Murder on the Dance Floor – Dealing with Dissent in TRPG Games

What do you do when players cause dissent in your game? (And believe me, even if it hasn’t happened in one of your games yet, it WILL happen.) Here’s a few suggestions:

Establishing Ground Rules

Make sure you set ground rules about behaviour in your session zero, such as being respectful of others, allowing everyone to have their say, rules lawyering, how players feel about swearing, no yelling, no bullying, etc. This should also include a reminder that the DM’s decision is final (it’s funny how many players forget this).

Your discussion should include what the group considers taboo or off limits. These are subjects that will not be included or discussed during the game – torture, racism, etc. Make sure you are inclusive – everyone’s opinion counts. And get agreement from all on the final ground rules.

Managing Decision Dissent

Some players may disagree with some of your decisions. Keep your cool and explain how and why you made the decision they’re disputing. Listen to the dissenting opinion – it’s possible they may have an angle you haven’t thought of. Use the rules and logic. Be fair. Ensure that you make your decision in line with any of your previous precedents, or if you change it provide the reasons why.

Transparency of decision making is not only a good business management process, it’s ideal for games. And don’t forget, as DM you are the final arbiter, whether the player agrees with the decision or not.

Managing Players who Cross the Line

Remember that zero session and the ground rules you established? Well, there were boundaries and taboos discussed – things that should not be done or said in the game. This could include overt things like racist comments, lude behaviours, or non-overt things like using someone else’s dice without their permission or making another player uncomfortable by invading their personal space (I’m sure you can think of many more examples).

It’s possible that one of your players may cross the line with regard to these boundaries. It’s also possible that other players at your table, while uncomfortable, may not confront that player about the issue(s).

You need to ensure that you police the boundaries, keep your game on track and fun for all. If that means calling out the player’s poor behaviour, then do it – firstly, by stating categorically that the behaviour is not on, and then by pulling the player aside and ensuring they are clear about the boundaries that were established in session zero. If the player continues to break the ground rules or make other players uncomfortable, it’s time they found another game.

Managing Non-team Players and Player Dissent

You’re going to get some players who like to take off on their own. Sometimes it’s because they disagree with a party decision, or because they’re bored, or because they want to be a little disruptive. Sometimes it’s because they don’t personally like another player.

Aside from learning to run multiple game sessions simultaneously (which is a great skill to have), you should take the player aside and ask them what the problem is and how you can work together to resolve it? If they really prefer working by themselves then maybe you could run a separate one-person game with them. Maybe they just need to be highlighted a little more so they’re not always overshadowed by others.

If the situation continues and the player still causes issues for the others, there’s always the “maybe this campaign isn’t right for you” discussion. The player needs to understand that they don’t have to be there if they don’t want to – and that other players are happy to take their spot. It’s a last resort, of course, but makes a clear and concrete point.

Almost every TRPG has a section in the book about managing dissent at the table. You can find numerous articles on the internet, no doubt much better written than this lol. Dissent at the table is not fun, but it can be managed so that everyone can continue to enjoy the game and have fun.

And so there’s no more murder on the dance floor.

Game on!


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Published by stevestillstanding

I’m a writer who loves tabletop role playing games, poetry and (you guessed it) writing. Occasionally I have something to say...

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