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Burning Questions: How Do You Deal With Ludicrous Players?

Hello and welcome to another edition of Burning Questions. Today’s query: "In Dungeons and Dragons, how do you deal with players who constantly find ways of wrecking all of your planning as a DM with ludicrous actions no sane character would take?"


The Short Answer

Regularly communicate with your players and attempt to resolve issues diplomatically.

The Long Answer

This has the potential to be great fun or render the game tedious. My DM style relies heavily upon improvisation and backup plans, but sometimes it's rather difficult to deal with the unpredictable and insane actions of an errant party.

When this type of thing pops up, I have a few ways of handling it. First, I’ll consider the character’s actions and determine whether it’s in-character for the PC to perform those actions. If it isn’t, then per the rules of the game, an alignment change may be in order. This can have adverse consequences on the character. For instance, a lawful good paladin decides to kill a blacksmith over the cost of a sword. This evil action is enough to throw the paladin from the grace of his/her deity and set them on a completely different path.

An alignment change doesn’t have to be a negative thing—it can be a new creative outlet for the player and their character and even drive the story into unknown territory.

Another great way I’ve found to handle this is to make it a part of the game or use it as a role-playing opportunity. Sometimes a character’s actions may be conducive to setting up an encounter in a different way or providing some additional plot elements to the story. If the rogue is engaging in outlandish behavior, they could be under the influence of a spell or some sort of magic item. It can be rolled into the character and create interesting elements of the game.

This is also an opportunity to take that player aside and ask them if their character would actually behave in such a way. If not, then ask them if playing that character is right for them.

This is tricky territory, because ultimately, players can—and likely will—do whatever they like in the name of fun. When that becomes disruptive, it's the game referee's job to get the game back on track, preferably in a mutually inclusive, friendly manner.

If it gets really out of hand, then an outside-the-game-discussion needs to happen. One thing I would rarely do is halt the game because the players did something unexpected, because that’s part of the appeal of D&D for me. Sometimes, though, the game has to end and everyone goes home.

This is a bit of an experiment and we’d love to know what our readers think about this topic in the comments. We’ll be back with another RPG Burning Question soon. Feel free to submit your own!

This article was contributed by David J. Buck (Nostalgia Ward) as part of EN World's Columnist (ENWC) program. When he isn’t learning to play or writing about RPGs, he can be found on Patreon or Twitter. We are always on the lookout for freelance columnists! If you have a pitch, please contact us!
 
David J. Buck

David J. Buck

Koloth

First Post
In most cases, it is only ludicrous if the action fails miserably. Many of the better fiction tales involve heroes doing what most would call stupid things and achieving astounding results. If your players are doing the same thing, what's wrong with that? IMO, some of the most forgettable sessions involve PCs mindlessly following Act 3, Scenes 2-5 from Book 2 of Adventure Path Quest for the Goblin's Princess and the most fondly remembered are when the PCs did something from well beyond the left field wall.
 



These sorts of players do tend to hate there being consequences for their actions, I’ve found. They like when stuff happens as a result, but not when it’s a net negative. Derailing the adventure to get chased by the city guard? By their book, awesome! Getting captured by the city guard and fined or imprisoned, then that’s not fair!

In my experience, most of these players have already chosen CN as their alignment, and will use that as a deflector for any alignment concerns.

No, when I think about the players that acted like a bunch of cartoons doing stuff “for the lulz,” none of them are at my tables anymore. Because if that’s not the kind of game you’re running, then (not to sound to pessimistic), there’s always going to be a serious disconnect in tone that will damage the fun of the table.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this isn’t about the PCs doing something unexpected, or coming up with a crazy solution. It’s about the characters that ultimately have no existence other than as an extension of the player, to amuse that player.

Consequences.

And maybe finding some saner players.
 
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pming

Adventurer
Hiya!

Huh. IMNSHO, the DM in that Quara article was both "seeing it from the wrong point of view" as well as just plain "doing it wrong" (DM'ing).

The Player that managed to get his PC all the way up to the top of the tower and get the bad guy was awesome! Plain and simple. He had the skills, he took the risks, and he made the rolls. That's a GREAT story!

The problem is that it wasn't the DM's story. And he didn't seem to like that so..."The Player wrecked my game!".

So...uh, yeah. We, as DM's, should all be so "unlucky" as to have a player or players that think and play like that! :)

What is a more "ludicrous player" problem is the player that gets bored with something and then deliberately starts doing thing completely out of character or just outright messed up. You know the ones...the one who figures his druid is getting bored with being in the city for so long and decides "At about 2am I get up. I'm going to go cast [spell] all over the town square and post a sign that says "This Square has been reclaimed by nature! STAY OUT!". I'll also summon a couple bears to guard it and cast some trap spells for fun, just on the outside". THAT is the 'bad' kind of player.

^_^

Paul L. Ming
 

Stacie GmrGrl

Adventurer
Depends on Intention behind the gonzo and implied table agreements and setting and game implications.

If the purpose is to cause griefing then its just never cool, ever. If its a player doing whacked out things to test or push the DMs buttons, again not cool. It it ruins the enjoyment of even one other player to the point that player feels like leaving the group, then its not cool to do.

This is why real Session 0's matter.Why conversation matters, and why it might be important to have social agreements talked over and made before any game starts.
 

Warpiglet

Adventurer
I find it acceptable when it is malleable and not omnipresent. Example: a good friend makes names that are double entendres and usually has a funny character portrait to match.

In the course of play, he plays it straight and the name recedes into the background. At appropriate times we might comment or laugh at the name or a situation that makes the name's other meaning unintentionally relevant.

