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Cernor
2016-09-10, 01:22 PM
Alright, we all know how these threads go. Internet guy posts about a player in his group who did something which they think was out of line, then the inevitable lines "We only know only one side of the story!" and "No gaming is better than bad gaming!" pop up for 100-odd posts before the thread finally dies out. That being said, I'm looking for advice regarding a potential problem player - albeit one who isn't disruptive. On the whole he'd rather sit back and observe and only occasionally get involved, which is why I hadn't really noticed the problems until recently. To protect his identity (although it will be obvious to anyone in my group), let's call him Will. And be warned! This will be a long post. I'm trying to give as much detail as is necessary up front, so chances are you'll know twice as much about my game and style as necessary.

I first recruited Will for an online game about two years ago, and he's been the only stable player in this group, other than my brother, since then. He's put up with my learning how to DM and my experimental (and rarely good) adventures. We started on the D&D 5e boxed set, went to a gritty survival game for a month, went back to FR for a while, and are now in a low-level sandbox-style game. For some reason or another Will has stayed all the way through to the current campaign, occasionally shoddy DMing and all, which is where I've begun taking issue with our differences in playstyle... But in retrospect, these problems had been there since the beginning.

The game is D&D 5E, with a heavily modified setting: races are restricted, magic is rare and feared by the masses, dragons have been almost entirely unseen for the last couple thousand years, the gods are silent, so clerics channel power through the strength of their belief, the world is flat (and small, with some peculiar metaphysics), and so on and so forth. In terms of relevant character restrictions, Evil or CN characters aren't allowed, Paladins fit the "knights in shining armour" archetype, and new characters have to be connected to members of the party in a meaningful way, to explain why they would take up a profession as dangerous as adventuring. The PCs can screw with the world and NPCs as much as they want (or are willing to accept consequences for), and by no means do they have to be Good or heroic, but they MUST work together. And this last rule is the one which there have been problems with.

You see, Will is playing an alchemist: he tagged along with the party because they were investigating the same cult which wiped out his home city. This alchemist is relentlessly self-interested at best, and cowardly at worst. If a fight break out he stays well back, generally only getting close when his allies start dropping or he is personally threatened. Last night, the party was delving an ancient tomb guarded by monsters and magical traps; they had found their way to the final chamber, guarded by a magical fog which dealt a decent, but not lethal, chunk of cold damage. The rest of the party had gone through and begun fighting the boss monster, but Will stayed behind. Being a player down, the party was getting absolutely hammered by this creature. One PC was down, one was one solid hit away from going down, and the third wasn't equipped to deal with such a powerful enemy on her own. It was obvious that the fight was going badly, but... The Alchemist stayed out of the room, using what spells he could to help without navigating through the fog itself. The whole party agreed that he should go through, but he still refused, saying "You guys are crazy and I don't want to get killed along with you".

I knew that if he didn't get into the fight the party would likely die. And if the party died, he'd be stuck navigating an extremely hostile wasteland by himself, avoiding the forces of an empress who wants the party dead, and have to explain to an angry dragon why her son (she was born a draconic humanoid, and became a dragon recently) was killed and the body left in the tomb to rot. Since this isn't the first time he'd refused to risk himself in a dangerous situation, I made a cardinal sin of DMing: I gave him an ultimatum. Either he'd go in there and help, or he'd leave the party - because if by some chance their helper NPC survived, he'd kill Will himself for leaving them to die. Go ahead, point and scream "DMPC!". I don't mind. The fact is, they invited this character into their group - and they need the firepower, since one of my players left to join the army. So Will gritted his teeth, ran through the fog, helped the party, and they managed to defeat the boss and loot the room, earning a pretty big pile of loot to spend as they will.

So the party won. Hooray! However, it feels like the victory is cheapened, since I had to intervene OOC to force a decision IC. I feel I overstepped my bounds as a DM. Even though I was trying to avoid hard feelings of "I lost my character which had somehow survived for a year because Will didn't help", I still feel I made the wrong call by interfering. The thing is that I'm perfectly fine with bad rolls killing a character, or someone's own mistakes coming back to bite them. The thing that rubs me (and at least one of my players) the wrong way is when people die because another character could have helped them but didn't.
And this whole episode got me thinking about the last time a similar situation had happened... And even further back, to his previous characters.

