That Guy: Four Steps for Dealing with Problem Players

Some people know how to ruin a perfectly good party.

larp advice
Take a seat.

This person, as a rule, will always be attending your game or event. How to deal with them safely and legally could have serious ramifications, so it’s important you not only have a battle plan for when it happens, but an understanding of those ramifications. Poor planning will allow a bad incident to overshadow your game or event. It will become a defining moment, and the only thing your event will be remembered for; after all of that work you did, don’t you deserve better? So sit down a moment, draw a pint, and let’s talk about how to deal with your rowdy player problem.

Why on Earth am I qualified to talk about this? I used to work as a supervisor for a company doing section 8 housing policing, I was a bouncer, and I just finished a combat tour in Afghanistan. This stuff relates a bit; but me and mine have run security at some fairly notable national-level fighting events. We go places and run the show so that event staff doesn’t have to worry about it. The Forsaken of Belegarth and Dagorhir have our fingers in a lot of pies, and our experiences have taught me a lot about doing this stuff safely.

And half the guys I deal with are drunk.

Let’s set the stage and discover the types of risks which are present at your event. Some of them you may not have even thought of. This is the first stage in any risk assessment (which is essentially what we are doing):

  • The players: Your players’ emotions are going to be a roller coaster through this event. Part of it is the emotional charge that is associated with doing something new, or something that you love to do. People are passionate, and when passions run high, dispute happens. This is especially true in serious cases, such as permanent character death. Player arguments are going to happen, and there need to be measures in place to resolve them.
  • What about townies? Anyone that runs particularly large events that are open to the public, or have public visibility, will tell you that the locals are going to wander onto site and they are going to cause an issue. They aren’t going to get what you’re doing, and their reactions will be varied. They may try feebly to understand and grow frustrated, or they may just make fun of you for dressing silly and try to have a good ole time by whizzing in your cheerios. How much access will non players have to your site, and how can you maintain safety while trying to teach the mundanes a new trick?
  • Alcohol and drugs: Is there a policy for these in your game? Substances greatly elevate any situation when done to excess. Personally, I like games that let me drink, but there need to be serious safeguards to responsible usage. If someone is intoxicated, what is the plan? If it can be contained, get them to their camp, get them with more sober friends, make them responsible and accountable, and remove all of them from play. You cannot reason with a drunk; you can only contain and monitor them.

Insider Threat, Outsider Threat, Substance Issues. We can handle them all. Let’s do this.

Four Steps for Player Conflict Resolution

The formula for any rowdy argument is fairly simple: two or however many parties feel wronged, and they want justice done. The most important thing to remember is that if you are running an event, it’s your gig. That is your job. There is a great deal of hospitality management that needs to be done, and you are responsible for stopping dumb in its tracks so that everyone can have a good time. Here is my simple system of conflict resolution for your knuckleheads:

1. Isolate the event: Taking this away from the prying eyes of other people involved is important so that play can continue while you are away dealing with the primitive screw heads that caused the mess. In addition, this prevents sides from developing and dividing your game into two separate peanut galleries. Whether it is an individual being dumb or a dispute between two players, isolate them away from the rest of the attendees and get them where they don’t have support or additional instigators.

  • Break Immersion: We are in a fantasy environment. Everything seems to have a sense of fantasy, mystery, and fiction about it. When a conflict arises, it is important to determine whether it is real, or someone still pretending. Are all parties really on the same page? Shatter immersion. Do not use character names, use your mundane name and make it abundantly clear that you are now in control of what is going on.
  • When in charge, be in charge: I am going to allow for a bit more coverage into this. It is important that you have enough presence to stop conflict in its tracks. As event staff it is simpler because there is already a perceived authority thing going on. This does not mean raise your voice; in fact, it is better that you don’t. It just means that whatever attempt your agitator makes to steer current events needs to be stopped cold.

    “But you don’t get it, this fella-”

    “Stop. Listen to me. I want to help you, and I want to resolve this.”

