Roleplaying: What Would Happen If…

By Shamus
on Jan 31, 2008
Filed under:
Tabletop Games

One of the guys in my gaming group is an occasional source of chaos and confusion. Once in a while he’ll do something that seems outrageous, crazy, and wildly out-of-character, and the rest of us have to try to come up with ways our characters can compensate to keep the game from flying apart right there. I don’t want to relate a bunch of gaming stories, but it’s become a running joke in our group that his character must be this multiple-personality psycho that wants to donate his money to charity one minute but turn around and light beggars on fire for amusement the next. It’s not quite that bad, but sometimes it feels like it.

Okay, one example, for context:

The party is about to meet with a very serious, powerful, and difficult queen. We’re searched for weapons (someone attempted to assassinate her once and now she’s pretty paranoid) and then sent into a waiting room. This is a major moment for our characters, as very few people have even laid eyes on this woman in over a century. We’ve just saved the entire island from a very serious threat, and we’re wondering what she will say to us. This is a major moment in the game for many of us, and we’re all pondering how we should roleplay this and how our characters should feel.

Psycho gets into the waiting room first. The guards left him with his magical horn. When blown it can be heard a mile away and will stun anyone caught in front of it for a combat round. He proceeds to blast each of the other five party members, one at a time, as they enter the room. He gets right in their face and unloads the horn on them at point-blank. We’re a chamber away from this paranoid queen and he’s hitting us with this earth-shaking horn to knock us over. There is no in-character justification for doing this. There is nothing to be gained by doing this. It brings the roleplaying at the table to a grinding halt, because it’s pure nonsense and nobody knows how to respond. The GM (not me) has to flail around and figure out what to do about this, and has to come up with reasonable reactions from the NPCs to this nonsense player behavior.

(What probably should have happened was that he would be arrested, or maybe executed on the spot. This queen has a notorious nasty streak and is nobody to trifle with. He certainly would have fought back if the guards tried to take him into custody, and… what then? Would we have helped him? The whole thing could have either led to us murdering all of the guards or a TPK. Either way, it could kill the campaign right there.)

Rather than let him take control of the game and stop the rest of us from having fun, the GM just glazed over it and moved on.

Then I read somewhere – and if I’d been on the job I would have bookmarked it – about players “experimenting” with the gameworld, and I realized that was exactly what we were seeing. He doesn’t really want to play a character who is a barking loon. He wasn’t trying to play a jerk. He just wanted to see how the world and the other characters would react. People do this in computer games all the time. I wonder what would happen if I shoot the scientists? Contrary to what videogame reactionaries claim, this doesn’t mean the player is acting out some secret desire to murder members of the scientific community. They just want to see what the game would do about it.

In this way I think the GM’s reaction was a good one. Sure, it was unrealistic and created an odd continuity gap as the NPC’s sort of ignored the crazy stuff he was doing, but it denied the player the feedback he wanted. Letting him take control of the game and turn our story of heroes saving the lands into a story about a bunch of prankster loonies would have only rewarded his behavior. By ignoring it he was deprived of any feedback for his actions. He was still doing crazy stuff, but he was no longer affecting the world. Think of Half-Life 2: You can shoot Alyx right in the face and the bullets go right through and hit the wall behind her. She won’t even notice. If you start acting like an idiot, the game world stops paying attention to you.

In the end, this approach worked. Psycho tried a couple of other minor pranks, and when they didn’t result in mayhem he knocked it off and went back to playing his character honestly.

Of course, the GM could always just respond to this behavior with the standard “you can’t do that”, but this approach is better in my book, as it is impossible for the player to complain or dispute without them admitting and confronting just how disruptive they’re being. The player can’t very well demand continuity from the world when he’s not following any sort of continuity with his character’s behavior. (What’s he gonna do, demand that the guards come in and kill us?) In this case no feedback is actually better than negative feedback. It’s a little passive-agressive, but I think it’s worth it to keep the game moving for the benefit of everyone else at the table. A good GM will talk to the player about it later, but simply denying them the feedback they seek is a good way to stop the behavior without stopping the game.

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2020201777 comments. (Seventy-seven is the smallest positive integer requiring five syllables in English!)

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  1. Retlor says:

    I think that’s probably the best way of handling it. The only problem I can see is that some players might take it as a challenge.

    “Ok, the game doesn’t react if I blow the magic horn at the guards…..what if I attack the Empress?”

    Then of course, there is the issue that you’re essentially shutting down the character and making the game less interactive, which somehow defeats the purpose of role-playing. Of course, that doesn’t mean that you should let one of the players break the game. I think it’s a fine line to tread.

  2. Maddy says:

    I don’t think it’s such an incredibly fine line to tread. After all, the player himself is already trying to make the game less interactive for the other players, while not truly role-playing himself. So he’s already tried to defeat the purpose of role-playing. Good for the GM.

    If this guy wants to control things, he’ll just have to find his own GM gig. And if he just wants to mess with people, no one should encourage him unless they like being messed with.

  3. The Werebear says:

    Honestly, that is probably the most graceful way of handling it. I can’t say that my group would have done nearly so well. I was playing a pirate based DND campaign set in the far south, where people hacked through ice with a large, superheated blade on the front of their ship. One player, who for a character flaw took “Attraction to all shiny objects, with the compulsion to touch them/pick them up,” I.E. Kender Syndrome, decided that she wanted to go up and touch the shiny blade (that was approximately 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.) Did not go well for her. Another time, she lept overboard and faceplanted on the ice because I happened to describe the sun reflecting off of it. So, mostly I just let her do stupid stuff when it mostly just hurt her.

    That is a good solution, though, simply ignoring OOC/psycho actions that would affect the rest of the party. I’ll have to use it.

  4. Tommi says:

    Player problems are best solved at player level. Someone, preferably the GM, ought to talk with the player in question. Saying things like “You playing a character like that makes the game sour for everyone else.” or “That action killed my suspension of disbelief/immersion/momentum and I didn’t like it. Could you please not do it anymore?”

    Assuming the person is a friend, he is likely to be open to negotiation and not making the game unfun for everybody.

  5. Retlor says:

    Maddy: I agree that it’s the optimum solution. The problem is that if people feel that their actions are out of their hands, then they might well feel cheated.