The thing is, this isn't the first time this has happened. And this section is going to be a little odd, since I'm going to go backwards through this campaign and explain his characters in reverse order. A couple of months ago we were at the finale of the previous campaign arc: a cult had taken over a city and were performing a ritual to tear open a portal to the Shadowfell, where their leader thought he could unlock the secrets of immortality. The party had gathered an army and were taking out a tower to provide their squad of rangers a vantage point. They'd cleared out the tower when they were confronted by Will's old Paladin, who joined the cult after being (sort of) abandoned by the party because he'd Fallen. Due to a high-damage critical hit he dropped the party Ranger in a single hit, and Will decided to call the retreat. The party retreated for one round, decided that they had to go back to help the DMPC who'd stayed back to fight the Paladin (due to his deep respect for Will's Paladin before his Fall, he took this betrayal very personally). However, this extra round without help was what it took for the Ranger to die. After winning the fight by the skin of their teeth, the party agreed that Will's decision to run away was a bad idea, and had a minor confrontation. He agreed to not be so cowardly and I figured that was the end of that. But to illustrate why I'm not simply demanding Will rerolls, here's the rough story of his Paladin.

The Paladin was introduced at the beginning of the aforementioned arc, when the city fell to the cult. This was Will's very first attempt at a Good character... And so we got Sir Gregory Benedictus, a Paladin devoted to maintaining order, law, and society. In the first session, the city had fallen to the cult and the rest of the party was planning on using ballistae mounted on the walls to fire inwards, burning as many buildings as possible to deny the cult resources. Will's response? "Arson is illegal. If you are an arsonist you are Evil, and Evil deserves no leniency or mercy."

... Yeah. He was willing to execute the other PCs for performing Chaotic acts. Even when they were entirely sensible. Will was knocked out and the ballistae used to burn what buildings they could, then the party left. Despite this difference in opinion, Sir Gregory stayed with the party for some time longer, but his methods were... Not always compatible with those of the party. They tried to talk to "evil" people? Unless given a very convincing reason to go with the plan, he'd charge into battle, blowing his warhorn. They tried to sneak past enemies? He'd charge into battle, blowing his warhorn. They spent a few minutes planning tactics with monsters or "evil" people close by? I'm sure you can guess. You're right. He'd charge in, blowing his warhorn.

In fairness, at least Will could occasionally be talked into the right course of action. He didn't always interrupt the party's plans, but it happened frequently enough that his character couldn't be said to work with the party... More that the party worked around him. And in a game where everyone agreed to work as a party, it soon became an irritation for at least two players to have to come up with a good excuse every time they wanted to do something Sir Gregory would disagree with.

So, that's my conundrum. I may be overreacting; it may be that he's protesting any of a variety of DMing mistakes I may have made (and I'm willing to admit to many). Now that I've noticed the pattern in his behaviour, I feel I have to make a decision of some kind. As I see it, my choices are talking to Will and hope he changes, having him reroll and see if that helps, or accepting he might not be a good fit for this group and ask him to leave. While I don't want to have to continually remind him to play nicely with others, I also don't want to remove him without being sure that there's no chance of his changing since he's put up with me despite my occasionally egregious mistakes.

So what do the good folks of GitP suggest? Any advice would be greatly appreciated! :smile:

nedz
2016-09-10, 01:38 PM
I'm not entirely sure what the problem you are describing here is ?

First he played a LeRoy Paladin and now he's playing a cowardly Alchemist. Both of these are fine though LeRoys are always annoying.

Conflict between the PCs is fine so long as it induces role-play and not PvP that's the basis of drama.

Anxe
2016-09-10, 01:39 PM
These kinds of in-party character conflicts are some of my favorite parts of playing D&D. I'd be happy to have Will in my group and I personally wouldn't see this as a problem at all. You do though, so lets talk about it!

The Paladin stuff... The specific arson example I understand completely. There could still be innocents in the city, thus setting it on fire and killing those people would be wrong. Ultimately, the Paladin would see more and more that his morals don't align with the party's. Eventually the Paladin leaves the party (and it seems something along those lines happened). No problem there. Will wanted to play a character. He realized that character's arc was separating him from the rest of the PCs, so he went along with that separation.

