On Why You Have Bad Players

Why did I write this post?

How do I know they are bad players?

Incorrect Purposes of Play!

They spend their time in the game arguing instead of playing. In modern systems, it's about the rules. In older systems, it's about "what would really would happen here".

What do I mean by arguing?
This game continuously is put to the task of being a broad representation of fictional events. At the table I've represented everything from a massive attack action against a troglodyte village, to a literal witch hunt, to a heated battle in a beholder space craft both going to and escaping from the hive.

It is very flexible. In this situation, when do arguments occur?

It does NOT happens when a thing is described and somebody disagrees about the thing being described. There are reasons why people disagree; it may conflict with their real world experience;  the thing described is not meeting their current needs; or when they have confusion over the situation. What happens in those cases is communication.*

Arguments occur when cognitive dissonance is created because of conflicting "Purposes of Play".  Arguments are defined as disruptive communication that derails the engagement in play. Cognitive dissonance is defined as the feeling in your brain that drives these arguments. Purposes of Play are defined as 'What sitting in this room playing this game is about'.

Why is this happening?

When I say 'what playing this game is about' I'm not talking about playing styles, like combat as war versus combat as sport. I'm not talking about narrative games versus board games. I'm not talking about cooperative games versus competitive games. All these are stylistic differences. All of these are activities anyone can enjoy.

What I am talking about is the Purpose of Play.**

Purpose of play is the reason you choose to engage in the role playing game. Not the experience you hope to achieve in play, but the reason you choose to stand up, get in your car, and drive to go play D&D.

Unlike Creative Agenda, Unlike Playing Styles, this is NOT a situation where "I say to-may-to, you say to-mat-o". This is a situation where you can have a fucked reason for bothering. I will stand in judgment of the purpose of your play, like the Norse judged the ice giants unfit for life. Getting hit by a hammer for unacceptable Purposes of Play is an option on the table where the fornication of mothers occurs.

Here are some acceptable Purposes of Play
  • You want the game to be about having some fun with your friends
  • You want the game to be about spending some time laughing
  • You want the game to be about escaping to a fantasy realm for a bit, from children, work, or other stressors
Here are some unacceptable Purposes of Play
  • You want the game to be about catharsis for you at the expense of other players
    • You decide in the middle of scene to have your character urinate on another PC
    • In a cooperative fantasy RPG, you have your character destroy the magic item of another character
  • You have the expectation the game (any game) to be absent consequence and rejection. 
    • You behave inappropriately (threaten, intimidate, use inappropriate language for your peer group) when negative events happen to your character.
    • You act in those inappropriate ways and others (manipulation, bribery) to intimidate people from having negative things happen to you
  • You want the game to be about engaging people (not characters) in power struggles so that you can 'win'. 
    • You take the game pieces from the other players and refuse to give them back
    • You sit in the chair of the DM and refuse to give it up when he returns
  • You want the game to be about you and demand constant gratification, being disruptive when activities take place that you don't enjoy or that don't focus on you.
  • You want the game to be about winning to the point that you cheat.
  • You want the game to be about an opportunity to exert non-consensual masochistic tendencies. You wish to minimize, exploit, diminish, debase or degrade the players.
    • Verbally abusing, sexually harassing, or having inappropriate boundaries with other players.
Note that the above list is about the behavior of the players not their character. This article is about tabletop games. Clearly physical contact is acceptable in a sport. I am using a general definition of a tabletop games. I mentioned Creative Agenda and Playing Styles above, because it is assumed that the players all agreed to play the game and the expectation of what the game consists of has been discussed. See footnote * for clarification. If this is not done, you are likely to have disagreements which are primary based around communication issues. Are there games where character's backstabbing other characters is acceptable? Sure! That's cathartic, but not at the expense of other players. That's just the game you're playing.

Most damming, I'm not talking about joking around or the occasional odd event - this is about players who engage the game with the examples above as the reason they left their house to play.

So, why did I write this post? Because the problem with 'old school, skill light' play, the problem with 'tactic heavy character build play' isn't the rules and it isn't the game.

As my experience of having actual discussions with people about disagreements regarding gaming, I've realized that the disagreements aren't in the text - they're in the baggage the person brings with them.

It's games people have played in where these things have occurred where they are attributed to the game instead of the person.

I'm going to be writing a series of articles about my style of play, attempting to address some of the constant misunderstandings that occur on this blog.

Every post will be written under the assumption that you are playing with people who have an acceptable Purpose of Play and not a negative one. If you are playing in a game with a negative Purpose of Play, leave, or eject the player that is the problem.

*It can of course devolve in an argument if there is a poor communicator involved, or if someone is not paying attention to signals being given out, or if there is personal friction there to begin with. But in those cases, they aren't arguing in the sense we're concerned with. They are either communicating or communicating poorly. There isn't an argument, there is a misunderstanding.
**This is different then Creative Agenda. I have run a table with tons of people who had different creative agendas. I've had some players sit though games where their creative agenda is not being met where it was fine and they were well behaved. It's a super-complicated way of saying 'what am I interested in doing in this game' and hell, we all bend over backwards for each other to make that happen. Eventually the game spins back around to what you like to be doing and you get your turn.

 *** By the definition above, I am a terrible player. I am guilty, not of the cause but the effect of each thing listed above. I declare unintentionally! . . . It's a good thing I'm such a good DM.


  1. I found very interesting this post. It clearly points out what symptoms a bad player would present.

    However I think that if I were playing with someone who has a bad purpose (or if I myself have one), before taking the radical measure of ejecting him/her (or leaving) I would sit with him/her and talk about it and try to reach a consensus. Maybe because it's hard to me to find players.

    I am eagerly expecting that series of articles. It sure will be very useful.

    Sorry for the probable mistakes but English is not my mother tongue.

  2. Wow! This is deep! I wonder how often this is caused because the player is a jerk, or if the game has not met their needs. Granted all negative responses listed are highl inappropriate. Would you suggest brainstorming as a group what each of you want for the game, and some baseline rules for appropriate behavior before starring a game?

  3. I know I'm a little late to the party here, but I just wanted to say thanks. I admit when I started reading some of these posts I had a knee-jerk 'OSR grognardy post' reaction. Then I actually read them and found myself thinking 'Huh, this makes quite a lot of sense.' Especially this post which helped me clarify in my head a lot of issues about why I play RPGs.

    Thanks man.


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