Friday, July 9, 2021

Random Roll: DMG, p. 110 (Part II)

 (Part I of this section can be found here)

In the middle of a long section on page 110 of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide entitled "Conducting the Game," Gary Gygax includes three paragraphs under the header "Handling Troublesome Players." This is a topic of some interest to me, as I've been very fortunate over the decades in almost never having to deal with players of the certain he describes here. Why that should be is probably worthy of another post, but, for now, let's turn to what's stated in the DMG. 

Some players will find more enjoyment in spoiling the game than in playing it, and this ruins the fun for the rest of the participants, so it must be prevented. 
The idea that "some players will find more enjoyment in spoiling the game than in playing it" is baffling to me. I don't doubt that such players existed in Gygax's time (and in ours), but I have never encountered one in the flesh. 
Those who enjoy being loud and argumentative, those who pout or act in a childish manner when things go against them, those who use books as a defense when you rule them out of line should be excluded from the campaign. Simply put, ask them to leave, or do not invite them to participate again.

If this is what Gygax means by "spoiling the game," I have occasionally encountered such players, particularly of the "loud and argumentative" sort. The same goes for those "who use books as a defense," but not so much the pouting and childishness. But then we have the Internet now, so it's probably not so difficult to find plenty of examples of the kind of behavior about which he's talking.

Peer pressure is another means which can be used to control players who are not totally obnoxious and who you deem worth saving.

"Deem worth saving" is a strange turn of phrase, but, again, I get what he's saying here.

These types typically attempt to give orders and instructions even when their characters are not present, tell other characters what to do even though the character role they have has nothing to do with that of the one being instructed, or continually attempt actions or activities their characters would no knowledge of. 

This is truly fascinating. I can certainly understand a certain displeasure at "back seat driving" in a roleplaying setting, though it's generally been my experience that this is meant helpfully by those who engage in it. Indeed, it's often welcomed by some players. Clearly, though, Gygax considered it disruptive. I even get the sense that he might have considered it "cheating" on some level.

When any such proposals or suggestions or orders are made, simply inform the group that is no longer possible under any circumstances because of the player in question. The group will then act to silence him or her and control undesirable outbursts. The other players will most certainly let such individuals know about undesirable activity when it begins to affect their characters and their enjoyment of the game.

 I will pass over this without comment, because I'm not quite sure what to say.

Strong steps short of expulsion can be an extra random monster die, obviously rolled, the attack of an ethereal mummy (which always strikes by surprise, naturally), points of damage from "blue bolts from the heavens" striking the offender's head, or the permanent loss of a point of charisma (appropriately) from the character belonging to the offender.

I suspect it's passages like this that contributed to the – largely false – perception that Gygax was a capricious, authoritarian referee. Leaving that aside, though, none of these suggestions strike me as the kind of thing that might positively reform the behavior of a troublesome player – quite the opposite, it seems to me. 

If they have to be enacted regularly, then they are not effective and stronger measures must be taken. Again, the ultimate answer to such a problem is simply to exclude the disruptive person from further gatherings.

This further clarification puts the foregoing into a better light, I think. Even so, I find myself wondering how common truly disruptive players were (or are). The fact that Gygax saw the need to include this section in the Dungeon Masters Guide implies that it was – or at least was seen to be – a genuine concern. As I said at the start of this post, that's not been my experience, but is it yours? Has your experience as a roleplayer included regular encounters with players so disruptive to your enjoyment that strong measures were needed to deal with them? I'm genuinely curious. 


  1. Yeah, it's real. Gygax is over-reacting in response to it, but it's real. I've experienced it first hand, and seen the topic covered in other RPG rules as well.

    But games that aren't RPGs don't include sections like this in their rule books. I can only think it's something about RPGs and us, sadly.

    Games existed for thousands of years. But the term "rules lawyer" doesn't appear until the advent of RPGs. :(

    1. I'm sure they existed for as long as games have, but only RPGs have such a loose grasp of the rules. You can't "rules lawyer" in Monopoly, because there's no ambiguity. Now if someone were to join a houseruled Monopoly-based game and they constantly brought up the official rules, the other participants would be rightfully aggravated.

    2. also, complexity. Monopoly's rules are 4 pages. while there ARE rpgs like that, most of them start at 128 pages and go up. plus splatbooks. RPGs in many ways, have too many rules.

