How Ryon Got Kicked Out of Our Group

Posted by on April 19, 2017

Play tabletop RPGs long enough, and you’ll run into him: the player who you no longer want to be part of your group. He’s not just annoying; he makes the game less fun for everyone.

Again, to be clear: this post is about a player who decreases everybody’s enjoyment of the game.

That was Ryon. He was rude, he’d elbow people when making jokes, he wouldn’t pay attention, and he’d show up an hour late for sessions then expect everyone to catch him up.

How did we kick him out? We didn’t. At least, not right away.

First, I sat down and defined the specific behavior that was causing the friction. The problematic behavior isn’t a problem for the player, so if you just tell a player “You’re being annoying,” he or she won’t know what you’re talking about.

I remembered specific things that Ryon said or did, like repeatedly shouting “No!” when another player suggested a reasonable course of action, or rolling his eyes repeatedly when another player talked, or pulling out his phone, or elbowing another player. You don’t have to remember it word-for-word, but the more specific, the better.

But I wasn’t done. If you just outline a problematic behavior, it’s easy for the player to discount its impact on the group. Again, it’s not a problem for the player. But if you explain the results of that behavior, you’ve changed the conversation from a personal complaint to a discussion about the entire group.

So I thought about the specific results of his behavior. This is hard to define, because it’s not necessarily external. It can be hurt feelings, or it can be about other people’s changed opinions of the player in question.

Besides, if I couldn’t think of specific negative results from Ryon’s behavior, something else isn’t right. Maybe I’m over-reacting, or maybe I’m identifying the wrong problem. But that’s another post.

Once I identified the behavior and how it was frustrating for our group, I talked to him one-on-one. I was able to do it face-to-face, which is best, since you can modulate your tone or body language. If you can’t do it that way, by voice is next best. I made sure to do it as privately as possible; confronting somebody in front of other people dramatically increases the tension (and the player’s behavior in the group is likely driven partly because it is in front of an audience). In this instance, I just took Ryon into another room as folks were arriving for the next session. While the conversation might technically have been audible if others got close enough, it was reasonably private.

What I told Ryon can be basically broken down into four parts:

  1. Some variation on, “Hey, can I give you some feedback?” You need to give the player a heads-up about the topic you’re about to address, and phrasing it as feedback makes it sound more neutral. It also gives the player a chance to say “Yes.”
  2. Describe the problematic behavior.
  3. Describe the results of that behavior on the group.
  4. Ask the player to try something different from now on. Simply leaving it with a description of the problem focuses on the problem instead of on solutions. By asking the player do try something different later, you shift focus to the future, and the fact that the player can change.

That’s it.

Two important “don’t”s at this point:

Don’t tell the player specifically what to do. Leave it up to the player to figure out a different way of acting. He or she may not do so, but that’s okay; that’ll get taken care of, too.

Don’t argue. The player may want to debate with you about how big the problem is. The player may even do this out of a genuine desire to understand the situation. While you can answer the player’s specific questions, move on from this conversation as quickly as possible. You are not the player’s therapist.

This may surprise you, but most of the time, this will solve the problem. The player will come up with a different behavior, and the problem won’t happen again.

Unfortunately, Ryon wasn’t one of those players. He was a little better that session, but he went right back to the same behavior next session.

So I talked to the player again, this time adding a firm condition between parts 3 and 4: either he changes his behavior, or he’s not going to be welcome at this group any more.

Now again, if you’ve made it this far, most people will change their behavior. You’ve clearly laid out this problem twice now, and that’s enough for most people to realize they’ve been wrong.

But Ryon wasn’t one of those people either. He still had basically the same behaviors; he just wasn’t quite as bad about them as before (instead of showing up an hour late, he showed up 30 minutes late, among other things).

If this happens, it’s time to cut the cord. It’s best to do this face-to-face, but it’s also okay to send them a private message telling them they’re no longer welcome in the group. That’s what I did.

It sucks, but it happens.

Now if you’ve read this post this far, I’ll share a secret with you: I’ve never had a Ryon. I’ve given players feedback along these lines, but it’s never escalated to kicking a player out of the group. Why? I followed this pattern, so each player had plenty of chances to learn.

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