    If that’s how they have fun when roleplaying, then they might well feel that the game doesn’t cater to their style. I have a habit of playing smart-mouthed characters, or at least characters who like to think they’re smart-mouthed, and when I say potentially game-breaking things, I have come to expect in character retribution. With my current Star Wars character, I have no doubt that he’s going to say something that will get him killed someday.

    The point that someone brought up above is that player problems should be handled at the player level. At the same time, character problems should be handled at the character level.

    If a character does something stupid, why shouldn’t the character pay the price for it? However, at the same time, if that’s going to ruin the fun for people, should the GM intervene, in this case by ignoring him? That’s the fine line I think that the GM walks.

  6. Bogan the Mighty says:

    I do feel the need to apologize due to the fact that I gave him some of the feedback he was after. I forget if I could tell if my character would have been able to know if he was blowing that thing or not, but since I was the last one to walk into the room I decided to cast silence on the area preventing him from causing me any pain. It did make him leave my character alone so win for me. I do love my stumbling cleric.

  7. -Chipper says:

    That sort of non-reaction is called extinction in psychology. It is often a good choice when dealing with attention-getting antics. Withhold the attention they crave when they act out, but do show some positive attention when they are behaving & the problem will often go away.

  8. ReluctantDM says:

    You shot Alyx in the face? You MONSTER! ;)

  9. Eva says:

    I think you’re right in your assessment of why the player was doing that. I wasn’t there, obviously, but I could also see that he might have thought it was funny. Here is a big serious event, you are being ushered into the presence of the Queen after saving the kingdom. The tension is unbearable for someone who craves comic relief and probably shouldn’t be playing in a ‘serious’ game at all. Joker gets to go first, and decides he’s going to play the role of herald, announcing your presence, one by one, with a blast on his ‘trumpet’. You’re not in combat, so the stunning effect is not going to hurt your PCs, and maybe it will work to your advantage, to intimidate the queen with your audacity. Or maybe it will get you in trouble, but the joker is OK with that, as it’s ‘only a game’ to him. That said, it really should be in-character; a wacky character doing this makes much more sense than a dour paladin or something suddenly deciding to cut loose. And there’s no excuse for ruining everyone’s fun; as I said, the wacky player would probably be happier in a wacky game, and leave the serious world to those who like it that way.

  10. ChattyDm says:

    Psycho is probably an Outlier. A Class clown that gets his thrills by subverting the social equilibrium of the group.

    These are the hardest players to have around a table.

    Had his PC been arrested and then publicly humiliated by the queen by having his eardrums shattered by 4 shriekers the player would probably have had his kick and the game saved…

    Then I’d have had a one on one discussion about his characer’s plan so I could, as DM, plan to give him his kick and still maintain fun for all… (It’s a good selfish test also, if he’s a selfish twit, it’s easier to give him the boot)

    That’s my take on it..

  11. Robert says:

    That seems almost like he’s roleplaying chaotic behavior to me. Here’s a queen? Let’s tweak her nose.

  12. Jeremiah says:

    Personally, as a DM, I probably would have had the game world react to him, exactly as it would react, only without harming the other players at all.

    After all, they had no clue that they were traveling with a mad-man who obviously had some design on harming the Queen.

    Ignoring it was probably the most elegant way to handle it, but I would have reacted. His character would not have made it out alive, and if the character did, they would probably be banished from the country/hunted down/etc. In the end, there wouldn’t really be a way to keep that particular character in the game, unless the whole party wanted to play the whole “being hunted by everyone” game.

  13. WysiWyg says:

    This reminds me of a game I ran a couple years back. It was some fantasy game, I don’t remember which.

    Anyways, I had sunk the ship they were on, and they had lost their horses, so naturally they wanted to buy new ones. The problem was that the village they came to was a small secluded place, and the farmers had no use for gold where as the horses where essential.

    The players sat down in the inn and started discussing what to do, and decided that they should steal the horses (big surprise). Problem was that it was late and they were tired and cranky, so they decide not to just steal the horses but to commit genocide and kill everyone in the town.

    They line up everyone and I start to panic. What should I do? It’s not like their characters to commit such heinous acts, the worst that the baddest of them would do was steal money from rich people. So I start to describe in painstaking detail how the mothers clutch their children, how they howl for mercy. Nothing works, it ends with the PCs executing every single one.

    The next (no in-game) day we are going to go at it again, and now they have regretted what they did. So we agreed that they had just fantasized about it over some ale.

    Next time though, I think I’ll just ignore them and send them to bed. Ever noticed how players are so like small children? ;-)

  14. Robert says:

    From the Hard but Fairly Fair School:

    He’s beaten up by the guards, thrown into the dungeon overnight, and then let go in the morning after his sheepish apology to the queen. All this done by DM fiat, related to the party in the past tense. In the meantime, the players who DIDN’T ruin the moment go on to have the final climactic scene and enjoy themselves.

  15. Ferrous Buller says:

    Our unofficial rule back in the day was “Stupid shit will be punished harshly” – death, imprisonment, loss of a beloved doodad, whatever. Trying to grief other players was one thing; trying to grief the GM by trying to break the game-world was just an invitation to an in-game spanking.

    Also, this post reminds me why I don’t mind the artificial limitations of CRPGs so much. :-)

  16. Ice9 says:

    I dunno, any player I can think of would rather be ignored than captured by fiat.

    And if you actually play out the capture scene, even if the guards have overwhelming forces, it could easily end up filling the whole gaming session. Not to mention if he escalates things to a lethal fight and then calls for help from the rest of the group – some might feel compelled to assist.

    If he demands to bring it to a fight, just mention that the guards are trying to subdue him and you’ll run the fight after the rest of the party is done talking to the queen.

    I find that a useful rule of thumb – if the party splits up, run for the side with more players first.

  17. Luke Maciak says:

    Interesting way of handling it. I would probably just pull out the “null magic zone” trick in this circumstance. The queen is paranoid and fears assassination, so she hired a wizard to magic proof the waiting chamber and the audience chamber.

    Either that or I would calmly explain to the player that he is about to sign his own death warrant and remind him about all the guards waiting outside. Then I would explain to him that if he tries this the guards will probably bust in and arrest him on the spot – or kill him if he resists.