    You need to be very literal and purposeful with your word choices. Control the situation, control their world, and do not allow for dispute. Numbers helps this game. If you are not comfortable doing this on your own, bring backup. Have them stand there and provide support. If they happen to be that overly large fella that plays a troll every game, so much the better. But s/he is there for support only. You run the world.

2. De-escalate: It is important to do nothing that will escalate a volatile situation. I have seen some event staff yell at people to get them to cease and desist, and if someone is a type B personality or a small child, maybe that works. When you are playing with adults, this isn’t going to cut it. Proud people will keep their pride throughout, and yelling at them is not going to cow them, it is going to cause them to lash out. Do not yell, do not threaten, maintain calm and level-headedness, because behavior of the authority is contagious. If you are calm, then others will be, too.

  • Use defensive language: Nothing will set off an aggressor like them thinking that you do not respect them, or do not care. This has the dual effect of keeping the player happy and polite so that they are not inclined to flee the game. Dr. George Thompson teaches a class called Verbal Judo, which is used for Law Enforcement, Security, and managers. Aggressive language such as ,“Calm down!” ,“Because those are the rules!”,“Hey you!”, “I’m not going to tell you again!”, and “Be more reasonable!” are all taught to be ineffectual for calming a situation, and are in fact detrimental to a positive outcome. Instead, the usage of defensive and supportive language will help calm a situation. “I want to understand.” “I am here to help.” “I understand how you could see that from your perspective. I would like to help.” See what I did there? Not only did I provide perceived value to their opinion and say I was interested in it, but I also suggested that it might not be the only and right opinion. This stuff is gold, and I recommend a verbal judo course for anyone who deals with volatile people regularly.

3. Resolve conflict: When possible, find a fast solution for whatever the problem was. If someone was being rude or disrespectful, see that they understand the problem and won’t repeat it. If they took someone else’s stuff on accident, correct the oversight and let all parties know that the issue is now resolved, and they need to move on. Do not threaten. Not only could it re-escalate the problem, but a threat is a promise; If you say ‘this stops or they are gone’, then that is it, lest order be disrupted from the entire event. I also believe in having someone understand the whole ordeal:

“You did this and I had to act, for which I apologize. If you continue the behavior, then I am going to have to kick you from the event, and no one wants that. Do you understand? We agree that that is fair? Now come on, let’s go smash some goblins to a fine pudding.”

Be as arbitrary as possible when resolving conflict, because bias, whether real or imagined, can escalate a situation. This is another thing that is handy about bring a back up staff member with you to resolve conflict.

4. Follow up: So you thought you solved the problem, but they’re back at it? That is because after conflict, people will stew about a negative outcome. Their negative feelings will fester, and it will poison whoever is around them. Following up, asking if everything is still ok, does a couple things: For one, it gives evidence that you care about the player and believe that their point is important, but it also proves that you didn’t forget about them, and if they try to re-escalate you are going to be all over that. There was a proverb I heard somewhere about using huge chains on a bull to tie them when they are young, so that you can use a rope later. When someone sees the futility in causing conflict, the conflict will end except in the most dire of circumstances.

For players that just don’t get it


So they stopped talking and they are throwing dukes. They are cursing and throwing other people’s stuff around. They are threatening people, and this is now beyond a small contained event. COME AT ME, BRO!

You need to ask yourself the cost/benefit ratio of escalation. Is this incident worth the drama of having to arrest a player? As event staff, you are responsible for not only people’s good time, but their safety. Rule of thumb: do what you must to keep the majority of your players. Take these events seriously, and they will stand testament to future knuckleheads. Does this mean you need to hang the body high where everyone can see it? No, but there are two things left in your toolbag as you try to get this mouth breather off site:

Call the cops if it has gone that far. This isn’t your responsibility at this point; this person has decided they want it to become a criminal matter. Get someone else to call the cops while you keep an eye on Captain Wow to ensure s/he doesn’t trash anyone’s stuff or incite a bigger fight. Isolate them away from their players. One of my favorites is saying you can’t hear them and escorting them to somewhere you can that just happens to be away from others, but you might not be able to pull that off outdoors.