    3. Re: complexity: The rulebook for Major League Baseball has 188 pages. But none of the players are rules lawyers.

      < "if someone were to join a houseruled Monopoly-based game and they constantly brought up the official rules, the other participants would be rightfully aggravated." >
      Agree, but that just doesn't happen. It only happens with RPGers. Which is why the Monopoly rules don't need to have a section on how to deal with troublesome players, a chronic issue for RPGs. What the hell is wrong with us? :/

    4. I am sorry, none of the players are rules lawyers? that is simply not true. A significant part of baseball is arguing with the umpire. also, see Bill Veeck.

    5. Arguing whether it was a ball or a strike isn't being a rules lawyer. But don't take my word for it. :)

      "Rules lawyer: A role-playing game enthusiast who makes it his life's work to memorize every obscure rule in the game. Usually owns every book and supplement for the game in question. Often uses obscure rules to show up other gamers." -urbandictionary

      "A rules lawyer is a participant in a rules-based environment who attempts to use the letter of the law without reference to the spirit, usually in order to gain an advantage within that environment...
      The habit of players to argue in a legal fashion over rule implementation was noted early on in the history of Dungeons & Dragons." -wikipedia

      None of this behavior is happening on the baseball diamond. Whereas it plagues our hobby. Everyone here has experience with this issue, and strategies to deal with it. Do MLB players? Of course not.

      And it was Veeck who said, "Baseball is almost the only orderly thing in a very unorderly world. If you get three strikes, even the best lawyer in the world can't get you off."

      A true rules lawyer would beg to differ. :)

  2. I've encountered individuals I never wanted to game with again after a single session, but they've been few and far between and two of the four I can think of were at "organized play" sessions long past Gygax's day. All of them were "pouty and childish" by Gygax's definitions, and one was described by a relative as sitting somewhere on the autism spectrum, for whatever that's worth. In every case I simply walked away from that particular game after the session and never looked back - which was actually easier with the more recent organized play incidents.

    To the best of my knowledge I've never caused a similar reaction for anyone else. The closest I've come to having to deal with "problem players" as a GM was insisting on a no-politics-or-religion-at-the-table rule in one campaign back in the 80s, and even that was done only after several players expressed a desire for an end to it.

    "I suspect it's passages like this that contributed to the – largely false – perception that Gygax was a capricious, authoritarian referee."

    "Largely false" isn't entirely false, and I regard the "ethereal mummy" crap as quite damning evidence that EGG was capricious on occasion, perhaps pretty often. I know people who *largely* pay for their items at stores and only occasionally shoplift. They're still shoplifters. Gygax is worse than merely capricious, in fact - he's giving advice to others suggesting that kind of BS is okay, which it absolutely is not.

    Not impressed by his advice to use your other players to pressure a bad actor into behaving either. That's moral cowardice - either talk out your issues with the "bad" player privately or discuss it with the whole table in the open, but don't wind the other players up and sic them on the person you don't like while you sit back and watch. I prefer the second, public approach, in part because you may find you're the only one at the table having a problem. As you said, some players *welcome* advice, and even the GM shouldn't be unilaterally declaring what is and isn't acceptable behavior at the table.

    YYMV of course, but Gygax has always had feet of clay to me. Not that most people don't, mind you...

    1. I agree with this. to be honest, I was a vengeful dm when I was 15. players who cheated died. fast and hard. but at the same time I allowed player intrigue, up to and including murder ;) played within the lines, I did not care. even when players were clearly trying to derail the adventure.

  3. I've seen some of this disruptive behavior from young players. There's a type of kid that is so thrilled by the free-form "you mean I can do *anything*?!" nature of RPGs compared to the games they've played before that they want to test the boundaries. They'll try attacking other PCs out of the blue, or every NPC they meet, or try to hog all the treasure, or interrupt other players trying to role-play with OOC chatter. And yes, in those cases, sometimes a bolt from the blue or the threat of one works. Generally I prefer to say no, you can't do that, and explain why it's not fair to other players or if your character did that then the other players would be right not to let your character hang around with them and you wouldn't be able to play any more because I won't run a solo game for your character... but (not a scientific survey) there are kids who seem to respond better to an in-game then this happens than a meta discussion about the game.

    And back in high-school days we definitely had occasional players who were there because their friends were playing but didn't really want to play and would deliberately try to spoil the fun. Navigating that was sometimes trickier than just banning them from the table.

  4. I can see what Gygax meant. His punishment by monster or point penalty is a bit of a childish overreaction, though. In my opinion the best policy is to be up front about the problem with the player and them to stop or leave the game.