    My former GM on the other hand would just smile and say with this ominous intensity:

    “Are you sure you want to do this?”

    In most cases this would be enough to stop all of our crazy shenanigans right there. He would TPK us if we did something incredibly stupid.

  18. Ellimystic says:

    When I DM, I give the players absolute freedom to do anything they want – within character. If what they’re doing both breaks character and is clearly designed to wreck the game, I throw everything to the wind and blast them.

    So if this was a Chaotic Neutral lunatic, I could see him doing it – the guards would probably walk in, ask wtf was going on and, if someone explained, take away the Horn and be done with it. If it absolutely came to combat, the guard (whom I would have described as about the equivalent of a 30th level character) would just cuff everyone upside the head and knock them down, eventually taking the Horn away and leaving the room. The Queen would be right cheesed off and there’d have to be some pretty smooth talking to make her forgive Mr Nutso.

    Now, if he was playing a Lawful Good Paladin of Stuffy and Rigid, and was CLEARLY breaking character just to screw with us? “The vibrations shake the room. A rafter breaks off and lands on your head. You die, and are crushed to an unrecognizable mixture of liquid and gel. You can choose to be resurrected as a non-sentient puddle of organic goo, or you can go to the next room, start rolling, and come back when you’re done. Yes, I know this makes no sense. You’re not roleplaying, so I don’t have to either.”

    Logic is no object. One guy, playing a serious, loyal Paladin, randomly turned around and stabbed the Monk in the face in the middle of combat. He was doing it because of an out-of-character beef with the Monk’s player, and I had him miss the Monk and end up hitting himself in the jugular by mistake, causing instant death.

    Yes, I do stuff like this =P The players who aren’t trying to raise hell appreciate it, and the players who ARE trying to raise hell get sick of this and leave after a while. I once arbitrarily killed a guy three times in his first session because he was being a clown and making the game unpleasant for everyone else. He didn’t come for a second try, and everyone was happier for it.

    That’s not to say I don’t tolerate strangeness – sometimes, someone will act weird for in-character reasons. They doubt the cause, or they’re foreshadowing their betrayal, or something like that. Fine. So long as it makes sense. Sometimes I’ll even ask, via notes, “Where are you going with this?”, just to make sure they’re still playing the game. But if they’re not, I tend to just waste them by fiat.

  19. Hal says:

    Put me in the camp of people who wouldn’t tolerate the shenanigans. As soon as there was talk of attacking fellow party members, I would stop the action and ask the player, “What are you doing? Do you realize how stupid this is? You can either roll this back and get serious or deal with the fact that such an action is going to call in about 20 guards who could squash you like a bug, and I wouldn’t count on your team to help you after you attacked them.”

    I had to deal with my players in-fighting once. I just stopped it immediately, and asked them what the heck was going through their minds. They were at a critical part of the story and suddenly felt it necessary to ignore the BBEG in order to attack each other? Something had to be fixed or else the game was essentially ruined (and it was fixed, by golly).

  20. Jacob says:

    I’m not sure what I’d do as a DM–probably have him arrested along with anyone trying to defend him. I’m not saying that it’d be the best way to handle it or that your DM was wrong to go the ignoring it route. Frankly, if the Queen was that paranoid, I’d have probably had the guards confiscate anything magical that the characters had on them as well as weapons. A magical horn of unknown properties? No way that sucker is entering the throne room.

    As a player, well, I have a low tolerance for being annoyed by immature prats and this would trigger every vindictive instinct I have. Everyone has favorite parts of their characters that they relate to and it isn’t hard to figure out what those are and mess with it. Like the stealthy rogue who loved skulking around in shadows in his custom-made black armor. That alone isn’t so bad, but he was stealing from the party and constantly getting us into trouble. After a couple of weeks asking the DM if I find any bleach (everywhere–ruined castles, rural marketplaces, zombie hangouts) I eventually found some. Let’s just say that rogues don’t look so cool skulking around in armor died in poorly-executed paisley.

    Vicious? Yeah. I’m afraid that I’m not very nice to annoying people. Fortunately, the rest of the party backed me on it (indeed, it took enlisting the mage for a sleep spell and the ranger for some leather working) so I knew that I wasn’t the only one tired of the guy. Maybe not surprisingly, we didn’t have to deal with him much longer after that. If one person is that disruptive, I’d just as soon have him leave sooner than later.

  21. maia says:

    I like the solution of just ignoring a player like that, but after the evening’s game, I would take him aside and say that if he pulls that crap one more time his character dies and he is no longer playing with us. If he doesn’t want to play the game, then why waste everyone’s time and energy on his antics. I only play with people who want to play the game we are playing. If the game is silly and not at all serious, then whatever, be silly… it all has to do with the rules of the group and the game being played.

  22. Cyndane says:

    People who do stuff like this tend to annoy me, but like most annoying people, it generally is best to ignore them.

    And I feel the need to say that that text example formatted in the middle of your post is really hard to read on the black background. You end up with a white background and the grayish text that is standard on the black background option.

    I more was posting to state that error than anything else.

  23. Epizootic says:

    That’s a really good idea. I’ll remember that.

  24. Davesnot says:

    You could also do something that is used all the time in Computer RPG… Save.. reload…

    I think the GM handled it right.. adolescent behaviour in a game of adults is best ignored.. the guy realizes he’s not being like the others.. gets in line.. next time maybe he “rolls up” a character that is a psycho.. next time..

    But the GM could have decided.. WTF.. and played it out with psycho blasting the horn.. guards.. mayhem…

    then after all or some are dead.. say, “ok.. you clear the daydream from your head and realize you’ve waited for over 10 minutes in the waiting room…”

    kind of a .. Save .. Die.. Re-load… which is sometimes fun.. and if it is fun.. then that’s good.. If everyone knows that they aren’t ruining the game then eveyone can join in.. then maybe waiting room daydreams become something the group looks forward to.. a bit of Hack-n-slash release before having to bow and say, “Yes, my Queen.”

    If you are still a group… then everything is fine… just toss him a bone every now and then.. I, for one, like to pull the levers that say, “pull me”.. even though I know I shouldn’t..

