Can you ever have too much of a good thing? Yes, I believe you can. Most game masters want “roleplayer” type players. They are seen as desirable player types. They add to the game though character and story. They help develop plots. Yet, every kind of gamer has the dark potential to disrupt the game if they take their natural interests to extremes. Roleplaying, taken to extremes, can destroy a campaign for a troupe just as easily as any power gamer, rules lawyer, or munchkin.
If you ask GMs about what to do with any of the six types of problem “roleplayers”, they will generally shudder and look away or look at you blankly. The latter group having been lucky as to never encounter a roleplayer gone bad. There are no rules in the book for the GM to fall back upon to stop them. The GM must use their own people skills to help correct the problem. Note: The process of managing roleplayers is likened to herding cats in its ease and simplicity.
The first step is recognizing there is a problem. Usually this input will come from other players in the troupe, as they will have “less than positive” comments about the roleplayer player. The next step is to identify why type of problem roleplayer you have. Once identified steps can be taken to help player correct the play. You need to know your players, so you can select the best approach for them.
Many people say the direct approach is best. Asking the player to pull back from their extreme is usually the best first step. Bring it to their attention that their style of play is occasionally disrupting the game for others in another good early step. However, some players may take this adversely, so apply these two direct techniques only if you think they might work well for you.
The most common type of roleplayers gone bad are “The Spotlight Hogs”. These roleplay emphasis players want their characters to be the center of attention and the center of the action in the game. Before they go bad, they tend to design/ develop characters that are central to the group. By motivating their character, the GM motivates the group. When they go bad, they will do anything they can to get more “airtime”, including pushing other characters out of the way. They will also stop and “chew on the scenery”, roleplaying minutiae, just because they can. When they are not in the spotlight, they tend to be disruptive and distracting.
There are two main tactics to deal with “spotlight hogs”. First you must set down new table rules that restrict distractions and side conversation. Pun Taxes, Whisper rules, Penalties such as docking 20% exp/ drama points per disruption of play after a warning (yes after 5 infractions they do not earn any exp), and “no repeat” and “you miss it, you loose it” rules, will all make sure you have a quieter and more focused group. It will also limit and eventually correct for the disruptions a bored spotlight hog will produce. After those are in place, the GM must be strong and apply cut scenes and stage direction to their game. By “forcibly” pulling away from the spotlight character and focusing the game on another character somewhere else, other players get their share of spotlight time. This more evenly distributes the spotlight AND prevents the spotlight hog from being in every scene. “Yes Bob, you are piloting the ship through the mine field, but we are going down to engineering now to see what is happening there AT THE SAME TIME.” As the spotlight hog reigns back their attempts to be in every scene, reward them by giving the a little more spotlight time.
If you know you have a spotlight hog that has not yet gone bad, give their characters stronger supporting ties to the other characters. This way they are always in the scene, even if they are not the center of the scene. Also remind every player, thus reminding your potential spotlight hog, that no one character can do everything. That way everyone in the group will have their own specialty. Note: Having the table rules AND practicing the cut scenes in place will prevent them from ever going bad (in your campaign) in the first place.
The second most common type of roleplayer gone bad is related to the spotlight hogs. The Loonies start as the roleplayers that run interesting characters. Interesting characters are normally good things. Loonies players begin running interesting characters that are very “far from the norm” of the group or genre. These loony characters are disruptive to the group (usually based on their personalities), tends not to have useful skill/ abilities, and are only in the character group because of their “PC Status”. Character with make map skill of 0% (less than the default) saying “Hey I want to map. Can I map? Where is the paper? Please can I map?. Their character is their way to get attention, the spotlight. If you treat them like a spotlight hog, the problem will not go away (though they will be quiet when they are not in the scene). The only way to stop a loony character player is to prevent it from getting said disruptive character into the game. (Once you let it in, it is difficult to get out). This requires the GM to be deeply involved in character development. Every character needs to fit the setting and the genre. The loony player’s character needs to be reigned in to conform them. In addition, the character needs to have deep ties to other characters in the group. This gives them a reason to be involved, has other players interact with them, and gives them much of the attention they crave without disrupting the game.
Most gamers with a roleplay emphasis like dramatic situations. The dramatic tension of a scene is what they are playing for. Drama queens (or kings) are roleplayers who require that EVERYTHING that happens in and around their character be dramatic or melodramatic. This includes such things as buying supplies, meeting random people, and getting up in the morning. These players, before taking things to dramatic and melodramatic extremes, are good to have around because they provide strong and interesting development of their characters, npcs they have contact with, and game world. They can improve the quality of the game play. However, when they go bad, they dramatize every aspect of the game. If it is not immediately dramatic or melodramatic, they tend to ignore it. This includes story lines that the campaign is based upon. If it is something is dramatic, it immediately must be made melodramatic, in an attempt to be more dramatic. This shifting of group focus takes away from any plot lines (and other any other players subplots) running at the same time that are not immediately interesting or dramatic to the player.
