I run a Dungeons & Dragons game for elementary school aged kids (and a few parents) at our Friendly Local Gaming Store (FLGS). That one group is about to become two, as I apparently have a skill set that works well for DMing for Younglings as I now tend to call my players. I’m a newer DM, but I have over 20 years of playing experience and I run a table embracing two philosophies:
- Everyone at the table should be behaving in a kind and non-toxic way.
- Are my players having fun?
Rule one is the first rule for a reason because after 20 years of playing various tabletop RPGs, I have seen a lot of poor and toxic behavior. Who you play with is often a huge key to how fun a group is for you and how those people treat others is everything. As Dungeons and Dragons is coming up more and more as a way for kids to learn social skills, it’s important top consider what skills we do and don’t want them to pick up on. I told J, the owner of our FLGS, that in a few years as the majority of my current players start aging up into the middle school group, he’s suddenly going to get a wave of experienced players in that age group. My big goal for those players is that they aren’t just familiar with the rules, but that they come to those groups as the sort of players you want in your group. Here are the behaviors I shut down at my table to help those Younglings become awesome players.
No Creating Characters to Be Intentionally Antagonistic With Others
My Younglings play Animal Adventures, a 5e compatible setting from Steamforged Games where their characters are all cats or dogs. The way I explained it to them is that “you cannot, for example, play a dog whose parent was killed by a six toed cat thus making you hate all cats and trying to attack them on sight.” While I understand some stories have great storylines where characters begin as enemies to allies, you need to be cautious of a player who doesn’t want to get to the ally part but is merely creating a situation that causes drama between the players. Evil aligned characters can also create this conflict. Look at the player with the possibly problematic and ask them why they think that character would want to become allies and be part of this group in good faith, and if they can’t come up with that reason, they’ll need a new character. There is a big difference between a writer who creates an enemies to allies character or even a great betrayal, and players at a table. When a person who loves their character feels betrayed by another player, it’s too easy for those feelings to have an impact out of character.
Some players will show this sort pf behavior in a slightly different way. It’s not the backstory that they pull out, it’s how they play a character class or a low stat. Rogues that steal from party members or try to sneak to the treasure first to get “first pick” are going to create a lot of conflict at the gaming table. Charisma as a low stat does not give a player free rein to bully or harass other players. Some players seem to waltz in with an attitude that they can behave poorly and, since they are part of the group, they have to be allowed to remain part of the group even though the others can’t stand their behavior like they have some sort of special immunity. If a player’s behavior is so bad that the other players could justify not letting them be part of their group, the behavior needs to change.
No Glory Hogging
A Glory Hog treats themselves as the only person that matters and everyone else is a side character in their life story, even in moments where someone else should be the focus. These players aren’t happy with being a cool character, they have to be cooler than everyone else and often the very best in every situation. They are very bad at sharing and will struggle hard with making choices that support others. Why heal the nearly dying Tank when you can cast a spell and try to take down the Big Bad on your turn and save the day? They won’t. Not because they overestimate how much the tank can take, because it’s “not as much fun” for them.
Players with Glory Hog tendencies often see themselves as being in competition with the other players when good D&D is a team effort. Some of these players might also throw repeated tantrums if things are not going exactly the way they want for their character and try to use those tantrums to force the players and DM to give in to what they want. They may also try to fudge dice rolls so they can go first or always hit or have the revelation on a skill check. In other game systems where they have disadvantages and advantages as traits, they may try to create backstory that would grant them advantages they should not have or try to downplay their disadvantages as if they don’t matter at all. Each player should get their moment to do cool stuff and I am reluctant to allow two players of the same character class to be in the same group because it’s too easy for them to end up competing which each other instead of getting their own moments.
No Player Versus Player Combat
This is one of the few things that has not happened in any group I’ve been part of, but I’ve heard stories of it going down. I feel like these situations tend to result from the previous two situations escalating into a more direct conflict. I don’t think I’ve ever heard of these encounters ending well, and it always tends to end with the players having issues with each other. Just shut this down if it starts happening.
Don’t Steamroll Other Players
In many groups, you can tell who the extroverted versus the introverted people are. Some personalities like taking charge and that’s okay, as long as they aren’t steamrolling less assertive personalities. I try to encourage my more assertive types who want to lead on how to be a good leader, including directly asking the less assertive people on what they think or if they have ideas. Assertiveness can be a super power if directed correctly.
If You’re Making Someone Uncomfortable, Stop
Every so often a player, getting into character, might try to play a joke or tease another character. That’s okay as long as both sides find it funny. When one player is shutting down and it seems like it’s not funny, it needs to not happen. Since I run a game for Younglings, romance plotlines do not tend to be a thing, but if they are potentially a thing for your group, you need to also make sure that whoever is involved is okay with what’s going down. “I’m playing my character” is not a good excuse either. If someone can’t play a character in a way that doesn’t make others feel bullied or harassed, they don’t get to play.
These are the sort of behaviors I discourage in my players because I have either witnessed the issues they cause or heard stories about it. I figure if my players can learn to avoid these, they’ll grow into the sort of players people enjoy having at their table.