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On the Banning of Rules Lawyers, Metagamers and Min Maxers

Hello fellow Dungeons and Dragons gamers!

(If you are not a D&D player, maybe you should try it?)

Anywho, the topic today is the issue of players with "issues" during D&D games. This discussion can also reflect anyone involved in other kinds of roleplaying games, but for my purposes I am speaking specifically of Dungeons and Dragons gamers.

Note that it doesn't really matter which edition either. 1st edition, 2nd edition, 3rd, 5th... I guess 4th is technically there too, even though I like to pretend 4th never happened and boycotted it after testing it a few times.

During my gaming groups in the past I didn't really had much choice but to tolerate problem gamers, the ones who don't want to get along and seem to want to ruin the game for everyone else. That kind of behaviour was discouraged more through peer pressure back then but as I got older I determined that some people never really learned from those social cues and just kept doing what they were doing.

I am going to name names here. Lets start with Darryl.

Darryl is from Toronto. I met him during a 1st edition game in 2007 (a game which has since been going ever since). It wasn't my game however, I was just a player.

Darryl would argue about rules, plot against fellow PCs, try to get fellow PCs killed, steal from fellow PCs, and use metagame knowledge from one of his characters to guide the actions of other characters he had. Now you might think "Oh he is just roleplaying his character!" except he had multiple characters and to this day I cannot tell the difference between their personalities. They all behaved the same due to the disruptive nature of the player.

The DM of that game decided to kick Darryl out of the game in 2008 and everyone has been much happier since then.

Years later I learned that my younger sister also met Darryl and that he had likewise been a disruptive player in her game too. The conversation came up by accident. I was socializing with my sister near the Bloor-Yonge subway and a friend of hers spotted her and came over to say hello. They started talking about the game they were in and I was politely listening / browsing my cellphone when I heard them complaining about what they should do about a guy called Darryl.

At which point I swear my ears perked up. It couldn't be the same Darryl, could it? Yep it was. A few questions about his physical appearance, his mannerisms and his email writing style of TYPING IN ALL CAPS made it pretty clear which Darryl they were talking about.

At which point I explained what had happened during our 1st edition game, and how Darryl was eventually kicked out of the game. After that conversation my sister and their group decided to kick Darryl out of their game too. Clearly the guy had not learned his lesson.

I met Darryl one last time, during an one-shot game organized by people I had never gamed with before. When Darryl showed up I was pleasantly surprised. I was pleasant and shook his hand even. After all, who is to say he hasn't learned his lesson by now? Less than an hour later he was rules lawyering again, arguing about what is in the book, when all the group really needed was a DM Ruling on something that wasn't in the rules.

You see I follow the Old School approach of whatever the DM says is the word we go by. If the DM wants to roll randomly, so be it. If the DM says yes or no, so be it.

But in Darryl's head there must be a rule for everything, and he wanted to argue and try and find a rule that either doesn't exist or would take an hour just to find it in the rulebooks. He basically ruined that game for everyone present with his sheer arguing.

Next I want about Lochlan.

Lochlan from Texas. This guy is part bully, part Rules Lawyer, part Metagamer and part Min Maxer. He is basically the unholy trinity of bad roleplayers with bullying tossed in for spice.

I met Lochlan when I joined my brother-in-law's game. He didn't like me from the very start. I arrived fresh from the archery range, carrying my bag of archery equipment and he immediately didn't like the looks of me: Tall, athletic, charismatic and easy going. This was in contrast to Lochlan being short, fat, passive-aggressive and a bully.

Now one thing my sister and her husband both know is that I stand up to bullies. I have zero tolerance for them.

So when Lochlan sent me an email trying to bully me in to leaving the game I simply deleted his email and pretended that I never read it. I showed up at the game and said "Hey Lochlan, wazzup?!" with a big smile and boy oh boy did that infuriate him.

So he wrote me a 2nd email, complaining about me more, trying to again pressure me to quit. I again deleted the email and went on pretending like there was nothing wrong.

Meanwhile during the game Lochlan would argue with the DM over rules - whom I would defend, pointing to the Golden Rule of D&D: "Whatever the DM says goes." He would metagame and use out of game knowledge of physics and chemistry (gunpowder, etc), basically trying to ruin the game and make his character more powerful using knowledge his character doesn't have. Next he would also import spells from basically any source he could find, with no checking to see if his wizard even has the spell, has learned the spell, etc. It was as if he had a spellbook of infinite spells, which is as rule breaking as it gets. How he managed to convince the DM to allow him the ability to use any spell in existence makes no sense whatsoever. I don't recall the reasoning behind him having access to every spell, but he would basically make a spellcraft check and if he made it he somehow had access to that spell. And lastly, he would min max as much as possible and attempt to bully other players into doing what he wants them to do.

