Tuesday, February 16, 2016

The Breaking Point

You can only put so much pressure on something
before it finally breaks...
Last Monday, an incident occurred with one of the players in my Savage Worlds campaign. One player, who I'll be calling "Harry" for the purposes of this post, has been a thorn in my side since the campaign began. He made every session a frustrating experience & I dreaded seeing his face each time I sat down at the table. The only reason he lasted as long as he did was the fact that he came as a packaged deal with another player who's presence I actually enjoy.

That marginal toleration came to a breaking point last Monday, and I unfortunately broke. Harry, being his annoying self, slapped an NPC who almost sacrificed herself to save his character, actually slapping the wound she gained performing this action (magic can be a dick like that). I swear I stared at Harry flabbergasted for a solid five minutes, trying to figure out why he'd do such a thing.

Turns out, his reasoning was rather stupid. His justification for the action was the NPC, a 35 year old witch & mother to one of the player's characters, was the party's only ride back into town. This character used a magical shortcut to save his character (a 10 year old middle school student), and he felt the best way to respond to that was to slap the wound she received as hard as possible. Shortly thereafter, he went into a misogynistic diatribe before calling me dumb for not understanding his actions.

That's when the metaphorical chain shattered, and a few different paths to handling the situation presented themselves. The first path was the emotional path, the to that would have felt good, but would have caused more problems than it solved. This path would most likely involve some choice words & a punch. The second path was the less cathartic path, but much more level-headed in nature. This path would involve me remaining calm and informing Harry that he is no longer welcome at my table.

Thankfully, I went down the latter path.

Now, I'll admit this caused me to lose an additional player, but yesterday's session felt so much better. I was no longer having to deal with Harry's shenanigans, letting me focus on the other players so I could make sure they were having a fun time. I'll miss playing with Harry's friend, but I'm okay with making that sacrifice for the health of the group & the campaign.

I'm sure I'm not the only GM who's had an experience like this. We've all had a really problematic player, one that slowly kills all the enjoyment you derive from the game like some humanoid tumor. While some will cut that tumor out as soon as possible, others (like myself) tend to let it fester for far too long, bottling up that frustration until the cork finally pops off. The quick flood of negative emotions is usually what causes someone to punch the offending player or flip a poor, undeserving table.

The key to not doing that is learning how to quickly barricade those explosive emotions, and letting them out in a more focused stream that's more productive. This usually manifests as either you leaving the table to calm down, probably ending the session prematurely if needed, or removing the problem player if things cannot be reconciled. I'm not going to lie, there will be repercussions for these actions (like losing another player who chooses to stand beside your own, personal Harry), but they are easier to manage than the ones resulting from a player punch or a table flip.

Have you ever experienced something like this? Have you ever had a player that was so problematic that you were eventually pushed past your breaking point? How did you handle it, and do you have any tips for those who might have to deal with it in the future? Leave your answers in the comments below.