It's in my backstory!

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I have divided this post into sections, to give a better picture of my group and our unique problem.
Our Group's Dynamic

I DM for a group of roughly 12-14 players, nearly all of which are personal friends. Throughout our 5 year run together, we've had and overcome many problems. For the most part, those problems are not relevant, with the exception of a few:


-Nearly all of my players are hardcore power gamers. Out of actual D&D, I normally spend an hour or so a day comparing characters with most of them.


-Most of my players have tendencies to metagame. It has been curbed somewhat, but it still shows from time to time.


-Our party has one fairly unique problem: many players still think solely in terms of the Striker role: Do as much damage as possible in the shortest period of time, and combat is the ultimate solution to any problem, from political intrigue to foraging.



The Backstory

To curb metagaming and attempt to bring more roleplaying into the group, the group as a whole decided that backstories should be mandatory. The decision was mandatory. There were kinks, but efforts to award good backstories with situational bonuses were successful, and for a while everybody seemed happy. That all seemed to change at the start of the current campaign, a few months ago.



But it's in my Backstory!

We have a few players that repeatedly abuse the backstory. I have broken this abuse into subcategories:


-I'm not evil! *wink*: This is somebody who plays a Drow Assassin following Lolth, who also slaughtered innocents for no reason. But if you ask, the alignment is good, and you're metagaming by not trusting me! The problem with this is that its obviously superficial and disruptive, but when I pressure them to be more realistic, they will quote a single exception "Drizzt was good! Artemis was a "good" assassin!" or some such.


-Grand Theft Dragon: This is somebody who makes me shudder by telling me his alignment is "Unaligned", and then using that to justify everything from saving the orphans to burning them, and all things in-between. I tried forcing them to use the 3.5 alignment system (we play 4.0) but they just say...Chaotic Neutral. This behavior is very disruptive to the campaign for obvious reasons.


-I got a bonus for that: This is somebody who constructed their backstory to gain a situational bonus in almost every conceivable situation. Nature check to follow tracks? Was a hunter. Streetwise check to find a rumor? I sold my hides in the city to black market dealers. Arcana check to identify creatures? I hunted these creatures...and the ones we just fought...and the ones before those... This approach takes obvious advantage of my attempts to encourage good backstories.



What I cannot do

-I cannot simply kick players from the group. These are friends and I feel my friendship with them would be negatively impacted by kicking them.


-I cannot simply outlaw whole categories of backstories. The players are constantly wary of my power as DM (perhaps a remnant of player VS DM mentality) and I have to justify myself constantly.


-I don't WANT to outlaw whole sections of the gods and the alignment system, but the disruption from these sources is growing so much that I'm beginning to lose my patience everytime I hear "ok DM my new character is a Elf who worships Zehir...but isn't evil...and is unaligned..." If nothing changes I'm considering retiring as a DM, which would mean the effective end of my group.



With those things in mind, I was wondering if anybody on these forums had any advice?

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

Throw out alignment, completely and totally.  Do not use it.  It's archaic, pointless, cumbersome, and has no mechanical bearing anyway, so it has no reason to exist.

Use the background rules.  Your character's background can be as extensive as you want, but you get a +2 bonus to one skill, or a new class skill as the only mechanical effects of it.

Make it clear to them what kind of game you want to run.  Tell Drow-boy that you don't want evil PCs, and it doesn't matter what he writes down on his sheet, slaughtering innocents is evil.  If he wants to be a 'good' assassin, then his targets need to be appropriate.  Tell Unaligned Sociopath that he needs to pick a character personality, and 'whacked-out sociopath' is not a valid option.  Make a rule for your game: No evil PCs, no psychopaths.  PCs who fall under either category become NPCs, thanks for the villain, make up another character and try again.

If they ask you why, tell them it's because they were abusing the system, and you.  I understand that these guys are your friends, but they're walking all over you.   They need to give you some consideration as well.

If you have to stop DMing, do so.  No D&D is better than bad D&D.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Throw out alignment, completely and totally.  Do not use it.  It's archaic, pointless, cumbersome, and has no mechanical bearing anyway, so it has no reason to exist.

Use the background rules.  Your character's background can be as extensive as you want, but you get a +2 bonus to one skill, or a new class skill as the only mechanical effects of it.

Make it clear to them what kind of game you want to run.  Tell Drow-boy that you don't want evil PCs, and it doesn't matter what he writes down on his sheet, slaughtering innocents is evil.  If he wants to be a 'good' assassin, then his targets need to be appropriate.  Tell Unaligned Sociopath that he needs to pick a character personality, and 'whacked-out sociopath' is not a valid option.  Make a rule for your game: No evil PCs, no psychopaths.  PCs who fall under either category become NPCs, thanks for the villain, make up another character and try again.

If they ask you why, tell them it's because they were abusing the system, and you.  I understand that these guys are your friends, but they're walking all over you.   They need to give you some consideration as well.

If you have to stop DMing, do so.  No D&D is better than bad D&D.

I appreciate the advice, but i have one follow-up question:
You say "ell Drow-boy that you don't want evil PCs, and it doesn't matter what he writes down on his sheet, slaughtering innocents is evil.  If he wants to be a 'good' assassin, then his targets need to be appropriate. " I've tried this. He then goes into philosophical things such as absolute right and wrong, and if I ask for justification suddenly he has a reason he burnt down that orphanage. People seem to enjoy weaseling out of my rulings as DM so nobody wants to side with me, and will often bring up that their vision of their character is whats important, and for me not to dictate their characters, and that if they self-identify with a certain philosophy that I have no right to call that philosophy evil or penalize them for following that philosophy. The question is: How do I get around this? It'll certainly look Draconian if I just say "I'm DM, deal with it" but it may come to that.

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

Your group is too big.  You should consider yourself lucky that you've been able to maintain some degree of order for this long.  The truth is, that it is utterly impossible for every member of a group that big to be engaged all the time in a constructive way, and your alignment abuse is almost certainly the result of players getting bored and "playing with their food."

In a group of 14 players, I'm sure you can find one of them that you can talk into DMing.  Find that perfect 'lieutenant' in your group and split the whole thing up between the two of you - two DMs, each with 5-6 players.  I'm certain that in a streamlined environment your players will all feel more engaged and will care just a little more about role playing constructively.

In my opinion, anyway.
Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1
Wow, I misread that as 'a group of 12-14 year olds', which certainly explained the annoying RP.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Your group is too big.  You should consider yourself lucky that you've been able to maintain some degree of order for this long.  The truth is, that it is utterly impossible for every member of a group that big to be engaged all the time in a constructive way, and your alignment abuse is almost certainly the result of players getting bored and "playing with their food."

In a group of 14 players, I'm sure you can find one of them that you can talk into DMing.  Find that perfect 'lieutenant' in your group and split the whole thing up between the two of you - two DMs, each with 5-6 players.  I'm certain that in a streamlined environment your players will all feel more engaged and will care just a little more about role playing constructively.

In my opinion, anyway.

I'm sorry I should have elaborated:
I don't have the entire party together. At any given time 2-4 players will be unable to make the actual date of the session, leaving me with about 10 players. Then, I conscript one of my two more reliable players to DM, leaving both groups with 4-5 players.

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

-Our party has one fairly unique problem: many players still think solely in terms of the Striker role: Do as much damage as possible in the shortest period of time, and combat is the ultimate solution to any problem, from political intrigue to foraging.

Give your monsters goals that they can achieve easily if the PCs focus on killing them all, or goals that they can achieve even if the PCs end up killing them all. These goals should have meaningful effects on the party and the game world. After a while, the players may find that focusing only on damage output doesn't actually result in victory. If they don't, the DM still gets to advance the game in interesting games.

Ditch alignment completely. It's most powerful ability is causing problems for game groups. While you're at it, move the characters out of areas in which anyone is innocent. Take some inspiration from adventures like The Demon Queen's Enclave, in which just about everyone is out to get them, and expects the same from the PCs, but in which temporary alliances are formed for as long as it takes one side to gain the upper hand.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

I run a similarly-sized group.  Feel free to message me if you want to compare notes.


That said, I have 3 suggestions:
  1.  Start a new campaign.  Tell the players to build protagonists.  If their characters become villains
       take their character sheets and start them a level lower after say... 3 warnings.  As far as your
       alignment issue goes, if you want to use 3.5 alignment, by all means do so.  Just be consistent
       and point to the definitions you'll be using (Exalted deeds has a chapter on it if I recall correctly). 
       Don't use it as a straight-jacket but simply to define the absolute difference between good and
       evil.  Or if it comes down to it, use the Bible.  That is what classic D&D good vs evil is based on.

       Having a standard will make what it means to be a villain clear.
  2.  Offer to run a villanous campaign after that.  And plan to alternate in the future.  That will help
       compromise styles between the various players and you.  Giving everyone a chance to play
       something that they like.
  3.  Plan the character's background WITH each player.  Don't let them just randomly write stuff in. 

