LARP Pitfalls... Part Three


Problem Players
GMs aren't perfect, granted, but I'm writing this document for GMs, so let's talk about problem players; their classification and possible solutions. A friend of mine once wrote a fine essay documenting the archetypes of problem players. It's a shame that it has been lost to the ether, as it would have saved me a bit of work.

Overall, polite firmness is the way to deal with any problem player. Try not to let your temper overcome you and remind yourself that you're running this game for you to have fun, too. You've got a responsibility to make sure that the game runs smoothly for the majority of the players, but you are not there to enslave yourself to a single player's whims. Never allow a player to give you an ultimatum - look them in the eye and say "I'm sorry you feel that way, perhaps this event isn't for you." Many problem players are just hot-air, and a bleak statement that the game will not collapse without them usually deflates them.

GM Hogs (classification courtesy of Rich T.)
Although they are more prevalent in ongoing campaigns, this type of player does occasionally manifest in one-shot events. These are the players who cross the line from enthusiastic to obsessive, or from confident to just plain pushy. When asked to provide 500 words of character-background, they hand in 5,000 - and expect you to integrate the entire thing into your plot. GM Hogs want to tell you about every character they have played over their larp career - usually whilst the GM is trying to handle character assignments and pre-game prep. Finally, this is the player who is so sure of their own prowess that they are sure they can convince you to allow them a concept that is entirely against your stated rules (for example, wanting to be chaotic-evil in a lawful-good campaign) - and throw a fit when you stand firm by your setting.

The best way to deal with these hogs is politely, but firmly. Point out that you believe that the rules must apply equally to every player so, sorry, no chaotic-evil for you and could you please edit that hunk of dreck material down to fit your clearly stated requirements? Stand your ground and, when they try to corner you, point out that there are other players in the game - quite a few of them, in fact - and now that you've addressed their most vital issues, you really have to get around to them, you can share those gaming anecdotes in the bar after the event, my friend...

What IC/OOC line?
This is the player who cannot or will not recognize the difference between "in game" and "out of game". Out-of-character grudges against an ex-boyfriend are magically transformed into an unreasoning and unfounded hatred for that ex's character - even if they are written up as allies. Furthermore, woe betide the player who thwarts a line-blurring-player during the course of the game - expect sulky silences and snippy comments at the post-game dinner. Players who can't take in-character defeat well are poor losers all around, and poor losers aren't known for keeping their opinions to themselves.

During your pre-game schpiel (you are going to have one, right?), say the following - several times if possible: This is a game. This is supposed to be fun. Leave your out-of-character issues at the door, along with schoolyard dynamics. That covers your ass for the next step.

Forewarned is forearmed. If you know that Player X blurs the IC/OOC line, assign them a character that is unlikely to run into that ex-boyfriend, and is also unlikely to face major conflict. Yes, that means they are probably going to have a rather dull, non-essential character on their hands - that's what they get for being unreliable. I know that sounds harsh, but I don't have much tolerance for this type of player.

If you have no advance warning that a player is going to blur the IC/OOC line, then you'll have to call on your powers of diplomacy - or your powers of blindness. You can either address the problem, or ignore it. Addressing the problem will require vast amounts of tact, as this type of player will usually froth up in righteous indignation when caught in the act. Stand your ground and ask them - politely but firmly - to drop their out-of-character issues and back that request up with a threat to throw them out of the game if they can't abide by the same rules as everyone else.

It is possible for players to have out-of-character issues with each other, and still be able to roleplay. I've done it myself, which means anyone can do it - but it does require a certain amount of maturity and patience to pull it off. If player fails to exhibit the needed characteristics, get rid of them or pray that their simmering resentment won't screw up the game too much.

Ignoring the matter is only an option for a one-shot event. Bad karma can accumulate quickly, and you don't want a bad player poisoning your entire campaign. But, if the game can lurch to a satisfactory conclusion despite the problem player and you don't want to deal with confrontation, then feel free to grit your teeth and let them remain in the event.

The same gang of players always create IC alliances, even if that alliance is totally implausible
You could consider this an extension of IC/OOC blurring, and treat accordingly. Furthermore, if you are aware of this gang before game-day, you can manipulate the character distribution to put them on as far opposite sides of the plot conflict as possible. Contraiwise, you could decide that there's no use in asking the leopard to change his spots, and use this OOC habit to your game's advantage. Cast the gang as an in-character coterie and let them loose on the plot.

Personally, I prefer to separate these gangs, rather than resign myself to casting them together. If they are left in a group, these coteries tend to spend as much time out-of-character as in - they're buddies and have things they want to share that have nothing to do with the game, and proximity tempts them to break character. Furthermore, their out-of-character familiarity and line-blurring also tends to lead to many instances of out-of-character information suddenly becoming in-character, and that can be quite aggravating.

Social butterflies
These enthusiastic players arrive at your event, all smiles and conversation. Then, half an hour into your game, you realize that these lively fellows aren't talking in-character. Further observation reveals that they seem to believe this game is being held as some sort of backdrop to their very out-of-character social life.