If it made a serious campaign totally change its tone, then no, that is too much.
 

marroon69

Explorer
Consequences....the best answer yet. Remember the world does have to suffer them...let them do what they want and then make sure they understand the effect of their actions. As for ruining the GM's story....well in my opinion that is just plain wrong. Everyone at the table should be an active participant in the story.
 

David Brideau

First Post
In my experience, most of these players have already chosen CN as their alignment, and will use that as a deflector for any alignment concerns.

That happened in my game recently. My response was to tell everyone in my current game and future games I DM that I'm house-ruling that Alignment is out. I forgot how much I hated Alignment until my player reminded me.

It's a delicate balance, bringing up consequences that brings real risk for the player, and not be so punitive about it that they don't come back for more.
 

Players can be silly and quote things from Monty Python or talk about crazy stunts, but their characters are running around in a D&D world that is more of the serious LotR-style, so I tend to not game with, or run for, the types of people that would pull ridiculous and/or stupid maneuvers in-character. Also, this article seems to place the responsibility only on the DM, when I feel a good group of players will police themselves, especially if one of those types of players is ruining the fun for the rest of the group. And if they do not, then maybe it is time to set aside the more serious game system and let them play something that allows for the stupid and ludicrous things to happen.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
No matter what the players have their characters do, or try to do, it's on the DM to roll with it in the here-and-now and - if applicable - provide fair and logical consequences later that are consistent within the setting being played.

It's also on the players to accept those consequences and not complain about them - again, provided they are applied fairly.

Discouraging crazy stuff can also have the side effect of discouraging swashbuckling as a playstyle or character concept - you're in effect saying "no Jack Sparrow PCs in my game" - which is sad if done unintentionally and pure evil if done intentionally.
 

Shasarak

First Post
I guess it would really depend on whats going on and who is involved. I remember one game at university where no one was taking things seriously and it essentially crashed and burned after one session.

In contrast I think that the idea of the Druid who turns the Town Square into a Park could go either way depending on the group.
 

TrippyHippy

Adventurer
While you can pick and choose players you want in your group, to a degree, and even discuss what types of character and story you are trying to create, I don't think GMs need to control everything. As much as anything some GMs just need to accept that the game's story is a collaborative effort and players do have control of their characters. If you start denying that, then the dynamic that makes roleplaying games fun becomes compromised.

The issue of disruptive players is one thing that deserves consideration, but I'd seperate it as an issue to players simply finding alternative ways to develop the story that you, as a GM, hadn't anticipated. My advice is 'roll with it' and try and use these things as a springboard for developing the story rather than attempt to shut down the players.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
Depends, usually I ask them to dial it back a bit, if that does not work, they suffer the consequences of their actions as a lesson to all. Onerously, I kick them out of the game; for example I just started a new Classic Traveller campaign and have 10 players, five returning from old games, five new, in just a couple of days of advertising on facebook. I know some will leave anyways, others will stay, and new ones will join. So removing someone is the job I hate, but will not kill the campaign.
 


Jason Summa

First Post
I ran a 3.5 game a few years ago. Most were either neutral or evil. I had a mage who wanted to be a lich. Sadly I sort of put a mechanism to allow such things. The intent was to bring a very dangerous and evil book to a 20th level wizard who would lock it up for safe keeping. The story never ended but I had a plan to eliminate the book so the player wouldn't be a lich. Was this idea crazy? Anyone who wants to be a lich, to me, is already crazy. Was I being a controlling Dm because I had a plan to wipe out the book to prevent this wanna be lich? Possible. An errant player does make more work for the dm especially if it splits the group up which isn't planned. Sometimes the consequences can be as simple as being uneventful for the character of they want to chase a rabbit trail. I have no problem of pigeonholing a character who goes out of their way to screw around the story.
 

pemerton

Legend
The whole framing of this post and many of the replies seems weird to me.

Players who wreck the game aren't a GM-ing problem - it's a social problem (like someone who tips over the boards at a boardgames club).

But the idea that players who declare actions for their PCs need to be policed by the GM (by reference to alignment, or the requirements of "the plot", or . . .) I find quite bizarre.
 

Jay Verkuilen

Grand Master of Artificial Flowers
It really depends on what you mean.

For example, if it's constant Leeroy Jenkins!!!-ing, buy him (or her, I've played with some Leeann Jenkins!!! too) some fried chicken and send his character to a well-deserved doom.

A lot of it comes down to the group though. For example, I'm really not a "casual" gamer. I prefer a pretty substantial level of RP and general assume that the PCs are "in it to win it" and take things like combat seriously. They may have a sense of humor about it. I played a character who, at the start of a fight when the party was disguised as a clown, dropped pants because it fit the encounter. That character was kind of a jester, although rather tragic, too. But ultimately that can't be the all the time game for me. I'll get very frustrated as a player or DM dealing with players who are much more casual. Vice versa, I'm fairly sure they would find me frustratingly serious.

I also can't deal with people who are very casual about showing up or otherwise are difficult to deal with: "Oh, well I have other things to do today and couldn't be bothered to inform you until the last minute."

In other cases you may simply have issues that are larger than play style. Some old friends of mine---a then-married couple, subsequently acrimoniously divorced and we've lost touch after the split---were people I was really close to, but we just couldn't help clashing in gaming.

So, how do I deal with that? I've come to realize that no game is better than a bad game. Basically I don't play with people who's play style is really far from what I want. However, in this day and age there's a lot of opportunities to game online, so it's not like the old days where you often got stuck with a certain group of people. So if someone's really look for something else from the game than you, move on.
 
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