. Move on and allow the rest of the group to recover and get back to the hobby they love.
There isn’t an easy way to ask someone to leave the gaming group. Before you or the group gets to the point of removing someone be sure you’ve looked at the situation carefully and are sure of where the problem lies. Once the group has committed to the decision remember that you’re attempting to restore the team dynamic and ensure that the hobby is as fun for as many people as possible.
It is really tough; there have been times I’ve needed to do this, but haven’t had the courage or social backing that I felt I needed.
You can suffer along for quite a while… but you have to repair your group while it’s still a group. Letting things fester until your good players start finding better things to do is a much worse outcome.
It’s never easy. I’ve had to do it a couple times over the past few decades but in the long run it’s better to do it then live with the problems that can come with not doing it.
I’ve always felt you should never keep dealing with something that risks ruining the hobby for you.
Looking back on my own experiences, I could have saved probably YEARS of gaming anguish if I had done this sooner once or twice.
I don’t play video games with people that cause me issues. I don’t play sports with people that cause me issues. I don’t even like to work with people that causes me issues.
Why would I tolerate inviting people to play my #1 hobby with me that cause me issues?
Whether or not it’s tough to “fire” a player from the gaming group depends on our relationship. It’s easy to boot a player when all we have in common is that game. The player leaves; we’re done. But when that player is someone I’d still like to maintain a relationship with outside of gaming, such as an existing friend, a relative, or a professional colleague, then booting them from the group is much tougher because doing so jeopardizes our entire relationship. Who wants to risk losing a friend over a game, or suffer blowback at work because of a game? Those are the cases where we hesitate to act.
Watch a few seasons of “Hard Knocks”. Football GMs are masters of this. Those “cut day” episodes always give me panic attacks.
@ Blackjack; I actually had to do this with a player that is also one of my employees. In my experience handling it professionally and calmly can minimize hard feelings, at least as much as they can be minimized.
Oftentimes what will happen is the “cut” player finds a group that is more in line with the player’s preferences and play style.
I had to do this about a month ago and it was a pain. The player we were “firing” was immature and had no cohesion with the rest of the group. When he was confronted he started to accuse everyone else of being the problem. I was fine with him being mad until he started to personally attack the people in the group, who I count as friends. He wound up blocked out on Skype, and I advised my other groupmates to do the same. Sad situation.