[Discussion] Problem Players


Organized Play General Discussion

Wayfinders 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **** Contributor

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This thread is a spin-off of the How do you recruit & keep GMs thread, and I'm giving it its own thread, so that we can keep the discussion of GM recruitment more focused, but I do realize this problem can affect the happiness and success of a venue -- and thus impact GM recruitment!

One awful player can ruin the gameday for everyone. I had personal experience with this, having a toxic player who loved sabotaging the plans of other players and just doing things that were 'ooky' and questionable at the gaming table.

Soon, all our regulars would change their RSVPs to 'nos' if he showed up, and we had no one bringing the fun anymore. Sometimes you can rehabilitate your problem players, but if that does not work, sometimes you just have to ban them.

It can be extra hard to decide what to do, though.

  • What if the 'problem' is related to a player's youth, disability or neurodivergence?
  • Is there a way that you as a GM or Organizer can work with the player?
  • Would better accessibility or a less stressful environment alleviate the problems?
  • How do we balance being both inclusive and firm?

    ★ --- ★ --- ★ --- ★

    The original comments from the GM thread:

    Purple Dragon Knight wrote:

    You want more GMs?

    Tell players to stop arguing with GMs and crack down on broken character builds.

    There's zero point preparing a game for a group of folks to have fun only to see one player show up and solo all fights in one round.

    TriOmegaZero wrote:

    This is why I left the PbP community.

    I have no time or energy to spend on people that don't make the game fun for everyone at the table. I'm as guilty of bad attitudes as the next, but when someone comes at me confrontational about rules, it makes it that much harder to be graceful and explain where I was coming from.

    Build a better community by rehabilitating the bad elements or cutting them loose.

    ★ --- ★ --- ★ --- ★

    I'm guessing that these problems occured in a PF1 game, though it is possible that they happened in a PF2 game with one higher level player playing amongst a lot of lower level players.

    One thing that has improved with Pathfinder Second Edition is that teamwork is absolutely needed, and that it is more difficult to have severely over or under-powered builds.

    ★ --- ★ --- ★ --- ★

    What is your process for dealing with players whose behaviors are problematic? How do you communicate with them, and with your other players?

    Hmm

  • 3/5 5/55/55/55/5 *** Contributor

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    This isn’t a silver bullet, but I have found that an important step is to tell someone to stop the behavior in clear, direct language. Even if it seems obvious to you that XYZ is annoying the other players, it really might not be obvious to them. Hinting may not get through. “I need you to stop doing XYZ.”

    It doesn’t always work, but it does sometimes! At the very least, it’s a good place to start. And their response can help you suss out if someone is just unaware of how their behavior affects others or deliberately provoking people.

    2/5 5/5 **

    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber

    That’s true advice for many things in life: be clear and direct.

    I’m as confrontation adverse as anyone, so I don’t intervene as often as I should, but that is the more effective way to handle problems.

    By being clear, if they persist, you can better document the pattern and have the justification for limiting them from your program, if necessary.

    For youth, you might request that a parent always play at the same table. It is probably best to make that a universal policy than singling out specific individuals to be chaperoned. It can be hard to define when the youth is ready to be unsupervised outside of age.

    For adults with a disability or individual characteristics that negatively affects the other player’s due to the choices and actions of the person, you can ask them to modify their behavior just the same as anyone else. If the disability limits their decision making capabilities such that they can’t be expected to modify their behavior, then they may require a chaperone like a youth.

    4/5 *****

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    Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

    Don’t forget the official VO handbook exists and contains a huge section on handling conflicts, problem players, and other issues. It also includes escalation paths for assistance, and other tools because the VO structure is there to help.


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    I've found this to be an issue that comes up in online society play. I play/run Starfinder only, so I'm not sure if the issues are the same or different with PF1/2. I think online org play in general contains players who are really invested in the worlds of their hobby, but don't have great social skills, or have bad habits with backseating other players' choices, or even backseating the GM.

    In spite of this I've been able to deal with conflicts either by deflecting or by telling players we need to move the story forward and not get too distracted.

    However, the overall experience has kinda burnt me out and I'm back to just running for and playing with people I know now. That consequence, I'm not sure how to prevent for myself or other GMs.

