Is there a reason you have a second-guessing player?

So a few sites have brought up a topic just about every DM has had, a player that is second-guessing how you run a game. Both newbie.dm and the musings of a chatty dm have offered their own takes on what causes this how to handle it.

My comment on one of the blogs got me thinking, and I felt more needed to be said about this.

You know the situation. You have that one player pulling out information from the top of his head, metagaming to the extreme and pointing out flaws in your session. He’ll be the one challenging your record keeping skills when a particular nasty solo monster has not dropped (or dropped too soon). He’ll be the one demanding to know why his skill check didn’t pass, when it’s obviously a DC 23, as listed in the DMG, pg 142 (and willing to show you the page). He’ll be the one challenging you why the main villain escaped an encounter, when it clearly has a speed of 4 in heavy armor, and that his character can easily catch up with it before the turn’s end.

You’ve got a player sucking the life out of your game. He is reducing the game to its most mechanical elements. And worse, demonstrating you are either not competent, or breaking the rules for your own purposes.

Before you decide to have some divine intervention incinerate him with a bolt of lightning, or conveniently flip him into a pit of lava. Take a step back. Think for a moment and ask yourself why is the player doing this?

Maybe he is being a metagaming jerk. That’s just the way he plays. He knows the rules. He is right and you are wrong. With a player like that I don’t even worry about it. I put my foot down. I tell those players flat out that, while they are correct by the rules, I’m running a game here to have fun. If they don’t like it, they can take a hike. I have no qualms about having one less player in a group if that person is ruining the fun for all.

But what if his second-guessing is justified? Maybe you deserve someone challenging how you run your game. Ask yourself a few questions:

  • Are you being fair and impartial? Are you favoring certain players? Does this guy feel you are ‘out to get him’? If you are bending the rules, is it to benefit one player while punishing others (like him)?
  • Do you have an engaging story where they are the main players? Or are the player’s extras to your awesome NPCs? Are events unfolding around your players that make them shine and feel heroic? Or are they constantly being beaten down and put though an emotional meat grinder, with no chance to improve their situation?
  • Do you have your players on the storyline rail? Or are they actively making decisions? Do your players feel that their choices matter and have an impact on their fate?
  • Are you providing players with enough chances to succeed? Every campaign should have its emotional highs and lows, where sometimes they fail. But if you think the group always make ‘stupid’ and ‘wrong’ decisions, think about the situations you are placing them in? Are they constantly choosing between the lesser of two evils? Are they always making choices that break their personal code of ethics? Maybe you need to provide some guidance or a clear cut ‘right’ decision once in a while.

    If you constantly have the group feeling weak and powerless against opposition, don’t expect them to keep lining up for another string of failures. Constantly clashing against the superevil cult and never winning a victory gets tiring. Eventually the group will do the worse thing ever, stop caring about their characters and the game. Victories are important.

  • Is your campaign universe stable? If you have a verisimilar story, and suddenly pull some wacky, earth shattering phenomenon out, better have a reason why. Maybe your group is perfectly fine with a chance of pace. But if aliens suddenly landed and started shooting knights with particle guns, expect your group to take pause and possibly not like the new direction of the campaign.
  • Are you running a fun game for most of the players? Maybe that one guy is bored out of his mind. That’s okay, you can’t keep everyone happy. But if half the group is not having fun you’ve got a problem. Are you spending a little time after each session to talk about how things are running? Are you giving the group a chance to give some feedback?

    Maybe that one bad call really got a player worked up. Each time you flub a rule, it’s adding to his aggravation. Giving them the opportunity to talk about it, just to get it out and clear the air, all can do wonders with diffusing tension. Your players should be having fun. Take the time to ask them if they are.

If a player is second-guessing you as a DM, take a long hard look and see if there is a reason why. Sometimes it’s just the player, but sometimes it might be the way you run your game. I’m looking forward to folks providing their own experiences and thoughts.

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