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That’s the very first thing to learn.
Don’t be afraid to fire players.
The most common question I’m ever asked is, “I have a player who [insert disruptive behavior here]. What do I do about that player?”
I’ve been trying to think of a tactful answer to this question for the better part of two decades. I can’t, because it’s so simple that tact gets in the way. Here is that answer, in italics and all caps. Commit it to memory. Write it down if you have to.
FIRE THAT PLAYER.
Yeah, it really is that simple.
If you have an acquaintance who insists on chattering on her phone during the film, you stop inviting her to movie night. If you have an acquaintance who likes to punch police horses when he’s had more than two beers, you don’t invite him on a pub crawl.
Come on. No-brainer time, here.
At this point you’re probably whining about this or that excuse. I never said it’s easy. Sometimes firing a player can have far-reaching consequences, like if the disruptive player is your little brother, or your best friend’s boyfriend.
In that case, you have a tough choice. Go ahead. Whine about it some more. I’ll wait.
Because when you’re done rationalizing, all choices still boil down to FIRE THAT PLAYER. The alternative is a disrupted table. Only you can decide if the out-of-game consequences are worse than your game being disrupted.
Because here’s what will happen if you don’t fire that player: Your campaign will stutter to a stop, then fail utterly. People will start coming up with excuses why they can’t play, each of which is a euphemism for “This awkward out-of-game situation makes us really uncomfortable and we’re no longer having fun.”
You’ll find replacements for the players you fire. Even for that best friend who left not only your game but your entire life because she can’t understand that her boyfriend is a chooch.
Tangentially, I’ve been trying to think of a reason the question is repeated so regularly when the answer is so blindingly obvious, and I think I’ve figured it out: Gamers to a greater or lesser extent are those for whom “normal” social interaction can be difficult. We enjoy our confrontation and conflict in an imaginary setting, not where it can get us a very real, and very sticky, face full of Mountain Dew and a massive pay-per-angry-SMS mobile phone bill. We’re not equipped to handle difficult social interactions with real-world consequences. So we tend to ignore it until it blows up.
Stop doing that.