    Wayfinders

    One of the best tools for preventing many types of problems proactively is having a session zero, but unfortunately, the nature of organized play doesn't really allow for that in live play games. Because of the store hours where we played, there was little or no time to socialize, which could have otherwise been time to address issues or set expectations.


    On Being Non-Confrontational
    Hey, fellow Dungeon Masters.

    We need to have a little chat about a concerning trend I’ve noticed in a lot of my D&D groups that is definitely not a good look for our hobby: DMs who don’t seem to want to directly deal with toxic behavior at their tables.

    A D&D GM talks about the GM role in dealing with toxic players.


    Blake's Tiger wrote:
    That’s true advice for many things in life: be clear and direct.

    I second with GM Blake. In my limited experience in Organized Play, maintaining clear communication and adhering to correct rules tends to resolve issues with players effectively. Ensuring that the GM is well-versed in the rules and provides proper guidance to players can significantly reduce disputes at the table. A skilled GM can serve as a positive role model, which can greatly influence the behavior of players. You can't reasonably expect players to stick to the rules and exhibit positive behavior if the GM doesn't set the same example. It would be unfair to request something from others that you're not willing to do yourself.

    If a player is exhibiting disruptive behavior, causing discomfort, or engaging in metagaming or cheating, the GM should issue clear warning and follow through with real actions. When it comes to handling toxic players, don't hesitate to enforce consequences, such as using the "ban hammer" when necessary.

    Spoiler:
    It's disconcerting that there isn't a designated thread for addressing concerns related to GMs, especially when players often encounter situations where GMs persist in making incorrect rulings, despite being presented with the correct rule text to rectify the situation. This behavior is particularly concerning given that the Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Guide clearly outlines the responsibilities of GMs.
    Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild Guide p.13 wrote:
    As a Pathfinder Society Roleplaying Guild GM, you have the right and responsibility to make whatever judgments, within the rules, that you feel are necessary at your table to ensure everyone has a fair and fun experience. This does not mean you can contradict rules or restrictions outlined in this document, a published Pathfinder RPG source, errata document, or official FAQ on paizo.com.

    In cases where GMs dismiss player input, even when presented with irrefutable evidence from official sources, they are in direct violation of the very rules they are entrusted to uphold.

    To foster a positive gaming experience, it is crucial for GMs to take player feedback seriously when it comes to rule interpretations and corrections. Engaging in constructive dialogue can lead to a more enjoyable experience for all participants while upholding the standards set forth in the rules.

    Dark Archive 4/5 5/5

    I think the primary reason there isn't a thread for issues with GMs is that typically after trying to deal with it directly you would escalate it to the appropriate venture officer. I've only had to do it once, and it was very frustrating. I opted not to bother the other time it was an issue because it was clearly someone who had signed up to GM at Gencon for rewards, but who had no experience with how organized play was supposed to work and didn't seem remotely interested in putting effort to learn. Since then Paizo has selected its GMs a bit more carefully.


    Davor Firetusk wrote:
    I think the primary reason there isn't a thread for issues with GMs

    Paizo forums are never going to be the right place to bring up problems with individuals. Goes against the 'Harassment' policy.

    Do not abuse, defame, harass, threaten, or stalk others via our forums or private messaging system. Community members should feel welcome while they're on paizo.com.


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    **"Often"** encounter GMs that make incorrect rulings? That is certainly news to me. I have no idea if this is more common in PF2 than Starfinder but the main problem I've seen is lack of GM retention due to unpleasant (not necessarily rule-breaking) players and the gender imbalance at tables occasionally creating a less than welcoming vibe for women and nonbinary GMs/players. I don't mean outright discrimination or anything but more subtle behaviors such as talking over, assuming non-men don't understand rules for their character, questioning in character decisions more than usual, and not aiding certain characters while helping and building rapport with others. I don't see this happen at every table but often enough with online play with strangers that it contributes to burnout. Player feedback and rules correction is cool. Questioning in character things and holding up play to be antagonistic is not.

    edit: As a side note, I find that these issues are less common at lodges that work to build a certain community, even if online. It tends to crop up more at cons and when hosting scenarios to a wide audience, such as a posting on a discord server with thousands of members. So this is perhaps an issue of dealing with the unfiltered public in general.