  5. I've seen a variety of disruptive behaviors over the years.

    Some people take "in character knowledge" seriously, so the back seat driving from players who don't have an active character in the scene is considered very bad form by some people.

    In my RQ campaign, we had one player outburst after a ruling went down against him. The other players talked him down and he apologized. The same player does have an annoying tendency to grand stand or go on and on about other games, but has also been a dedicated player. So "saving" a player is something that can happen.

    I've had my share of rules debates, and they can be terribly disruptive, on the other hand, it's worthy to try and have rules consistency so I don't automatically consider a rules lawyer a bad player.

    I have had players rage quit (one player has even rage quite two of my games - I caught myself before pointing out a "similar" rage quit to the player that was actually his first rage quit from one of my games...). I've even rage quit once or twice myself, mostly in my teen and college years, even leveraging my position as provider of the ride for others to the game... These days I would be much more respectful and bow out with an explanation but with no drama.

    I have had horribly disruptive players show up with totally inappropriate characters or otherwise really push buttons and be horribly disruptive. We have on occasion had group discussions on how to handle a particular player and entertained kicking someone out (I think we have actually done this once or twice).

    In the past I have used in game punishments but these days, with more maturity, I realize that the issue is a personality issue and a conversation with the player is more appropriate. That doesn't mean there can't be in game consequences, but they should be appropriate for what's going on in game, not bolts out of the blue and such (of course all bets are off in Paranoia... not that I've ever played it).

    Oh, and I'm pretty sure "rules lawyer" predates RPGs, coming out of the war gaming culture. And I'm not sure that there haven't been a board game or two that talks about player etiquette, and it's certainly a big thing in chess (and bridge I think). Notably chess and bridge players are well represented in gaming, at least in the early days (one of the FLGS I had access to in college was actually a bridge club). The open ended nature of RPGs certainly invites more of this behavior but it's definitely not limited to RPGs. Oh, and look at Monopoly play for some choice player behavior... Or the number of friendships broken because of Diplomacy...

    And on that note, I have a dislike of long multiplayer board games where players can be eliminated. There's nothing worse than being stuck with nothing to do because you have been eliminated... If you're the driver for some of the players... A good recipe for rage quitting... And I've seen losing players sabotage the game, as opposed to playing more in the spirit of the game and trying to influence who wins.

    1. <"Notably chess and bridge players are well represented in gaming">

      Agree with that.

      Not all gamers are rules lawyers. But all rules lawyers are gamers, and some of them also play Diplomacy, bridge or chess.

    2. I’d say it’s worse to be stuck playing a game for hours after a point where you no longer have a realistic chance of winning and no interesting decisions to make. If eliminated, you can always go read a book or something.

      Elimination allows a game to offer meaningful decisions throughout its runtime without the aforementioned drawback.

    3. Diplomacy has the reputation of breaking friendships without rules lawyering. It’s a matter of players being unaware of what they’re signing up for.

    4. Good point on playing for hours when you clearly can't win... That's why I also prefer games where it's not so clear until close to the end who has potential to win. It can be a problem with games where there are those in the running and those not, but the play would get upset if they actually were eliminated. Another bad one is slow death, where you know you're losing but you're not out yet.

      In the end, there's actually relatively few board games I like...

      I found ICE's Riddle of the Ring really interesting. One of the few games where it seemed like 3 players could play and it wasn't 2 players gang up on the third. Also, while multiple players could be positioned for the win, the win could flip at the last moment, and going for the win just took a few turns.

      Another game I love is Barbarian Kingdom and Empire played in the "endless" scenario, where at any point you can decide your position is untenable and you can bail out. It can even be strategic to bail out. And new players can join at any time. Only once did I have an unfun game because two players colluded. I also played an all nighter where it was clear one player was going to win, but we all kept trying to get a good run. The very long game was fun and engaging.

      I also like economic games like the 18xx series railroad games and Avalon Hill's Acquire. They can have definite probable winners, but can still be fun. And a player not in position to win can still influence who will win which can be fun, try to make the likely 2nd place player win.

      On a flip side, I always hated the Avalon Hill historical games where the winning conditions were to actually win the battle, yet the battle really wasn't "balanced". So you didn't win just by doing better than historically, no, you actually had to WIN...

      I've also played some games with hopelessly unbalanced scenarios. I used to be into Starfire. Once, when introducing it to a player, I suggested we skip the 1st scenario due to it's imbalance. I had solo played it many times trying to get a win for the other side. Nope. But the new player wanted to start with that scenario. OK, then you take the side that's going to win. Nope. OK then... Predictably he rage quit when he lost...