I've run into similar situations and basically got draconian with:
  1.  Rule challenges (2 minutes to present your arguement, I make a call and we go with that for rest
       of session.  Any appeal through email only.)
  2.  Turn length (my players have 60 seconds to act if they dont declare actions they drop to bottom of
       initiative order, if they are not ready then they lose a turn)
  3.  Backstories (players are free to invent anything within reasonable range of campaign concept,
       but go through details as to what would be appropriate for a given setting with me and with the
       other players.  In some ways, session 'zero' is one of the best creative moments in the game as
       we come up with a collective baseline story.  But is it a cooperative effort as a group.  Not a solo
       effort by a player or by me.)
  4.  Backstabbing (I no longer tolerate PC vs PC lethal fights.  If one PC kills another on purpose I take
       the killer's character sheet and he starts 5 levels below the rest of the party.  If that eliminates 
       him from the campaign, so be it.  The only reason I did this is we had one guy who had made PC 
       vs PC a habit.)
I was able to sell my players on these rules by explaining that this would level the playing field and help speed up game play.  Additionally I pointed out that they would have more fun working off a united backstory.  And you know what?  It worked.  We get 2-3 more combats in per session and the players are more attentive in and out of combat.  They are working together more smoothly b/c game time does not get bogged down in rules debates or 'suprise' backstories.
Throw out alignment, completely and totally.  Do not use it.  It's archaic, pointless, cumbersome, and has no mechanical bearing anyway, so it has no reason to exist.

Use the background rules.  Your character's background can be as extensive as you want, but you get a +2 bonus to one skill, or a new class skill as the only mechanical effects of it.

Make it clear to them what kind of game you want to run.  Tell Drow-boy that you don't want evil PCs, and it doesn't matter what he writes down on his sheet, slaughtering innocents is evil.  If he wants to be a 'good' assassin, then his targets need to be appropriate.  Tell Unaligned Sociopath that he needs to pick a character personality, and 'whacked-out sociopath' is not a valid option.  Make a rule for your game: No evil PCs, no psychopaths.  PCs who fall under either category become NPCs, thanks for the villain, make up another character and try again.

If they ask you why, tell them it's because they were abusing the system, and you.  I understand that these guys are your friends, but they're walking all over you.   They need to give you some consideration as well.

If you have to stop DMing, do so.  No D&D is better than bad D&D.




+1 to all this.

Additionally, 12-14 players is a massive, massive group!  I suppose it can work out, but, what I'm seeing from your description of the problem is this:  a group of players who are trying to design characters that will get the most attention in the shortest amount of time possible, and are fiercely competing with each other for the top of that hill.  I don't think that's a coincidence:  it sounds like the players are afraid of getting lost in the crowd.  I wish there were an easy solution for that, but, I don't think there is one that you would be willing to accept.

Good luck in any case...
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
Your group is too big.  You should consider yourself lucky that you've been able to maintain some degree of order for this long.  The truth is, that it is utterly impossible for every member of a group that big to be engaged all the time in a constructive way, and your alignment abuse is almost certainly the result of players getting bored and "playing with their food."

In a group of 14 players, I'm sure you can find one of them that you can talk into DMing.  Find that perfect 'lieutenant' in your group and split the whole thing up between the two of you - two DMs, each with 5-6 players.  I'm certain that in a streamlined environment your players will all feel more engaged and will care just a little more about role playing constructively.

In my opinion, anyway.

I'm sorry I should have elaborated:
I don't have the entire party together. At any given time 2-4 players will be unable to make the actual date of the session, leaving me with about 10 players. Then, I conscript one of my two more reliable players to DM, leaving both groups with 4-5 players.



Okay, so group size isn't the problem.

It seems to me that if players want to play evil characters, then there is a course of action that a DM can and should take.  First, give it to them.  They are the players, and this game is theirs every bit as much, if not more, than it is yours.  And as you can clearly see, when players are bored or unhappy then no one has any fun.

Second, if they want to be evil, then hold them accountable for their evil.  Now, I don't mean punish them or force consequences on them.  I mean, force them to be responsible for their evil, and to be honest with themselves about what evil really is.

Heroes are reactive characters.  They solve the crime, correct the injustice.  Villains are _proactive_, they commit the crime, perpetrate the injustice.  If the players want to be villains, then don't give them a game.  Don't give them an antagonist.  Don't give them an opening action.  Tell them that you aren't going to prepare anything, and that if they want to be evil then they're going to have come up with something evil to do.  Put it on them.

This will almost certainly get them to focus on constructive role playing.  Either they say, "Okay.  Never mind.  You're right.  We'll focus."  Or, they embrace it and conspire on some grand scheme.  Either way, everyone wins.  But expect them to initiate the action and wait for them to do it.  Then, after the fact, start introducing antagonistic heroes come to correct the injustice that the PCs have perpetrated.

Sleeping with interns on Colonial 1

Most of my players have tendencies to metagame. It has been curbed somewhat, but it still shows from time to time.



There's that word again... metagaming is not inherently bad and in the hands of players that understand this, it can actually be quite helpful. How do you define metagaming? 

Our party has one fairly unique problem: many players still think solely in terms of the Striker role: Do as much damage as possible in the shortest period of time, and combat is the ultimate solution to any problem, from political intrigue to foraging.



That's fine. People show up with that expectation at my games all the time. It doesn't take long for them to realize it's not the best option and sometimes flat out won't work. So this is something you can fix on the design side by creating goals for monsters and PCs, the latter inspired by themselves and the fiction they've established previously wherever possible.

To curb metagaming and attempt to bring more roleplaying into the group, the group as a whole decided that backstories should be mandatory. The decision was mandatory. There were kinks, but efforts to award good backstories with situational bonuses were successful, and for a while everybody seemed happy. That all seemed to change at the start of the current campaign, a few months ago.



How does a backstory "curb metagaming?"

Also, backstories are highly overrated. In fact, I've seen them do more harm than good over the years. If the DM even bothers to use them (and most of the time I can't blame the DM when they don't), it can often turn into a situation in which a player paints himself into some very uninteresting roleplaying corners in the name of his backstory when it's really in the name of typical D&D failure mitigation syndrome which can only produce uninteresting outcomes.

-I'm not evil! *wink*: This is somebody who plays a Drow Assassin following Lolth, who also slaughtered innocents for no reason. But if you ask, the alignment is good, and you're metagaming by not trusting me! The problem with this is that its obviously superficial and disruptive, but when I pressure them to be more realistic, they will quote a single exception "Drizzt was good! Artemis was a "good" assassin!" or some such.

-Grand Theft Dragon: This is somebody who makes me shudder by telling me his alignment is "Unaligned", and then using that to justify everything from saving the orphans to burning them, and all things in-between. I tried forcing them to use the 3.5 alignment system (we play 4.0) but they just say...Chaotic Neutral. This behavior is very disruptive to the campaign for obvious reasons.



Ignore alignments. Pretend they don't exist. 

-I got a bonus for that: This is somebody who constructed their backstory to gain a situational bonus in almost every conceivable situation. Nature check to follow tracks? Was a hunter. Streetwise check to find a rumor? I sold my hides in the city to black market dealers. Arcana check to identify creatures? I hunted these creatures...and the ones we just fought...and the ones before those... This approach takes obvious advantage of my attempts to encourage good backstories.



Good! This is much better than an actual backstory if you do it correctly. If someone says I'm good at hunting and wants a bonus to track, then this is an open invitation for the DM to ask some questions to flesh out that whole hunter thing. Then, yeah, give him the bonus! Use what the player gives you to add to the story and world. This way, things come about organically as they happen in actual play rather than in a vacuum before play begins. They'll be more meaningful and memorable if you do it this way, especially if you involve the rest of the group in the Q&A.

-I cannot simply outlaw whole categories of backstories. The players are constantly wary of my power as DM (perhaps a remnant of player VS DM mentality) and I have to justify myself constantly.

 

That's a trust issue and is really at the heart of this matter. You're reaching to limit them a lot it sounds like and they are pushing back. Be their biggest fans. Help them get what they want and make it fun and challenging along the way. 


-I don't WANT to outlaw whole sections of the gods and the alignment system, but the disruption from these sources is growing so much that I'm beginning to lose my patience everytime I hear "ok DM my new character is a Elf who worships Zehir...but isn't evil...and is unaligned..." If nothing changes I'm considering retiring as a DM, which would mean the effective end of my group.



Ignore alignments. Pretend they doesn't exist.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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From what I've seen, playing evil characters tends, more often than not, to be a cry for attention, a rebellion against the game's status quo, a desperate attempt for the player to matter in a game where he feels he doesn't have any real voice, impact, role, or purpose. 

My impression would seem to dovetail quite nicely with my impression that, in this case, a large group is marginalizing individual players to the point where they don't believe on some level they can get ahead in the game without breaking rules, discarding honor and civilization, and taking shortcuts to get ahead of the other characters.

However...

...Second, if they want to be evil, then hold them accountable for their evil.  Now, I don't mean punish them or force consequences on them.  I mean, force them to be responsible for their evil, and to be honest with themselves about what evil really is.

Heroes are reactive characters.  They solve the crime, correct the injustice.  Villains are _proactive_, they commit the crime, perpetrate the injustice.  If the players want to be villains, then don't give them a game.  Don't give them an antagonist.  Don't give them an opening action.  Tell them that you aren't going to prepare anything, and that if they want to be evil then they're going to have come up with something evil to do.  Put it on them.

This will almost certainly get them to focus on constructive role playing.  Either they say, "Okay.  Never mind.  You're right.  We'll focus."  Or, they embrace it and conspire on some grand scheme.  Either way, everyone wins.  But expect them to initiate the action and wait for them to do it.  Then, after the fact, start introducing antagonistic heroes come to correct the injustice that the PCs have perpetrated.




This is an interesting take on things.  I'm not sure I completely understand it yet, but I am quite interested in learning more about how it works.  I think there are some very useful things I can learn from this.
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri

Most of my players have tendencies to metagame. It has been curbed somewhat, but it still shows from time to time.