And then there is me with my character.

I am playing Helene, a cleric I made during the above mentioned 1st edition game. Helene likes clothes, fashion, and she talks a bit like a Valley Girl. I based her off the character Quinn from the TV show Daria. Helene is a little ditzy and she isn't really that good in combat. What she is good at however is being a combat medic, staying alive, and keeping the party alive. She is a healer first, a spellcaster second, and only enters combat when she has run out of spells. She is not designed to be a min maxing spellcaster or a great fighter. She is just Helene, a humble cleric of whatever good god happens to be available in any particular campaign.

Helene thus is a character designed for roleplaying. She is designed to be fun to play and to keep the party alive.

Lochlan saw this, saw how I prefer to base spell decisions on roleplaying decisions, and decided to bully me into picking spells he felt would be better combat spells. I politely declined. It is my character. Not his.

Lochlan saw my refusal as problematic and then there was another problem...

Lochlan's girlfriend was present. Now I am not saying she had eyes on me or had any interest in me, that doesn't matter so much as the fact that I was simply there and he was jealous of my physique, good looks and charismatic way of roleplaying. He saw me as a threat to his relationship with his girlfriend and wanted to get rid of me.

Which he tried to do using the above mentioned emails, although I didn't realize at the time that he was also being motivated by jealousy. It took me awhile to figure out that it wasn't just his hatred of me that was fueling his attempts to bully me, it was also his rampant jealousy and the delusions in brain that his Canadian girlfriend might leave her Texan boyfriend for a fellow Canadian. It is not illogical, it just doesn't have all the facts.

(The facts being that I had zero interest in his girlfriend. Sure, she is attractive, but I have zero interest in dating a girl who is in an abusive relationship with a bully. That is a whole other story, but basically I would not be surprised if he beats her when nobody else is looking, and the kind of person who puts up with mental and physical abuse is not the type of person I am interested in. I already know he mentally abuses her because I have witnessed him do it and she puts up with it, but whether there is also physical abuse is a matter of debate.)

Anyway all of this came to an end as far as I am involved when Lochlan threw an email hissy fit and quit the game. He then bullied his girlfriend to quit the game too, trying to protest my involvement in the games of my sister and her husband. We simply continued playing without them.

My sister and her husband continue to play with Lochlan and have voiced concerns about how to stop playing with him. They all agree he is a problem gamer and they don't want him in their games, but they want his girlfriend to be able to continue playing with them. So they tolerate Lochlan just so they can have her in the games, and they only have such games whenever Lochlan is visiting his girlfriend here in Canada.

The rest of the time they simply play other campaigns, like our current 5th edition game of rotating DMs (the 5th edition DMG introduced rules which allows people to take turns being DM, which we thought would be fun to try out and we have been using that for awhile now).

Finally I am going to talk about my own games. Korovia.

I have been running my Korovia campaign world since 1999. I first started it in 2nd edition, later adapted it to 3rd edition, and went back to 1st edition when 4th edition came out because I love the retro feel of 1st edition. The current campaign is set during the Stone Age / cusp of the Bronze Age in Korovia, which combined with the 1st edition rules gives a very different feel. The above mentioned 5th edition game is run with sister's group, but has rotating DMs, and is set after the Third Demon War (demons periodically invade Korovia, seeking a powerful source of magic hidden beneath the earth).

During 17 years of running Korovia I have encountered my share of problematic gamers. A few stand out in my mind and others I simply didn't contact to return to the game and sort of dropped them from the game without telling them they were being dropped.

That I find is a good way to deal with problem gamers. Just drop them from the emails / contact info and don't let them know we are having another game. They will just assume we quit playing. Meanwhile in reality we kept playing and just didn't bother to tell them.

When I was running a 3rd edition version of Korovia, Darryl was one of the players. He nearly killed his elf with a lightning bolt and then argued about it. I had warned him that lightning bolts bounce off stone walls and could hit him, but he insisted on casting a lightning bolt inside a small stone room. I had warned him that casting a lightning bolt in a small stone room was basically suicide because it would bounce off the walls repeatedly until it ran out of distance. But he decided to do it anyway, and then thought he could argue his way out of a huge amount of damage that left his character fried and nearly dead. (Note, depending on the house rules of the DM, lightning bolts either fizzle and do nothing when hitting stone walls, or they bounce and keep going. I prefer the bouncy variety because it is more fun and dynamic. Darryl knew this but decided to do it anyway.)

That 3rd edition game eventually came to an end because the story had reached a climax and I decided to start a 1st edition game in a different part of Korovia's timeline. When starting the new campaign I simply didn't invite Darryl to join the new game. Problem solved.

