How to Deal With Problem Behaviour

Every now and again the people that we play with may cause issues in game. It might be a new player, it may be a long term player that has had a bad day. The long and the short of this is that behaviour that is detrimental to a game needs to be dealt with as soon as possible to keep the game from crashing. Like it or not, as a GM you are likely to be the first person aware of the behaviour and your players will likely look to you to provide a solution to the issue. It is really everyone’s responsibility at the table to make sure that the game is hassle free but as you are seen as the authority at the table it will often fall onto you to deal with it.

I am a very bad boy.  Read this blog to find out how to deal
with my bad behaviour.

Today’s blog will look at nine “behaviours” that are often seen as an issue in game and try and provide some strategies around how to deal with them. I understand that it is this part of the “job” that can be the scariest to GM’s new and old but it need not be. In my experience it is one of the things that you think about the most, that happens the least and is generally easy to deal with if you are honest and earnest with your intentions. So here are eight issues that may come up in game. Often the issue will not fall in a perfect category like these but may be a mixture of a couple but these categories should help you get started with dealing with the issues.

The Rules Lawyer

The Rules Lawyer is a stickler for the rules and loves going through books to find correct adjudications on issues that affect them. It can be an issue at times if it seems that the player exhibiting this behaviour wants to slow the game down all the time to check a rule or make sure that they have every bonus stacked correctly on a roll. This behaviour will often be something that the player slips into often. I like rules lawyers personally because it is easy to turn this negative into a positive!
I personally think that the rules lawyer behaviour stems from a player that is a little insecure about their own place in a party and they want to make sure that everyone is on a level playing field. They want to make sure that everyone else has heir bonuses mapped out correctly and that all the characters meet the rule standards. These are also the most likely player to break out the encumbrance rules in a game and state “We can’t carry the Dragon Hoard back with us as the coins alone way over 1700 pounds!”. Easy way to circumvent this argument is make sure Bag’s of Holding are found amongst treasure troves 🙂

Seriously though, a rules lawyer can be one of your greatest assets. If you are in game and you can see the players heading down a path that will require you to look up a rule, get the rules lawyer to find it! They will love that you are asking them to check something. It will give you the ability to continue the narrative flow and it will keep the rules lawyer checking up on rules. Also, if you are in a sticky situation and need to make a ruling, make it and then ask the rules lawyer first what they think. They will love that you ask them for their interpretation and once you have agreement from then they will be happy to find the rule while you go with the consensus ruling. Rules lawyers are OK with house rules too, just make sure they are written down somewhere or talked about often so they can understand them clearly. There is nothing that frustrates the rules lawyer more than an unclear ruling.

Rules lawyer’s love their books…

If none of this helps, talk to them about it. Explain that it is great that they are interested in getting the rules when needed but it can and does slow down the flow of play. Explain that at times you are going to need to power on through a scene with a temporary ruling until the rules are checked after the game just to keep the tempo of the game flowing. If you have an example where a game basically lost its flow because of this behaviour use it. Show them how some of the players became distracted or disinterested because it broke the flow to the game. Try and make it a house rule that “If a rule isn’t found in a minute go with GM interpretation and check after the game”.

The Sabre Rattler

You will often come across these players. The Sabre Rattler is the player that shows extreme enjoyment only when they are talking about how great their character is, usually when compared to other characters. You will find them in play saying things like “I could cut you down in two hits if your hit points are 33!” with glee in their faces. They also tend to belittle other players contributions when compared to their own.

What the sabre rattler wants is acknowledgement of how great their character is. They want you and the other players to build them up also. As the GM you can do this but other players are not likely to do this as it is their character that matters to them. They may see the talk about if they were ever in a fight upsetting to them as they want to play as a group. If people are off put by this discussion you will need to talk to the player outside the game about the behaviour but if the other players just roll their eyes and move on there are some in game things you can do to keep the player a happy player.

