Dealing with a Disruptive Player

Being a dungeon or game master in any role-playing game consists of many related duties:

– Providing a story to the players

– Controlling the NPCs

– Making rule-based calls

– Keeping everyone at the table in line

In most cases this last duty won’t be too difficult to administer. Most players are at the table to have fun, and though the occasional joke or long-winded story is bound to happen they’ll normally be enthralled by the events of the game.

This is not, unfortunately, strictly true of every player. For every ten or eleven good players there’s always one troublemaker: a player who, either out of malicious intent or an innocent penchant for getting sidetracked, disrupts the game. Constantly. As DM, it’s your job to rein them in so the other players don’t get too annoyed – and they’ll let you know when they’re annoyed.

How you deal with a disruptive player depends on the nature of their disruption. If, for example, you know that the person is actively trying to mess up your game and constantly takes actions to ruin the game for everyone else, your path is clear. Give them the boot. There’s no room at the RPG table for a troublemaker who probably won’t be mending their ways. The chances are pretty good that they knew getting kicked out was coming.

Players who are unconsciously disruptive will require a bit more tact, especially if you’re close friends and don’t want to hurt their feelings. In most cases, however, it’s best to take the player aside and explain to them, in a calm, rational manner, that their actions during the game – whether they consist of frequent, off-topic outbursts or silly, needless actions in the context of the game – are unwelcome at your table. Give them a chance to mend their ways, and in most cases you’ll see a marked improvement in a hurry.

If not? Then you may need to take further steps. Try the following:

– Cut them off. You’re the DM. Lay down the law. If they’re being too loud and disrupting your game, tell them to be quiet. Be loud and decisive. The other players, those who are there to enjoy the game, will back you up.

– Impose penalties. Make this a general rule when you know somebody is a troublemaker, and slap them down if they go out of line. If, for example, somebody talks out of turn too many times, start giving them negatives to their abilities. Or roll on a table and force them to accept the consequences of what happens. If the player values their RPG experience, they’ll get the hint and stop handicapping themselves. For even more dramatic results, you can attempt to punish everyone in the group, which should bring a halt to disruptions even faster than before.

– Ignore their entreaties to action. If they can’t act responsibly and within the framework of your game – for example, if their ‘role playing’ consists of needlessly dumb and silly ideas – then just ignore them. They’ll get the hint.

– Stop inviting them to games. Or, if you don’t want to lose them permanently, give them a penalty of sorts – say, a suspension for one game. They’ll likely come back and play nice during the subsequent sessions.

The key to successfully dealing with a disruptive player is to communicate, and to communicate early. Don’t allow the player to settle into a disruptive rut or they aren’t likely to dig out of it for the majority of your games, in which case a full-out banning from your campaign is an inevitability. You don’t want to hurt their feelings, true, but you don’t want to waste the time of the other players, either – and the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.