Take the players aside, and - before you start threatening them - make sure that they understand their character, and that they aren't suffering some major confusion about the plot. It's possible that maybe they have been addled by some plot aspect, and have stepped out of character - which is a singularly uninspired way to deal with the issue, but what can you do? If it becomes apparent that the players are perfectly at ease with the game and are just choosing to ignore it, then it's time to start in with the dire threats.

Warn them that you have a "three strikes, you're out" policy, and they've just used the first strike. Short OOC breaks are permissible - their character might be unconscious or otherwise out of game - but the majority of a player's time should be in-character. If a player is not willing to do that, then they don't have a place in the game. It's harsh, but it gets the point across. Social butterflies disturb everyone who is making an effort to remain in character, and the absence of their own characters screws up your plot. Tell 'em to get lost and go find a Camarilla game to join - meow!

Incidentally, creating an "Out of Character" zone, away from the main game-play area, is a useful way to insure that all OOC breaks - short or otherwise - don't disrupt your players.

Drama Queens
There are two types of drama queens. One is out-of-character, one is in-character.

The in-character drama queen (or king - let's just call them Drama Monarchs) seems to determine their good time by how many moments of grand melodrama they can have in game. I once encountered a woman who - apparently proud of her ability to produce tears at will - was never happy with her game experience unless she had cried in-character. You can imagine, this made her characters a bit predictable, particularly within a game that occurred twice a month...

Again, forewarned is forearmed. If you see these players coming, hand them the characters that have high-running emotions. If you know the player is bound and determined to play that way, anyways, you may as well use it to your game's benefit - believe me, any attempts to change their spots will result in defeat and disappointment. Drama Monarchs love being dramatic, and they won't quit doing so just because you gave them some silly character that has a Spock-like mentality. Spock will spontaneously develop a tendency for hysteria - trust me on this.

If the Drama Monarch manifests without any warning, all you can do is grit your teeth and hope that the plot will survive their moments. It most likely will - and most players are smart enough to spot a Drama Monarch at twenty paces, and react accordingly. Also, you can mobilize your NPCs to minimize damage - if any - following an outburst. These players don't cause much damage to a plot, but they can occasionally disrupt a scene with their Look At Me! moments. The moment ends, the game moves on, and you make a mental note to cast accordingly, next time.

Out-of-character Drama Monarchs are a thornier proposition. These are the ones who pitch a fit if thwarted in any way - in or out of the game. They try to dominate the post-game discussion and, quite often, turn out to be GM Hogs, as well. The solution for these players is the same as with a GM Hog: polite firmness, and a refusal to allow the Drama Monarch to demand your attention. Treat them much like a two year old throwing a tantrum.

"I'm sorry you feel that way - you don't have to stay if you don't want to," - that statement usually stops most tantrums cold, as the player realizes that being noisy is not going to get them their way. If the matter gets seriously out of hand - and I have witnessed games where it did - then do not hesitate to call the police (or, if the player is under 18, their parents). Often, just mentioning that you've got 911 on the speed-dial can stop a tantrum cold. If it doesn't, then you're going to need the cops and/or medics to get the player off-site, anyway. It's an ugly situation, but do what is necessary to restore peace to your troupe.

Rules Lawyers
Rules lawyers are why I like to run free-form games. If there are no rules in writing, there's no way they can be argued. But, sometimes you have to resort to a published system. Whither published systems go, Rules Lawyers will follow. The presence of pre-generated characters stalls a lot of lawyers in the tracks, as their primary enjoyment seems to be min-maxing characters, and most one-shot LARP GMs take that treat away before it's even on the table. If you are running a campaign, take the time to go over everyone's character sheet, particularly those from suspected Munchkins.

Even though I'm the kind of GM who will admit that her grasp of published rules could be tighter, I don't let munchkins walk all over me. If someone wishes to argue a rules-call with me, I'll listen to their argument, perhaps consult with my rules-savvy co-GM, and then make a call. That call is final. Let's give that some special emphasis.

The GM's call is final - even if it is later revealed to be incorrect.
Players who can't accept that situation need to leave - or be thrown out - and run their own LARP. Then they can find out what it's like to deal with Rules Lawyers.

Rules-Clueless
I've will admit that I've got a lousy memory for rules - I'm one of those deeply character-oriented gamers - so how do I deal with me? I explain the call that's being made, point out the error being made by the other player (if there is one) and hope that they accept it. Again, the GM's call is final.

A one-shot game doesn't demand an extensive knowledge of a game-system, so a certain fuzziness about the rules is usually quite tolerable. If, however, you are running a campaign and a player seems bound and determined to not learn the rules, the situation becomes a little sticky.