Inigo Montoya, one of the greatest sabre
rattler’s of all time 🙂

Tournaments! Sabre rattler’s love tournaments because they can not only talk about how great they are, they can show it. Make it a tournament that some great wizard has cast a spell of “non harm” or non-lethal damage so the player can use lethal attacks but it causes non-lethal damage. Have a bell ring when an opponent would normally be knocked unconscious or the like signifying the end of a battle. Have it ranked with a fantastic prize for the grand champion. The sabre rattler will love this, and it makes for a nice departure for a side adventure too. After a tournament if the sabre rattler wins they will refer to it often, if they don’t they will refer to why they didn’t often but they will be fantastically happy they had the chance to prove it. My daughter is a sabre rattler and she loved the opportunity to prove her character in the battle against Ruthazek the Gorilla King from the Mwangi in serpent Skull. It is these moments they live for.

Dealing with the sabre rattler outside of play should only be done if the player is upsetting other players or the behaviour takes away the attention of the player or others from what is happening in the game. You simply need to talk to the player about how the behaviour is upsetting others and that they want to work as a group and that they respect the strengths of the character without having to prove it. Also talk to them about how the behaviour seems to be detracting from their attention to the game and see if there is anything you can do to help the character show their strengths a bit more. Listen to them when they answer and be honest about what you will do to try and meet their needs.

The Procrastinator

The Procrastinator is not Arnold Schwarzenager’s next movie but is a player that sits at your table and cannot seem to make a choice without referring to their character sheet fourteen times and asking 400 questions about the situation. This behaviour will make your games either run long or you will get through very little in a session and is a behaviour that has little positives that you can work with.

In game there are a couple of techniques you can do to combat this behaviour but they are likely to make the procrastinator uncomfortable in the game also. The first of these is an egg timer for making decisions. You find a one minute timer and you tip it and the player(s) need to come up with their action in that time or they forfeit it for the round. This is not a great idea but it does work for some groups. A second option that may work better is to describe the scene, ask for clarification questions. Answer them and then proceed making sure to use visual aides or miniatures at all times so the procrastinator is aware of all circumstances around them.

What colour are the Goblin’s socks?  Should I use my scimitar
or the rapier?  What armour do I have again?

In this circumstance you must talk with the player out of the game. If they are taking too long going through their character sheet or coming to a decision you have to talk to them about it. Ask them how you can help them come to quicker decisions. It may be that they are playing a character they do not quite understand or find their character sheet confusing butyou need to point out it is an issue because it slows the game right down and other players are likely to become distracted or lose the track of what is going on if things slow right down. You could create them a custom character sheet if they are having trouble finding things, or offer them the chance to change characters to something they would prefer to play if they are struggling with how to play them.

The Attention Hog

Sometimes you will come across a player that seems completely into their character. They will ham it up, speak in character, crack jokes and seem the life of the group. You may also notice that when it comes to another characters turn they slowly talk over the top of that character or try to make what that character does somehow relate to what they are doing. In short you are dealing with the dreaded Attention Hog! Actually attention hogs are generally fun to have in the game and they tend to liven things up, but you do need to keep an eye on them as they have the tendency to take a mile if you give an inch.

By request, +Jonathan Henry fills a slot!

The easiest way to deal with an attention hog is to focus on each person in turn in encounter situations. Go through each character and ask them what their thoughts or ideas are. If any other player attempts to comment let them know they will have their turn or that they have already had their turn and continue your focus on the current character. If the play is in a more general stage of play and the characters are freely speaking just keep an ear on the situation and if the attention hog is talking over people interject and ask what various characters have to say, or stop them and say “Colin seems to have an idea, what is it Colin?”

If all your best efforts in game have failed to come up trumps with the attention hog you simply need to discuss it with them outside of the game. Thank them for their efforts for making the game enjoyable with their characterisation but also ask them to help draw some of the other players out of their shells by giving them the opportunity to shine. By asking them questions in character and listen to what they have to say. Generally this kind of player is easy to have this conversation with.

