I’m going to take the opportunity to gripe about some of my past players. Some of these people are friends, some were strangers. All have done some pretty ridiculous stuff, behavior that I would try to steer clear from when inviting players into your serious game. I will start with more thematic problems before going into specifics.
First off is commitment. I have had players tell me that they are only playing the game because they have no girlfriend. If there were anything else to do on Saturday night that didn’t cost money, then they would do that, especially when someone to hold hands with went along side. I also have had players that are regularly up to an hour late for the game. These same people are also not going to call and say that they will be late. I have also had the dreaded no-call-no-show from players who miss a game. I promise you that there are enough players to play with that will commit to being there on time, most of the time. Don’t settle for less.
Next complaint is against players that take a whimsical attitude toward the game. They take funny character names to prevent their participation from being taken seriously. They joke, impersonate cartoon characters, belittle each other with silliness, and the ever popular purposeful fart. This “comedy” ruins the tension that exists in a good game. It minimizes the impact of drama and emotionally charged scenes. I believe that silliness is used by immature players to make serious, uncomfortable situations less serious, and more comfortable for themselves. The game is fun enough on its own without over the top ridiculousness. On the other hand, serious anger can make the game feel unsafe. Explosions of anger need to be dealt with immediately and corporately. Time to be adults, people.
Establish boundaries early in your game. I have had players that like to roleplay everything. Instead of a player saying, “When we get into town, we go to the Inn” we would get one player wanting to have a long dialog with the town guard. The DM can’t end these meaningless discussions soon enough. The players hopefully know by now what the town guards are there for and can figure that they live the lives of guards. Some players might be inclined to ask, “Well, how do we know if the guard has any important information unless we ask?” Any DM worth his salt will drop a hint somewhere along the line. That Ogre the party killed last session had a formal message on his body saying that a guard in Town “X” is actually an Ogre spy. If party members want to explore every shop owner, noble and prostitute in town, then your game is in danger. You will have one player doing all the dialogs, and four players falling asleep.
Back on boundaries again. I have had a situation where players wanted to go deep into roleplaying, to the point of LARPing. A player wanted to act out her scenes with the other players, invading their space, touching them, attempting to convince them to follow her ideas. For her, a warning was sufficient, the boundary set. No touching.
Two more issues have also come up, one internal, one external. The internal issue is a player who wants to play a different game than everyone else. We are still playing D&D here, but four players are playing cooperatively, and one player is playing competitively. Playing against the game isn’t enough for this player. He or she is only looking out for number one, first and foremost. The party Thief may be selfish, but not to the point of being destructive to the rest of the party. A healthy game is a cooperative game.
An external problem, simpler to deal with, is the advent of electric media. I cannot tell you how many times my players have missed an important description or dialog because their faces are stuck in their cell-phones. Have your players turn those things off upon sitting at the table. If someone has to have their phone on, for work or what have you, then it needs to be on vibrate. Most importantly, no one in the game-room is allowed to talk or text on their phones or devices. Take the call outside and come back when you are ready to play.
Another, more poisonous fault I’ve had to deal with is players hijacking the game for their own purposes. The adventure, and the blessed storylines all stop because a few players decide that nothing more can happen until “X” occurs. That is fine, if the players are on board and quickly working to solve the issue. However, my example was nothing less than destructive. I had the problem where the party tried to formalize a method by which treasure would be divvied out fairly, only the party failed to come to any conclusions. Three sessions were devoted to solving this and some party leadership issues. Nothing was gained except anger and resentment as one plan after another was shot down. In the end, when moving forward was put upon the players, three players decided they couldn’t proceed until the issues were solved. Those players left the game. They made a mountain out of a molehill and it almost destroyed the game.
I’m sure there are more dangerous things that people want to bring into your game, and not just the newness and coolness of the latest sourcebook. Be wary. Hold to your set boundaries. Be an example to the other people at your table. If you can have half as much fun as my friends and me do, then I hope the fun and the strength of your relationships only improve.