There's that word again... metagaming is not inherently bad and in the hands of players that understand this, it can actually be quite helpful. How do you define metagaming? 

Our party has one fairly unique problem: many players still think solely in terms of the Striker role: Do as much damage as possible in the shortest period of time, and combat is the ultimate solution to any problem, from political intrigue to foraging.



That's fine. People show up with that expectation at my games all the time. It doesn't take long for them to realize it's not the best option and sometimes flat out won't work. So this is something you can fix on the design side by creating goals for monsters and PCs, the latter inspired by themselves and the fiction they've established previously wherever possible.

To curb metagaming and attempt to bring more roleplaying into the group, the group as a whole decided that backstories should be mandatory. The decision was mandatory. There were kinks, but efforts to award good backstories with situational bonuses were successful, and for a while everybody seemed happy. That all seemed to change at the start of the current campaign, a few months ago.



How does a backstory "curb metagaming?"

Also, backstories are highly overrated. In fact, I've seen them do more harm than good over the years. If the DM even bothers to use them (and most of the time I can't blame the DM when they don't), it can often turn into a situation in which a player paints himself into some very uninteresting roleplaying corners in the name of his backstory when it's really in the name of typical D&D failure mitigation syndrome which can only produce uninteresting outcomes.

-I'm not evil! *wink*: This is somebody who plays a Drow Assassin following Lolth, who also slaughtered innocents for no reason. But if you ask, the alignment is good, and you're metagaming by not trusting me! The problem with this is that its obviously superficial and disruptive, but when I pressure them to be more realistic, they will quote a single exception "Drizzt was good! Artemis was a "good" assassin!" or some such.

-Grand Theft Dragon: This is somebody who makes me shudder by telling me his alignment is "Unaligned", and then using that to justify everything from saving the orphans to burning them, and all things in-between. I tried forcing them to use the 3.5 alignment system (we play 4.0) but they just say...Chaotic Neutral. This behavior is very disruptive to the campaign for obvious reasons.



Ignore alignments. Pretend they don't exist. 

-I got a bonus for that: This is somebody who constructed their backstory to gain a situational bonus in almost every conceivable situation. Nature check to follow tracks? Was a hunter. Streetwise check to find a rumor? I sold my hides in the city to black market dealers. Arcana check to identify creatures? I hunted these creatures...and the ones we just fought...and the ones before those... This approach takes obvious advantage of my attempts to encourage good backstories.



Good! This is much better than an actual backstory if you do it correctly. If someone says I'm good at hunting and wants a bonus to track, then this is an open invitation for the DM to ask some questions to flesh out that whole hunter thing. Then, yeah, give him the bonus! Use what the player gives you to add to the story and world. This way, things come about organically as they happen in actual play rather than in a vacuum before play begins. They'll be more meaningful and memorable if you do it this way, especially if you involve the rest of the group in the Q&A.

-I cannot simply outlaw whole categories of backstories. The players are constantly wary of my power as DM (perhaps a remnant of player VS DM mentality) and I have to justify myself constantly.

 

That's a trust issue and is really at the heart of this matter. You're reaching to limit them a lot it sounds like and they are pushing back. Be their biggest fans. Help them get what they want and make it fun and challenging along the way. 


-I don't WANT to outlaw whole sections of the gods and the alignment system, but the disruption from these sources is growing so much that I'm beginning to lose my patience everytime I hear "ok DM my new character is a Elf who worships Zehir...but isn't evil...and is unaligned..." If nothing changes I'm considering retiring as a DM, which would mean the effective end of my group.



Ignore alignments. Pretend they doesn't exist.

"How does a backstory "curb metagaming?""

Before we required backstories to be written out, they would be abused much worse than they already are. For example, say the party was talking to a demon. Suddenly, a player would pipe up "I've...uh...trafficked with demons!" Then they teleport to some random place and a player would say "I've been here!...Sometime...But I don't know anything about this place...or its people...or its culture...Bonus plz?". This forced players to stop "fishing" for bonuses. Another way this has helped curb metagaming is that it has helped keep player decisions less erratic. Now, everybody will give the Elven Ranger an incredulous look when they say they want to burn the forest, or something as uncharacteristic.

"That's a trust issue and is really at the heart of this matter. You're reaching to limit them a lot it sounds like and they are pushing back. Be their biggest fans. Help them get what they want and make it fun and challenging along the way. "

I'm not really limiting them, perhaps the text doesn't convey the situation clearly. The players themselves saw that this was becoming a problem and asked me to take action. I did so, in concert with them, to develop this backstory requirement. Now, I guess you could say some players are becoming rules lawyers about the backgrounds. Perhaps they are just, as YronimosW said, rebelling against the status quo, but I do not believe they are rebelling against me personally as a DM because I'm stifling them.


Quo usque pro roma ibis?

"How does a backstory "curb metagaming?""

Before we required backstories to be written out, they would be abused much worse than they already are. For example, say the party was talking to a demon. Suddenly, a player would pipe up "I've...uh...trafficked with demons!" Then they teleport to some random place and a player would say "I've been here!...Sometime...But I don't know anything about this place...or its people...or its culture...Bonus plz?". This forced players to stop "fishing" for bonuses. Another way this has helped curb metagaming is that it has helped keep player decisions less erratic. Now, everybody will give the Elven Ranger an incredulous look when they say they want to burn the forest, or something as uncharacteristic.



These are all great opportunities for shared storytelling. I'd want to know how and why the PC trafficked with demons. Or when and in what context they had been some place before, what they think of its denizens, etc. And I'd give them bonuses every time they gave me some new material to work with. Not only are they tying their characters to the ongoing story, but they're giving me insight into things they're interested in. I'd be writing all of this down and using it.

It could also be you're simply asking for too many checks/rolls. Asking for a bonus is basically saying, "I want something interesting to happen because I know failure is not interesting." This is partly D&D design flaw (it's usually boring as hell to fail) and it's up to the DM to correct that by only calling for rolls when failure can be interesting. You should only be asking for a roll when success and failure are both interesting.  If this is not the case, don't ask for a roll - just narrate the conceivable outcome as interestingly as possible or impart the necessary information as needed without a check. Or better yet, ask the player to come up with the answer for you and roll with it.

"That's a trust issue and is really at the heart of this matter. You're reaching to limit them a lot it sounds like and they are pushing back. Be their biggest fans. Help them get what they want and make it fun and challenging along the way. "

I'm not really limiting them, perhaps the text doesn't convey the situation clearly. The players themselves saw that this was becoming a problem and asked me to take action. I did so, in concert with them, to develop this backstory requirement. Now, I guess you could say some players are becoming rules lawyers about the backgrounds. Perhaps they are just, as YronimosW said, rebelling against the status quo, but I do not believe they are rebelling against me personally as a DM because I'm stifling them.



By definition, a "backstory" is a form of creative constraint (a limit) and some people are just not going to be happy with that. Alignment is the same way - an attempt at controlling the actions of characters.

It's pretty clear to me that your players are desiring some narrative control. Let them have it. Listen to what they're telling you, ask follow-up questions, and use what they give you. Don't look at their attempts as a problem to be overcome, but as a creative opportunity to be harnessed. Your game will be better for it.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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"These are all great opportunities for shared storytelling. I'd want to know how and why the PC trafficked with demons. Or when and in what context they had been some place before, what they think of its denizens, etc. And I'd give them bonuses every time they gave me some new material to work with. Not only are they tying their characters to the ongoing story, but they're giving me insight into things they're interested in. I'd be writing all of this down and using it."

I already do this in no small amount. The problem is that the players will actively change their thoughts and/or opinions to suit the current situation. For example, in that trafficking with demons example, the player in question thought demons could be dealt with, and could be valuable allies. Then, when an angel asks them their opinion, he doubles back and says that he hates demons and they should all be killed, they would never deal with them, etc. I call for a bluff check, and the player insists that I'm just limiting his character by making him bluff, by insisting that he can change his personality on a whim. Its not a situation where they encounter something to change their opinion, say a demon attack or a deal gone awry. This is, in my mind, a clear-cut metagaming effort to reap all the benefits of my bonuses to backstories while avoiding all potential negative consequences. If I simply gave them bonuses to everything like you say, all my players would be arcana-using athletic acrobats who steal by stealthily asking for opinions on the streets of a city situated in the wilderness and diplomacizing after bluffing the intimidated guard that they could insightfully know their deepest secrets. Every situation would be "Now I have a new part of my backstory! it gives me a bonus in this exact situation, but without fear of consequence because i'll just construct it in a way that precludes negative consequence"

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

...For example, say the party was talking to a demon. Suddenly, a player would pipe up "I've...uh...trafficked with demons!" Then they teleport to some random place and a player would say "I've been here!...Sometime...But I don't know anything about this place...or its people...or its culture...Bonus plz?". This forced players to stop "fishing" for bonuses. Another way this has helped curb metagaming is that it has helped keep player decisions less erratic. Now, everybody will give the Elven Ranger an incredulous look when they say they want to burn the forest, or something as uncharacteristic....



Context is probably everything, but, by itself, this sounds less like a problem than an opportunity, and it surprises me that the players didn't see it that way.

I mean, so long as the main benefit is an opportunity to tell a cool story and add some new layers to the game world.  I think the first questions on my mind when I see that are, "You've trafficked with demons?  Please, tell us more!", or, "You've been here before?  Actually, it's a little different from the last time you were here, but some things do look familiar to you.  Tell us more about the things that stand out!  What were you doing here?  Who did you meet?"  Or, "As an Elven Ranger, burning the forest you swore to protect is a very drastic decision... it would be like burning down your own house with your family inside:  it couldn't possibly be an easy decision to make, and something you'd have to live with the rest of your life!  How will this affect your character?   What is going through her mind?"

