Kick ‘Em Out

I’m glad tabletop culture still seems to respect elder wisdom. Otherwise I’d be reluctant to tell you how long I’ve been doing GM Masterclass panels.

Over time a few questions change, but some stay the same.

One question you don’t get much anymore: the once-standard, “How do we get new blood into the hobby?” This is because today’s con panels brim with teens and college students. Yes, OGs* who don’t get out much, the hallowed ones longed for by prophecy have finally come to save us.

A couple more perennial questions have persisted into the new generation, meaning that certain Things I Always Say must continue to be said. Saves me the cognitive trouble of coming up with new shibboleths, I suppose.

“How do I get the combat and tactics oriented players in my group to like story and characterization more?” is still a thing. (Answer I Always Give: If they’re interested, they’ll catch on in time. But maybe they’re not, and they’ve come to your table to combat and tactics.)

“What do I do about this one person in my group who is doing [fill in incredibly dysfunctional thing]?” also remains all too common.

The answer we all have to keep repeating is: talk to them, out of game, out of character, and tell them that you’re finding their behavior completely undermining. When they respond as desired, great.

When they don’t, kick ‘em out.

In a broadly attended, non-specialist panel, like one I recently took part in at FanExpo Canada, these three simple words provoke a ripple of delighted laughter. Attendees shiver at this thought of crazy liberation. “We can do that?” the laugh seems to ask.

Yes, you can do that. And should. The downside of geek culture’s fear of ostracizing behavior has been discussed at greater length elsewhere. To see how ridiculous it is to allow someone to constantly undermine the game, throw the question into another context. Would a football team tolerate a quarterback who constantly runs toward his own team’s goalposts, because that makes him the center of attention? Would aquarium fanciers invite somebody back after he drains everyone’s tanks?

Acceptance by others requires acceptance of others. Trying to continue with an undermining player will just kill your love of the game.

It doesn’t matter whether he drives others to game night, or brings the pizza, or is the one who introduced the rest of you in the first place.

If he insists on undermining your game after you’ve kindly asked him not to, three words pertain:

Kick ‘em out.


*Original Grognards, of course.


You can eject an egregiously undermining player from any fine Pelgrane Press game. For example, GUMSHOE the groundbreaking investigative roleplaying system by Robin D. Laws that shifts the focus of play away from finding clues (or worse, not finding them), and toward interpreting clues, solving mysteries and moving the action forward. GUMSHOE powers many Pelgrane Press games, including Trail of Cthulhu, Night’s Black Agents, Esoterrorists, Ashen Stars, Mutant City Blues and Fear Itself. Learn more about how to run GUMSHOE games, and download the GUMSHOE System Reference Document to make your own GUMSHOE products under the Open Gaming License or the Creative Commons 3.0 Attribution Unported License.

2 Responses to “Kick ‘Em Out”

  1. RR says:

    I used to do this often. Not many problems in the aftermath(s). However, lately I felt regret at my past behaviour, thinking it too harsh. I tried not to sack ’em from the game this time, but to accommodate, tolerate. To no avail. In the end, everyone was unhappy. Now, I have no gaming group!

  2. J3 says:

    The funny thing of it all is, when we tolerate disruptive, rude, harassing or otherwise “problem” players, we are being “excluding” just as much as if we asked them to leave the game – or at least warn them if they don’t stop they’ll be asked to leave and then pulling the trigger should they persist. We exclude *every other player* at the table whose feelings and options don’t matter because we’re mollycoddling the disrupter. Even worse, we are tacitly sending the message that polite, respectful, engaged gaming is not valued because we value the one bad apple over the rest of the group and by doing so we perpetuate that this is somehow acceptable behavior. Because it truly is accepted behavior, because it is accepted by GMs who won’t “kick ’em out”, as you say. We punish the innocent because we fear, for whatever reason, to justly exile the guilty. Ludicrous.

    This “fear of ostrization” in “geek culture” (however you want to define that” has got to stop. Especially if you’re out of high school, go get therapy, spank your inner moppet, whatever it takes to get over the childish viewpoint of “us good and noble geeks versus the cruel tyranny of the jocks and the beauty queens and THEM”. Some geeks are terrible people. And if you actually care about your fellow geeks, if one of your own decides he can treat everyone else like crap, you kick ’em out.

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