The Controller

Every now and again you will come across a player for whom one character is not enough. They want to run every one else’s character as well! We call these players the controllers and they generally want every character in their party to act in a way that benefits them the most. They become frustrated when other player’s actions don’t fold in to their idea of what should be happening or the tactic they are gearing up for so they start telling the player what they are going to do rather than talking in a suggestive manner to help them out.

Once a player has shown themselves as a bit of a controller it can help in game to use them to run an NPC as well through combat. You can still handle the NPC from a role playing perspective but it can be handy to get the character to run them in combat for you saving some of your own time. Also, if the game you are running allows a character to have followers at some stage then get the character to move in that direction if you can because if they can build up a group that does exactly what they want to it will help alleviate the need for them to push themselves onto other players actions.

You will do as I say, when I say it.  Do you understand?

In game if this behaviour is happening often I simply ask them to let them play their character. I advise them that it is the players turn and that the controller has had, or will have a turn. If these warnings do not lessen the behaviour in game you will need to talk to them about it after the game. Again, honesty is the best key, talk to them about how the other players get to choose their actions and even though the controller may be working toward a certain goal, so might they and they are the ones that get to make the final decision. Let them know it is OK to suggest actions to other players but getting upset when they don’t take their advice is going to far and has the possibility of upsetting the other player too.

The Mouse

Sometimes players have a tendency to sit quietly. They listen and observe but say very little and in my experience of recent years this type of player is on the increase. I like to call these players the Mouse because you hardly ever hear a squeak from them. Dealing with this issue is also one of the hardest problems to deal with. It is not hard because you will upset anyone, it is hard because you have to work out if it is actually a problem to begin with. Some players enjoy listening to the story and participating in it when asked what they are doing. They enjoy listening to the big personalities at the table and enjoy listening to you as a GM.

+Cam Mcloughlin turned into a mouse one
evening in McDonalds.  Tried not to say a
word.  Not sure why 😉

Trying to push a quiet character to perform can have the opposite effect as they may feel uncomfortable or feel that they are being pushed that then makes them uncomfortable. The secret to involving them more if you decide it is an issue is to find out what they enjoy the most about the game and start including examples of that more and more. Say you have a mouse that is playing a thief and you found out in a chat they love the stealthy bits start to include areas where they must sneak past a dozing guard or have to get the plans for the evil wizard’s world domination from his desk beside his bed as he slumbers.

Build them up, make sure you give them the focus they need to have their character perform their tasks and narrate small bits for them as they take those actions. Ask them if what you are describing is accurate and sooner or later they may surprise you with a narration themselves. Really, I find the more experience with playing will eventually draw them a little more out of their shell. Talk to them before and after the game about what they liked in the game or if they are having a good time and sooner or later you will get the mouse to involve themselves more, though they are likely never to grow to the point of an attention hog!

The Fudger

Then there is the Fudger which in reality is a polite way of saying the cheater. Really, there is no easy way to deal with the fudger and the fudger hurts everyone in game. Motivations for fudging can vary but generally they want to be the hero at all costs. There can be a little bit of the attention hog in them at the same time. I tend to try to deal with these players in game rather than having discussions out of game with them.

I once had a player that would put a d20 on the 20 and then roll another of the same colour and claim that he had rolled a 20. I started to point out the dice he had rolled after some time and he realised that I was on to that game so he started to try and add bonuses on to his to hit roll that did not exist so I started getting him to specify the bonuses attached to them and he realised I was on to that. Each time they shift their position on how they are trying to fudge things in their favour bring it up in game and make them explain it.  They may get you once or twice but if you are aware they will soon stop trying it as you are pulling them up in game on it and no-one wants to be known as a cheater. Each time I would pull it up I would be humorous about it but they knew that I was on to them.