When running an ongoing campaign, it is not unreasonable for the GM to ask the players to please have a passing familiarity with the rules. It is unreasonable for the GM to demand it - after all, that clueless player might just be too broke to buy the rule-book, and too unpopular to borrow one. If you have the bandwidth, organize "Newbie school" before/between games, which is a handy way of tutoring both your new and clueless players. Failing that, track down your a rule-savvy player (not a Rules Lawyer) and ask they put in some quality time with the clueless player. If the situation is particularly dire and desperate, offer experience points as an incentive.

There are two tips for dodging rules-cluelessness in a one-shot game. One, run a game that is character-driven, rather than event-driven, so the players rarely have to resort to the character stats. Two, run the game as free-form - which means there are no stats at all! Of course, free-form gaming has it's own inherent risks...

Helpful Hornets
Lori, Dave et al, this is for you... You know why.

I believe this type of problem-player is borne of good intentions, but an absolute lack of tact. This is the player who will say "That was a great game! But these aspects really sucked, and you need to fix this, and that..." and the criticism goes on for far, far longer than the praise. After a while, the GM starts to suspect the validity of the initial praise, and rather bitterly wonders why the Helpful Hornet even bothered with the compliment in the first place...

When a GM has just finished running a game - or, worse yet, is in the middle of it - the last thing they want to hear is a vast list of what went wrong. Believe me, the GM has a clear idea of what has gone/is going wrong, already. A player who wishes to suggest fixes for an event should e-mail those suggestions at least a day after the event - The GMs need time to get into the right frame of mind for extensive critique. Furthermore, save any compliments for the end of the missive, rather than the opening.

There is a Helpful Hornet who has been driving a LARP team of my acquaintance nuts. The Hornet's ability to carp on the shortcomings of a game - apparently in a very rude tone of voice - is legendary and yet, to the GMs' amazement, he keeps coming back to their games. They wish he wouldn't, but they are far more polite people than I am and have yet to give him the "Perhaps this game isn't for you..." speech. I can't wait to meet this guy, myself.

You can: ignore the Helpful Hornet (pretend to pay attention to what he's saying, or just cut him off), or you can give him your e-mail address and ask he send his critique in at a later date, or you can tell him to buzz off. In the name of diplomacy - and for the sake of your troupe's reputation - you should probably choose a discreet course of action. But the choice is yours...

Bewildered Significant Others
This one has been included by popular request...
"C'mon honey, we get to dress up like it's the 1920s and run away from eldritch monsters. You'll love it! You like horror movies and isn't The Great Gatsby one of your favorite books?"

We've all seen these people at games. The boy/girlfriend of an established player who has been cajoled into trying the game out. They have no familiarity with the game setting - in fact, they might have no familiarity with LARPing at all - and are standing on the edge of the group, looking bewildered. Worse yet, their heartfelt requests for help are dragging players out of character with distressing frequency. What do to?

First, be patient. If they're looking that bewildered, they were probably talked into the game despite their own reservations. If you're going to scold anyone, scold the one who dragged them in to the game with such inadequate preparation. Tip to people who want to introduce their loved ones to LARPing: Introduce them to a tabletop version of the game, first. It'll save both of you a lot of heartache.

Take the bewildered player aside and talk to them for a few minutes. Welcome them to the game, and ask if they've had the basic premise explained to them. Answer their questions, fill in the major gaps in their knowledge, and talk to them about their character in more detail. If this person is totally new to the idea of LARPing, offer the metaphor of "It's like improv" as that's something that most people have at least heard of, if not done. My other favorite metaphor is "We're playing Cowboys and Indians, but for adults".

After a short conversation, you might want to assign a different character to the bewildered SO. Give them something with simple, easy to understand motives and, if possible, a character with personality and interests as close to the S.O.'s as possible. Avatar-characters are always the best option for green roleplayers, as they are much easier to play and cause less anxiety in a new player.

If the newcomer is thoroughly bewildered, or extremely unhappy to be there, you might want to suggest that they leave, or don an "Officially Invisible" tag and just watch the game from the sidelines. An unhappy, confused gamer is going to skew your event and make other gamers unhappy and confused. However, a patient and welcoming demeanor can often bring a bewildered would-be player out of their shell and lay their anxieties to rest. And there's nothing so fabulous as introducing a new player to the hobby!

Bewildered S.O.'s are another reason to host a Newbie School before your event.

Conclusion
I wrote this essay out of the desire to help LARP GMs avoid mistakes that are, um, avoidable. Now that I'm a much humbler GM than I used to be (really!) I can admit that I've made most of the mistakes mentioned above - over plotting, under-plotting, rail-roading, burning out - and I've encountered virtually everything else. I know it's been a long slog, reading all the way through this piece, but I hope it has proven useful to you, and that you are confident that you will run a better game for having read it. Incidentally, suggestions are always welcome!

And now, I'm going to dunk my burning eyeballs and tired typing fingers into a bucket of ice-water. When I started this article, I thought it would be like the others - a couple thousand words dashed off in a single afternoon. Silly me!

Return To Part One

Return To Part Two

LARP Advice