The retreat from the Paladin... Maybe he just didn't want to kill a character he'd enjoyed playing? Not sure on that one.

The refusal to go through the fog kind of makes sense though. He still helped a little through the fog. Your description does make it seem like if he went through he might've died along with the rest of the party. I do think you overstepped your bounds as a DM here. A Deux Ex Machina might've been a better choice. If the fog was the issue, maybe a wind blows up and disperses it. I'm not sure.

Darth Ultron
2016-09-10, 02:39 PM
I might have just killed off the group...and then have the Big Bad go after the lone coward Pc.

Or had some back up encounter ready to attack the lone coward Pc. Or maybe have a fog like monster...

Though the best would have been for the PC's to win the fight, and for the coward PC to get no XP or Loot.

I would not have forced anything, unless he wanted to solo game. I hate that and would have just killed the character if that was the case. But ''I want to sit around and do nothing'' is fine during the game.....though afterwards I'd mention it and say that if he does not wish to play, don't bother showing up.

Mostly though, I'd let the players deal with him.

Koo Rehtorb
2016-09-10, 03:04 PM
This all seems entirely reasonable to me? Annoying for the party, but that's their problem to deal with, not yours.

All you really need to do is reinforce that it's totally okay for the other PCs to kick his characters out of the party if they want to.

nedz
2016-09-10, 03:49 PM
Mostly though, I'd let the players deal with him.

Yep this too.

In the two games I'm running at the moment (well 1 1/2 really) we have the problem of the whole party chickening out of the adventure. They still expect XP though :smallconfused:

Your OOC action was an error how did the player react ?

SethoMarkus
2016-09-10, 04:00 PM
I don't deny that this could cause issue with the group, especially as you have stated Rule One is "the party must work together", but I really don't see how Will or his characters are a problem... The problem is a difference in play styles. Will has veen working with the group, within the parameters of his characters' personalities and motivations. The Paladin worked with the group but came to an odds with their moral choices (though if he began attacking the other PCs, that is an issue). Thr after-paladin made a tactical choice to retreat, which the other characters agreed to at first. They could have denied a retreat, or could have accepted the death of the ranger as an unavoidable loss, or could have run back to save him only to be too late, but none of that is Will's fault. The cowardly alchemist was well within character and still attempted to contribute to the encounter, as you said yourself. I see no reason to have forced him into the room, or at least not in such a way. The other party members could have retreated to the relative safety of the doorway, or worked to help him through the fog, or devised a different plan, instead they rushed in.

Now, I am not saying you and the rest of your group are wrong or have wrong expectations, but am defending Will against the label of "problem player". He wants to play a cohesive game centered around roleplaying characters, the rest of the group wants to play a cohesive game centered around questing as heroic knights of the round table, as musketeers, as a unified band of brothers/sisters-in-arms who never give up and never abandon a companion. Both are fine, they just don't always mesh together.

Lappy9001
2016-09-10, 04:25 PM
I'm going to provide a dissenting opinion, in that I would have lost patience with Will's actions fairly quickly. Playing a Lawful Stupid paladin and an alchemist who can't be bothered to contribute to the party aren't good roleplaying, at least, not when you're playing a team game like D&D where everyone is intended to work together. And "it's what my character would do" isn't a good justification for disruptive behavior.

Of course, I agree that the ultimatum was poorly handled. My group preempts issues like this by having a 'gentlegamer's agreement' before each game. This basically boils down to not disrupting the flow of the game, even if it's slightly out of character. For example, playing a cowardly character is fine, as long as the player can still find a way to meaningfully contribute to the action. Playing a character with a differing viewpoint is equally fine, as long as the group isn't devolving into in-party fighting (unless that's handled very carefully). That's not to say that there is no place for these sort of conflicts in D&D, just that a normal game assumes everyone is working as a team. It might have been better to just talk to Will about these things, even if you needed to pull him aside for a few minutes.

GuzWaatensen
2016-09-10, 04:56 PM
I think this largely comes down to different play styles. I am very much like Will, I have played cowardly detached or even indifferent characters. Sure, sometimes finding a justification for hanging around with the party is tricky. But I enjoy it that way. Now, if I would have been in Wills place I'd see the rest of the party as the problem. If they rush into an encounter unprepared their death is their own fault. If you and the others see Will as the problem, maybe you just need to talk to him and get on the same page about what you expect of your game. He seems to put his focus on role play, you focus seems to be on providing challenges that need teamwork to be overcome. Maybe you can compromise...