    It’s when you DON’T do something because it will ruin the game that problems happen.. I once had a GM let me drop in on an on-going game of his.. got an NPC.. got a bit of background on him.. then into the fray.. well.. there came a point that my character really shoulda jumped up and gone, “YOU WILL ALL PAY FOR THIS!..” and start shooting… but I figured that’d mess up the game… certainly not what a visitor should be doing…

    Well.. the GM knew that the character would be put in that situation.. and was ready for such a battle.. To our credit.. I did manage to find a way to satisfy my character and not start shooting everyone… so it wasn’t too bad..

    But the fear of “ruining” the game kept me from role-playing..

    Remember .. you can’t ruin the game.. The GM can do anything.. Including .. Save.. Die.. Re-load.

    ..but blasting that horn is pretty whacked.

  25. Tango says:

    Sounds to me like it’s time to play “Survivor: Gaming Group” – DM gets the immunity idol and I know who I’m voting for!

  26. Jeff says:

    “That seems almost like he’s roleplaying chaotic behavior to me. Here’s a queen? Let’s tweak her nose.”

    There’s a big difference between D&D’s Chaotic alignments, and insanity.

    As WotC has said repeatedly, the Good-Evil axis are a character’s motivators, and the Law-Chaos axis is the means to that end.

    A computer playing chess is Lawful, a pro mostly Lawful, a newbie fairly Chaotic, for example, in that they don’t have somewhat predictable, set responses. (They wouldn’t know a Knight’s Gambit if it was used against them, nor the traditional counters, for example.)

  27. Namfoodle says:

    Thankfully, I haven’t personally seen anyone that disruptive in decades. It would suck if someone who was otherwise a good friend was pulling that. I imagine that group dynamics would make it difficult to just get rid of him. So glossing over his shenanigans is probably the best solution.

    But I also like the idea of a Deus Ex Manchina Queen’s Champion jumping in the room and taking the horn and beating him with it til it breaks.

    I’ve been lucky. The worst thing I’ve dealt with lately is nothing more than comic relief. We have a guy who has what I will call “bogus rules Tourette’s”. He often busts out with completely made up rules (that are advantageous to his PC’s current situation, of course). He apparently has no control over these outbursts, so we all just laugh and move on.

  28. Rhykker says:

    I haven’t had the time to read all the comments, so I apologize if I’m being redundant.

    The solution your GM came up with, Shamus, is likely the best he could have done *at the time.* However, from what you’ve written, the player has behaved this way before, and the GM clearly did not rectify the problem in the past. It should not have gotten to this point.

    Sure, ignoring a child screaming for attention will work – the child will grow bored and tire himself out. But not until he screams as loud as he can.

    “Psycho” will only stop pushing the limits of the game world once he has pushed as hard as he can – and I doubt your GM will simply glaze over Psycho burning down orphanages, defecating on the altar in the High Church of St. Cuthbert, and other such nonsense.

    I picked up D&D when I was roughly twelve years old, and have been playing for the past ten years or so. I have been, almost exclusively, a Dungeon Master. What I’m getting at is that I have dealt with players ranging from immature adolescents, to rebel teenagers, to disillusioned young adults. I’ve DMed perhaps the most dysfunctional parties you could imagine – but we had a blast.

    When D&D was new to us, the players slowly started to learn that they could do things they could not otherwise do in a video game. Eventually, the braver (read: the most troublesome) players began to test the limits of the game world. This wasn’t necessarily a bad thing – they were seeking the limits to know that they were there. A few slaps on the wrist were enough to show the players that their actions had consequences – and perhaps once or twice, I had to bring down the hammer of justice on repeat offenders who were pushing too hard.

    Once the players established that their actions had consequences, they stopped pushing. That is not to say that people no longer wanted to act silly – but a great thing happened: the players began to regulate themselves. I would not have to step in and say, “I’m not going to allow you to do that.” The other players would talk the offending player out of committing a certain action – or, if they were unhappy with him and didn’t think their characters would be effected, they would just let him get his wrists slapped.

    The end result is that the players still sometimes act silly, but they do so when they are relatively sure there will be little to no consequences: they’ll prank each other, instead of some important NPC. They’ll defile the quarters of their defeated enemy, and not that of the prince. They’ll contemplate doing outrageous things out-of-character, getting a laugh around the table, but know better than to actually do them. During important in-game moments, they will play it serious in-character, leaving silliness to out-of-character commentary.

    EDIT: Neat “Edit” system, Shamus. I’ve never seen this before; did you make it yourself? Kudos.

  29. Dana says:

    I believe the idea of “no feedback” often being better than “negative feedback” to actually be a very deep metaphysical (indeed, spiritual) insight, and I am glad that you were able to relate in such a compelling way for your specific audience (i.e. mostly gamers). Nice job! :)

    If someone acts aggressively towards me, for instance, then either acting submissive OR acting aggressive back will possibly (if not probably) reinforce, rather than diminish, the aggressive behavior. These are the two basic scripted responses to aggression, and the person acting aggressive will generally have a scripted response to either of them. But give them a different response, or no response at all, and one can often snap (or confuse) the other person out of that (unhelpful) mode of relating.

    And at the very least, I can (often) keep myself from being drawn into that mode of relating (which I find unnecessary and distasteful). After all, allowing an aggressive person to bring out an aggressive response in me is obviously letting that other person control my behavior – which is what I understand aggression to be about anyway (an attempt to control the behavior of others). Denying them any response prevents us at least from unthinkingly bouncing off one another and can force a(n often needed) re-evaluation of the situation by the person in question, generally to the benefit of all. :)

  30. Kristin says:

    And thus a gamer group learns what every teacher knows – behavior that’s annoying but ignorable can safely be ignored, and sometimes should.

    Teachers, of course, picked up this trick from parents.

  31. Dwaggi says:

    This post has made me feel rather guilty… I play one of those chaotic phsyco-people. We usually end up doing more backstabbing than actually following the plot, which probably annoys our DM out of his skull. Time to go rehash a new personality…

    As for ignoring the disruptive players, that’s a good strategy. It applies nicely to other situations as well.

  32. Adamantyr says:

    I’ve had gamers like that, and seen them in action.

    Generally, players acting like that have a reason. Often, the player feels the need to do SOMETHING, and something irrational is just as good as rational. This is usually because they’re feeling bored or confused by the game’s flow, and the way they assert control is to disrupt it. By making other people such as the players and GM react to their actions, they take over the game.