    3/5

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    ^Yes, in some ways I suspect it's actually *easier* (at least in theory) to deal with someone that's engaging in very obvious egregiously bad behavior because there are guidelines on how to handle it. But it's harder to deal with players who seem to often question your judgement as GM, because while I *do* want to be corrected if I actually get something wrong it's tiring to have people go, "Are you sure that's right?" when yes indeed it's right there in the scenario that this is how it happens/works. I've not GMed enough 2E to know if this comes up as much but when GMing 1E I've finally started preemptively saying, "And no, that's not a mistake, there's a reason this happens/they can do that" when there are specific shenanigans or edge cases happening that trump otherwise established rules on how things work.

    And the thing is, no one is breaking any rules by posing such questions. In my experience, it's usually not even stated in a rude or confrontational manner. But when you see where other GMs seem to be taken at their word when running the same scenarios and encounters it gets demoralizing and makes me second-guess my own GMing capabilities.

    Grand Lodge 4/5

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    Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber
    Dancing Wind wrote:
    Davor Firetusk wrote:
    I think the primary reason there isn't a thread for issues with GMs
    Paizo forums are never going to be the right place to bring up problems with individuals.

    Agreed. But a general advice thread with example situations, even real experiences with the specifics omitted to make it general, would not be out of line.


    Discussing what makes a good GM and contrasting it to negative experiences could be of some benefit, but most likely not in a thread that's specifically geared towards a question:

    "How do we recruit and hang onto GMs for our games?"

    While nobody wants to see a bad GM experience drive away players, my understanding was this conversation was about how player experiences can drive away some GMs.

    5/5 5/55/55/5

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    Lady Ladile wrote:


    And the thing is, no one is breaking any rules by posing such questions. In my experience, it's usually not even stated in a rude or confrontational manner. But when you see where other GMs seem to be taken at their word when running the same scenarios and encounters it gets demoralizing and makes me second-guess my own GMing capabilities.

    One of the very under utilized options in online play is that you have 2+ mechanisms of communication : the voice chat and the text chat. The voice chat is for things that need to be used now, but the text chat can be used to bring up a rules question without interrupting the current flow of combat.

    2/5 5/5 **

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    Pathfinder Adventure Path, Lost Omens Subscriber
    Lady Ladile wrote:
    I've not GMed enough 2E to know if this comes up as much

    Often enough, maybe more. PFS is frequently altering the way the rules work out of combat.

    The earlier the scenario, the more divergence you're likely to find because they were making up rules on the fly that Paizo later published rules for. E.g., when they were making up influence rules before GMG had influence rules to draw from.

    5/5 5/55/55/5

    spacecat11 wrote:
    It tends to crop up more at cons and when hosting scenarios to a wide audience, such as a posting on a discord server with thousands of members. So this is perhaps an issue of dealing with the unfiltered public in general.

    More so than riff raff wandering in, I think the issue there is having the same culture with regards to how the rules and conventions at a table actually function.

    For example, one lodge might have a standard operating procedure of the ships captain ordering crew members and another where everyone focuses on their own job. A pilot with a captain barking orders is going to seem like backseat driving if they're not used to it, and a pilot used to it and not getting it is going to be waiting for someone to handle the overall picture for them. Neither one is inherently right/wrong as long as people are on the same page, but different lodges/groups wind up on different pages.

    Another biggy is knowledge checks to ID creatures. Some people do a question/answer thing sometimes the DM just tells you the most useful stuff. Depending on how you've seen it before people can say "huh what?" or "wait that's not the rules..."


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    I'm not sure quite how to phrase this but I'll do my best. :)

    My comment about antagonism at tables was a mix of experiences as both a player and a GM. More so as a player, which led to not really wanting to jump in to GM organized play even though I have skills and experience with doing it now.

    So while the conversation about table rules and culture varying from lodge to lodge is helpful, it is somewhat separate from the issue I brought up.

    But the issue I brought up doesn't lend itself to solutions as easily, so I get that it's not something that fosters a conversation about solutions as well.

    The issue being subtle unfriendliness and antagonism that comes from gender bias. So not just questioning a GM more than usual because the GM is not a male, but also running commentary throughout the game to players who aren't men on "you should have said this" or "you should have done this in combat" which can be a real drag.

    Admittedly some players do this to everyone, lol. But it's been a feature of organized play that makes me hesitant to create any kind of public game on Warhorn for SFS.