Jay R
2016-09-11, 08:06 AM
He's taking advantage of the fact that you're not choosing to put the entire party in trouble. Have hordes of goblins attack from all sides, or use area attacks, or put them in cul-de-sacs or near cliffs.

And let the players solve in-party issues. That's the only thing in the entire world that's not your job.

Cernor
2016-09-11, 08:23 AM
I'm not entirely sure what the problem you are describing here is ?
...
Your OOC action was an error how did the player react ?

Alright, sorry about that. I have a tendency to ramble and miss my original point. The problem I'm facing is that I'm trying to run a specific style of game (one where the party works together unless specifically talked through with me first), but Will happily ignores that and makes whatever character takes his fancy. Which would be fine, as long as he hadn't already agreed to make characters which fit the party.

Will didn't complain about it, and decided to join the rest of the party, potentially into the icy grip of death. That being said, since we play online (voice-only) that makes it more difficult to gauge his reaction. In fairness, I tried to explain the situation ("Here's what's going on and here's what can be expected if you leave", in addition to "either join the rest of the party or leave") beforehand... But mistakes are mistakes.


The Paladin stuff... The specific arson example I understand completely. There could still be innocents in the city, thus setting it on fire and killing those people would be wrong. Ultimately, the Paladin would see more and more that his morals don't align with the party's. Eventually the Paladin leaves the party (and it seems something along those lines happened). No problem there. Will wanted to play a character. He realized that character's arc was separating him from the rest of the PCs, so he went along with that separation.

If explained that way, I would have been fine with his reasoning. Killing innocents is a Very Bad Thing, especially for a Paladin. However, his argument was exactly as I'd stated before: not that there might be innocents trapped in the city, but that arson is illegal, and therefore Evil. IMC Paladins are meant to be heroic figures, and he essentially brought Judge Dredd to the table: while I have no problems with Judge Dredd, I take issue with Will playing a character which I'd specifically advised against bringing due to the high PvP potential.

What ended up happening with the Paladin leaving the party was that he assisted in torturing a gnoll scout. This made him lose his powers: although gnolls are invariably Evil, torture of a prisoner is still against the oaths he'd sworn to uphold. After being officially denounced by his old mentor, formalizing his Fall, his response was "I go into shock for 2 days." When asked about what his Paladin's next moves were... Will provided me with absolutely nothing. And since the party was under time pressure - because every day that passed, more of the citizens of the fallen city were being raised as part of an undead army - the party simply couldn't afford to stay with him as he dealt with (or, more accurately, failed to deal with) the consequences of that.


I might have just killed off the group...and then have the Big Bad go after the lone coward Pc.
I would not have forced anything, unless he wanted to solo game. I hate that and would have just killed the character if that was the case. But ''I want to sit around and do nothing'' is fine during the game.....though afterwards I'd mention it and say that if he does not wish to play, don't bother showing up.
Mostly though, I'd let the players deal with him.

I agree that killing off the group might have been an option. However, that would mean that everyone else gets punished for his refusal to follow the rules he agreed to before the game started. I could let the players deal with him, and probably should have. The thing is, one player doesn't care (Will supports his power fantasies about someday becoming an emperor, because he's the descendant of a long-dead line of kings) while the other two players (including the one who left) had already talked to him about it, and expressed their concerns about it to me.


All you really need to do is reinforce that it's totally okay for the other PCs to kick his characters out of the party if they want to.

I'll definitely do that. Since they're returning to town to liquidate their loot and recover, that'll also be a perfect time to introduce a new character, should it become necessary.


Will has veen working with the group, within the parameters of his characters' personalities and motivations. ... The cowardly alchemist was well within character and still attempted to contribute to the encounter, as you said yourself. I see no reason to have forced him into the room, or at least not in such a way. The other party members could have retreated to the relative safety of the doorway, or worked to help him through the fog, or devised a different plan, instead they rushed in.

Now, I am not saying you and the rest of your group are wrong or have wrong expectations, but am defending Will against the label of "problem player". He wants to play a cohesive game centered around roleplaying characters, the rest of the group wants to play a cohesive game centered around questing as heroic knights of the round table, as musketeers, as a unified band of brothers/sisters-in-arms who never give up and never abandon a companion. Both are fine, they just don't always mesh together.

