Good drama, hence good gaming, relies on interpersonal conflict — the interplay between differing goals and ideals makes for a great session. Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to player conflict when those at the gaming table lose sight of the difference between themselves and their role in the game. This happened when I was a young gamer; the characters in the game came to an impasse and as their argument superheated, it turned into anger at the other player. Once we realized what was happening, we were able to distance ourselves from the characters and sort the matter.

Other times, existing animosity spills into the game, with players acting to spite or antagonize the other. This can make for good gaming, but likely than not, it slams the breaks on the action and creates friction that can ruin a session or break the back of a gaming group. Sometimes, a player is angry or upset over something completely disconnected from play, but the game becomes a surrogate for taking out their aggression on the actual problem. We saw this with a player whose brother and sister-in-law were going through a divorce. He took the break-up hard and his characters suddenly took a disturbing misogynist turn, which brought them into conflict with other characters, and vicariously, female players in the group. The approach here was direct: she told him to knock it off.

So how do you fix interpersonal conflict between players? There are as many routes to conflict resolution as there are people, and every situation can require a different approach. Sometimes it’s as simple as calling their attention to the matter. If you are lucky, you have adults at the game table and you can reason with them. Pull them aside (I prefer one at a time) and have a quick chat. Ask them what’s up, that their actions are being disruptive or suggest that maybe the offending players get together and work out their issue (whatever it might be.) See if there’s something you can do to aid in resolving the matter while at the table (Don’t get in the middle of their issues — they won’t thank you for it and now you are part of the problem.) Sometimes, however, a strong “grow the fuck up!” works.

If other players are complaining about the situation (and they rarely do it while the offenders are present, I find), you could take a session to have everyone talk it out. (A bit soft and huggy-squeezy for me…) Sometimes it’s as simple as letting them know they’re being a jerk — the goof ol’ yellow card/red card can work here. You are already refereeing the game, it’s not much of a stretch to extend that role to the players, as well. They start being a dick, you give ’em a yellow card; they’re being truly offensive, red card and maybe some time away from the table to gather themselves together.

The most extreme cases require the same response, and it’s one that a lot of GMs are loathe to use because finding good gamers can be hard: kick them out of the group. Simply put, if you have people that spoil the fun for the rest, you’re better off excising the offenders. “But their characters is integral to the group/plot/whatever…” Not enough so to risk the whole group blowing apart. Turn their characters into NPCs, let them know they are welcome back when they can comport themselves like adults. (Which is ironic, when you consider you are pretending, like when you were a kid…)

Ultimately, dealing with people and conflict is a delicate art, and you will have to feel out the situation for yourself. Just know it’s okay to sometimes use the cudgel, rather than the carrot.

[This post was inspired by and is a response to a similar post on Runesligner’s blog, Casting ShadowsGo check it out. Scott]