    In the end, such actions are selfish in nature. The player isn’t in character; he’s using his character to express a real-life frustration. As stated above, he may feel the game is just “too serious” and he wanted to shake things up a little.

    How the GM handles such a situation varies. Ideally, we all dream of throwing a troublesome player out the door to bother someone else. But what if his boredom is because his character’s been sidelined and neglected all session? A GM does have a responsibility to ensure every character has equal opportunity to participate and contribute; failure to do so means the player may take the drastic measure of creating his own opportunities, for good or ill of the game.

  33. Actually, by ignoring the joker, the GM directly addresses the meta-play issue (the player trying to disrupt the game), with his own meta-play response (treating it as though it never happened). If getting a punishing response is precisely what he wanted, then punishing/demolishing his character would only encourage his behavior.

    It’s funny that we’re talking about one of your buddies like he were a problem child, though he’s probably got a better car than some of us do.

  34. Thomas Johnson says:

    Re: Derek at #9

    What came to my mind was this:

    http://gillen.cream.org/wordpress_html/?p=950

    Thanks for the read.

  35. Vendrin says:

    I’d just warn pyscho to shape up or stop coming.

  36. RPharazon says:

    Good point with the entire HL2 ignoring you thing. I never really noticed until now. I just thought it was lack of time and programming, since they can’t think of EVERY situation. I never actually noticed that it was ignoring you on purpose.

    On that note, in one of my D&D sessions, we were all in a big throne room at the end of a big quest, and we were meeting with a good king guy who we rightfully rethroned. You know, all that malarkey.

    Anyways, me and a friend have an idea. We try to kill the king. The rest of the players agree, and the DM has no choice.

    We kill the king, and all the guards turn on us. For the next 2 hours, we were doing the combat dance with waves and waves of guards until we all finally died.

    It pretty much wrecked the DM’s plans, since he had 2 more missions all laid out after that.

    The thing the DM learned was “Never plan ahead by more than an hour.”
    That’s a good DM rule to follow, isn’t it?

  37. Ryan says:

    I actually have noticed that younger gamers have a tendancy to act out like this. They have been playing video games and it would give into their behavior. As a DM, I have flat out told them, no you would not do that and would move on. Yeah, the player whines to me later about not doing anything exciting, but then I remind him that he did some massive damage to the big bad guy and he is ok. Most of the older guys in the group, don’t have this problem.

  38. Zaxares says:

    Well, I’d probably first pull the good old “Are you SURE you want to do that?” DM line. Just to give him a last chance to pull out before he slams into the building at top speed. Usually most people will take the cue and retract their action; in most circumstances, they were simply bored and wanted to inject some humor into the game. I can understand this and am willing to let things slide if they turn back. But if not…

    I’d have probably run with it and let Psycho do his totally out of character stunt. And then bring in the inevitable consequences.

    The guards immediately assume that one of them (or all of them) are assassins and strike to kill. That’s only logical for them; their Queen has been attacked before, and they can’t afford to take any chances. They’ll shoot first and ask questions later. The Queen would activate whatever mundane and magical defenses she had, or simply teleport away to a safe location. The party will have to fight their way out, and the guards will show no mercy. (Although if *I* was feeling merciful I might have the party awaken later in the dungeon, naked, battered and bruised.)

    Then, I will ask Psycho in real life what the HELL did they think they were doing? If this is a first offence, I will sternly remind them of the game charter that I have all players read and sign, that any activity conducted with the express intent to ruin the fun for others will not be tolerated.

    If they apologise and seem sincere about it, I will give them another chance. Otherwise, it’s out the door with them, don’t bother coming back next time. The same applies if this was a repeated offence. It sounds harsh, but let’s face it. Some players are just more trouble than they’re worth, and you and your group are better off not having them there in the first place.

  39. MSchmahl says:

    The last gaming group I played with was equally at home with RPGs, computer games, card games, and board games. This was college in the early nineties, so LAN parties were common. We played GURPS approximately twice a month. Playing Time Travel, one player wanted to detonate a tactical nuclear weapon from c.2060 during the Civil War, for no good plot reason. We immediately quit the game and played Supremacy (with ALL the expansions!). The player in question didn’t survive long.

    It helps to have a verstile gaming group. The Time Travel game picked up again after a few weeks, but with the Nuke of Gettysburg retconned out of existence.

  40. K says:

    Well, this is not a character problem, it’s a player problem. Yeah, I’m quoting Feartheboot here. It’s actually quite simple: The GM has to talk this over with the player outside of the game. If the player sees why that action was stupid, problem solved. If not, kick the player from the group. Your group is already too big, so that’s not a problem.
    To solve the problem ingame and on the spot: The annoying character is magically silenced without reason and cannot interact with the world. Meaning: Tell the guy at the table: “If you want to play kindergarden, go outside, we’re RPing here.” Then continue with the story, his action never happened.

    As a GM, you can overrule anything, and you should if problems happen.

  41. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    As I was the acting DM that day I would like to point out that none of that was my thought process. I was just fresh out of a separate campaign where insanity reigned supreme. So the antics of (i am spilling the beans) Thufirs character seemed mild and utterly harmless. In retrospect I SHOULD have reacted in some way or another, but it seemed pointless at the time and just wanted to move on. You also forgot to mention the candles on poles that lined the room. Thufir proceeded to snuff out every other candle in each row, and pocket them. This was another senseless act that i could not resolve a punishment for. No one was going to hew his head off for just stealing candles, but at the same time they were the queens candles. I had one of the castle guards gaze around the room in a confused and something isn’t quite rite manner. Then he shrugged it of and walked away. Thufirs action did not go unnoticed but it did go unpunished. Even amongst the goofy crap he pulls i love having him in the group and some our best stories are Thufir/Lucian stories.

  42. Deoxy says:

    Interesting topic… but I’m going to comment on something else instead (and yes, I have an “in-character” reason for breaking this game! heh).

    I’m using the black-background theme you set up (THANK YOU!), and your example is REALLY hard to read (I ended up highlighting it, which fixed the problem) – the text changed to light gray, but the box is still the original off-white-ish color. You can see how that would be difficult…

  43. Alexis says:

    Knowing his motivation gives you the background to have a useful OOC discussion with him about experimentation. Maybe he needs to be more engaged; maybe he finds RP difficult and any time he tries something novel, it comes out crass like this.