If the players are at all creative and in the right spirit of things, I'm sure they'll be able to make up some answers for me that would suggest NPCs, places, subplots, and more that I can use to fill in the blanks or replace my own stuff with, and carry future installments of the game in ways that directly involve the characters.  It's good material, it saves me some work, gives them some creative control over the game and responsibility for and investment into the game world.  It's a winner all around!


So, there must be some bigger context that would explain the group's concerns.  Was it the house rule about the bonuses that complicated things, meaning that the only reason for them was so players could add a couple numbers to the dice game?  Was there a lack of follow-through on these elements, so that they never added anything to the story, resulting in dropped plot threads?
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I already do this in no small amount. The problem is that the players will actively change their thoughts and/or opinions to suit the current situation. For example, in that trafficking with demons example, the player in question thought demons could be dealt with, and could be valuable allies. Then, when an angel asks them their opinion, he doubles back and says that he hates demons and they should all be killed, they would never deal with them, etc. I call for a bluff check, and the player insists that I'm just limiting his character by making him bluff, by insisting that he can change his personality on a whim. Its not a situation where they encounter something to change their opinion, say a demon attack or a deal gone awry. This is, in my mind, a clear-cut metagaming effort to reap all the benefits of my bonuses to backstories while avoiding all potential negative consequences.



While I'm sure there may be more to the example, I wouldn't have called for a Bluff check. It's simply not a "charged" situation. Every lie is not a Bluff check and the example you give sounds punitive to me anyway. What happens if he fails the Bluff? He gets admonished by the angel, maybe. That's not terribly interesting, so it's not a roll. Or maybe the angel simply says in response to his lies, "Perhaps you are merely trying to impress me - which is laudible if not necessary - but I smell demons about you. You are no stranger to their machinations... this is useful to me, a creature who cannot make such arrangements and expect to remain the vessel of his deity's power." By doing this, I have acknowledged the player's previous contribution and offered them a way to make it worth something, right now.

If I simply gave them bonuses to everything like you say, all my players would be arcana-using athletic acrobats who steal by stealthily asking for opinions on the streets of a city situated in the wilderness and diplomacizing after bluffing the intimidated guard that they could insightfully know their deepest secrets. Every situation would be "Now I have a new part of my backstory! it gives me a bonus in this exact situation, but without fear of consequence because i'll just construct it in a way that precludes negative consequence"



Good! Players should always feel empowered to at least try something cool and if they feel the need to establish something in the fiction to justify it, then ask some questions to frame it, and make it part of the world. Obviously, you're using a bit of hyperbole in your example here, but we're playing a game of hyperbole in a way. You don't have to give mechanical bonuses if you don't want to, but the reason they're doing this is because they don't want to fail whatever checks you're going to ask them for. Probably because failure as you've presented it so far is boring and you ask for too many checks. That's no slight on you. This is one of D&D's major flaws and there isn't much instruction in the game on how to correct for it.

Players don't do this stuff without a reason. Either they're reacting to something you're doing or something you're not doing. Examine your process and how you're coming across with this particular table transaction. It smacks of failure mitigation on their part and that's almost certainly because of D&D in general and your DMing style specifically. If you're trying to make things "realistic," step back and examine the game you're playing. As long as it builds feasibly on established fiction, use it. If it doesn't, ask questions and flesh it out until it does. Given time and trust, the problem will go away on its own.

@YronimosW: Your last post was very well put. Excellent examples of what I mean. And that last bit is very insightful - it could be these players are making up all sorts of stuff because the contributions aren't being incorporated. I've seen plenty of DMs do that - ask for player input and never use it. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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"So, there must be some bigger context that would explain the group's concerns.  Was it the house rule about the bonuses that complicated things, meaning that the only reason for them was so players could add a couple numbers to the dice game?  Was there a lack of follow-through on these elements, so that they never added anything to the story, resulting in dropped plot threads?"

Perhaps this will help:
The main context of backstories in my campaign is to establish a couple things. First, backstories establish who in the party is interlocked before the adventure begins (brothers/sisters, brothers in arms, etc). Second, backstories establish how everybody ends up in the town/city/village we start in. Third, backstories establish basic personality types of the characters.

I THINK one part of this process may (i'm not sure if this is relevant) be of use: sometimes when there is a plot hook I present specifically to a player, it is not followed up by the party at large. This is typically because the plot hook goes something like "One of the citizens in the village you slaughtered got away, and is now appealing to the authorities for help". The players will shoot meaningful glances at one another, then say "We're not going to follow up on this." It DOES eventually come back to haunt them, but maybe them not following up on these leads means something?

There is something else. One of my players has Drizzt syndrome. He ALWAYS plays a negatively connotated race (Drow, Shadar-Kai, Tiefling) and then his backstory goes something along the lines of "I used to kick puppies and punch babies, but then magic now I'm good". The problem with this is that A) he doesn't think its fair that his past come back to haunt him and B) he then acts like a schizophrenic, alternating between saving puppies and kicking them. This player is the main perpetrator of the "i'm good! *wink*" problem i've been having, so advice specfically for this player would be helpful.

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

Perhaps this will help:
The main context of backstories in my campaign is to establish a couple things. First, backstories establish who in the party is interlocked before the adventure begins (brothers/sisters, brothers in arms, etc). Second, backstories establish how everybody ends up in the town/city/village we start in. Third, backstories establish basic personality types of the characters.



How do you go about establishing this? Everyone shows up with a story in mind or you sit down as a group and hash it out in person? If it's the former, there's part of the problem.

I THINK one part of this process may (i'm not sure if this is relevant) be of use: sometimes when there is a plot hook I present specifically to a player, it is not followed up by the party at large. This is typically because the plot hook goes something like "One of the citizens in the village you slaughtered got away, and is now appealing to the authorities for help". The players will shoot meaningful glances at one another, then say "We're not going to follow up on this." It DOES eventually come back to haunt them, but maybe them not following up on these leads means something?



That's the problem with plot hooks. Don't use them. You will be forever doomed to this situation until you stop. The story you create out the characters' backstories is still your story and thus your plot-based adventure. Move away from that as quickly as possible in favor of location-based adventures, specifically, location-in-motion adventures. Then their backstories will come about organically and make total sense in context or they won't be relevant to the present situation and won't come up. The story of the campaign, in this case, is what the characters do and how they bond as a group through the crucible of the location, not what they were before and what that means now. Leave the door open to the latter if you want, but let that come out as part of emergent play.

There is something else. One of my players has Drizzt syndrome. He ALWAYS plays a negatively connotated race (Drow, Shadar-Kai, Tiefling) and then his backstory goes something along the lines of "I used to kick puppies and punch babies, but then magic now I'm good". The problem with this is that A) he doesn't think its fair that his past come back to haunt him and B) he then acts like a schizophrenic, alternating between saving puppies and kicking them. This player is the main perpetrator of the "i'm good! *wink*" problem i've been having, so advice specfically for this player would be helpful.



He's right - it's not fair that his past comes up if he or the group doesn't find it interesting. His other actions in game are likely a revolt against your plot-based adventure which is probably what you're running if you're using hooks.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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That does help, and I don't have too much to add to Iserith's summary.

It does strike me that the Drizzt-syndrome fellow wants to achieve some sort of specific goal with the darker-and-edgier character background, but that bringing up the character's past isn't what he had in mind.  To be honest, I have no idea what he's hoping you'll feed his character with so it can grow.  He's giving you some Awesome Ingredients, but won't tell you what he's in the mood for, and turning down whatever you're serving.  This is something I think that you and the player will want to get together in a brain-storming session, out of character, probably with the other players, and develop in a more explicit, systematic, and productive way.  It sounds like whatever he wants, he hasn't been articulating it very strongly, and is assuming you'll just figure it out, and whatever it is, it has you (and probably the rest of the group) about as baffled as I am.  I think you'll want to find out what this character represents to him (whether that character appears in the form of a Drow, Tiefling, or whatever - it sounds like there's some psychology behind it), where (if anywhere) he wants the character to go in terms of goals, and how he wants that character to fit into the bigger picture of the game's mood, atmosphere, and theme (if not the plot).

And the same goes for the other characters and their disruptive quirks, too:  it sounds like some, if not all of them, have not had an opportunity to "gel" into a focused character, and the stats and backgrounds only serve as a disposible means of "winning" the game, in the way that desperate gunners used to load cannon with random bits of scrap metal, rusty nails, junk, or whatever, in the hopes that the resulting "shotgun effect" will maybe hit a target, if they're lucky enough.  That concerns me - it suggests the players are under some pressure to "win", survive, or stand out at all costs. 

Is that really the sort of game your players are wanting to play?  Find out, if you aren't sure.  If it is, I think you will want to adjust your own expectations and style, for your own sanity if for no other reason.  If it isn't the game they want to play, I think you'll want to stop the game and start working with them to perform some damage control.

Good luck, in any case!
[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
He then goes into philosophical things
The question is: How do I get around this? It'll certainly look Draconian if I just say "I'm DM, deal with it" but it may come to that.


It's simple, really.  You have to add why to the draconian.  "I'm the DM.  I don't want to deal with characters commiting evil acts.  Deal with it."
It really is starting to sound like he doesn't respect you.  He just wants to play his character and he doesn't care who is running the game.

