Sometimes your group doesn’t work out. Maybe there’s a player in there who just isn’t having fun. Maybe the game you’re running isn’t the one they want to play. Maybe they’ve broken up with their partner and are taking out their anger in the game or perhaps their personality just doesn’t mesh at all with another member of the group. Or perhaps your game is planned for the end of their week and they’re sleep-deprived and cranky.
Whatever the reason, a situation like this means it’s time to have one of the the hardest conversations you can have as a GM. And while this shouldn’t only be the GM’s responsibility, often the task falls to the GM. And that’s what i’ll be discussing here today.
First of all, don’t do this out of the blue. Make sure you’ve acknowledged what’s going on in the game before you sit them down for talk so they have a chance to correct whatever behavior is bothering you. This could be as simple as asking if it’s better for them to end a session a little earlier if they seem sleepy, asking if they’re okay if they seem frustrated or any of a thousand other ways you can put a person at ease.
For example, a player may not seem invested in your game at all. Before going for the nuclear option of removing someone from your game, maybe check with them what their deal is. Are they really disinterested? Or are they just quiet or maybe even just playing a quiet person. I’ve had players who were largely inactive during my games, not because they didn’t care but because they weren’t entirely confident in their abilities as roleplayers. Obviously in such a situation, throwing them out isn’t even close to the right answer.
However, in some situations, removing a player from your group might be the right call. If their presence is disruptive to the other players or they are disrespectful towards the time you put into prep, it might be time for them to go. This is rarely an easy call and I highly recommend you take the time to both think it over yourself and to discuss it with other people. Ideally, people who are also involved in your game, as they’ll have the best view on what’s happening exactly.
Then it’s time for the actual conversation. This is where it gets tricky, since I assume the people you play with could be described as your friends. Here, it’s very important to keep in mind that a lot of people will equate you removing them from a roleplaying group to you terminating your friendship. Be very clear that you’re not ending the friendship but are merely removing them from your roleplaying group.
Outline to the person you’re removing the reasons why you think they are no longer a good fit for the group. Make sure to not accuse them of anything but to instead present your own feelings on the matter. That is, try something like “I get the feeling you aren’t super into the game anymore” instead of “If you don’t care about my game, you should get out”. That softer tone is really key here.
Another important point here is to really figure out the reason and to not be afraid to put people in a time-out as it were. Say you have a player who loathes sci-fi games. They’ve played with your group for years and are a good friend. However, whenever a sci-fi game is run, they tend to remain part of the group and spend most of their time either being disruptive or barely participating. At that point, it’s time to have ‘the talk’ and ask them to maybe step out of any sci-fi games your group plays. Stress that they’re welcome to come back when you play something else.
I hope that at least some of the advice I wrote here is of some help to you with difficult players in your group. Remember that a roleplaying game is a social event and if someone is ruining your game, they’re ruining it for everyone. Take action but do it with care.