    Whatever it is, you need to have an OOC conversation, find out why he’s doing it and find a solution. Ignoring the problem will not solve it, it may be ‘graceful’ but in a long term situation, you need to deal with the root cause.

    Btw I don’t mean you “have a talk about his behaviour”. Laying down the law would be disastrous as you probably have different priority systems and/or concepts of what the game is. Identify those differences then find ways to proceed in unison.

  44. roxysteve says:

    Yes, everyone has attempted to do this sort of thing in a computer game, but the situation there is entirely different to that in a multi-player ftf RPG. For one thing, everyone is sharing the same consensual imaginary storyline. The question then becomes not “what will happen if I…” but “what will happen TO EVERYONE if I…”

    While I agree that the GM here reacted well, and that he alone could gauge the player atmosphere, I think that the player concerned was being a jerk because he was treating the other players as plastic figures on the grid rather than as co-gamers, and behaving with a complete lack of regard for them.

    I’ve come across this sort of thing before, usually in people who became bored easily (and who would be labelled as having ADD these days as a result). I also believe that when people do this they are not trying to find out how the world works, but how fast the GM can think on his feet (which is similar but not the same thing at all).

    Were I the GM in the story, it would more likely have gone along the lines:

    Non-disruptive player: I enter the waiting room and…
    Disruptive Player: I hit him with a blast from my ridiculously overpowered horn-o-destruction!
    Me: (to Non-disruptive player) As you enter you see Johnny Lackabrain over there step up to you and put his horn to his lips, whereupon he falls to the ground as a rain of fine dust. When you recover from your shock, you realize he has somehow been completely disintegrated. Oddly, so have his clothes, weapons and the horn. Only dust remains of your former friend. On the walls around you, you become aware that glowing runes are written. As you look at them, they fade into invisibility.

    What can I say? You want to experiment, I’ll accomodate you. I often require players to do just that to work out how things work, especially magic in my Call of Cthulhu games. But if you want to screw around like this, tell me so and I’ll run it again for you one on one at a later date when no-one else has to have their game sacrificed on the altar of your desire for mayhem.

    That’s how I see it, anyway.

    Steve.

  45. Belzi.ET says:

    I probably would send a guard into the room after the first use of magic-horn (cause he heard that noise).
    When the player will use his horn a second time, the guard can clearly define the source of the noise and therefore knock the player out with a blow from behind.
    The player temporarily will be arrested by the guards to check his inventory and identify him. During this time the rest of the group will have their conversation with the queen, receive some fancy stuff (or xp or just being sold for their work).
    Afterwards, the guards will let the “bad” player free cause they can’t find anything harmful and the whole group reunites.

    It’s kind of a in-character punishment and fully logical, at least for me :).

  46. Me: (to Non-disruptive player) As you enter you see Johnny Lackabrain over there step up to you and put his horn to his lips, whereupon he falls to the ground as a rain of fine dust. When you recover from your shock, you realize he has somehow been completely disintegrated. Oddly, so have his clothes, weapons and the horn. Only dust remains of your former friend. On the walls around you, you become aware that glowing runes are written. As you look at them, they fade into invisibility.

    Or, the slightly less punitive, the horn disintegrates into dust the first time he tries. Mild punishment for him, to encourage him to behave in the future.

    But most campaigns I’ve been in would have done something similar to the first option.

  47. ERIC says:

    In my defense, i wasn’t trying to get a rise outta anybody. I was just bored, and techinally in character thufir is that over confident guy who will do whatever he wants, I wasn’t worried about the queen being mad and retaliating at my foolhardyness considering i helped save her seat on the throne opposed to helping the dwarves invading army destablizing her, while also ridding her lands of a verry bothersome lich king. Also I might add, I propsitioned the queen after the meeting, which was in Thufir’s character considering the fact that’s how he was introduced to the party, by being chased onto a boat by an angry blacksmith with whose daughter Thufir had relations the previous night. Anyways, Thufir might not be consistent with his practical jokes, but nonetheless we were still celebrating our amazingly awe inspiring victorty over the forces of evil.

    P.s.
    I’m also an ass

  48. Mike R says:

    I think at the first toot of the horn, I would ask “In ten words or less, why did you do that?”

    If they can not give me an acceptable answer, I would arrest and throw the character in the dungeon by fiat.

    For an acceptable answer I would play it out, let the NPCs respond as they would in that situation.. Guards should be in the room and take the horn from the player, and then escort him out of the castle while not returning any previous times. (If the mind of the guards’ leader, clearly this character should not have any dangerous items)

    If the character resists kill him or capture him and execute for an attempted assassination..

  49. Robel says:

    Word. If someone wants to be a 10 year old, treat them like a 10 year old. “The queen heard that and unleashes the 100 traps she had just in case someone tried to do something like that. The traps do 250 damage. Good luck with your new character.” Simple.

  50. Davesnot says:

    Robel… which person is the 10-year-old in your story?

  51. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    To all who think I should have killed Thufir for his actions.
    A GOOD DM should never want to kill the players. That in my opinion is an even more jerk thing to do. Our group takes our characters very seriously. We play a very low magic D&D game.
    For example my character Skeeve, is an out of game 5 year old PC. He is just about to hit level 9. After 5 years of slow work I would not want the DM to kill my guy over some practical joke.
    Besides his offense wasn’t that extreme. Guards wouldn’t kill a guy just for playing an instrument. Think of it this way if you took a tour of the White House, and in the middle of the tour you start playing the harmonica. The secret service isn’t gonna tackle you to the ground and put a gun in your mouth. Sure people will be annoyed and give you dumb looks. Heck some might ask you to shut the hell up. But no one is going to think you are trying to assassinate the president. Killing a PC is no fun for me or the player (thats not to say that our characters are immortal and cant be killed) and killing a PC then waiting for the player to make a new one, then trying to come up with some sort of logical way for him to join the party is a bigger waste of time than just letting him have his goofball fun.
    D&D is a time for fun anyone who treats the game as a vindictive F-U slug fest is a moron. If you play a game like that you should just go be a fagot LARPer and be done with table topping

  52. Rhykker says:

    I agree with Skeeve that swift death would be rather extreme in this case, but I disagree with the harmonica example – we’re dealing with a harmonica that knocks people out, and can thus be considered a weapon (albeit a weak one).