If you have to stop DMing, do so.  No D&D is better than bad D&D.


I can't begin to agree with this enough.
How does ditching alignment solve the issue? The problem is not about a discussion between players and DMs what is proper behavior and punishing the characters because they act out of alignment. The problem is that players act in a disruptive manner, and whether or not the player calls the actions "good" or "evil", it is still disruptive behavior. All you can do about that is talk with the players, and if that does not work, either stop DMing or ditch the player. As Salla said, no D&D is better than bad D&D.
Speaking for myself, I see the problem of "disruptive" players as the symptom, not the cause. Alignment, backstories, adventure structure, and how these issues are approached and used in the group are the cause based on the facts that we've been told. That's what other posters and I are discussing. You can certainly ask your players to stop doing what they're doing, but the underlying problems are still there.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Speaking for myself, I see the problem of "disruptive" players as the symptom, not the cause. Alignment, backstories, adventure structure, and how these issues are approached and used in the group are the cause based on the facts that we've been told. That's what other posters and I are discussing. You can certainly ask your players to stop doing what they're doing, but the underlying problems are still there.

I was reacting to earlier posts. As for disruptive players being a symptom, not the cause, that depends on the situation in question. Sometimes they are a symptom, if a group as a whole decides to enforce background stories you can hardly blame the DM (at least not with the limited information we have - we don't know how much browbeating, if any, went into the decision). In that case, if it is a symptom, than that player need a new group since his playstyle does not fit the group.

As for you opinion on plot hooks, I don't share it. My experience with open games is not particularly good, especially not with people who don't care about story or their character's personality, which is the impression I get from this group. They just want to have some cool fights, and not think too much about consequences, let alone, getting to know the world and their characters well enough to work proactively. You have to have goals, and know what is and is not feasible in a world before you can do stuff proactively. In fact, in a game of D&D that is all about the team, you have to create that goal as a group or else you will have the group split up constantly, making it challenging to keep the game constantly fun and entertaining for all. The only sandbox games I have seen work well is with small groups in a setting that the players and DM were rather familiar with (they require a lot of improvisation from the DM) and ones that involved little combat (and D&D itself is not well-suited to such types of games).

In my experience, most disruptive players are a symptom of a bored player. My advice is to read the DMG (or any other source on good DMing) on playter types and what keeps them interested. Also note that you cannot force a particular style of gaming on a player. If you have a slayer, enforcing method acting/storytelling on him (which in a way you are doing when enforcing backgrounds and using plot hooks from that background) is not going to help matters. Personally I am happy when a player hands me a detailed background - a sure sign he wants me to use it -, but if it is simple and superficial than I just shrug, that player gets more fun from other things.
I was reacting to earlier posts. As for disruptive players being a symptom, not the cause, that depends on the situation in question. Sometimes they are a symptom, if a group as a whole decides to enforce background stories you can hardly blame the DM (at least not with the limited information we have - we don't know how much browbeating, if any, went into the decision). In that case, if it is a symptom, than that player need a new group since his playstyle does not fit the group.



Yes, it depends on how that was all implemented, I agree. In the absence of that information, we can only speculate, but I do think my advice is somewhat universal. Hopefully it helps someone, somewhere, if not the OP.

As for you opinion on plot hooks, I don't share it. My experience with open games is not particularly good, especially not with people who don't care about story or their character's personality, which is the impression I get from this group. They just want to have some cool fights, and not think too much about consequences, let alone, getting to know the world and their characters well enough to work proactively. You have to have goals, and know what is and is not feasible in a world before you can do stuff proactively. In fact, in a game of D&D that is all about the team, you have to create that goal as a group or else you will have the group split up constantly, making it challenging to keep the game constantly fun and entertaining for all. The only sandbox games I have seen work well is with small groups in a setting that the players and DM were rather familiar with (they require a lot of improvisation from the DM) and ones that involved little combat (and D&D itself is not well-suited to such types of games).



I don't advocate sandbox play, not in D&D anyway. I do advocate shared storytelling in the context of world-building and adventures that takes place in mutable locations-in-motion. You don't need hooks for it and the players have strong narrative control when they want it. This style of play in my experience does away with a lot of the niggling little problems that you see reported on this forum. Ones that can be "fixed" by changing up the process, rather than people just being jerks or the like. I don't see this players are jerks. I just see a process that needs changing.

In my experience, most disruptive players are a symptom of a bored player. My advice is to read the DMG (or any other source on good DMing) on playter types and what keeps them interested. Also note that you cannot force a particular style of gaming on a player. If you have a slayer, enforcing method acting/storytelling on him (which in a way you are doing when enforcing backgrounds and using plot hooks from that background) is not going to help matters. Personally I am happy when a player hands me a detailed background - a sure sign he wants me to use it -, but if it is simple and superficial than I just shrug, that player gets more fun from other things.



I agree that disruptive players are typically bored and/or frustrated. Luckily, this is in the DM's control to fix if that boredom and frustration is coming from his method.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Look into Spirit of the Century for its idea of Aspects and Fate Points.

Spirit of the Century (and perhaps this started with the Fudge rules they're based on) embraced the idea that players want bonuses from the stuff in their backstories, but realized, as the original poster did, that there needs to be a limit.

In SotC, you form a backstory as part of character generation, and this includes coming up with 10 Aspects, such as "Native of Atlantis" or "Lord of the Jungle" or "Pact with a Demon." You start each session with as many Fate points as you have Aspects. When you try to do something, you roll dice and add a skill modifier, just like in D&D, but if you fail the check, you can appeal to your aspects to help you out, and this costs Fate points. A player simply declares that a particular aspect applies, and spends a Fate point to get either a reroll or a +2 to the roll.

The GM can push back a little if the use of a given Aspect seems like a stretch, but generally the use can and should be allowed, simply because of the cost. It's really no skin of the GM's nose, because everyone knows that the player can't do that forever. If all 10 of a player's Aspects were relevant to a given roll, the player could spend 10 Fate points for rerolls and bonuses, and that's fine, because that can't necessarily happen on the player's next roll, unless the points are available.

Replenishing those points are where the real magic happens. The player can't gaint points unless things happen to the character that complicate its life because of the Aspects. So, for instance, a character that is a "Member of a Reviled Race" could be getting points hand-over-fist as a result of the complications caused by this Aspect, whether it's because of prejudice (just or unjust) or as a result of the character's own tendencies. The character couldn't just kick puppies for points; it would have to do things that made the character's life harder. This means that Aspects that are only positive, while useful in the short term, won't last very long, whereas a mix of positive and negative Aspects or Aspects that are clearly double-edged swords can generate a flow of points.

The SotC rules go into more detail about this, of course. They're all online at www.faterpg.com/dl/sotc-srd.html

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

My advice assumes you don't throw out alignment. But really thats what you should do.



-I'm not evil! *wink*: This is somebody who plays a Drow Assassin following Lolth, who also slaughtered innocents for no reason. But if you ask, the alignment is good, and you're metagaming by not trusting me! The problem with this is that its obviously superficial and disruptive, but when I pressure them to be more realistic, they will quote a single exception "Drizzt was good! Artemis was a "good" assassin!" or some such.


-Grand Theft Dragon: This is somebody who makes me shudder by telling me his alignment is "Unaligned", and then using that to justify everything from saving the orphans to burning them, and all things in-between. I tried forcing them to use the 3.5 alignment system (we play 4.0) but they just say...Chaotic Neutral. This behavior is very disruptive to the campaign for obvious reasons.


-I got a bonus for that: This is somebody who constructed their backstory to gain a situational bonus in almost every conceivable situation. Nature check to follow tracks? Was a hunter. Streetwise check to find a rumor? I sold my hides in the city to black market dealers. Arcana check to identify creatures? I hunted these creatures...and the ones we just fought...and the ones before those... This approach takes obvious advantage of my attempts to encourage good backstories



1- The DM is the final arbiter of alignment. Alignment can change during play based on the actions of your character. Do enough evil, and your PC becomes evil.


2- I have always taken unaligned to mean "I hate alignment but the DM made me pick one, I really don't care about alignment and will just do whatever I want anyway". Ban it. If you can't come up with actual definitions for it.


3- This seems like good RP and use of backstory, and I don't know why you be discouraging this. Maybe ask for specific written backstories and tell the PCs they can only get bonuses for specific named things in it. "I sold skins to gregory the skin merchant in riverdale" gives a bonus to streetwise in riverdale. "I hunted grell and get to know their stats" gives a bonus to the check to identify grell. 

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"                                                  "I'd recommend no one listed to Krusk's opinions about what games to play"

Thanks everybody for the advice. I feel an update is in order:
We recently had another session. I took notes during the entire affair, and the players have improved with just mentioning some of the things said on this thread, so for that I say thank you. The disruptive behavior has been narrowed down to 2 individual players. Keep in mind, simply kicking these players from the group is effectively NOT an option. Also, bear in mind I asked the players whether they wanted to ditch alignments and they voted 11-1 to keep alignments, citing that they weren't convinced removing them would have any positive effects, and that removing them would allow disruptive players to further justify their actions through personality types like "unpredictable" or "rebellious" without carrying negative connotation. With those things in mind, I present my unabridged notes on the two disruptive players, in hopes that you'll be able to tell me A) why they act the way they do B) what the appropriate action to take is to put a stop to it immediately and C) what to do to prevent future outbreaks of similiar actions

Player 1
Character profile: Always plays dark-oriented characters, such as a Halfling Rogue who turns out to be the reincarnation of an evil warlock, and ends up becoming an Archdevil (epic destiny), a Drow Assassin worshipping Lolth, or an Elf Seeker who worships Zehir. Despite the obvious prejudice from party and NPC, insists he enjoys the prejudice.

