Table Drama: Handling PvP & angry players

Posted on June 22, 2009 by

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I went backpacking through Europe for a month back in 1996.  I was 23 years old, had a couple of hundred bucks saved up, so I decided to take the plunge.  I went with 3 other friends, and spent the month traveling from hostel to hostel aboard rickety old trains.  It was a great time, but spending a month with three other guys while sleeping in smelly hostels and gyms got old quickly.  We were getting sick of each other and towards the end we were at each others necks more often than not.

Imagine if that were the case with 7 adventurers, travelling by foot and horse accross the plains of a dangerous world, where monsters and dragons wait in the dark, ready to pounce on unsuspecting folks.  The stress of having to watch your back every night would surely get to the closest of companions over time, no?  I think this may be happening in my game.

"No, you stupid, pointy ear wench.  North is that way.  You suck."

"No, you stupid, pointy ear wench. North is that way. You suck."

There are certain players that tend to stick together, there are others that for some reason or other smile a bit when another fails, it’s really bizarre.  You’d think that by the upper reaches of the heroic tier, they would have built a true Fellowship, but alas, not in my game.  Complaints about who has what and who does what, along with personality clashes tend to creep into the game.  I still think we have a good group, and for the most part they tend to get along well, but the issues are there.  Now, this post isn’t really to talk about my home game, but about what can be done about it, for my table and yours as well.  If you’re a newbie DM out there with these problems, then keep reading and let’s try to figure out a solution together.

1.   Talk to the players involved, outside the game.  It may be the quickest way to get the problems fixed, although it causes you to extend table drama outside the context of the game.  Me personally?  I’d rather deal with stuff in-game, but some would consider this solution the quickest.

2.  Make them have to learn to value each others abilities.  You are the DM, you are the director in a fantasy flick with an unlimited budget!  Use it.  You can create set pieces and dramatic scenes that highlite every single one of your player’s abilities, strengths, and weaknesses.  Make the other players realize that they are all as important to the party as the next guy.  The party is caught in a situation where only one of them can get them out of it.  They won’t be smirking if he fails now.

3.  Let them go at each other.  This could go either way, but it just may make it obvious to the players that lack of unity won’t get them very far.  If the player’s truly are at a boiling point with each other, and the dwarf really wants the elf’s head, let them go at it.  See what happens.  See how the outcome affects yours story, chances are the “winner” won’t have much to celebrate about later.  Teach them a lesson.

4.  Try to really understand what’s causing the issues.  Maybe it’s you as a DM.  Maybe you are creating situations that are causing the situation.  I know in my case, I’ve gimped the party on magical items, and there are players walking around shining like beacons of magic while others are pulling out rusty swords to battle with.  It’s caused issues that I’m trying to rectify now.  Look at your style, your interactions with players, and your player “spotlight” time.  Everyone wants to shine, so offer them all the chance.

5.  Last but not least, use your DM authority as a last resort.  You are the guy running the show, and if a guy is really making your table uncomfortable, then do something about it.  If you have to tell him you want him out, do it.   Don’t let the group’s enjoyment be affected by one guy being a jerk.  It’s not necessary.  By simply volunteering to run these games you’ve earned some respect.  Cash it in if you have to.

This is the advise I could think of.  I’m sure more experienced DM’s will post below and leave some very knowledgeable comments…🙂