    I would have had the guards boot him out of there and have him wait outside while the others talk to the Queen. Odds are, he would probably say something silly to her anyway (I think you hinted that he hit on her?) *Maybe* have them confiscate the horn if he’s done other silly business with it. The worst punishment this case deserves would be a mild fine or a few hours in jail to “straighten him up” and give him a criminal record within the town – letting him off with a warning, of sorts.

  53. Simulated Knave says:

    Skeeve – I think you’re looking at this in a different sense than other people are. You see somebody pursuing fun and entertaining hijinks. Most of the other people here see someone trying to be an idiot and intentionally “break” the game. Playing in a game is built on mutual respect and the expectation of reasonable behavior – from both ends. If one of the players starts doing stupid, nonsensical and disruptive stuff for his own amusement, the GM is within his rights to start doing stupid stuff (i.e. arbitrary death) for his own amusement (not the most mature response, but a justifiable one).

    Not to mention that doing stupid things because you’re bored is the domain of fools, children, and utter jerks who ought not to be allowed in civilized company.

    Never pick a fight with the GM – you will lose.

    Also, look at it from the point of view of a nearby guard – there are repeated earthshaking horn calls from an adjacent room. You rush in, and see one of the queen’s hired adventurers standing above the semi-conscious bodies of the rest of her hired adventurers. Blowing a horn, which is traditionally used for signalling things.

    At the very least, questions are going to be asked here. Starting with “Why are you blowing that horn?” and leading up to, “So, convince me that you weren’t summoning an enemy army or signalling assassins and I won’t burn off your other foot with my red-hot torturing implements.”

    Which is more of a statement, I guess.

    Frankly, if you do stupid, crazy things in the palace of a paranoid and unpleasant queen, I think imprisonment and a moderate amount of torture are to be expected. Execution is not out of the question. She may be grateful, but it doesn’t mean she’s stupid OR nice. In fact, monarchy are fairly well renowned for their LACK of gratitude.

    Honestly, I think you should have just considered what the guards would likely do and worked from there – as with the candles thing. However, from the given description of the horn I think you definitely let him off way too lightly.

    And a word to the wise – “fagot LARPer” is not NEARLY as clever as you think it is. Nor are Eric’s antics as funny as he thinks they are. I have a whole new respect for Shamus’ tolerance of fools.

    EDIT: Oh, and Shamus – judging by the guy’s comment, he’s not testing the game world – he’s a jerk who thinks he’s funny and is willing to sacrifice the enjoyment of others to keep himself amused. Honestly, I would think long and hard about whether he’s the sort of person who’s good for your game.

    Just my two-and-three-quarter cents.

  54. Arson55 says:

    As a DM I would have asked to make sure that the character wanted to do that, and if he wanted to go through with it, I would have had the guards react appropriately, in this case attempting to imprison the character and any who tried to assist him. Sorry, that’s the way it is done. Just because the player wants to break character, I see no reason to assist him by having the NPCs act in an absurd way to smooth things over. Then after that, I would have only released the character at a later only if he agree not to wildly break character again (because I can see no legitimate in character justification for that action, sorry Eric). The characters who assisted him could be released later once things get sorted out no mater how things turn out for that character.

    And, Skeeve, as a former LARPer and a table top player: Shut the hell up. I don’t appreciate the use of ‘fagot LARPer.’

    edit: Yeah, Simulated Knave I agree with you.

  55. Davesnot says:

    Uh..Simulated Knave.. Skeeve IS the DM of the game in question.. and you are breaking your rules and crossing him.. Shamus told the story.. but Skeeve IS/was the man in charge of the game.. accept it.. move on..

    As to the LARP comment.. I’m guessing they only know LARP as a comment when someone stands up at the gaming table.. not the Live Action Role Play that is as fun as any game… I’ve never got to play LARP.. was too shy when I knew some people with a game.. but I do dabble in the SCA.. but yeah, Skeeve, not the place to put down a whole group of games… .. not to mention assumes ones sexual preference by their game choice.. and slander that assumed choice simultaneously.

    Moving On

    I do have another suggestion for what to have done… pull a James Bond deal.. have gas seep into the room (without the hissing noise so they can’t respond.. maybe have the candles glow a bit different color (which would also freak him out for messing with _them))..

    gas em.. wake em up in separate cells.. bring the rest of the group to see the queen.. have the queen offer to keep the offender in her dungeons unless the group wants him released into their hands.. and thus taking on the role as probation officers.. and have the queen reward the group while the offender is missing.. let him listen to the accolades.. but if he tries to ruin that.. let him know that he can’t hear all this.. and to roleplay that.. give him the remote to the tv.

    All nice .. appropriate things to tell a friend… he’s allowed to be psycho.. the game accomidates.. and even sending him away is justifiable in game..

    But.. doing nothing worked fine too, eh?? .. though.. ya might need to talk to your players about airing difficult situations to the electronic multi-verse.. (grin)..

    It’s a game, people!! Smile… Damn it!!

    EDIT: .. and guessing or telling the DM what the guard is/should be thinking is also breaking the rule of GM being right.. your character may wonder why the hell the guards aren’t doing anything.. they may even look up at the sky (or floor) and ask _their_ god, “what’s happening”.. but you are second guessing the DM if you’re thinking, “that isn’t how it would happen”.. and if you’re doing that.. you aren’t truely in character.. … let go, Luke.. trust me..

    Oh.. and did I say this..

    It’s a game!! Smile… Damn it!!!

  56. Shamus says:

    To clear things up: Yes, Skeeve in the comments above was the DM at the time, and Eirc was the player in question.

    As for the “you shouldn’t play with this guy” angle: It’s true that if someone did this all the time they would hinder the game, but this isn’t how Eric normally acts. There are a lot of great gaming stories I didn’t share where we’ve had tremendous fun. The fun far outweighs the bad, and we enjoy playing together. Sometimes he gets bored or his hunger for PvP gets the best of him and then we have to tolerate or route around his excesses. I think understanding the behavior is a big step towards knowing how to deal with it with minimal disruption to the story. Gaming is usually as much a compromise as it is a collaboration.

