Cue up that one Brittany song, because today we’re talking about player toxicity.
There are many different varieties of this toxicity and many more ways for it to be expressed. I have been dealing with it in small ways over the last while in my games with random people during my open RPG days at my friendly local game store. By god, I am sick of it. I used to not care about some things, as we’re all adults and a table is usually good at weeding people out who don’t fit, but this is quite frankly lazy and ridiculous of me. I refuse to allow toxicity in any facet or degree at my tables because I hate coming away from games with a bad feeling because something happened during the game that bugged me. No more, I say!
Whoah, Rusty, hold your horses.
Maybe there is a misunderstanding that can be clarified?
Maybe something is going on that you’re not in the know about that justifies the behavior?
Maybe you’re the asshole?
Before I go on a crusade to defeat the nastiness, it might be a good idea to stop and think about what this toxicity is and what it really does before I go kicking people over misunderstandings or no real issue at all.
Let’s give this rant a bit of structure this go-around. We will hit on these subtopics of player toxicity and how to deal with them at the table:
How it Hurts the Other Players, How it Hurts the Narrative, & How it Hurts the GM
How it Hurts Other Players
Hostility at the table is a fast and easy way to destroy the momentum of a group and shoot down the fun. I have seen this in many forms, but more recently in smaller, passive-aggressive ways that eventually lead to one player doing something just to be a jerk to another.
They often will justify their actions as, “Its what my character would do'” or “It’s just my character hating yours.”
There is a vast difference in tone between it just being a fun, in-game only, quarrel and you being a dick for no real reason because you don’t like that player. This is where people skills help because you need to make sure you put off the right vibe and be able to read the table to make sure no one is misunderstanding what you’re doing in-game. This can be tricky for some, and to them, I recommend you always make sure to state that you’re just teasing in character or explicitly state your intention before beginning. This makes sure that everyone knows what you’re trying to do and won’t easily misunderstand your intentions.
What should you do if you see this issue happening at the table? During a break, I recommend talking to the player or the entire table, to clear up any misunderstandings and to establish the players intent to avoid future issues. If another player has an issue with the person being mean to their character, this opens up a time for them to say how they feel. Openness and discussion at the table solve most problems. I see this being a common theme during this rant.
How it Hurts the Narrative
The narrative is always impacted by issues at the table, regardless of how or what they spring from. It’s hard to have fun in a fantastical world when those around you are being butts, after all.
What I’m trying to get at with player toxicity hurting the narrative is when a player does something in the game that harms the storytelling of violates the social contract between players and the GM.
- This is when a player shoots the hostage in an interrogation just because, even though the rest of the party wanted to grill them for plot-important information.
- When a player pushes past the party during a talk with a bad guy to get more story and worldbuilding done just to shoot him dead. When a player refuses to engage with a story’s elements and just wants it to rush to a certain point.
- When a player shows that they have no story buy-in and does nothing but stick themselves between the drama of storytelling and the rest of the table just because.
As you can see, I have seen this too many times recently, and it’s driving me up a wall. This type of behavior makes a GM not want to put any effort into a game because why would they put effort into a game that isn’t appreciated.
This goes back to the social contract when one sits at a table to play an RPG. The players agree to play along with the story being told, and the GM agrees to facilitate the storytelling. It’s a two-way street. Even if a player doesn’t like a story or an element of it, they need to either:
- Suck it up and wait for the stuff they like to come back around.
- Play along until they get a moment to ask the GM if they can do *insert thing you want here* in the game next time.
- Or leave the table and play a different game.
You should never bring down everyone’s fun because you don’t like a particular plot point or moment in a story. A good GM will try their best to weave a little of everything into a game to keep people interested, but you must be patient. All because you don’t like a specific part of a game doesn’t mean that no one else does.
Funny enough, I wrote a bit about this in my RPG, Life After. Here is the blurb from the Golden Rules section in the How to Play section:
“It’s what my character would do…”– This is a lame justification for being a jerk at the table. Having your character do things in the narrative that aren’t the most tactically sound or meta simply because, “it’s what your character would do,” doesn’t mean you get to screw the party or justify a move that’s utterly self-serving because you wanted to feel important. What you do in the game is up to you but keep the health and flow of the narrative in mind whenever you take action. Adding drama at the right times makes games memorable!
If this is happening at your table, its a good idea to pull the issue person aside and talk to them. Talk to them about expectations, the social contract, or about how everyone likes different things depending on how bad the issue is or the particulars of the problem. As the GM, you always need to be open to criticism and feedback. I don’t know about you, but I aim to deliver the best, most enjoyable game possible for the table, even if that game wasn’t the one I had in mind originally.
How it Hurts the GM
It’s hard to write this section out without feeling like I’m being a baby.
Cue that one Flight of the Concords song.
I don’t know about you, but I have a hyper-brain that doesn’t know when to stop. Anytime I notice an issue at the table, my brain will go into overdrive to try to solve the problem or analyze why *blank* happened. I have spent many an afternoon and drive home from my FLGS contemplating how I can make a game better or how to address issues I’ve seen at the table earlier that day. Most of these things end up as rants here or in my list of topics to rant about later. Any issue at the table hits the GM the most, regardless of what the problem is. Many GMs hold themselves accountable for the players fun, after all (though I don’t, personally, as it takes more than just a GM to have fun at a game). I take any issues I see at the table as my responsibility to fix, and I always end up stressing over it. Do I need to stress over the actions of others during a game of pretending? No, but I love this hobby and always want to make the most of it at all times.
All I ask is that everyone keeps the others at the table in mind when they do or say anything during a game. You don’t need to treat people like they are delicate flowers, but they do deserve your respect and kindness. Even though we’re all grownups sitting around a table eating unhealthy snacks and playing pretend, we all need to treat one another like the adults we are.
All in all, there has to be a change whenever these issues arise. A healthy, fun game needs to be free of toxicity to thrive and grow, or it will do the way that many RPG groups go.
Reflecting on this text, I realize that it is my responsibility to address the issues in my groups. Things won’t change unless you change them yourself. This is advice I often give but need to start following myself again.
Until next week,