Arguing with a player / telling them you are kicking them from the game is completely unnecessary in my opinion. It just leads to problems that could have been prevented. This is similar to how I dealt with Lochlan. I simply ignored his bullying emails and I kept playing in my usual happy-go-lucky way. Simply ignoring the problem isn't always the best way to deal with a problem, but in the case of problem gamers ignoring them and never emailing them about upcoming games definitely does work.

Over the years I have also learned to Screen Potential Players before asking them to join our gaming group. I ask them about their past gaming experiences, what their favourite character was and why, what their favourite alignment to play is, what they are thinking of making for their new character and what the new character's goals might be, if any.

Getting a player to open up and talk about their past experiences and what their character ideas are should be easy. They should be honest and enthusiastic about creating a new character and all the things they hope to accomplish.

If I get a vibe or definite clues that the person is a powergamer, a min maxer, a metagamer, or a dreaded rules lawyer (or combinations of various problems) then I know to simply not invite this person to the game. Again, solved the same way. Don't email them back telling them where and when the game is. They will assume I simply forgot to email them back.

Another thing I do these days is Recruit New Players, sometimes from people who have never played D&D ever before. I would argue this is sometimes better than getting old players who over time have become set in their ways and possibly are argumentative and don't know how to relax and just have fun playing.

My current campaign has 15 people in it, of which 6 of them are regulars and the other 9 only pop in once in awhile. One of them got so inspired by the Stone Age campaign that he left and started his own Stone Age campaign, but joins us once in awhile. One of them currently has cancer and rarely makes it to sessions. Several of them have moved away / become too busy with work or school and rarely play any more. But all of them are tried and tested true roleplayers.

Granted there is always a little bit of min maxing going on, a little bit of rules lawyering and a bit of metagaming (but nothing extreme like trying to make gunpowder and tanks). Sometimes these things are necessary evils. But they are always solved quickly and diplomatically. In recent memory I have never had any problems with players bullying one another, arguing loudly or angrily, and most group decisions are usually made by voting - unless of course the idiot thief wanders off and runs into a pack of ice demons. That was his decision. We had nothing to do with that.

The last bit actually happened. The thief went off by own, ran through a trap and got injured, saw a pack of ice demons, and then ran through the trap again on his way back and got himself killed. As DM I basically just sat there and watched him do idiotic things. It was a bit like watching a character commit suicide.

On a side topic... Character Deaths!

In my games it is never my goal to kill characters. I present dangerous situations / monsters and the players can choose to fight, flee, try to outsmart the problem or simply go around the problem.

To date there has been some memorable deaths... and near deaths.

Total Party Wipe when the group decided not to rest at the water fonts in a place with no monsters near them, and they instead proceeded down a hallway, up a floor to the above level and ran into an undead minotaur. They then ran away. The undead minotaur killed two of them fleeing while the third managed to get away but then decided to try and jump over a pit filled with spikes.

Character killed by a Dread Wyvern (poison causes a fear effect) because they chose to sacrifice themselves while other party members ran away in fear. This happened earlier in the same session as above, thus 1 got killed by the wyvern and the other 3 got killed by the undead minotaur / pit with spikes.

Character decided to try sitting on a Rug of Smothering. Read the rules for that if you are curious.

Character got charmed by a demon and then was killed by the party assassin, who accidentally hit them too hard (natural 20) while trying to subdue them.

Character decided to pick up a balor's lightning sword.

Character nearly drowned because another character decided to flood the cave.

Character nearly drowned because they refused to take off their armour before swimming.

Character knocked unconscious during combat with mammoth. Later squished by dead mammoth. Funny thing, his name was Zlatgar. He is now known as Splatgar.

Character deaths are sometimes funny and become part of the history of a campaign. eg. The character killed by the Rug of Smothering was brought back by another character going back in time (via the Temple of Time) and warning the character not to sit on the rug, thus creating an alternate timeline.

Character Deaths Vs Rules Lawyers, Metagamers and Min Maxers

Back on topic, look at past instance of your own encounters with people who are rules lawyers, metagamers and min maxers. Did they ever experience a character death?

If you say no, it could be because those players are used to playing with DMs who basically coddle them, spoon feed them, and fudge rolls in their favour so that characters never die. Even when the player does something foolish, the DM finds a way to let their character live.

That level of coddling is boring. It result in players who think they can do anything, often combined with DMs that give out too much treasure, too many magical items, or worse - magical items so powerful that they don't belong in the hands of characters so inexperienced.

eg. A 1st level character with an artifact weapon, that is basically a min maxer's wet dream.

Letting players make bad decisions and letting those same players learn to live with the results is part of the game. Once they have learned "Oh, if my character does something foolish, my character can actually die." then they start to see the game in a new light. That it is now a game of survival where one bad decision could kill the character.

