Handling Troublesome Players

AD&D 1e DMG pg. 110 

The Dungeon Master's Guide for Advanced Dungeons and Dragons (c) 1979

Advanced Advice From Gary Gygax

“Some players will find more enjoyment in spoiling a game than in playing it, and this ruins the fun for the rest of the participants, so it must be prevented. Those who enjoy being loud and argumentative, those who pout or act in a childish manner when things go against them, those who use the books as a defense when you rule them out of line should be excluded from the campaign. Simple put, ask them to leave, or do not invite them to participate again.  

“Peer pressure is another means which can be used to control players who are not totally obnoxious and who you deem worth saving. These types typically attempt to give orders and instructions even when their characters are not present, tell other characters what to do even though the character role they have has nothing to do with that of the one being instructed, or continually attempt actions or activities their characters would have no knowledge of. When any such proposals or suggestions or orders are made, simply inform the group that that is no longer possible under any circumstances because of the player in question. The group will then act to silence him or her and control undesirable outbursts. The other players will most certainly let such individuals know about undesirable activity when it begins to affect their characters and their enjoyment of the game. 

“Strong steps short of expulsion can be an extra random monster die, obviously rolled, the attack of an ethereal mummy (which always strikes with surprise, naturally), points of damage from “blue bolts from the heavens” striking the offender’s head, or the permanent loss of a point of charisma (appropriately) from the character belonging to the offender. If these have to be enacted regularly, then they are not effective and stronger measures must be taken. Again, the ultimate answer to such a problem is simply to exclude the disruptive person from further gatherings.“ 

This sounds really strong. It sounds to me like the DM has invited (only) those people who enjoy being abused at the game table. It makes the personality of the DM seem to have serious power issues. It sounds… sick. 

Of course, the context is that this section was written after 109 pages of rules with a few, buried, schizophrenic comments recalling it’s your game and don’t let the rules overwhelm everyone’s enjoyment. I think Gary Gygax decided to hyper-emphasize his designer’s opinion that the game is not “the system” but a collaborative activity with those 320 words on page 110. Since they are equally a part of the “official rules,” it occurs to me these words exist to support a strategy of over-ruling a troublesome rules lawyer with “the rules.” Such a reading of this section in a book the author deems “the exclusive precinct of the DM” not only counter balances enslaving the DM to rules as written but also emphasizes the original intention of the game by failing to recognize the player-player character wall – as noted on page 8 of the DMG. 

If the most challenging monster in the game was at the table, the rules grant the DM chairman status to carry a stick. Or “blue bolts from the heavens.” 

Such were the nascent days of the RPGs hobby I experienced when the most egregious sin of a player against the game was cheating dice rolls; and players taking delight in fighting each other and/or breaking the system and, with it, the DM were not the typical reason to play. Those innocent days of simple fun have irrecoverably changed as more rules got published. Perhaps Gygax wrote too many rules by including this Rule 0 into the “official rules” since fighting fire with fire seems to have brought a ring of heated exchange around some tabletops. 

Nevertheless, the words of Gygax still ring true to common sense. Whether the player is DM or player character, always remember to “give a ‘monster’ an even break.” After all, whatever applies to the players in those 320 words above almost certainly can apply to a DM sitting at an empty table too.

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