  57. Robel says:

    It`s very true what you say Shamus, but I still think what Davesnot suggested is a good idea. He is entitled to “lose it” from time to time, but he should also know there are consequences.

  58. Simulated Knave says:

    Davesnot:
    I honestly have no idea where you’re coming from with this. I know Skeeve was DMing at the time, but generally it’s Shamus’ game, and thus to a certain extent his call as to who plays. I’m not sure what about this I have to accept…you appear to be under the misapprehension that I’m trying to work out some deep-seated personal conflict with them, which would be impressive seeing as I’ve never met any of them, and remain unlikely to do so.

    Moving on from that, nobody is infallible, and discussion, debate, and downright telling people what you think they should have done is fine – and not picking a fight with anyone (unless you phrase it really poorly). I was offering my opinion on A) Why other people were reacting the way they were to Eric’s actions and B) what I think he should have done – reacted by just looking at what the NPCs nearby would have thought and done – and then have them do that.

    The more full text of my rule would be: don’t pick a fight with YOUR GM. The even fuller text would be: Don’t pick a fight with your GM during the game by doing things calculated to annoy him and the other players, especially not by doing uncharacterful things with your character.

    I think you can see why I went with the shorter version.

    Anyway, the gist of this – I know who was doing what, I am not in any way involved in this game, and I think the actions Skeeve took were not the best he could have done – and I have now stated what I think he should have done instead.

    Why you seem so antagonized by my comment(s) is truly beyond me.

  59. Bogan the Mighty says:

    Ok first, Skeeve don’t be making fun of people. Its just not nice. Second, its not actually almost always Shamus’s game. He has actually been a PC as much as he has been the GM, not to mention we see it as our game as a whole and not Shamus’s game that he allows us to play. On to what Eric actually did. He probably should have been sent into a jail for an evening for his little tantrum. Killing him would have been extreme and just stupid. The last time I checked doing something immature to fix and immature problem kind of makes you just as childish. You also have to understand how our group works and the fact that we are a bunch of friends getting together having fun. If someone breaks character and we all laugh at it and move on like we did there is no harm done and we enjoyed the evening.

  60. DocTwisted says:

    This reiminds me of something I recently found out about in “Animal Crossing,” a sandbox-type game for the GameCube. I got a Wii for Christmas, and picked up a couple cheap GameCube controllers and a copy of Animal Crossing (and a large memory card) because I remembered enjoying playing the game a bit at my stepbrother’s house. Last time I saw my stepbrother, I talked told him I had my own copy to play now, and he smiled and went, “Oh yeah? Have you ticked off any of the neighbors yet?”

    I scratched my head, and said I hadn’t. Turns out, you can make one of the NPC “Neighbors” in your little town angry with you, by walking up to him or her with a bug net and smacking them in the head. You repeat it three times, and they say something “mean” in response (the game’s rated “E” so the worst response is “You don’t have any friends!”), and will be uncooperative with you for the rest of the day. The next day, however, they “forget” your abuse and treat you as they always have. It’s actually rather amusing, watching how each of the neighbors gets mad at you… but it better thing the last thing you try to get done that day.

  61. Davesnot says:

    Sim Knave.. sorry if I sounded antagonized by your comments.. I was using these words to hopefully put to rest what I was thinking coulda been a big LARP outlash…

    In the spirit of conversation.. I was mentioning that some people think during the game things such as, “that’s not how they’d react”.. and that in and of itself is questioning the authority of the GM to run the game..

    I don’t think you have a deep seated issue with Skeeve.. the bit about Shamus’ tolerance for fools kinda had me thinking you were a bit on the upset side of things.

    I guess I read the “..you should have..” and it sparked a deep seated issue in me regarding the difference between should and could .. I appoligize if it seemed like I was angry at you about it..

    I too wasn’t wanting to use all the words requisite to fully express my thoughts. .. and without tons of little smileys and grins .. the words on the screen go through lots of our own filters before being put into cognitive thoughts…

    Pairing that with me putting too many different thoughts into one paragraph.. hell.. into one sentance.. well.. there we arrive at misunderstanding..

    I apologize.

    I thought you had good points… and I initially was going to be cute and point out that if you had the thoughts you were pointing out while in a game.. well.. that would be at least be a case of not being in character (not a crime).. and at worst.. second-guessing the GM (possibly a crime.. at least has the potential to bring down a world of hurt on PCs…. oops.. trying to be funny.. probably not being so)..

    I wasn’t meaning for you to be moving on.. The first move on was in reference to the first thought of second-guessing the DM.. if something “wrong” happens.. shrug and move on and talk about it post-game (like you said).. as to the second moving on.. I was hoping that I was ending LARP and sexual orientation discussion..

    Instead I caused a thread-jack… Sorry, Shamus..

    And.. the, “It’s just a game… Damn it!!” was also supposed to be light-hearted and happy… I fell woefully short of my comment’s goals.. again.. my bad.

    so… to sum up.. I’m Ok.. You’re Ok.. the world is good.. and disruptive players have an effect on a game no matter what happens.. and there are lots of ways to deal with them.. and I have no closing for this comment.. … .. .

  62. Skeeve the Impossible says:

    Here is my final thought:
    to “Simulated Knave” Everything Bogan the Mighty said plus
    it was my first time DMing. It was wholly a new experience for me and was unsure how to react. Looking back now and having some experience under my belt I see more what I should have done. There was no way I was gonna kill Thufir though. That would have pissed off one of my best friends in the world. I am not trying to have a 6’1 280 pound black man pissed off at me. that is final
    To “Davesnot”
    I DO know what LARPing is and that is exactly why I went there. Most of the LARPers I have met are uptight creepies who take themselves and their gaming TOO seriously. I am not one to hate people for their beliefs. I just make jokes about them.
    As for using the term fagot. I was not assuming anyones sexual orientation. I don’t mean fagot in a disrespectful way, I just mean fagot as in you know……..fagot.

  63. Shamus says:

    Skeeve, remind me sometime to tell you about Keith Curtis over at FtB – he’s a very cool guy who smashes just about every LARPing stereotype out there.

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