This is really the crux of the issue. Will has been helping in his own way, it's just that "helping in his own way" typically involves taking little-to-no personal risk, but receiving an equal share of loot and XP. And the party didn't exactly rush in: they used Will's familiar to scout the room, then started going through the fog to explore it properly. Once 3/4 of the PCs were through, the boss creature started attacking. I'm realizing now that this whole incident could have been avoided if I'd waited for the whole party to get through before starting the fight, but that's hindsight for ya.
I also agree that there may be playstyle differences, but I think that if he agreed to join a game with a certain style he should do his best to play within that style. With two characters whose personalities are blatantly anti-party, it gives me the impression he doesn't particularly care about making an effort.


My group preempts issues like this by having a 'gentlegamer's agreement' before each game. This basically boils down to not disrupting the flow of the game, even if it's slightly out of character. For example, playing a cowardly character is fine, as long as the player can still find a way to meaningfully contribute to the action. ...
It might have been better to just talk to Will about these things, even if you needed to pull him aside for a few minutes.

This is a good idea! Perhaps I'll talk to the group about formalizing something along these lines... And as the game is played over Skype, it makes it more difficult to pull someone aside for a few minutes. Ideally, I would have talked it through with him, but we were nearing the end of the session and attention spans were dropping: stopping for those few minutes may have been enough to pull everyone out of the game, and I hate ending sessions mid-combat.

Darth Ultron
2016-09-11, 12:48 PM
I agree that killing off the group might have been an option. However, that would mean that everyone else gets punished for his refusal to follow the rules he agreed to before the game started. I could let the players deal with him, and probably should have. The thing is, one player doesn't care (Will supports his power fantasies about someday becoming an emperor, because he's the descendant of a long-dead line of kings) while the other two players (including the one who left) had already talked to him about it, and expressed their concerns about it to me.


It is more accurate to say: Everyone else got punished because they did not deal with the problem. So two players wasted the time talking to him about it, and it did nothing? Well, talking is often a big waste of time, but at least they tried right? So after that failed they complained to the DM and did nothing? Well, see that was their mistake there: the talked and did nothing. See the lesson here?

Though part of leaving it in the hands of the players is the players might not deal with it correctly. But that is all on them.

Though if the players are really hapless types (''well we talked to him and now we can never, ever do anything ever again'') then this is where the DM might need to step in. For example you could have made that fight ''weaker by one character'' so the group could handle it without the other characters help.

Quertus
2016-09-11, 05:05 PM
Alright, sorry about that. I have a tendency to ramble and miss my original point. The problem I'm facing is that I'm trying to run a specific style of game (one where the party works together unless specifically talked through with me first), but Will happily ignores that and makes whatever character takes his fancy. Which would be fine, as long as he hadn't already agreed to make characters which fit the party.

This is really the crux of the issue. Will has been helping in his own way, it's just that "helping in his own way" typically involves taking little-to-no personal risk, but receiving an equal share of loot and XP. And the party didn't exactly rush in: they used Will's familiar to scout the room, then started going through the fog to explore it properly. Once 3/4 of the PCs were through, the boss creature started attacking. I'm realizing now that this whole incident could have been avoided if I'd waited for the whole party to get through before starting the fight, but that's hindsight for ya.

I also agree that there may be playstyle differences, but I think that if he agreed to join a game with a certain style he should do his best to play within that style. With two characters whose personalities are blatantly anti-party, it gives me the impression he doesn't particularly care about making an effort.

So, you have difficulty communicating your intended ideas at times, even when you have time to write them down. You have a player who has made several characters that follow the letter of the law, yet somehow miss your intended play style. And you and one or more of your players are upset about this. Have I pretty well got that right so far?

From what you've said, it seems most likely that Will just doesn't understand your intended play style. So, rather than being upset about it, talk to him between sessions like one reasonable adult to another.

Now, there's a chance that he is "tone deaf" to the difference between what he is doing and your intended play style. He may not be able to easily play the style you want. You should be ready with at least the germ of a plan should that be the case.

Or, yes, it is always possible that there is some measure of malice on Will's part.