    5. I’ll have to look up Riddle of the Ring and Barbarian Kingdom and Empire.

      If you like 18xx and 3M’s Acquire, you might like Reiner Knizia’s best auction games, like Ra and Modern Art and Beowulf: The Legend (as opposed to Beowulf: The Movie - Knizia is perhaps too prolific for his own good though he’s made a lot of other great games of other types).

      It’s expensive but, if you get the chance to play, I’d recommend trying Cthulhu Wars (designed by Sandy Petersen!). Some of the scoring is hidden, so unless someone is way out in the lead, players can’t target an obvious leader. That said, it is a game of skill, so better players will often take a handicap to prevent overwhelming new players.

      Cosmic Encounter is a lighter classic too.

    6. Oh, and Nexus Ops is another good multiplayer battle game that avoids player elimination, turtling, compound interest, and advantages based on turn order, and keeps the identity of the leader somewhat masked. (You need 12 points to win and good players will often arrange to get a large proportion of those on their final turn,)

    7. Another good one is Monster Derby. A bunch of monsters race and battle. Each player ranks the monsters in order they hope they win. Players take turns moving the monsters to try and influence the order of winning. It does become somewhat clear which monsters each player hopes will come in up front or in back, but usually there is suspense right up until the end.

  6. I can see following his advice on in game consequences when the player has the character act in a disruptive manner. But player misbehaviour towards other players and the referee are best handled by exclusion of the player or yourself.

  7. One point to consider --- in the mid 1970's anti-authoritativeness was all the rage among the youth. Not following rules (and being above them) was very hip.

    1. Has that changed? I wonder if some of it has to do with just being kids. People (“adults” too) still troll/grief/flame each other nowadays.

      I do remember games I was in as a kid where the party had an internal fight and split in two. I also remember one D&D game where one of my characters was a trickster fairy who used an illusion to make others in the party think they’d found a scrith sword; when they discovered it wasn’t real (no one got hurt in the process) they pounded the other (innocent) character I was playing. Do things like this happen much nowadays or was this sort of behavior particular to the era? Also, these actions don’t sound like what EGG was complaining about.

  8. My afterschool and Library Club games BITD had more than their fair share of people Gary is discussing here, unfortunately. Hated those Kids. I'm guessing these are the same types who ruined our weekend fun outside by arguing non stop they weren't dead when all the kids in our neighborhood were playing Cops & Robbers/Cowboys & Indians/ War, etc.

    Best thing in both situations was to kick 'em out of the group.

  9. When confronting obstreperous players, I take one approach....

    I quit.

    No other method spares my sanity, andby the time I am truly annoyed, things have gotten so bad that I just want it to end.

    Plus, IME, disruptive players never, ever leave. They always weasel their way back.

  10. Just looking at all the examples that quickly filled this thread, and the timeworn tactics that had to be used to deal with it just to play a game, is astonishing and kind of pathetic. :(

    Is there another pastime where this happens at this level? I mean, everyone's got a story and a go-to strategy for dealing with it. It's that pervasive in our hobby.

    1. Griefing in video games, especially MMOs, is every bit as common. Humans have issues.

    2. Isn't an MMO a form of RPG?

    3. Not necessarily- many are but there are other genres of MMO - FPS, RTS, etc. All have griefers (people who blow up planes before other players can get them, etc)

    4. Sorry, I don't know what it means to blow up planes. Is that like rules lawyering?

    5. And given that the average videogame player is a teenager or younger, emotional and social immaturity is to be expected in MMOs.

      But so many RPGers who do this nonsense are (technically) adults.

      If it's just that humans have issues, then every game played by adults would be plagued by this issue. But they aren't. It's primarily RPGs that are. What is it about RPGs that attract that type of personality and/or encourage this type of behavior?

  11. There is more to this, btw. For one, Roleplaying is not some monolithic thing, like monopoly. monopoly is one thing, and as far as I can tell, the rules have not changed in my lifetime, altho there are spinoffs. But RPGs are all kinds of games, with very different expectations. I hear all these stories, and they aren't every game. I have never heard of this with Gumshoe, for example.

    And RPGs are trifold, at least according to the indies: Gamist, Narrativist, and Simulationist. and those attract different people with very different expectations, and levels of suspension of disbelief. One thing I have learned to do, even with people I have played with since highschool "What kind of game are we running here?" which allows me to get an idea how to get on board.

    and, if you are actually playing ROLEplaying, it is akin to acting, and for many people, that is quite emotional, bring passions and fears right to the surface. Expect strong personalities, especially from people you least expect.

