Rants and Raves

Confronting the Elephant at the Table

“I want to try and sleight of hand Garick’s potion of Hill Giant Strength from his pack,” Jawn said. The individual, Laura, who was playing Garick looked at him from the side of her eye. I could tell immediately she was uncomfortable with this idea.

“Alright,” the DM said, “Roll me a sleight of hand and Garick roll me a perception check.” I sighed. This wasn’t going to end well and as a player, I almost wanted to interject that this shouldn’t be the choice made, but it wasn’t ‘my‘ table, it was the other DMs so it was his call.

I silently watched the rolls happen. Garick was not the wisest of the bunch, being a barbarian and all, and Jawn played a rogue. Of course, he was able to steal Garick’s potion of Hill Giant Strength without even a flinch from Garick. It was a smooth transaction on the rogue’s behalf. Laura looked immediately put-out but didn’t say anything. She crossed her arms and the rest of the game remained more silent than usual. The rogue immediately chugged the potion back once the next combat began.

As a DM, I wouldn’t have even let it get this far. To me, this is the beginning of the further player confrontation. If something happens that makes you unhappy in or out of character, first and foremost, tell the DM. They are meant to be a moderator at the table to ensure that everybody is enjoying themselves.

This is an example of a simple conflict, however, many conflicts like this and more arise. Conflicting characters and players often show the birth of the “it’s what my character would do,” individual. Nobody wants to play with that person, but we all have at one point or another.

So how do you handle these conflicts on and off the table? How do you approach this without ruining player relationships as well as overall table moral and enjoyment?

First, premeditated steps should always be taken at every table. Asides for implementing an “X-Card” even at a homebrew game, have a Session 0. During this session, so much is discussed, but most importantly – in my opinion – the guidelines and table rules are set by the group and decided upon together.

Is stealing or any PvP allowed?
Are evil characters allowed (I never allow this one. I’ve never seen it end well except for once when the entire table knew each other incredibly well)?
How are you, as a table, going to address conflicts as they arise? Is it going to be a democratic solution? Always a DM call to determine the end result? What is the best way to a group you feel comfortable fixing the solution?

As the conflict arises, it is best to deal with it immediately as leaving it can cause ill feelings to fester. This can be the beginning of a hostile table environment which becomes no fun for any player involved. If you can, bring it up cordially to the table. A simple, “Hey, I’m not a big fan of what’s happening…is there a different way we can approach this?”

I find resolving conflicts as a player to be much simpler than resolving them as a DM. So players, simply bring up the issue and have an open discourse regarding it with everybody involved. It is best to include the whole table in this discussion because alternative perspectives can be helpful. But what if that muddles things even more? Gaining the perspective of a non-biased individual can also help who does not have a seat at the table. Facebook and Reddit forums, as well as Twitter, are great places where you can find these people.

DMs…you’ve been approached with a conflict that is player-to-player. How can you help? Become a moderator, try not to impose an “overruling” stance as this can make at least one, if not both, players begin to resent you. Ask both of them what is bothering them, what do they both think are good solutions, and try to find a middle ground together. It can be difficult, especially when it’s hard to be subjective, but this will cause the table to retain its “community” feeling.

Now, what if you’re approached with a DM-to-player conflict? These are always a bit trickier. I am a firm believer that DMs deserve to enjoy the game just as equally as the players do. So simply bending to the player’s point of view doesn’t work – most of the time. Sometimes you just need to ask yourself if it’s worth the trouble and submit to that player’s viewpoint. But often that is not the case and can make the DM begin to resent the table/player/campaign. This is the fastest way to ruin a table.

Recently, I ran a table at which I felt was a good fit. However, it quickly became hostile for me because of certain personality traits. I, unfortunately, did not mediate as properly as I should have and quickly began resenting the table/campaign. I ended it as it had reached a point of no return for me as a game runner. What could I have done to sway this from happening, especially when my conflict was with players?

Outside of a Session 0 which always helps these issues before they arise, I should have spoken to the players privately. Due to the “power” the DM holds (I believe everyone is equal at the table but many other players do not see table dynamics this way) I think it always best for the DM to approach the players separately, away from the rest of the table, and after the session. Explain the issue, be calm, and try to also see it from their perspective. Where is your middle ground? Just remember, and remind the player, that the game needs to be enjoyable for everyone at the table including yourself so you want to work together to find a solution.

There are some situations where I advocate a complete severing of ties, however, as a DM or player to another player/DM. That’s on a more personal note and tends to involve more extreme and perhaps personal views (this is in regards to gatekeeping, transphobia, homophobia, ableist attitudes, misogyny, mocking, inappropriate behaviours that result in harassment, etc.). Trying to rectify these first and foremost can be helpful, but often times it isn’t able to be fixed in these terms.

As a DM or player. It’s okay to walk away from the table. And if you need to do it for your own health and well-being as well as the enjoyment of the game…do it. Please, just do it. There are always more tables to play at and friendly groups to join, especially with the rise of virtual tabletop gaming.

If you are needing to leave your table and cannot find another to play at, please drop me a message and I will do my best to assist in finding you a suitable table. Everybody deserves to play the game without having to avoid the elephant at the table and sacrifice their enjoyment of it.

Image by ATArts

4 thoughts on “Confronting the Elephant at the Table”

  1. I would allow stealing or pickpocketing IF all of the involved players are on the same page and into the game. It could be a great roleplaying opportunity. Just like in Critical Role not long ago. Nott tried to steal a document from Fjord, and this resulted in a hilarious conversation.

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      1. I don’t want to compare regular sessions to CR. I’m just saying if all the involved players are in the game it could add to the RP part. If one of the players feeling uncomfortable in the situation then it is a no go.

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  2. A rule that I picked up and modified a bit from my first DM is that the ‘defending’ player can opt to decide to determine if a check against them succeeds or fails instead of rolling.

    Had it come up last week when the rogue was trying to pull a prank on the paladin while she was sleeping. The paladin decided that she did hear the rogue sneak up (not that the roll was all that great to begin with) and they had a great RP moment.

    Not sure if I would use this in PVP. I would probably stop the game and talk to everyone about what they want if it looks like things were going in that direction.

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