But, most likely, a good explanation of exactly what you intended, contrasted carefully with what he produced, should solve your problems.

Certainly, the transition from gung-ho paladin to "you guys are idiots" cautious artificer sounds intentional. In fact, it may even be that sign of "showing effort" you were looking for.

However...

Other posters have categorized Will as a Roleplayer.

How many characters has he had? How many characters have the other players gone through?

Telling a Roleplayer that all the hard work they spent creating a character, and all the time they've invested in playing the character, is all for naught because you messed up explaining the game... well, they might be upset, and rightly so. Depends on the player. If this becomes a problem, what other options do you have?

Also...

It sounds like that paladin of his, charging in, blowing his horn, was taking lots of personal risk. Therefore, a) make sure you can and do differentiate between the player and the character; b) did you give the Paladin extra treasure and XP for taking such large personal risks?

TheFurith
2016-09-12, 10:35 AM
If the idea was that no matter what the characters had to work together I can see your issue. As for the characters....

The Alchemist seems fine. Not terribly helpful, but it's not like his character was a detriment to the party. You just needed to find a way to get him more invested in the party, or make him at more personal risk. Perhaps dial back the encounters a bit until he got it together.

The Paladin? Well playing like that is the reason I've seen Paladins banned more often than anything else.

Either way, the party should have taken care of those situations. I know I would have. Either told him he needs to work with us or leave. Or let him blindly charge to his death, because that's on him.

Really though, without knowing the situation too well, was the Alchemist just a reaction to negative comments about his Paladin? I mean if people weren't happy about him charging in all the time, did he just decide to flip it around and stay out of it. I've seen people do things like that before. People don't like that they're doing so they flip it around and go the total opposite way just to be passive aggressive about it.

kyoryu
2016-09-12, 10:39 AM
Will seems to just have a touch of My Guy Would Do This syndrome. Have him read this:

http://www.giantitp.com/articles/tll307KmEm4H9k6efFP.html

The problem in situations like this often comes because you've got one player that is not compromising with the party, while simultaneously relying on the implicit social contract of "we're the party, so we can't kick people out" to avoid the obvious and logical consequences of not compromising with the party. I'd make it clear to the group that if the party decides they don't want to deal with a particular character, they have the right to kick the character out, and that player will need to make a new PC.

SethoMarkus
2016-09-12, 02:01 PM
See, with the information presented, I really don't see Will's characters as working against the party or not being team players... I'm not trying to use "but my character would do that!" as a defense here, but he seemed to be working cooperatively within the party as his characters would work within the party. Don't get me wrong, I do see other issues with his gameplay behavior (blindly rushing right in, refusal to take any personal risks, etc- either case makes a non-adventurer either through pre-mature death or never taking up thr call of the adventurer in the first place, but I digress...). However, I just don't think Will is intentionally trying to be a lone-wolf forced to run with a pack. He very well may be, and he very well may be acting passive-aggressively or out of spite, but I don't have enough information to make that judgement. What I do see is a clash of expectations. On the one side, a player who expects in-character justifications for the party to stick together, acting as individuals with a common goal. On the other side, players who expect the out-of-character social contract of "we are working together" to be justification enough; the savage barbarian, wizened woodland survivalist, stuffy wizard, and holy man all work together be we said so out of game, so i-game doesn't matter, we just make it work. Both are wonderful styles of gameplay and both are absolutely valid, but they don't always mesh well. Perhaps work with Will to help create a backstory and personality that fits with the other characters, one that would want to adventure together because they are all friends in game as well as out. Anyway that's my other 2cp on this matter. (Sorry for the formatting, I'm on my mobile...)

Lorsa
2016-09-12, 02:04 PM
Will seems to just have a touch of My Guy Would Do This syndrome. Have him read this:

http://www.giantitp.com/articles/tll307KmEm4H9k6efFP.html

The problem in situations like this often comes because you've got one player that is not compromising with the party, while simultaneously relying on the implicit social contract of "we're the party, so we can't kick people out" to avoid the obvious and logical consequences of not compromising with the party. I'd make it clear to the group that if the party decides they don't want to deal with a particular character, they have the right to kick the character out, and that player will need to make a new PC.

I've always wondered what goes on in the mind of those people. It seems somewhat contradictory to me.