    Sometimes it extends to things like only offering support in combat to other male players and ignoring other player characters even when it doesn't make sense strategically to act like that. But it's not quite bullying or harassment, so difficult to call out as a player, creating a bigger conflict than just sticking it out in an annoying game.

    Wayfinders 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **** Contributor

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    I agree that this kind of gender bias happens way too often in gaming, and alas happens sometimes in Organized Play. I've heard over and over from other female GMs (some of whom are game writers and devs) that some male players question their every judgment call.

    Personal Experience Aside:
    I don't actually know why I haven't experienced it. I remember asking locally about it at a PFS party, and someone said to me, "It's because you exude this terrifying judgy grandma persona. It makes no player want to get on your bad side."

    So I asked, "Terrifying? You find me terrifying?"

    Then the entire table nodded, and all the men at the table stated that I was indeed terrifying.

    So I guess I am going to embrace my terrifying judgy grandma persona.

    ★ --- ★ --- ★ --- ★

    But that doesn't solve the problem for all the other female gamers out there. I think that the answer lies ultimately with us setting up a welcoming environment where all players (and GMs) can be respected as competent humans no matter our gender presentation, neurodivergence or obvious disabilities. A lot can be fixed by having an observant event host nip disrespectful comments in the bud, and make sure that everyone feels valued.

    And even if you're not an event host or a GM, if you see that kind of badgering behavior, call it out. We want welcoming and diverse environments in Organized Play.

    Hmm

    5/5 5/55/55/5

    spacecat11 wrote:

    So while the conversation about table rules and culture varying from lodge to lodge is helpful, it is somewhat separate from the issue I brought up.

    So is the problem that backseat driving and questioning the DM exists or that it exists in different ratios depending on chromosome setup?


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    BigNorseWolf wrote:
    spacecat11 wrote:

    So while the conversation about table rules and culture varying from lodge to lodge is helpful, it is somewhat separate from the issue I brought up.

    So is the problem that backseat driving and questioning the DM exists or that it exists in different ratios depending on chromosome setup?

    My point was that the frequency these things come up for female + nonbinary GMs contributes to burnout and has led me to only GM for friends for the most part. That doesn't mean it's the only issue around GM recruitment that matters in this thread.

    4/5 *****

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    Pathfinder Lost Omens, Rulebook Subscriber

    Fellow players are sitting right there watching the same thing happen.

    Maybe we should have long threads on how players deal with problem players.

    5/5 5/55/55/5

    Doug Hahn wrote:

    Fellow players are sitting right there watching the same thing happen.

    But are they SEEING it ?

    Liberty's Edge 3/5 5/5 **** Venture-Captain, Nebraska—Omaha

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    I have not encountered the behavior described. I am older, white guy so many I just would see it. Hard to say.

    To recruit new GMs they need to feel supported and provided with timely feedback. If a new GM makes a mistake, I don't usually jump in to correct because that would be taking control of the table when I am just a player.

    I provide brief feedback with lots of encouragement.

    I know I will be tested soon as a VC because my lodge is looking to have an influx of new players and at least 2 players expressing the interest to GM. Both are woman and non-binary.

    So I will hope to give positive feed back on my lodge in a couple of months.


    Gary Bush wrote:
    Both are woman and non-binary.

    You might want to spend some more time learning about people who are nonbinary.

    Liberty's Edge 3/5 5/5 **** Venture-Captain, Nebraska—Omaha

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    Dancing Wind wrote:
    Gary Bush wrote:
    Both are woman and non-binary.
    You might want to spend some more time learning about people who are nonbinary.

    Guess I show my ignorance. It is a long journey for someone who has spent the vast majority of their life in different frame of reference.

    I am trying. Will I fail? At times, yes. But I am willing to try.

    Grand Lodge 4/5

    Pathfinder Adventure, Adventure Path, Pathfinder Accessories, Rulebook, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

    Regardless of how many classes you say are in the game, there are some people that are classless. That's the best way to explain it. You wouldn't say someone is playing a classless character that is a Champion, after all.

    Wayfinders 4/5 5/55/55/55/5 **** Contributor

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    Gary, I am glad that you are trying! The more you work at it, the better you'll get at it. It's a new habit and it takes time to lay the foundations for new habits. You'll get there!

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