But there are a few things to do. You can make sure that every important plotline has an immediate dramatic hook. It will take some work on the GM’s part, but it will resolve some of the issues. By shifting the drama queen’s character’s challenges from a social/ personal level to a more tactical physical level, they will have less to be melodramatic about. The herd of cats (i.e. players) can help. Talking to the other players and asking them to “take charge” of their world, by not accepting the shifted game focus of the drama queen can help to resolve the issue. I know you think you might have food poisoning, but I need to investigate this possible murder now. If the other players do not “buy into” the histrionics and false dramatics of the drama queen, the troupe can “tone down” the drama queen and shift them away from “having gone bad”. Part of a drama queen’s problem is the “bad acting” quotient. In games where roleplaying impacts the advancement (where roleplaying modifies experience earned), simply dialing down those players who are being “bad actors”/ “hams”/ or melodramatic soap stars, and letting them know it is happening, will help reign them in from the extreme.
Many gamers with a roleplaying emphasis begin to think of themselves as actors as rather than mere players. These gamers are normally excellent roleplayers, who work with the story and help the GM build it up. When this attitude goes to an extreme and “Actor” must be said with a snotty or haughty attitude, they tend to disrupt the game. Not in play mind you, but with side conversations and complaints before and after the game. These Actors have a distain for rules. They complain constantly and bitterly about “the rules” that thwart their artistic vision and “that they can’t do what they feel they should be able to”. They are constantly getting their characters in situations that they don’t have the skills and abilities to get out of. This feeds the complaints cycle.
Normally these players are so focused upon the performance aspects, that they ignore the “rules aspect” of the game. They tend to avoid game situation that might require them to roll dice or use rules. Because talking is their strength, they only want to talk out situations not wanting to lower themselves to using dice. This also pushes them to chew on scenery and eschew conflict because they can’t mechanically handle the dramatic scene. Most Actors only manage the rules with help. One draconic method of stopping them is finding their co-dependent and telling them to stop helping the actor with the rules. Sink or swim at that point. Better methods are available.
One of the best is for the GM to get involved in their character creation (or revision). The GM needs to walk the player though the game mechanics so they know EXACTLY what their character is capable of. Once they have a clear idea of what their character can and can not do, they can scale back their character conceptions to fit that. The player will also learn what mechanics they actually want, not what they think they should have You mean I don’t want professional skill healer, I want paramedic skill?. This process should increase their satisfaction with their character. Once the process is complete, some of other methods are more effective. Page noting the character sheet works well. Page noting is writing down the page number for a given mechanic on the character sheet. This makes it easy for the player to reference it and know what they can do. The second is to run the actor through more tactical/ rules oriented challenges. Success in these situations will reinforce their confidence in the rules, de-emphasize their dependence on acting, and get them back into “the game”.
Most roleplaying emphasis gamers like to have detailed characters. Many of them store this information in their head. Most write out detailed character histories. The best ones of these are packed with telling details and weave elements of the other characters and the game world into them. Others are merely long and filled with trivial details like “hates all cheese except American” (note: which are useless of the GM). People who write up detailed characters often provide the GM with story lines they want to see their character in. Scripters start taking this conception process to a less healthy extreme. They start turning in twenty plus page character histories and more pages of character notes and cue cards. They begin to have a “vision” for their characters. They not only detail out their history, but their future. If the GM does anything to the character that does not fit their “script”, they will disrupt the game by refusing to play out these scenes or even interact with the world. Yes, I know I am destined to marry her, but I am not supposed to meet her for three years after I have slain the dragon. I can’t possibly meet her now.
The warning signs and the solution to scripter issues are in their conception packets. The GM needs to study their packets carefully. Use your red pen and root out everything that is future dependent. Do not let them script their future, but only give you plot hooks that were attached to their past. Remind them that they can make suggestions to the GM about the types of plot lines they want, but it is a game and the GM needs to run it for everyone.
Some gamers with a roleplay emphasis are just “darn good”. They are everything you want in a roleplayer emphasis player. They assist in the story crafting and flow of the game. Having them in play challenges the entire troupe to improve their gamecraft to keep up. These players are probably ex-GMs, GMs to be, or GMs on other nights. These players are a joy to have, until they get one idea in their head- that certain players roleplay is at an inexcusable level.
Then it begins.
They begin by telling the GM how badly those people are playing. Soon it shifts to eye rolling and snubs OOC. Eventually it becomes complaints about certain players before, after, and during the game. “They just CAN’T roleplay,” they claim. They usually just focus on the worst player, but sometimes they complain about the “lower rung” of players in the group.
The solution to this is for them to put up or shut up. You assign them the “bad roleplayer” as a student. They are responsible for teaching their student how to roleplay. They can help them create character conceptions, creating cue cards/ character notes, help them in the performance aspect of their gaming. (Normally the bad roleplayer is a power gamer or rules monger, so this time mitigates their other bad habits.) The teacher’s experience or drama rewards is impacted by how well their student does. This becomes a strong motivational force. They either manage to teach the student better roleplaying OR realize that roleplayer is much harder to do than they, the RP gamer, thought.
Something I have had personal success with is teaming up drama queens and actors with the worst roleplayer in the group (usually the rules lawyer or power gamer). In this case, each player is tasked with teaching the other player their specialty (the power gamer is taught to roleplay and the drama queen/ actor is taught to better utilize the rules). Both receive exp based on the other’s performance in the given area. This can be tricky to set up and maintain, but results in two players having better gamecraft.
No one expects a roleplayer type gamer to disrupt a game. That is what makes them so insidious and effective in doing it. When any gamer takes a game interest to an extreme, “going bad”, they can disrupt a game and even derail the campaign. The problems that roleplayers can generate are solvable. If the GM keeps an eye out for the warning signs, the problems can be solved before they become real problems. This allows you to keep having more of the good thing and not the good thing gone bad.