Disruptive behavior:
-Main perpretraor of "I'm good! *wink*"
-Tries to browbeat his way into party acceptance in a few ways. First, he attempts to latch himself onto other players' backstories. Then, once he has done so, insists the other party members must trust this evil-oriented outcast by claiming "he/she trusts me, and you trust him/her". Second, insists that because the party members had a single encounter with his character, they must trust him, greatly overstating the brothers-in-arms effect.
-Refuses to play a character that is constrained by alignment. Every character has been an alignment that allows him to completely pursue all actions from pure evil to pure good.
-Seems to joy in derailing campaigns. By my count, he has been personally responsible for derailing 4 different campaigns, whether by relentlessly pursuing the darker sider of his character, then getting in too deep and dooming the party, or by alienating key NPC's by acting in outlandish ways.
-Is a rules lawyer to the extreme. Detests the very few houserules I have, and has before stated he didn't trust my dice rolls. Only when, in rage, did I start using a statistics program to track my die rolls, and find that over 5 sessions I rolled almost literally exactly as random as would be predicted, did he apologize.
-Will justify his disruptive behavior with philosophical questions about absolute good and evil, and insists the NPC's must be perfectly logical creatures without a personality of their own, and accuses me of singling him out when the guard captain brings the Drow Assassin in for questioning in a brutal murder.

Player 2
Character Profile:
Plays mainly Githzerai characters, says he also enjoys the stigma attached to magic in the particular setting of my campaign.
Disruptive Behavior:
-Despite the advice of literally everybody, routinely plays unoptimized builds of characters, which wouldn't be a problem, if he didn't then grow angry when the build didn't work and rant about how the other players aren't supporting him enough.
-Often takes any negative actions directed at his character (for example, he steps on a trap, or is focused by monsters) as a personal attack by the DM. At the same time, alienates other party members by making very poor tactical decisions, often getting other party members killed.
-Is, in some senses, a glory hog: Will take the last hit on a BBEG when clearly another party member has had a rivalry with said BBEG since the beginning, and will often claim credit for other heroes' work.

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

I read some of the responses, not all, but I hope what I offer helps. I DM for a group of late-20 to late-40-somethings, mature with families, that kind of thing. It sounds like you might have a high school/college crowd. That being the case, there could be a maturity difference (and stubborness) that could make a solution impossible. But here goes:

Evil:

First, you can't say "I don't WANT to outlaw whole sections of the gods and the alignment system...." and conclude with "If nothing changes I'm considering retiring as a DM." What you're actually saying is "I WANT to outlaw whole sections of the gods and the alignment system," you just don't want to come across as totalitarian or close-minded. I understand. I've been there. But I'm 36 now, and I'm telling you that making players happy at your expense isn't worth it.

If the DM and players are ok outlawing whole sections, fine. If the DM and players are ok not outlawing any sections, fine. But if one wants it and one doesn't, then that means one side needs to capitulate without complaint, or people need to go their separate ways. Remember, the most important thing about D&D is this: Everyone is supposed to have fun! Don't make yourself miserable so everyone else has fun. My current group has gained and lost players over the years, and we flat-out asked people not to play with us again after a few sessions (like the loser who wanted his dwarf to have maximum ranks in crafting bongs).

Now, I know some of these guys are your friends, so this can be hard. But you just have to say, "Look guys, this isn't fun for me anymore. I want to run a campaign with good heroes, and without running around philosophical circles. If you guys really want to be evil, I'll be happy to show one of you how to DM, and I'd actually look forward to hearing what happens. But I don't want to run that, because it's seriously not fun for me." If they're really your friends, they'll understand. There's a difference between "friends" and "acquaintances with whom you share a hobby."

Backstories:

I make backstories optional, and they do not provide bonuses. Backstories also can't hint that the players should get bonuses ("I led subterranean expeditions for years- can't I identify all the monsters down here with my untrained Dungeoneering and 10 Wisdom?"). What I do is this: if my players bring up their backstory to color their roleplaying, I give them gifts. For example, only one of my players really brings up his backstory regularly. He wields his grandfather's parrying dagger. Well, I made it magical, and if he so chooses, can suck the powers from other magical weapons during a short rest (like a free Transfer Enchantment). He can also draw it as a free action once per encounter. I'm currently tying in the rest of his backstory to the campaign, and even if there's no bonus, everyone loves it!

I'd try to find out which of your players are interested in having a backstory. Don't force it. Then, the powergamers can wait and "listen in" on things you put together for those players. It might be better if some have a combined backstory (related characters, or serving together for years). Also, what works just fine is to talk to the player and say "I'd like to slightly alter your backstory for something, is that ok?" You'll probably get a "yes" because the player would be excited to hear that his/her backstory is going to be relevant.
If you're playing Dungeons & Dragons and having fun, then you're playing it correctly.
"3- This seems like good RP and use of backstory, and I don't know why you be discouraging this. Maybe ask for specific written backstories and tell the PCs they can only get bonuses for specific named things in it. "I sold skins to gregory the skin merchant in riverdale" gives a bonus to streetwise in riverdale. "I hunted grell and get to know their stats" gives a bonus to the check to identify grell."

I do give bonuses to a certain number of skills (currently, I follow the character builder example of +2 to a skill or a new class skill) but that's not the problem. The problem is their backstories read like somebody who has literally done everything. Whenever a skill comes up, the backstories come out. Perhaps this forum cannot convey the emotional context, but let me attempt to explain: They smirk as they say "In my backstory I did this...bonus?" Then when I give the bonus, the smirk grows. They continue this trend the ENTIRE session, EVERYTIME a skill check comes up. They KNOW they're exploiting the system, but they also KNOW all they have to do is pull up a bit of their 12 page backstory and re-orient it, then extrapolate how it helps them. Outside of obviously beneficial situations, their backstory never comes up. It never surfaces where it logically would. For example, The Drow assassin hates elves, and hunted them through the forest, so he takes a bonus to tracking, but if the party encounters elves, the Drow Assassin is silent and does nothing to suggest he bears any emnity towards the elves. If questioned about tihs peculiarity, the player will get defensive and accuse me of trying to run their character, without giving me a single reason to not believe they are abusing the system in the most fundamental way.

Quo usque pro roma ibis?

"3- This seems like good RP and use of backstory, and I don't know why you be discouraging this. Maybe ask for specific written backstories and tell the PCs they can only get bonuses for specific named things in it. "I sold skins to gregory the skin merchant in riverdale" gives a bonus to streetwise in riverdale. "I hunted grell and get to know their stats" gives a bonus to the check to identify grell."

I do give bonuses to a certain number of skills (currently, I follow the character builder example of +2 to a skill or a new class skill) but that's not the problem. The problem is their backstories read like somebody who has literally done everything. Whenever a skill comes up, the backstories come out. Perhaps this forum cannot convey the emotional context, but let me attempt to explain: They smirk as they say "In my backstory I did this...bonus?" Then when I give the bonus, the smirk grows. They continue this trend the ENTIRE session, EVERYTIME a skill check comes up. They KNOW they're exploiting the system, but they also KNOW all they have to do is pull up a bit of their 12 page backstory and re-orient it, then extrapolate how it helps them. Outside of obviously beneficial situations, their backstory never comes up. It never surfaces where it logically would. For example, The Drow assassin hates elves, and hunted them through the forest, so he takes a bonus to tracking, but if the party encounters elves, the Drow Assassin is silent and does nothing to suggest he bears any emnity towards the elves. If questioned about tihs peculiarity, the player will get defensive and accuse me of trying to run their character, without giving me a single reason to not believe they are abusing the system in the most fundamental way.

I'm telling you, follow the Aspects approach.

Give them each 10 chips, or 5 or whatever, at the start of every session. Everytime you give them a bonus based on their backstory, they have to give you a chip. If they want a chip back, then they have to inconvenience themselves because of their backstory. For instance, if the Drow stays silent, but then, at the end of the negotiation, spits on the elf or casually comments how the elf's eyes look like another elf he once killed, that could be worth a chip, though something should actually come of the Drow's action. Or, the DM could be proactive and have the elf recognize the Drow, with related consequences. If the player doesn't want the consequences, he can pay another chip to buy them off (only the DM can up the ante like this).

They'll be more circumspect in their appeals to their backstories after this, and will actually want interesting things to happen to them so that they can get more chips.

If I have to ask the GM for it, then I don't want it.

Establish your campaign rules up front and don't back down. If you don't want evil characters or those who are morally amiguous then you make that a rule and you don't tolerate any exceptions, period. It's just that simple. If they don't follow the rules then you have specific consequences outlined beforehand for that. It seems like you've been lenient for so long that they feel they can take advantage of you and that appears to be correct in that regard.

I run a game that is heroes only and I make it clear the players are not allowed to be disruptive and engage in evil acts. If they are going to do something that is against the campaign rules then I simply remind them that it would violate our covenant as a group and they are "not" allowed to do it. They can't whine and complain because it was made clear up front what was allowed and they agreed to it. If they don't agree to it then they don't play.