In my game players often use the proverbial 10 foot pole and other tricks they have learned to check for traps. Searching for secret doors is now second nature of what they do whenever they are in a dungeon.

They even beat my slightly altered version* of the Tomb of Horrors by being extremely cautious. No crawling into the mouth of the demon statue, they know better than that in my game. When opening a chest, do it away from the party and using telekinesis - they figured that out after the first chest. When in doubt, they sent chickens or snakes to test whether it is safe first. Note - Sticks with Snakes is handy for sending snakes to test if rooms or hallways are safe.

* I mostly just changed the map and the descriptions of the visual appearance of things so that the players wouldn't recognize that they were in the Tomb of Horrors. The best way to run Tomb of Horrors is not let your players know the name of the infamous dungeon they are in!

Could you imagine a party full of min maxers, metagamers or rules lawyers going into the Tomb of Horrors? They would all get themselves killed and then argue that they should have got a saving throw from crawling inside the demon's mouth.

Darryl and Lochlan? Pff! They are two of the worst gamers I have ever seen.

Old School Players Vs Powergamers

Now this is a fascinating topic.

In my opinion Old School Players have learned how to be cautious. They have played in enough deadly campaigns to know one wrong move is going to kill you. This means that how they approach traps, monsters, setting up camp, having watches during the night, and how they converse with each other is markedly different from powergamers.

Rules lawyers, metagamers and min maxers are not used to their characters dying. They haven't learned how to be cautious and instead believe that they can solve any problem by using their knowledge of the rules, by metagaming their way out of a problem, or using really high stats to beat a problem.

Now let me outline what happened to us during a friend's game years ago.

We survived making it through the Dark Forest and made it to a small village with a single inn. There we enjoyed good food and strong drink, and got involved in a bar brawl with some thugs we concluded must be working for the cultists who live inside the Dark Forest. Several of the thugs managed to get away during the fight. We helped clean up the mess and went to bed upstairs, having already paid for our rooms in the inn.

We did not set a watch during the night.

After all, why would we? We're in a village. The inn seems perfectly safe.

And so during the night the thugs came back with their cultist friends and set the inn on fire. They then started killing everyone who was fleeing the inn. One of our party members died holding back several cultists on the top floor so that others could flee out the window. We managed to fight off the cultists and live, but we lost one of our best fighters.

Afterwards we learned our lesson. Always set a watch even when we are in a village or city or some place we think is safe. It doesn't matter how safe we think it is, set the watch anyway as a matter of habit.

Now contrast that when I joined my sister's group and first met Lochlan years ago. They didn't even do watches at all! They just made camp and rested. No watches. Nothing to prevent themselves from being murdered while they slept. The DM had never bothered to attack them while they were sleeping.

When I suggested we have watches during the night they all looked at me funny. The DM cracked a smile, as if the idea had only just occurred to him. Wow. He had been playing for years and somehow had forgotten the time honoured tradition of attacking the PCs while they slept. Perhaps he had done it before in the past, but had given up on the concept.

Having an Old School Gamer like me in their group was suddenly a breath of fresh air. Old ideas made new again. Using 10 foot poles and other tricks to find traps. Watches during the night. Actually making a character who is fun to roleplay and isn't designed to be a rules-breaking caster of any spell in existence.

As a DM, I roll for random monsters all the time whenever the party is resting in the wilderness or in a dungeon. If they are inside a stronghold or a city or village the chances are significantly reduced, but there could always be a reason why someone might try to rob them while they are sleeping, murder them during their sleep, or other reasons / goals.

The basic idea in an Old School Game is that no place is safe. Every place has the chance to have something dangerous happen, even if it is only a 1 on a d100.

In a game with rampant powergamers they are so unused to character death or facing real danger that they take things for granted that their food isn't poisoned, that the innkeeper isn't a doppleganger, that the bed isn't a mimic planning to eat them while they sleep, or that people might try to burn the inn down while they sleep.

And so a bit of advice for DMs...

Make no place completely safe. The bed lice could be diseased. The innkeeper might be a tiefling with a broken portal to the Abyss in his wine cellar. The entire village could be built on top of an earthquake fault line that has been dormant for hundreds of years.

Next thing you know your PCs are scratching their lice bites, fending off a horde of tieflings and demons, and the village falls into a chasm as the whole kingdom is wracked by a series of long overdue earthquakes.

2 comments:

  1. Nice write, I like it, and understand it.

    ReplyDelete
  2. A really nice set of examples and solutions. Obviously, nothing has a Fail Safe but it's good to hear someone bring out into the open what so many of us feel after years of playing and experiencing these very type of people who even sometimes seem to relish ruining a gaming session.
    Thank you.

    ReplyDelete

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