What do you do when one character doesn’t trust the other characters, and it starts to degrade game play? A game master asks:

Ask the gamemasters

Hi Mike and Johnn,

I am new to GMing and play with a group of close friends every week. One of my player’s characters doesn’t trust the rest of the group. Even after another PC said he’d pay him to be with the group the mistrust continued, and after about 5 sessions of this I can tell that the others are getting tired of this and he’s slowing the pace down. I was wondering if you had any advice as to how I can convince this player’s PC to trust the others. I would appreciate any advice, thank you.

Ask the Game Masters - Johnn

Johnn’s answer:

In my opinion, the best option is to have a chat with the player about making his character fit in better. The player is probably wrapped up in roleplaying the personality of his PC and doesn’t want to “betray his character” by doing something that doesn’t make sense.

First, congrats if this is the case, because this is an awesome player who will take the roleplaying of your group up a level if allowed to do so.

Second, the player has crafted what sounds to be a character with too much group friction to be playable as-is. Meaning, the character has got to change or to go. The player will object. But, it’s no different than if a player brought a robot PC to a fantasy game, an evil PC to a good party, or a 50th level PC to a group of 1st level PCs. The character just doesn’t fit and it’s causing problems.

Fortunately, I think you can turn this situation into something positive for your group. Talk with the player alone and explain the difficulties the character is causing the group. Then offer to craft a storyline that would result in the character being more group-trusting. The storyline gives the roleplayer lots of great game fodder for his PC and it gives you more material to game with. If the player balks at this, bring to his attention that the definition of hero is one who undergoes transformation or change. Ask him to check out Joseph Campbell, movie guides, and literature guides. Characters change – because they must – and that makes them heroic. So, work out with the player a storyline that would result in his character becoming trustful of all the other PCs. If the two of you work this out together then you are sure to get your player’s support.

Depending on your group, you might fill your other players in. I would, but it depends. You don’t want to show favoritism, but you also want to resolve the situation, and if you are getting cooperation and a chance to resolve things quickly, then it’s worth the effort.

The other option is to ask the player to make a new PC – one who fits in with the party. This is not as good an option and might cause personal issues. But, every player at the game table has to understand it’s a cooperative game. It’s not a game of selfish destructive character gaming. :)

Ask the GMs - Mike

Mike’s answer:

There might be more going on here than meets the eye, and I’m not entirely confident that the GM asking the question has put his finger on the real problem. Perhaps the player in question has good reasons not to trust the others. Is this an issue of trust between players, or trust between characters?

If the player in question was a novice, in comparison to the others, he might be feeling overwhelmed by past stories of greed and betrayal spun for his entertainment and enlightenment by the more experienced players.

Perhaps the player’s behaviour is reflecting a real-world distrust of the other players, and not just their characters. These things crop up from time to time, even amongst friends, and it can sometimes be hard to put sufficient distance between out-of-game experiences and those taking place in-game; they will tend to surface, whether we want them to or not. If the problem is that the player doesn’t trust the other players, the DM needs to get to the reasons for that lack of trust before he can find a solution. Real-world problems require real-world answers, they can’t be resolved in-game!

Perhaps Johnn is right, and the character – not the player – is at fault. Again, perhaps he has good reason not to trust the other characters, either because of the character type, the background that he has chosen, or past events that didn’t sit well with the character. Or maybe it’s just that the other characters havn’t given the PC a reason to trust them yet! Bribing him to stay with the group clearly isn’t enough, in his character’s mindset (and would only aggravate the situation if the character is paranoid about the intentions of the other PCs) – they will, through their behaviour and shared experiences, have to find some reason to work together, some common goal. The players may well have agreed on something along those lines, but have the characters?

If the problem is of a purely in-game nature, then metagaming a solution is a viable tactic. Taking the problem outside the mindset of the character and talking to the PCs owner about his character AS A PLAYER may lead to a solution, as Johnn suggests. There are really two classes of solution: revisiting the character concept, or a conspiracy.

Johnn’s advice neatly covers the ‘revisiting the character concept’ solution set. The alternative type of answer is for the character to continue to distrust the other PCs, but to hide the fact from them! If the GM is satisfied that the character has good reasons for his behaviour, or has a character development arc of his own in mind, this can be a viable solution. To set it in motion, what’s needed is for the PC causing the problem to have a side-encounter of some sort that gives him reason to conceal his distrust, and for the GM to then arrange an encounter that justifies the aparrant ‘change of attitude’ on the part of the PC, just as he would if the character was really going to change attitude.

In many ways, this can be the ideal solution as it gives the campaign the best of both worlds – the player gets to play the character that he wants to, and party harmony is restored. In other ways, it may be seen as deferring the problem for another day. It is also an excellent solution if the GM decides that the character is unjustified in his distrust of the other characters; at a later point, the “side encounter” that persuades the PC to spy on the others can be revealed as a villain using the PC for his own ignoble ends. This gives the PC a big scene once the deception is revealed in which he has to attempt to atone for the wrong that he has done, (perhaps dying in the process) – definitely heroic!

There is a third class of problem that could also be at play here – besides the purely real-world and purely game-play causes of trouble, there is a transition layer between the two that can be cause this sort of problem. This is where difficulties in preferred playing style lurk in ambush, something that occasionally even catches out the experienced GM. Perhaps the player in question wants to spend more time roleplaying in character, while the others have a greater taste for hack-and-slash. This would explain the players intention to dwell on roleplaying his PCs distrust, and the mounting frustration of the other players. If this is the cause of the problem, then none of the solutions offered so far will ultimately solve it; the player will simply move on to some other ‘deep-immersion’ roleplaying of his character, slowing the game down just as much as ever, and frustrating the other players just as much.

I’m afraid that there’s no easy answer to that particular problem. There are some articles and past e-zines at the roleplaying tips website that might help out. Perhaps encounters in which the offending PC gets to roleplay instead of participating in battle while the other characters hold off the nasties, but these are easy to overuse. Ultimately, this type of problem comes down to one of player expectations, and customising the campaign to try and satisfy both. In other words, the best solution – and it’s not perfect, by any means – lies in changing what you as GM are doing!

Last, it might also be that the problem ISN’T with the player in question, but is actually the frustration being felt by the other players. Perhaps they feel that he is getting more than his fair share of the spotlight, and that is the real issue!

So, before you can begin solving this problem, you first have to identify exactly what it’s cause is. That means talking to the player – in private, and possibly at length – about the campaign, his playing style, his character, and why his character is acting as he is – without telling him about the problems that currently exist unless HE brings them up. DON’T tell the player that the others are getting frustrated, it can generate hard feelings – tell the player that AS GM, you want to understand what he’s doing and why so that you can better tailor scenarios to suit.

Have the same discussions with each of the other players as well – you might well find that there is actually more than one source of the complaint, and that they are merely resulting in a common symptom.

Once you know the real cause, you can tailor a solution (if there is one) to suit.

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