Whether they like it or not, it "is" your campaign more than theirs. Some may disagree, but tough. As a DM, I create the world and the adventures that my players game in and I've invested the most time and effort in crafting what I want to play. Yes, the players get to help weave the story with their decisions and they often, quite often, help to move the story and plot into directions that I never anticipated, but that doesn't mean they get to change the rules of my campaign. Nope. Never.
My LFR Modules:
Show
EAST1-3 Unbidden (H3) EAST2-3 Nightmares (P1) NETH3-1 Secrets and Shadows (Paragon Tier) (Author) ELTU3-6 True Blue (Heroic Tier) (Author) EPIC3-3 The Tangled Skein of Destiny (Co-Author) ABER4-3 A Little Rebellion (Paragon Tier) (Author) WATE4-1 Paying the Piper (Heroic Tier) (Co-Author)
I'm telling you, follow the Aspects approach.

Give them each 10 chips, or 5 or whatever, at the start of every session. Everytime you give them a bonus based on their backstory, they have to give you a chip. If they want a chip back, then they have to inconvenience themselves because of their backstory. For instance, if the Drow stays silent, but then, at the end of the negotiation, spits on the elf or casually comments how the elf's eyes look like another elf he once killed, that could be worth a chip, though something should actually come of the Drow's action. Or, the DM could be proactive and have the elf recognize the Drow, with related consequences. If the player doesn't want the consequences, he can pay another chip to buy them off (only the DM can up the ante like this).

They'll be more circumspect in their appeals to their backstories after this, and will actually want interesting things to happen to them so that they can get more chips.



This sounds to me like it's worth trying, especially if you're got your heart set on tying the backgrounds to mechanics in some way.

About dropping alignment - I wouldn't dismiss that too quickly, either.  Every group is different, certainly, but I've never run a game without alignment that I've regretted.  I can't say the same for games with alignment:  regrettable alignment-based problems have come up in most, if not all, the games with alignment I've ever tried, while I've never really had a gaming experience where I've felt that alignment has actually added anything to the game.  And my experience definitely isn't unique:  for some reason, it seems that, more often than not, role-players and DMs alike have a strong chance of shutting down part of their reasoning whenever alignment falls into the mix.  I can be a stubborn contrarian with the worst of them, and I have a tendency to fetishize weird aspects of rules and the game, but in this case, I'll keep my voice in the choir of voices saying "just omit alignment".  Alignment adds nothing to the game that a more traditional characterization doesn't do much better.

[spoiler New DM Tips]
  • Trying to solve out-of-game problems (like cheating, bad attitudes, or poor sportsmanship) with in-game solutions will almost always result in failure, and will probably make matters worse.
  • Gun Safety Rule #5: Never point the gun at anything you don't intend to destroy. (Never introduce a character, PC, NPC, Villain, or fate of the world into even the possibility of a deadly combat or other dangerous situation, unless you are prepared to destroy it instantly and completely forever.)
  • Know your group's character sheets, and check them over carefully. You don't want surprises, but, more importantly, they are a gold mine of ideas!
  • "If it ain't broke, don't fix it." It's a problem if the players aren't having fun and it interferes with a DM's ability to run the game effectively; if it's not a problem, 'fixing' at best does little to help, and at worst causes problems that didn't exist before.
  • "Hulk Smash" characters are a bad match for open-ended exploration in crowds of civilians; get them out of civilization where they can break things and kill monsters in peace.
  • Success is not necessarily the same thing as killing an opponent. Failure is not necessarily the same thing as dying.
  • Failure is always an option. And it's a fine option, too, as long as failure is interesting, entertaining, and fun!
[/spoiler] The New DM's Group Horror in RPGs "This is exactly what the Leprechauns want you to believe!" - Merb101 "Broken or not, unbalanced or not, if something seems to be preventing the game from being enjoyable, something has to give: either that thing, or other aspects of the game, or your idea of what's enjoyable." - Centauri
I read the update on the two particular players and have a couple of ideas as to why they might be acting how they are.

Player one sounds like he enjoys playing an evil and/or chaotic character.  This may be an attempt to garner attention, see what he can get away with, act out something that he thought was cool that he read or saw, or a reaction to games long past where he was always the 'good guy.'  It also seems like he's become well versed in every method that can sneak an evil character into a game.  For example, he's using lone figures from books to justify the existance of his, he's over-emphasizing the brothers in arms technique like you mentioned, and when all else fails he's falling back on philosophical arguments.  The brothers in arms effect can only really be dealt with by the other players when one or more refuses to trust him after knowing him for a short time.  His insistence that NPCs at logically, start having him tell you why they would act logically.  But in the end, you really have to put your foot down on the evil thing.  Even if you don't use alignments, you have to say that you're not allowing evil and/or psychotic characters.  If he tries to philosophize with you or make you agree to his point of view, you have to be able to tell him that you will not argue with him and that you will be judging evil acts by their common understanding and if he doesn't like it then he'll just have to deal with it.  Follow this up every time he tries to bring in a character that violates your non-evil rule by simply telling him that it's not allowed, and don't let him try to argue it.

With player two it might be that he wants to try things outside the box.  Sometimes a non-optimized build sounds fun in concept but just doesn't work out in practice.  It's also possible that having a bunch of other players give him advice on what to do is giving information overload, leaving him frustrated at the very least.  Once he's made the character and sees that it's not working out to what he thought it would, he probably gets disheartened, which is only amplified by what the other players say or do.  Also, when he acts in ways that are bad tactically, it's entirely possible that he's a bad tactician in real life.  The only solution that I can see with him is to do a solo character creation for him.  Get together with him and ask him what his character concept is.  Make him describe it in very broad non-game terms at first.  Then once you have an idea on what he wants the character to be like and be able to do, you can help him pick the best race and class to fit that particular concept.  In this manner there will only be you helping him with the character and he wouldn't have to worry about the larger group giving him advice and such.  With just you guiding him, he should be able to make a better overall character that he can hopefully have more confidence in.

If you have an instigator on your hands, your best bet is to keep a close eye on when you are better off ignoring the player and when paying attention to his ideas. Ignoring does not necessarily mean you don't pay attention to the player, although if you do, do tell that you heard him and tell him his action is not allowed because it is simply too disruptive (and why it is so). You can also simply nod, tell him the PC did whatever antics the player had in mind and then ignore the concequences or at least don't spend time on it. For example, if the instigator throws a pie in the face of the archduke simply have the duke laugh, assume the instigator is the group's jester and than proceed as if nothing happened. Make sure though that you do give the player attention, especially when his actions actually enhance the fun of the game. For example, when the instigator after having listened to two players spending way too much time discussing how to push an altar, just decided to push it (triggering a painful, but not lethal trap), allow him to do so. Or when the group as a whole really hates that archduke, and would love to have an adventure about fleeing from the palace due to the angry archduke, than let the pie do its work.

(Note that these examples are from actual game play during convention games, and the players involved were happy with the result.)

Player 1
Character profile: Always plays dark-oriented characters, such as a Halfling Rogue who turns out to be the reincarnation of an evil warlock, and ends up becoming an Archdevil (epic destiny), a Drow Assassin worshipping Lolth, or an Elf Seeker who worships Zehir. Despite the obvious prejudice from party and NPC, insists he enjoys the prejudice.

Disruptive behavior:
-Main perpretraor of "I'm good! *wink*"



I don't see anything inherently wrong with that. If you have some kind of moral objection to players touching on these themes, let it be known.

-Tries to browbeat his way into party acceptance in a few ways. First, he attempts to latch himself onto other players' backstories. Then, once he has done so, insists the other party members must trust this evil-oriented outcast by claiming "he/she trusts me, and you trust him/her". Second, insists that because the party members had a single encounter with his character, they must trust him, greatly overstating the brothers-in-arms effect.



I don't see anything wrong with this either. The PCs don't have to be the best of friends, but they do need to trust each other enough to go into risky situations to achieve their goals. The how's and why's of that should be discussed and fleshed out prior to play and everyone should buy in, which is to say, not reject any reasonable assertion during shared storytelling and build on it. If you're doing "Gettin' to Know Ya" scenes between the characters at the start of the campaign, stop doing that. It causes problems like this.

-Refuses to play a character that is constrained by alignment. Every character has been an alignment that allows him to completely pursue all actions from pure evil to pure good.



Alignment doesn't constrain anyone and shouldn't unless they themselves are choosing to use it as a creative constraint. If you're going to use alignment (and I don't think you should), it should be on an individual basis and for the individual player's eyes only so that nobody else can make judgments about whether or not that player is "properly" playing it. Because everyone has a different idea on what alignment means and that's part of the problem. It's fodder for arguments and disappointment.

-Seems to joy in derailing campaigns. By my count, he has been personally responsible for derailing 4 different campaigns, whether by relentlessly pursuing the darker sider of his character, then getting in too deep and dooming the party, or by alienating key NPC's by acting in outlandish ways.



Sounds like a design problem more than anything. Get rid of rails and make your failure conditions more interesting. Some players don't like rails. If you have such a game and didn't make it clear that you were going to run linear plots, then do so now and let that player make the decision whether he wants to follow the rail or stop playing. A lot of players are fine with rails if it's fun. Some aren't. Make it clear and let them choose. As an aside, the location-in-motion design I mentioned earlier and in other threads completely removes the need for rails.

-Is a rules lawyer to the extreme. Detests the very few houserules I have, and has before stated he didn't trust my dice rolls. Only when, in rage, did I start using a statistics program to track my die rolls, and find that over 5 sessions I rolled almost literally exactly as random as would be predicted, did he apologize.



What are your house rules?