    1. Ah, be careful of talking about Monopoly in that way... For one thing, there are some common ways of playing that actually aren't supported by the rules...

      But yes, RPGs are a different animal than any other type of game. The freedom to do things not explicit in the rules that require adjudication is a huge part of their appeal. Of course this means that there's a tension between the players (and GM if the game has one), where players are always pushing the envelope and the GM or other players are going to push back sometimes. The envelope pushing can get out of hand, and the pushing back can get out of hand.

      I think the problems increase the more stake one has in one's character and the more risk to that character. That kind of stake creates winning and losing (despite many RPG texts talking about how there aren't winners and losers - the truth is there are, even if there is no final win condition, there certainly are final lose conditions...).

  12. I think the difference here is in scope. I mean, you *can* imagine yourself on a field of conflict when you play chess, but you don't have to. Similarly, you *can* imagine yourself traveling around the country with your ever-growing family when you play Life, but you don't need to. After all, the rules are the rules. RPGs by their nature ask us to put our imaginations forward. Without that, the game becomes more or less an assemblage of tables and formulas. Interesting tables and formulas, but that's not really the point. There's some really interesting research into people's "inner voice." Like, when you read a novel and you "hear" the characters' dialogue in your head. Or just when you have an inner debate with yourself. Research has suggested that a LOT of people do not have an inner monologue, and I do wonder whether this contributes to certain tableside shenanigans, especially if you can't "hear" the fiction of the game unfolding inside your own mind. Anyway, just thoughts!

    1. Could you reference some of that research. I have never before heard that assertion about a lack of inner monologue. In literature on reading, “rauding”, the subvocalization of the written word, was/is considered one of five standard modes of reading (alongside scanning, skimming, learning, and memorization).

    2. Sure thing!

    3. Thanks! Those were very interesting but only the second one explicitly backs the assertion. Has Hurlburt’s work been replicated?

    4. Not sure, actually! My sense is that it's recent enough that it has not, though there's been some interesting anecdotal follow-up. As with anosmiacs, it seems like at least some people who lack an interior monologue kind of pretend that they have one to avoid socially awkward situations. I think the research into atypical inner speech is also pretty interesting, in that there may well be "levels" of monologue

    5. How can lacking an interior monologue lead to socially awkward situations? I’m mystified.

  13. The statements Gygax says about attacking troublesome players with an ethereal mummy are indeed petulant and childish, but honestly, even back in junior-high when I read the DMG for the first time, I didn't take that seriously. Seemed more like winking humor to me.

    Even if he was being serious though, it should be considered that RPGs were a relatively new thing back then and running the game was a work in progress. Also, I gather that a lot of Gygax's game play came from running sessions at cons, where you have no control over who is at your table to game. It's not just your friends, whom you have already vetted their personalities. I can imagine getting riled up about the actions of some rando trolls at my table quite easily.

  14. I think the best response I ever heard from a DM to a rude player is, "keep this up and I'm going to kill off your PC!"

  15. My college group, which was large, had to invoke the "if you tell someone to do something when you aren't there, they explicitly are forbidden from doing that exact thing" rule. This kept spotlight hogs from hogging the spotlight even when their character wasn't there and provided space for more...passive (slow? shy? It varied.)...players time to work out what they were going to do. It set a norm for the gaming group that helped roleplay and provided space for all the players.

    I tended to run into the more petulant players in board games. Mostly people with low frustration tolerances who needed to learn to grow up, no matter how old they actually were.

  16. The worst encounter I've ever had with a player was when I was starting up a Pathfinder campaign in Japan. He proudly presented me with a character "build," arguing that he should be able to throw several darts per round (as a first-level druid) and that part of his starting equipment was bottles of wine that his character would sell in town in return for several hundred GP.

    This wasn't the worst possible munchkinism, but nor was it in keeping with the tenor of campaign I was aiming for, so I said No. But he thought it would be appropriate to start a huge fight about it, repeatedly citing "Rules As Written" and ignoring DM prerogative, and culminating in him calling me a rapist (!?!) after I told him flatly that the discussion was over.

    He'd always rubbed me the wrong way so kicking him out of the campaign and cutting off all contact at this point wasn't exactly tragic, but I still marvel at the fact that somebody was willing to burn things to the ground so completely in the real world just because his paper man didn't get a special rules-lawyery boost to wealth and damage output.