Running a session of Dungeons & Dragons, or any other tabletop RPG for that matter, is a challenging task. But the time, energy, and preparation are worth it for a fun game with your friends! Unless your group is full of annoying and disruptive D&D players, that is.
If you’re reading this, then you’re probably in that exact situation. Learning how to handle toxic D&D players is an important part of good game etiquette, and it isn’t as hard as you might think. So take a deep breath, tell yourself it’s going to be okay, and let’s dive in.
5 Types of Annoying D&D Players
Not every problem player is the same; here are a few of the most common types you may encounter in the wild:
#1 The Loose Cannon
Whether they’re starting fights with random NPCs, stealing gold from the party, or trying to seduce every enemy they encounter, the Loose Cannon is a master of disruption. They might be friendly and fun outside of the game (or maybe not), but inside of it their character is a nightmare to manage. And their actions are usually followed by this famous excuse: “It’s what my character would do!”
Roleplaying is good; ruining the experience for everyone else is not.
#2 The Flake
Everyone runs late or has to reschedule a session from time to time, but for The Flake, this happens more often than not. They may also show up unprepared to play—maybe they forgot to level up their character, or worse, they don’t even know where they put their sheet. When it’s their turn in combat, the game comes to a screeching halt as they look up for the thousandth time what their character can do.
There’s nothing wrong with being a little scatterbrained, just try not to hold up the entire game as a result.
#3 The Rules Lawyer
If The Flake isn’t engaged enough, then The Rules Lawyer is a little too engaged. They are always ready to debate a rule no matter the scenario, even if it means stopping the action. And when the Dungeon Master makes a ruling they don’t agree with, they make sure everyone at the table knows it.
While deep knowledge of the rules can be useful, a combative attitude only makes for a stressful experience for everyone.
#4 The Spotlight Hog
A close relative of The Loose Cannon, The Spotlight Hog acts in such a way as to drag the spotlight onto their character as much as possible. Whenever the party takes one path, they take the other. If there’s an opportunity to shine, they’re front and center. They may even insist on taking action when another character is better suited for the task.
Their enthusiasm is wonderful, but they aren’t the only person playing the game.
#5 The Cheater
Nobody likes to play with a cheater, especially in a cooperative game like D&D. The Cheater is determined to “win the game,” so they may fudge their rolls or read ahead in the adventure module to make sure their character never fails. Excessive metagaming is also a common tool in their arsenal (that means they use their own knowledge as a player to take actions that don’t otherwise make sense for their character).
It’s natural to want your character to succeed, but “rolling a 20” on every check kills all the fun.
How to Manage Toxic D&D Players
While disruptive player behaviors can come in many shapes and sizes, the same principles apply to handling pretty much all of them. That’s because these tips are good for handling conflict in general, even outside of your TTRPG group. Here is my best advice for approaching problem players in your group.
Handle It Outside of the Game
I have often seen people complain about a toxic D&D player and then ask how to make that person’s character pay for the bad behavior. You should never handle a real-life conflict inside an imaginary world; not only is it a poor way to solve the problem, but it can even make things worse.
Instead, manage all conflicts outside of the game. Set up a time and place where you both feel comfortable talking through the issue as human beings, not as fictional characters.
Explain Your Side Calmly
Many disruptive or annoying D&D players don’t realize that what they’re doing is hurting the group. It’s up to you to be specific and clear about the behaviors you’ve observed and the impact they’ve had. For example: “When you come late to the session, it slows the game down and cuts into everyone else’s time.”
Avoid exaggerating or overstating things with words like “always” or “never,” and be careful about assuming the intent behind the action. An example of what not to say might be: “You always come late to the sessions. You don’t respect anyone’s time.” Like I said before, some players may not realize their actions are causing an issue, so accusing them will only put them on the defensive.
Listen to Their Side
Once you’ve explained your side, shut up and listen. Ask them to describe where they’re coming from and how they view the issue. Check in periodically by restating their points back to them to make sure you truly understand (a strategy called active listening).
Most importantly, try to listen with empathy. Understanding the issue from their side on a cognitive level is one thing, but seeking to understand it emotionally (how they feel about it) is much more powerful. Empathy is the foundation for a long-term solution that works for everyone.
Create an Agreement
After all the talk, you need to take some kind of action. Work with your player and the rest of the group to create a collective agreement. Ideally this agreement isn’t targeted only at the disruptive D&D player in your group—it’s for everyone. Each member should be in charge of abiding by it and enforcing it. Some sample items to include might be:
- Come on time to each session
- Let the group know at least 24 hours in advance if you have to reschedule
- Avoid splitting the party
- Don’t fight other players’ characters
- Check in with each other during roleplay to make sure everyone feels okay
- Roll all dice out in the open
You get the picture. This agreement should address whatever problem behaviors you’ve discussed, but it can also include other rules that your group wants at the table. Overall, try to make this a positive, constructive conversation for the group rather than a big list of “don’ts.”
If You Must, Ask D&D Problem Players to Leave
I hope the steps above will help you solve most of the issues you’ll face with toxic D&D players. Unfortunately, there are some people who won’t want to change no matter how empathetic and kind you are. If that’s the case, you should politely but firmly let the player know they are no longer part of the group.
Kicking someone from your group is tough, but it’s an option you should feel empowered to use when necessary. I repeat: You do NOT have to tolerate inappropriate or toxic behavior in your group. Be clear and firm so they aren’t left wondering what you meant or whether they’ll be invited back. They may feel hurt or upset, but they’ll get over it. And you and your group will be much better off for it.