As a Game Master, one of your most important roles is to ensure that all players have a positive and enjoyable experience at your table. Unfortunately, player conflict can arise from time to time, whether it’s a disagreement about how to approach a situation in the game, or a personal issue outside of the game that spills into your session.
I’ve got a three-step process outlined below for you to work through player conflict at your table. While not easy, it is a vital role as Game Masters for us to ensure our players are enjoying themselves, feel respected, and are able to continue playing. Let’s dive in.
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Resolving Player Conflict
In my experience, most conflicts come from personalities that grind in opposite directions, and over time the tension just becomes problematic.
I wish I could tell you that simply reading this article would solve all of your conflict issues; however, we both know that’s not possible. What you can do, is take the advice and tools here and apply them in the best possible way to your table human situation.
Remember this above all: compassion speaks to everyone. If you are patient, understanding, and willing to listen, it should help a lot.
You have what might be a few difficult conversations ahead of you. I have faith in you. You can do it.
It Falls to You, GM
You, wielder of worlds, must not only create, maintain, and enthuse with your craft, but you must also help resolve these conflicts as they arise and keep the game moving forward. Here are the three steps to follow when mediating player conflict:
Step 1: Listen to Both Sides of the Player Conflict… Actually
The first step in mediating player conflict is to genuinely listen to both sides of the argument. This means one side is quiet or not in the room (<- ideal) while the other is talking with you.
Take the time to hear each player’s perspective and understand where they’re coming from. Ask clarifying questions to make sure you genuinely understand why they are upset. This can help you identify the root cause of the conflict and figure out the best way to move forward.
Remember: Anger is a secondary emotion. There’s always something else going on.
When listening to each player, make sure to remain impartial and avoid taking sides, at least out loud. Your role is to facilitate a solution, not to pick winners and losers.
As cheesy as it sounds, everyone will be a loser if you can’t get this fixed, because it will divide your table. And, incidentally, everyone will be a winner when you fix it. This also leads to your players having respect for you as their leader, and trust in your ability to fairly handle future problems.
I know you can do it.
How to Approach This
For me, I want to speak to everyone at the table separately, and alone. I want to keep a neutral tone and pleasant facial expression, like I’m playing poker. When people are upset, they have a tendency to read too much into little gestures and I have mad RBF so I need to be pretty careful here.
I would suggest you do the same. Be Switzerland. Learn what’s going on, and what people perceive is going on. Learn their feelings, good and bad.
For the parties primarily involved in the conflict, ask them to tell you their favorite qualities of the opposition after you’ve listened to them, and ask them, genuinely, if they want to keep playing the game.
After this conversation, they should hopefully be a bit more open to a compromise. Ask them if that’s the case. Remember, you don’t want to be threatening or mean. You do have the power to kick them out at any moment, but they already know that. This is not the time for you to flex.
Step 2: Identify the Core Issue Behind the Player Conflict
Once you’ve heard both sides, it’s time to identify the real issue behind the conflict.
Often, players will argue over a minor detail or surface-level disagreement, when the real issue is something deeper. For example, a player might be frustrated with another player’s behavior because they feel like they’re not being taken seriously, or they might be upset because they feel like their character’s story is being overshadowed.
This often can also happen when a player is self-conscious. You can’t repair their internal feelings or provide them everything they need if they are in need of real help, but you can be supportive, kind, and understanding.
By identifying the real issue, you can work towards a solution that addresses the underlying problem, rather than just the symptoms.
Step 3: Collaborate on a Solution
The final step in mediating player conflict is to work with both players to find a solution that works for everyone. This might involve compromise, brainstorming new ideas, or finding a way to reframe the issue in a way that’s more manageable.
Hopefully it doesn’t mean one of the players joining a different game, but sometimes it comes to that. You need to remember that your job, above all, is to make the game fun for everyone. If the game ceases to exist because of an ongoing conflict, you’ve failed in that. I’m sorry. It’s tough.
When collaborating on a solution, make sure that all players are heard and that everyone has an opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Ultimately, the goal is to find a solution that’s fair and balanced, and that allows everyone to move forward and enjoy the game.
How to Approach This
Once you’ve heard the two sides of the conflict, you’ll need to use your best judgement.
If this conflict has been obvious to everyone at the table, it might be a good idea to have everyone present. That way, everyone feels involved and there’s less opportunity for drama and the “I heard…” sorts of gossip. Being straightforward in these situations takes guts, but you can do it. Have faith in your ability and keep a positive attitude. Your players will see that you want a real solution, and I know you can do it.
Roleplaying games have human involvement, which means player conflict is a reality of any TTRPG game. I have never ran or played a game that had zero conflict between players. Maybe I’m just unlucky, but it seems like people just have trouble jiving a lot of the time.
Hopefully, by following these three steps, you can help mediate conflicts and keep the game moving forward. Remember, as a Game Master, your primary role is to facilitate a great experience for all players, and that includes helping to resolve conflicts when they arise. It’s not the best part of your job, but it is one of the most important parts.
By taking the time to listen to both sides, identify the real issue, and collaborating on a solution, you can create a more cohesive and enjoyable gaming experience for everyone at the table. Take a deep breath. You can do it.
I’d love to read about any other strategies you have in the comments below.
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