As a GM, how do you “reign in the crazy”?

As a GM, how do you “reign in the crazy”?

As a GM, how do you “reign in the crazy”? Alternatively, how can you tell if a player is going to be compatible with the rest of the players and the type of game you want to run?

My little brother has played D&D before with his friends (they’re all high school students), and from his descriptions of their games, it sounds like there was a lot of PvP, infighting, and nonsensical shenanigans (he talked about being a space-time wizard and opening a portal to teleport Donald Trump to their dimension so he could build a wall and defend them from a horde of ogres).

I didn’t think he had ever played a tabletop RPG before, and now I’m worried that his style of play and expectations of the genre aren’t going to jive with me and the rest of my siblings.

I figure playing with him in the group is at least worth a shot, and explaining the rules of the system while creating characters will give both of us a better idea of whether or not it’s going to work, but it’d probably be useful to have techniques to redirect a story if you feel like a player is sending it in a weird direction.

(I’m probably going to get a lot of ‘use GM moves’ and ‘punish the character’ suggestions, but I’m still curious what everyone thinks.)

9 thoughts on “As a GM, how do you “reign in the crazy”?”

  1. This is a meta concern and, as such, should be addressed in the real world. In my experience trying to correct a misunderstanding of style or just plain disruptive play with mechanics really doesn’t work at all.

    My skinny is that if you have players whose style does not mesh with your expectations there are only about two things you can do: 1) Change your expectations and run a gonzo game, 2) Don’t run the game.

  2. Discuss expectations up front. “I want this game to be a little more serious in tone. Is that okay with you all?” or “I want this to be low magic” or “hard scifi with no aliens” etc.

    The only way to solve these problems is to talk to people. You can’t do it in game. You need to be honest.

  3. Explain your concerns and that you would like to see reasonable, logically consistent, actions on the part of his character, or maybe he’ll have to sit this one out.

  4. I try my best to not say “no” as a GM in DW. Unless a move specifically says what it does and the player wants to try and change that move, then anything they suggest outside of the basic/class moves is open for them to try.

    But, if they want to jump on the crazy train, I ask them questions, probably more questions than if they were going with something more in line with the expected tone of the game. Ask for instance how they would know of Trump who can build walls? If they can’t answer your question, well then it is a no. But, if they do answer with something along the lines of, “I studied at the crystal tower that had crystals that showed me a bunch of alternate universes that I was able to gaze into.” Well, now they just gave you something to build a front off of or with, that could have location moves now. And, I’d let them try it but at great cost and at a disadvantage or at least a negative to their roll. The only way in DW I could see pulling Trump through a portal though would be through the ritual move that the wizard and immolator can have access to ((can’t remember if cleric does).

    But yeah, the other posters are giving other good advice about setting the tone prior to the first session or at beginning of first session so that the crazy train doesn’t get off the rails too quick.

  5. All great advice so far. You definitely want to start with a conversation and expectations.

    That only works, though, if your players engage in that conversation fully and then follow through. I’ve certainly been in games where people said they wanted something up front (or at least tacitly agreed) but then behaved differently during play. I’m sure I’ve been that person, too.

    Be sure that you aren’t railroading that initial conversation. Ask your players what kind of tone or themes they might like. Giving pop culture examples is a great tool here. “Do you think more like ‘Indiana Jones pulpy action with swords and spells’ or more like ‘_Princess Mononoke_ meets Brave‘ or straight Lord of the Rings or something else entirely?”

    You could even ask each player to write down something they’d like to see in the game. Give an example like “vast, sweeping wilderness!” Ask questions, clarify, take notes. Do this before you actually sit down to play. Use that to start coming up with ideas. Also, maybe ask them if there’s anything they don’t want to see; maybe give an example (“potty humor” or “graphic blood and gore” or “silly gonzo pop culture references”).

    And yet, none of this might work. You could still have players who, in the excitement of the moment, get gonzo or silly or ridiculous. What do you do then?

    I would actively advise against anything like “punish the character.” That’s directly contrary to your principles (namely “be a fan”) and your agenda of “play to see what happens.”

    Instead, follow Doug McDermott’s lead and ask questions! “Oh, really? How do you do that? How does that work? We already established , so how does that jive with this? Do you have a move that lets you do that?”

    Don’t be afraid to act as a curator, but don’t be too strict, either. It’s okay to challenge assertions, but do so as a conversation. Remind them what’s already been established, clarify the situation, help everyone get on the same page about what’s actually going on. “You don’t have a spell that lets you open a planar rift, do you? Right, so you’d have to use Ritual, and the requirements would be…”

    Final thought: the structure of the game (GM describes the world, players control their characters) puts a lot of authority in your hands. You can give up some of that authority by asking questions of the players, but your players don’t have any inherent right or responsibility to declare things about the world outside of their characters. You can prevent a lot of chaos by being careful to only ask the characters questions about their pasts, their experiences, or their areas of expertise (as opposed to asking the players to come up with details about the world that their characters have no direct connection to). There’s a great blog post about The Line that gets into this. (It’s about Apocalypse World, not Dungeon World, but everything in it applies equally well to Dungeon World).

  6. Best way for me is before we start the campaign I let everyone know what kind of theme we’re going for. High fantasy, or grimdark, ect. Every world has a few points of crazy in it. Even IRL you have the kind of stuff that makes you say “This can’t actually be a thing.” If you feel the campaign is going in a direction you don’t like though, just have a chat with your players, tell them what you are looking for in the campaign.

    You’re there to have fun too, if the players are doing stuff you don’t consider fun let them know.

  7. A big plus one to everyone who said have a conversation out of game about this. Don’t “punish the character” when the player starts to get out of hand; remind them what type of game everyone wants to play and ask them to reign it in.

    Of course if we’re talking about a teenager, that might not be possible for them. In that case if they are really being disruptive, you might have to ask them to leave.

  8. During the pre-game getting-everyone-on-the-same-page discussions, you might also want to introduce them to the idea that it’s everyone’s job to ensure the game is fun for all the other players (including the GM).

    A character doing things that are fun for them but which stomp on the fun of someone else is bad form, even if it’s “what my character would do”.

    (I’m not saying that would happen with your brother – presumably everyone at that D&D game was having fun with the gonzo – but the idea that everyone is responsible for keeping the game fun for everyone else doesn’t necessarily occur to everyone.)

  9. Set Expectations.  Ask Questions.  Remember “Fiction First”.  If they don’t have the fiction then they can’t bring it into the game.  “How does your character know there is someone named ‘Trump’?”  “What does your character think and do?”  Get them to think in terms of what their character would know and then you can fill in some of the blank spots to let them know, “Your character knows nothing of Technology, so how is he going to make a rocket?  How does he even know what a Rocket, let alone a car, is?”

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