Unpopular opinion alert, but I happen to enjoy adversarial GMing. Not in the full-on “I must defeat the players at all costs” kind of way though. That kind of power tripping ain’t my scene. I’m talking about the tongue in cheek “just bustin’ your balls” style.

“Shucks darn! Looks like I miss again.”

“Wow. Maybe your dude shouldn’t have multiclassed commoner. The goblins spend their next action feeling embarrassed for you.”

That kind of interaction goes both ways. Players get a kick out of steamrolling supposedly difficult encounters, and there’s nothing quite as satisfying as shouting, “Eat it!” at your local man behind the curtains when the dice fall in your favor. This is all personality-based though. It’s a style that works for close friends rather than randos on Roll20, and I certainly wouldn’t hit strangers with smack talk. What I’m saying is that, if you know your players and if it’s all in ironical good fun, you’re absolutely golden. The trouble comes creeping in when you start taking the adversarial approach seriously.

Recently, I met a friend of a friend who told me about his game. Dude was a new GM, and was stoked to talk about his first campaign. Unfortunately, he was having some trouble dealing with the resident that guy. Apparently this dude was guilty of quarterbacking, and actually failed to take the hint even after this GM told him “you’re why new players avoid D&D.” That sort of real talk is fine, even if it falls on the harsh side. The problem was the ultimate solution.

“Yeah. He got in a gladiator fight and attacked the humans instead of the monsters. It was one stupid thing too many. The gladiators focused him down, then they gave him the coup de grace.”

My first thought was that, if I were running that combat, I might have allowed the player to successfully team up with the ogres. It’s an unconventional move, but it could lead to some fun hijinks.

“You save Grunk and Runk! You honorary ogre now!”

When I remarked that death seemed like a harsh penalty for a fairly innocuous player choice, this GM explained his rationale. In short, it was a good way of getting the player to quit without asking him to leave.

We made this point way back in Personality Conflict, but it bears repeating: No amount of punishing bad behavior in-game will help. You’ve just got to talk it out like a human being. I mean sure, there’s a chance that your problem player will take the hint and bow out, but there’s a better chance that you’re going to have an argument anyway. Only it’s going to be over your in-game actions rather than his out-of-game obnoxiousness.

If the dude in question is a real friend, your relationship will survive the conversation. If he responds to, “We should see other gamers,” with, “I hate your face and am never talking to you again,” then you’re probably better off without him. You don’t owe anyone your precious free time, and there is no shame in uninviting a problem player from the group. Just be straight up about it, and solve out-of-game problems with out-of-game solutions.

Question of the day then. Have you ever encountered adversarial GMing out in the wild? Was it innocent bustin-your-balls fun, or did you feel like the GM was making a power play? Let’s hear all about it down in the comments!


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