Roll in the open. If you're not rolling in the open because you need to fudge on occasion to keep your game from "derailing," then change your design as above. Location-in-motion helps with this, too.

-Will justify his disruptive behavior with philosophical questions about absolute good and evil, and insists the NPC's must be perfectly logical creatures without a personality of their own, and accuses me of singling him out when the guard captain brings the Drow Assassin in for questioning in a brutal murder.



Sometimes the most obvious or "realistic" consequence of a given action isn't the most interesting. Things like this are also punitive and a lot of players don't like that. Go with some more interesting outcomes/failures. If you can't think of one, let the players decide what happens.

Player 2
Character Profile:
Plays mainly Githzerai characters, says he also enjoys the stigma attached to magic in the particular setting of my campaign.
Disruptive Behavior:
-Despite the advice of literally everybody, routinely plays unoptimized builds of characters, which wouldn't be a problem, if he didn't then grow angry when the build didn't work and rant about how the other players aren't supporting him enough.



Optimization is really just failure mitigation because failing in D&D is usually pretty damn boring. The old, "I attack, I miss, I'm done," scenario. This is a design flaw in the game. If your failure conditions are interesting, this mitigates lack of "effectiveness" mechanically. The anger issue is something you can't control short of talking to the player directly about it.

-Often takes any negative actions directed at his character (for example, he steps on a trap, or is focused by monsters) as a personal attack by the DM. At the same time, alienates other party members by making very poor tactical decisions, often getting other party members killed.



I'm not at your table and can see that some things you do are punitive, if "realistic." So I can see where that perception might be coming from. As for tactics, again, this isn't something you can control, so talk to the player directly. He may just be a poor tactician. If it's a matter of him purposefully doing things to get the group into hot water, that's a different issue and one that is also one that should be discussed directly, out of game.

-Is, in some senses, a glory hog: Will take the last hit on a BBEG when clearly another party member has had a rivalry with said BBEG since the beginning, and will often claim credit for other heroes' work.



I can see characters acting this way and being okay with it. If it's the player being this way across many different characters, then a discussion should follow.

One of the keys to being a good DM is knowing what you can control and what you can't control. A lot of problems in the game come about when a DM tries to control what he can't. Many of the things you're talking about can be solved on your side of the table with some design changes. Some can't and will require an open and frank discussion with the players.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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Also, bear in mind I asked the players whether they wanted to ditch alignments and they voted 11-1 to keep alignments, citing that they weren't convinced removing them would have any positive effects, and that removing them would allow disruptive players to further justify their actions through personality types like "unpredictable" or "rebellious" without carrying negative connotation.



You misunderstood the alternative. You don't say "We aren't using alignment, but we are using some traits to describe your PCs".


You say "We aren't using alignment." Then when someone is a disruptive ass you say "Stop being a disruptive ass". If they are worth anything as a person they will realize you think they are being a disruptive ass and stop. If they are not, they will continue to do so and you should rethink associating with them. Let alone playing DND with them.

"In a way, you are worse than Krusk"                               " As usual, Krusk comments with assuredness, but lacks the clarity and awareness of what he's talking about"

"Can't say enough how much I agree with Krusk"        "Wow, thank you very much"

"Your advice is the worst"                                                  "I'd recommend no one listed to Krusk's opinions about what games to play"

Here's what you do. First, establish what it means to be good or evil, build a consistent would around those definitions, and hold your players (and yourself) to this internally-consistent model. 

1. Ditch alignments. If your players want to hold on to them, then let them keep the meaningless labels and use them as a guide to "what the player thinks he is". A player thinks he's still lawful good after stabbing that guy in the back, because he's following an unorthodox code of honor and the nature of good and evil is unknowable? Sure! He is absolutely 100% free to think that. However, nobody in the game world is under any obligation to agree with him and will react accordingly.

2. Build your game world entirely around moral relativist principles. There is no good or evil in the world, only conflicting motivations. Is Orcus evil? Well, if you don't fancy being turned undead, then you would probably say yes. But if your goal is to become an arch-lich, then you would consider Orcus an ally, albeit an unreliable one, and may, or may not, feel the need to justify your actions. Either way, the labels of "good", "neutral" and "evil" are completely irrelevant to how you would view Orcus and his actions. Likewise, *all* NPC in your game world should have goals and motivations, along with a general moral compass (and attendant fudge factor). Are they willing to hurt people to get what they want, or do they consider violence and other abuse of fellow man always wrong? Are they flexible in their morality, willing to go along with actions they would not perform themselves, or is their morality rigid and zealot-like? Remember that most people usually fall somewhere in the middle. 

3. Thus you have a moral system that is fundamentally different from classic D&D. Instead of "evil" vs "good", you have "selfishness" vs "empathy". Instead of "law" vs "chaos", you have "integrity" vs "flexibility". This is the essence of Gray & Gray morality. This is much harder system to exploit, especially if you don't explicitly describe it to your players, ever. Instead, queitly mentally categorize every PC and NPC somewhere along those axis and use information that to modify NPC actions based on their existing motivations. 

4. If you go with that approach, you will find yourself better armed against complaints of special treatment or singling out. The king didn't bring the assassin in for questioning because the assassin is "evil" and the king is "good" or "lawful". The assassin is being questioned because his job is killing people and a person was recently killed. If the assassin's guilt is determined (or even guessed at, because he's the most likely suspect), the king will sentence him to death, again not because it's a struggle of good vs evil, but because that is the punishment for murder and his subjects expect their king to enforce written law. That said, if the king's own moral compass is edging towards "flexible", he could privately hire the assassin instead. Perhaps a cult of Orcus picked up residence in the country side, but he can't arrest them because they technically haven't done anything illegal. But if a particular assassin was to perchance take out their leader... well... let's just say that assassin would walk away a free and well-paid man. There's your quest hook.

5. This internal consistency applies to you as well. If the king has no reason whatsoever to suspect the Drow of being an assassin, then he shouldn't immediately place blame on him. Be always mindful of what your NPC's could reasonably know, which logical leaps are believable and which ones are the product of your own metagaming. If your player is clever enough to pretend to be an average Joe at all times, and no witnesses survived to tell a different story, everyone should think he's an average Joe. There is no "detect evil" spell for you to fall back on. 

6. Do this, and I promise you the number of pointless philosophical arguments in your party will drop considerably.



Now, once you got that down, the next step is figuring out how to get the players move along the plotline. There are two schools of thought on this: 1) "Driven narrative" has an overarching plot, with supporting sub-quests, to move players along towards an "ending" and 2) "Emergent narrative" requires you create loose structures and setting and let your players drive the plot entirely by themselves. The former leads to accusations of railroading and a never-ending battle to sabotage said railroad tracks as often as possible. The latter leads to a band of psychotic murderers roaming the land killing progressively larger groups of people for progressively smaller slights, all the while insisting they're still the "good guys". 

If you wish to maintain your sanity, you're going to have to mix those two. Have a general overarching plotline (Orcus is trying to take over the land, King of Randomia is his secret ally), draw general plotlines from that basic premise (Randomia is trying to instigate a war between the two major powers in order to generate death and chaos), and then let the player's actions dictate how they're going to tie into all this. Always have an answer to the question "can we just join the Big Bad?" That question shouldn't always be "no".

Always always always inquire how your players want their characters to develop and grow; where are they going with the character concept. Then, use that information to tie them more closely into the campaign threads, while still giving them what they want. 

And above all else, learn the power of "NO". It should be used very sparingly, once or twice per character per campaign, but it should be absolute. No amount of rules lawyering should override DM fiat.  


6. Do this, and I promise you the number of pointless philosophical arguments in your party will drop considerably.



Or, save yourself the time developing all that and just don't use alignment at all. The pointless arguments about alignment then drop to zero immediately. Arguments over alignment are just passive aggressive nerd attacks anyway. It's people who can't or won't just tell someone directly that they don't like the way they're playing so they use the proxy of alignment because it smells like a rule. It's really just sad more than anything.


And above all else, learn the power of "NO". It should be used very sparingly, once or twice per character per campaign, but it should be absolute. No amount of rules lawyering should override DM fiat.



I'm using my one-or-twice-a-campaign No to say "No" to this.

Don't say "no." Say, "Yes, and..." or at least, "Yes, but..." And if you can't bring yourself to do it, start asking questions of the players until you've gotten it straight in your head and established in the fiction to a reasonable degree so that you can. 

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
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I believe firmly in the "Yes, but/and" approach, but there are occasions to say "no". Specifically, when what one player wants to do lessens the fun for the rest of the group. However, an effective session zero can help to mitigate that. "No" does need to be a last resort, but sometimes (albeit rarely) it's the right thing to say.

Or, save yourself the time developing all that and just don't use alignment at all. The pointless arguments about alignment then drop to zero immediately. Arguments over alignment are just passive aggressive nerd attacks anyway. It's people who can't or won't just tell someone directly that they don't like the way they're playing so they use the proxy of alignment because it smells like a rule. It's really just sad more than anything.




That would be point 1, sentence 1. If you read closely, you will notice the system I described is not one of alignment, but one of motivation. Its purpose is to help the DM come up with logical and believable NPC reactions based on (often highly unpredictable) player actions. Real life people aren't blank slates, they have biases and prejudices, some are easygoing while others are stubborn; having a framework in place can help you very quickly cut down the number of possible actions an NPC would logically take, letting you decide faster. The fact that it tirvializes the old alignment system instead of forbidding it is a bonus in a group that seems beholden to the old system's trappings. 
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