Would this face cheat? Seriously? Never fudged a die in
my life…

The other option is to just fudge right back. If you know they have cheated on a roll and they do masses of damage to the NPC or critter you are using then just groan and go “I don’t know how you do it!” and then pretend to write down the damage but don’t. The only person they are really hurting is themselves when they cheat. It is disappointing to see this happen but if it is consistent and they do not pick up on your in game cues then you may have to talk to them outside of the game. You can approach this conversation with humour to give it a lighter feel but if that doesn’t work you may need the serious chat. These conversations rarely go well, but if you can try to avoid any blame and just ask them to roll their dice openly and be honest you have done what you need to do.

The Side-Tracker

In game players will often talk about other games, movies or books as they play through the adventure. This is part of the social aspect of the game and in reality is part of the reason we get together! But you are also there to play a game and sometimes a player can take these distractions too far or constantly do it every time the focus is on them. These players are Side Trackers and simply enjoy the social aspects of the game a little more than most.

And this one time at band camp…

It is pretty easy to keep them on track. Allow them to indulge every now and again but if they are going on a wild tangent as you are heading into an involved encounter feel free to bring them back to the task at hand e.g. “Tell us about it after the lich is dead Sarah! What is your character doing?”. These checks are part and parcel of being the GM and all the players will expect it from you at one stage or another so do not be worried about speaking up! If this does not work just talk to them after the game and tell them you appreciate their energy and enjoy their stories but if they could try to stay on track a bit more to keep the game going will generally have a positive effect on their behaviour.

The Munchkin

Finally there is the Munchkin. The munchkin is the person that sits at your table having worked out every possible combination of bonuses from spells abilities and items to get the best character they possibly can. This is not a problem in reality but it does become a problem when they start to bully other players into picking certain spells or targeting treasure that they HAVE to have because it is part of their plan for their perfect bonus situation.

So, where can I eke out the modifiers I need
to make that difficulty roll for
world domination?

Having a player that looks for the best bonuses they can get their character is a great thing. It shows great interest in the game and their character. Only deal with this issue if you have to and it is when the player starts trying to enforce things on other characters. Essentially the goal here is exactly the same as the controller. You need to step in while the game is on to make the player aware that it is the other players character and they had made their suggestion. The choice is then down to the actual player of the character. If this becomes entrenched you need to take them aside before or after a game and tell them that they need to respect other players decisions for their own characters even if they do not marry up with the vision of the perfect bonus.

Behaviour management is part of the job as a GM. Like it or not because you have the authority the players will look to you to deal with an issue. In reality it should be the whole tables responsibility to manage their behaviour but as the one in control it is another job to add to the list. The good news is that normally players are fairly responsive when you bring up an issue for them to deal with. They are there to help and will adjust their behaviour.

You may need to remind them a few times but overall it is a rare thing to have to do. You also need to realise that if you hear from a player something about your own behaviour or gaming style that you need to be open to listening and accept the feedback in the spirit it was delivered. If you are continually listening to your player for their needs and understand what they enjoy or do not enjoy you can build better games for all involved. 


  1. You may feel free to steal my picture for one of the “Character Classes” above.

    “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”


  2. Nice blog mark 🙂 Although….. I find it disturbing that out of the eight types of behaviour I am a combination of all, but the fudger,mouse and sabre rattler.:)


  3. You didn’t mention a subclass of “attention hog” I’ve seen, “the Whiner”. Once my group had a player that whined and complained every time anything bad happened to his character, ti the point where it became disruptive. Eventually, the gm said to him, “Dude, the rest ifvus are here to have fun, if you’re not, there’s the door.”

    Harsh, but it worked. He didn’t stop, but dialed to back to a reasonable level, and we gamed on. 🙂


  4. Might also make a mention under the munchkin where the behavior can ruin games because the character made usually outshines the party that doesn’t optimize. Not to mention that in order to challenge the optimizer a threat might be too deadly for the rest of the party.


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