Do players know their expectations?


@Alex has a great post Here about GM-driven Vs. Player-driven campaigns.

I have a question, and am interested if I am the only one that sees or encounters this.

I have a friend who is a very good GM. He is running games mostly for younger players 12~22 now mostly because older players seem to not play the genre. Now if I am playing in his campaign and it goes sideways, I try (and am usually successful) at getting back on the rails. I end up sacrificing character concepts for this.

Lately I’ve been trying to play cowardly or shy, or demure characters, but you can’t when everyone is genre bending. I like troubled and having a character arc. Those are the easy ones.

In session 0 everyone agrees, this concept X is cool. Then the idiotic behavior begins. Be it Leroy Jenkins type behavior, or murder hobo, or let’s steal everything we can but avoid confrontation. It will start with one, but becomes contagious.

Somehow I avoid this fate when I’m running the game, but I also will tell players you can’t play that in my game. A different player can, but you can’t.

I am thinking players;
A. Don’t know what they want.
B. Don’t want to play the game.
C. Want to play the other players.
D. Are bored.
D. A combination of the above.

Have others seen this? What are your solutions?

That said, regardless of players or GM driven, all games should be character focused. I welcome any insights.


One thing I’ve learned is very important as a GM is to be alert to when players are working out their deep seated issues or hangups via what they are roleplaying inside the “safe” world of the game.

The folks working out stuff inside the milieu of their escapist RPGing—with how their character lives their life and makes decisions and accomplished goals—tend to be the least harmful to other players and also respond best to nudges of GM and the will of the group. It rarely harms anyone if so-and-so keeps playing tormented characters who “don’t fit in” with all the other unique and special elf children because reasons, or if the other so-and-so’s character is yet another tribute to every piece of “competence porn” ever written in Pulp Era, because different reasons.

But even more crucial is for the GM to be able to tell the difference between “working out issues in the game world” and “working out their issues at the table.” I.E. problematic table behavior to “get a reaction” or “feel noticed” or “scratch an itch” they can’t otherwise get scratched IRL.

Either dynamic can be okay and healthy in small doses. There’s a reason group therapy works and it ain’t just so insurers can pay less per session!

The folks working out their interpersonal issues at the table are often trying to turn the other players into their own personal voodoo dolls or whipping boys. Consciously or unconsciously (usually the latter), they are trying to get some kind of frustrating itch scratched through “pushing people’s buttons.” And as such, they are a different matter entirely. They can turn a table toxic, and quickly.

It’s important to realize when things get out of the green zone with these folks and handle the situation quickly, firmly, and fairly. Privately, too, usually—at least the first time. And with firm, clear boundaries that you intend to follow through on if there is a second time. (IMHO: If you let there be a third, you are not being respectful of your players, and this might be because you have some issues of your own to work out… get you a counselor and learn some skills so you stop enabling people at your table to brutalize each other.) [ETA: Not “you” personally, you in the generic sense of whoever that might apply to.]

Hey—We all got baggage. That doesn’t give any of us the right to make other people deal with our $hit by treating them as tools who only showed up at the table to serve our selfish, immature, compulsive ends every time we feel like pushing their button.

I’m not sure if this is the kind of answer you were looking for, but it’s the only kind of answer I got.

Good luck!


That was profoundly insightful. I’m usually very aware of such things, and all the pieces fit, but in this case…

I may be so familiar with the patterns subconsciously that I cut it off before full manifestation, without stopping and thinking about the why, when I’m involved and others do not.

Um, nope… was not what I was looking for, it was totally the right answer.

Crap now I’m going to be analyzing other players, perhaps not, perhaps I’ll only be narcissistic at the table and ignore everyone else :stuck_out_tongue_closed_eyes:


@Lon Has a really good post up there. I feel like everybody should read it, seriously.

Also, a lot of these problems happen around PC vs. PC conflict and the expectations of what their characters can do to other characters.

First off, nobody is allowed to be a jerk to other players via the game. If you have players doing stuff like that, you need to have a good heart-to-heart chat. But sometimes it is just players wanting a different experience out of the game. Talk about how this is handled before it happens, because it will.

  • If you want to explore inter-party drama, stealing their stuff, maybe a couple of fights, Legolas and Gimli sort of stuff. You need consent from the table first.

  • If you want to play a character who starts out evil and becomes good. If you want to explore that theme. You need consent from the table first.

  • If you want to add a bit of horror to the latest adventure as a GM. You need consent from the table first. Because you need to find out what is a safe amount of horror for your players.

Basically, if a player shows up expecting romance and pulpy action, but they get inter-party horror and dramatic irony. They are confronted with a situation they didn’t consent to.

This is why the “Session Zero” is so important. It is getting everybody playing on the same page regarding what the game is about. Themes, content, PCvPC, etc.

I feel like we as players and GMs need to set expectations and get consent before the game starts. And have ways for the group to change their consent during the game.

It can be as simple as telling players what is going on and getting agreement. And asking good questions when things are getting squirrelly.

If one character is trying to convince another of something, we first need to ask the player if their character can be convinced. Is that something they will consent to bringing into the game. Because if they don’t want to play that kind of game. Then their character is not convinced, plain and simple.

Sometimes we get so caught up in the excitement or heat of the moment that we forget we can put the game on pause for a minute and talk stuff out.

For example, in my campaign, I have a player playing an evil character, potentially turning good. But all the other players are in on it and agreed to it. They get to really push on it and play with that concept. A bit of PC vs. PC is inevitable in this situation, but everyone will get to play it out without hurt feelings because they bought in and agreed to the concept. It has been a lot of fun.

If everyone is onboard with a concept and then not doing it at all, or going off the rails. I feel like it is time to have a chat. Sometimes people want to play a certain way, but one person doesn’t. And that’s perfectly ok. It just might not be the game for them. I would say to talk it out, find out what’s going on. If people can come to a common agreement about how to play, do it. But sometimes it doesn’t work out and another group needs to get started or found.

Here is a resource I have found helpful for this kind of thing: