How to Deal with your Problem Player: Strategies for Communication

How to Deal with your Problem Player: Strategies for Communication

We love playing tabletop games because it provides us with a space for imagination, collaboration, and storytelling. However, occasionally, a problem player can disrupt the harmony of the gaming group. Today we will explore effective strategies for talking to and communicating with a player who is causing discomfort and disharmony in your game. By fostering open dialogue, empathy, and understanding, you can work towards resolving conflicts and creating a more enjoyable gaming experience for everyone involved.



Reflect on the Issue
Before approaching the problem player, take time to reflect on the issue at hand. Identify specific behaviours or concerns that have been causing disruption or dissatisfaction within the game. Talk to the other players at the table and get their input and perspective. It is important to approach the conversation with a clear understanding of the problem to avoid misunderstandings and address the issue effectively.


Scenario: Abby feels that Brad has been dominating the table and isn't giving other people the chance to role-play. She takes this to the Carl, the DM, who then asks the other players how they feel. The other players agree that Brad has a tendency to take the spotlight, though they have different opinions of whether it needs to be fixed or not.



Choose the Right Person
In most circumstances, the Dungeon Master (DM) is the best person to speak to the problem player on behalf of the party. But in some cases, the conversation can also be handled by one of the other players, or by the party as a group. If the conflict involves the problem player and one or two specific other players, it is typically best to not have those players be directly involved in the conversation. Take stock of the players, their personalities, and their relationships, and choose the best person (or persons) to have the conversation. 


Scenario: Carl considers his players and their relationships. One of the players is Brad's best Friend, Dee. He decides to talk to Brad together with Dee, and Dee agrees that she can help.



Choose the Right Time and Place
Select an appropriate time and place to have a one-on-one conversation with the problem player. Find a private and neutral setting where both parties can feel comfortable and focused. Avoid discussing the issue during a game session, as it can create unnecessary tension and distract from the gameplay. Group confrontations can also make the problem player feel alone, isolated, and like they’re being ganged up on. A separate, dedicated conversation allows for undivided attention and an open dialogue.


Scenario: Carl asks Brad to stay behind after a game session, and Dee also remains to help support both Brad and Carl. Brad is uncertain about the situation, but feels reassured his best friend is there with him.



Practise Active Listening and Empathy
Approach the conversation with a mindset of active listening and empathy. Give the problem player the opportunity to express their perspective and concerns. Be patient, listen attentively without interrupting, and seek to understand their point of view. Show empathy by acknowledging their feelings and validating their experiences, even if you may not fully agree.


Scenario: Carl lets Brad know that some of the players have felt that lately they haven't had much opportunity to speak and participate, and that Brad has been a bit too dominant at the table. Brad is shocked and upset by this as he had never intended to make others uncomfortable, he explains that he started to speak up more because he felt the other players were very quiet and that no one else would act if he doesn't. Carl listens to Brad's explanation, and expresses understanding and support. Dee also emphasises that no one thinks Brad's intentions are bad.



Share Your Concerns
After actively listening to the problem player, calmly and respectfully express your concerns. Use "I" or "we" statements to explain how their actions or behaviours have impacted the group and the gaming experience. Be specific and provide examples of the undesired behaviour, explain how this makes you or other players feel. Avoid singling out player reactions or assigning blame, and focus on fostering a cooperative approach towards resolving the issue.


Scenario: Carl explains that some of the group is new to the hobby, and may feel a bit intimidated or uncertain when to speak up. Carl also explains that other players would appreciate if they were given more opportnities to participate.


Collaborate on Finding Solutions
Engage in a collaborative discussion with the problem player to find solutions. Brainstorm together on potential strategies to address the issues raised. Encourage them to share their ideas and suggestions. By involving them in the problem-solving process, they are more likely to feel invested in the outcome and committed to positive changes.


Scenario: Brad agrees that he should dial back his participation, but is worried that he might get over excited or wrapped up in a moment and forget. They discuss how to improve the situation. He suggests that Carl should pause scenes if he feels others are missing out, and actively prompt other players to act. Carl acknowledges that he should also be doing more as the DM to prompt other players and to stop scenes if they drag on too long.



Establish Clear Boundaries and Expectations
As part of the conversation, establish clear boundaries and expectations moving forward. Working together, define acceptable behaviours and actions that will contribute to a more harmonious gaming experience. Emphasise the importance of mutual respect, inclusivity, and maintaining the enjoyment of the game for all players. Document these agreed-upon boundaries to serve as a reference point in the future.


Scenario: Brad and Carl agree that they will work together to overcome the issue. Brad accepts that he should make sure to wait and let Carl check in with other players once in a while before they take the lead on a scene.



Follow Up and Provide Support
After the initial conversation, continue to monitor the problem player’s progress and provide support. If they slip up on occasion, gently remind them to stop the behaviour and move forward with the game. Offer guidance and encouragement, creating a safe space for open communication and growth. 


Scenario: After the conversation, Brad and Carl both make a conscious effort to include the other players and give them more opportunities to participte. Sometimes, when Brad accidentally starts to dominate again and Carl does not disengage, Dee speaks up or interrupts to remind them that others would also like a chance to do something.


Kick Them As A Final Resort
Sometimes, things might be so bad or someone’s actions so inappropriate that an initial or further conversation is pointless. In these cases, don’t hesitate to kick the problem player from your game and either continue with the remaining players, or invite someone new into the game to replace them. At the end of the day, remember that no D&D is better than bad D&D. The enjoyment and mental health of yourself and your players is paramount above all.


Effective communication is crucial in TRPGs to overcome problems and maintain a positive game experience for everyone. Clear and open communication allows players and the DM to address issues promptly, resolve conflicts, and ensure that everyone's expectations are aligned. Effective communication helps prevent misunderstandings, promotes fairness, and encourages teamwork. Through constructive feedback, players and DMs alike will grow and improve their role-playing skills. With these strategies in your arsenal, we hope that you will be well equipped to handle any player problems that come your way.

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