Things you need while waiting for the police:

  • Contact information for witnesses and event staff.
  • Any paperwork your agitator filled out. Get copies, as it probably has a lot of personal information for the cops to use. This will also make the coppers friendly, because they like it when the paperwork portion is easy. Write down when they were called, and when they showed up. If they don’t take your statement, but you think they will, then write down statements as soon as possible, or at least notes, because details are lost quickly. Do not bring attention to the cops being on the way as that could panic the agitator, and fear responses are unpredictable.

OH NO YOU DIDN’T. Did that guy just punch you in the beak? Without going into things like homestead and castle law, here is a guideline: If you, or your group, leased an area and are a representative of that group, you are entitled to protect all persons or properties contained in that area as they are, partly, in your care. This is why we sign waivers at games. Violence causes a different level of problems, so I will advise you placate your offender ’till the fuzz shows. When in doubt, though, use the minimum force necessary to subdue the offender, and when they cease to resist, cease to apply force. If you do get into a physical confrontation, it is important that you report that this is what you did in your report. Don’t tell them training or anything, just say “I used the minimal amount of force necessary to subdue the subject, and ceased to apply force when they ceased to resist.” If you do this, you are within the law, and they are liable for all injuries, including theirs. As I am not familiar with your local laws, it is important to look up local laws on self defense and whatever homestead laws exist. Knowledge is power.

To review

Your action steps are Isolate, De-Escalate, Resolve, Follow Up. By following those steps, you will handle things peacefully and have a good chance of retaining all players involved. All of these are guidelines, however; there are other tools to consider, and I hope you do. Find the plan that is right for you and your game.

Everyone goes to game to have fun. Keep that commonality when you are dealing with people. Resolve things quickly, quietly, and at its smallest level so that everyone can get back to having fun, but maintain a plan for things that go awry. You never know when you are going to find That Guy.

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5 Comments Leave a comment

  1. Forge July 30, 2013 Subscriber

    This is a great article. I have been larping for 11+ years, and never really knew how to deal with that kind of player. And now that I’ve begun to host my own game, I’ve been at a huge disadvantage in this area. Generally our rule was to ask that player to remove themselves from play for a short time while myself and/or another staff member could figure out the issues of the situation and hopefully resolve them. (I’ve been seeing this a lot in my professional life as well. Being trained for a leadership position opens your eyes to a lot of things!)

    • Ben Dieck July 30, 2013 Contributor

      Removing them form play is one thing, but I would make a suggestion onto that. Give them something to do. If they are causing a brief moment of conflict that needs a chewing session between staff, then say, hey, we have a mod that needs help setting up. Can you help out that guy to set this up and hang around there for a minute?
      Hey, I need help labeling item cards, running troll/registration, carrying this heavy thing…
      Keep them busy because keeping them isolated could just give them more time to fume about it. If they were in the right, then they will feel slighted against the event and moreso for being on time out. But if you give them an important job to do they cool off and feel useful and thanked.
      Management and relations are a weird thing. I have some pretty weird stories about it, but a little bit of empathy goes a long way.

  2. Polgara August 5, 2013 Subscriber

    AWESOME ARTICLE. Good practicals for every day situations too.

  3. Johnnie Williams August 27, 2013 Subscriber

    Very good advice. Stuff like this should be mandatory instructions in LARP staff manuals.

  4. Aaron Nuttall March 21, 2014 Subscriber

    This article is very helpful, and one misused word doesn’t detract from that one bit, but the use of “aribitrary” in the last paragraph of point 3 must be a mistake. Have a look at the definitions here:

    It means “determined by chance” or “subject to bias” or “not determined by rules” or “despotic and tyrannical,” all of which seem to be the opposite what it’s intended to mean in the context of this article.

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