Post WashingCon, The Story of My First Problem Player

I had my first problem player at WashingCon, in the Red Markets game I ran. That means I've leveled up as a GM, right?

First off, I've been very lucky. I started GMing for friends and, while that group imploded for player dynamic reasons, none of them were ‘problem’ players. Folks just wanted to have different types of fun (and one decided that RPGs weren't for them) — at the time I wasn't skilled enough as a GM yet to accommodate different types of fun styles (also, wrong system for one of those types).

I've run one-shots for the Tech. Diff. crew and again, very lucky that the random group of folks from an internet forum are as cool and compatible as we are. Sure, there was some associative sorting from our taste in podcast fandom and the original system we were all showing up to play. But that was no guarantee we'd have fun together.

I've run four games, in two different systems, at two different conventions now. And my first problem player didn't show up until the fourth game. Awesome.

Still frustrating.


So, what made this guy so problematic that I, who cop to being fairly socially oblivious, actually noticed? First, a bit of set-up: problem player (who I'm just going to call P now) was playing a character type called the Latent. In universe, Latents are folks who are infected with the zombie making virus/fungus/whatever it is, nobody actually knows/thing BUT for one of a couple reasons weren't lobotomized and killed by it. They're walking infection sources who turn into sprinting 28 Days Later style zombies (called Vectors in universe) upon death. Socially stigmatized but able to go whale on zombies at melee range without worrying about getting infected. Or rather, infected again.

So P is playing a character designed for that melee role. The party has found a job, negotiated pay, and are on the road to the job site when they come upon a toll booth. Yes, an active toll booth in the middle of the zombie apocalypse. Since the booth is setup at a low point of geography and zombies trending to take the geographic path of least resistance, it's in an area zombies would congregate. Thus the two snipers covering the booth are performing a community service, clearing out some zombies in the area. And to start with, the team had spotted only one of the snipers.

Most of the party agreed to send the negotiator forward to talk with the booth operator. P decides he's going to head through the woods to go kill the sniper they've spotted. Okay so far, this has happened before. It's why I moved the snipers to about a mile out. I should also mention that P LOOKS like a zombie, what with the black veins all over. Something the rest of the team has pointed out. He also has NO stealth skills, so he's crashing through the underbrush. At which point one of the snipers takes a shot at him.

‘What do you do?’
‘How can they be shooting at me, I'm in the woods.’
‘They picked defensible spots, and trees aren't perfect cover. You've been shot at. What do you do?’
‘I'm behind trees, I'm not stepping in openings, how could they shoot me?’
‘You have no stealth, you're crashing through the woods, they shoot at you. What do you do?’
‘Keep going.’

Meanwhile, the negotiator is talking with the booth operator and they come to an agreement. The operator messages his team that they're all good and to stand down.
‘Hang on, I've got a zombie out here.’
‘No, he's one of ours…’
‘Well, call him off then.’

Well and good, the guy with a drone sends it out to relay a message to P. Did I mention earlier that he had no means of remote communication on him? So, the drone operator sends the drone out to P's location, announced over speaker that they've negotiated passage, please come back.

P keeps going.

Snipers miss the next shot. Team lead turns to P and say he'll make a foresight roll, if he makes it, please tell him something that would convince P to stop. “There's nothing you could say.” Well shit. Everyone at the table is frustrated with him at this point. And that's just bad role-playing. Luckily for me, the next shot hits — rolls are made by the player and you only get hit if you fail your dodge roll. This was not railroading in the least, everyone at the table saw him fail the roll and get hit in the head. With enough damage to drop unconscious.

You’d think this would be the end of it. But no. No, no, there's more to come.

Team drudges out into the woods, hauls his unconscious body back, hikes down the road for a couple hours, and then applies first aid to wake P back up.

‘I go back after the snipers.’
From everybody at the table: ‘what?’
‘I'm going back after the snipers.’
Players share a look around the table. Team lead: ‘You do that and we’re not waiting. We'll take your share since you're walking off the job.’
P: ‘well how about I threaten the person you're escorting [who had to survive for them to get paid], then?’
Full minute of argument around the table before the drones guy managed to get clarification from me on what P had actually said, at which point drones piped up with “this isn't the game any of us signed up to play, can we please get on with it?” At least that got P to shut up and let the scenario continue on.

An hour later, when we’re wrapping up with the scenario only partially finished because we’ve run out of time, he feels the need to get the last word in before running off to his next game. ‘I still disagree about getting shot at in trees.’

The rest of us found an unused room and played the rest of the scenario.


So yeah, I’ve still got some work to do on figuring out how to manage players and social situations at the table better. Although I have no idea what I could have done to get this guy off that path. Possibly should have been the one to tell him that he was making the game not fun for folks. Although that might have been seen as speaking for people who didn’t necessarily agree. And GM railroading.

Anybody in the audience have stories of problem players they’d like to share and/or how you handle folks like this? Tell me in the comments, I’d love to hear your stories.