How to Deal with Munchkins Joining Your RPG – Geek Advice

Dear Pink Hair Girl,

I live in a city where there are a few different groups who meet and play different kinds of tabletop RPGs, and we leave the games open to the public. Our main organizer used to run the bulk of the games, but he’s been backing off lately since he’s gotten busy and a few new people have sprung up to pick up the slack and start new games.  The thing is, there’s one kid who keeps joining all these games, and he inevitably just starts a bunch of drama. He’s the worst kind of munchkin, constantly trying to be the biggest bad-ass, wave the biggest sword, and yell the loudest about the rules. When our old GM ran most the games, we could see it coming and cut him off or kick him out, but now all the games are run independently by different GMs, and Munchkin Kid is swooping down on the games like fresh meat.  I tried to warn the GM in my one game, but he insists that the kid deserves a shot. Meanwhile 2 people have already stopped coming to the game because Munchkin kid just doesn’t let it be fun for anyone but him. How do we get this kid off everyone’s back, so the rest of us can get some genuine gaming done?

Sincerely,
Miffed Mekhet

Dear MM,

Oh THAT guy. We’ve all met THAT guy. Some of my friends from college used to attend the school’s anime club, and there was a kid in there who always knew the most about anime, who always had a big important opinion about what to show or not show in meetings, and man, did he take that shit seriously. When he talked, it was like the fun and levity got sucked out of the room. Suddenly every little detail was the most important thing ever, and he couldn’t really see that everyone else was just there to watch a show and goof off. Eventually the most fun part of anime club was trying not to laugh too hard while “he would yelltalk his opinions on Inuyasha“. They named him Lumpy.

Why so serious? Oh that's right. He thinks he's Batman.

The Lumpy Phenomenon (as I intend to call it from this point forward) is common amongst groups where there is a tendency to attract socially inexperienced individuals. Lumpies are usually young men or women who have yet to make their mark on the world in a way that is socially recognized, such as graduating from college, starting a career, starting a family, accomplishing something beneficial to the rest of society etc, etc. Instead, their proudest achievements happen in video games, on the internet, in their vast knowledge of a niche topic, and in stories played out in tabletop RPGs.  When in their element of expertise, suddenly they must be seen as powerful and important, they have something to prove, after all – that THEY’RE the best (at something).

Sometimes, a Lumpy is toned down enough that if you just humor him for a couple minutes here and there you can get on with whatever you’re doing. As long as they’re not talking over the movie, that kind of thing. But in tabletop, when players are asked to express themselves openly or in turns, all throughout the game, a Lumpy will monopolize the whole thing. They will argue if they don’t get exactly what it is they wanted, they will complain when they think the GM treated someone else with favor, they will suggest implausible things for the story that inevitably draws the most attention to themselves, regardless of whether or not that’s any fun for the other players.  They will yell the loudest, at first only when something in the game revolves around them, but eventually as they seed themselves deeper and deeper into the story, that yelling will become the majority of the game. The good news is that everyone else usually leaves the game way before it goes this far, because it stopped being fun a long time ago. Or sorry. I meant bad news. That’s the bad news. There is no good news when it comes to a Lumpy.

No Walter, you're not wrong, you're just an asshole!

As for dealing with a Lumpy like this and getting them off your back, there are a few things you can try.  Just keep in mind that getting one Lumpy to go away does not guarantee another one won’t rear their head into your games at a future point in time. After all, things like tabletop tend to attract people who’s social skills aren’t the most polished, which gives a 23.5% chance to spawn Lumpy.  The best recourse is really to be prepared ahead of time. Since you’ve already got one in your midst, I’ll cover how to handle the one you’ve got, and then go on to describe rules you can put in place to help guard your games against future Lumpies.

The Plan: Have an Intervention for your GM – If your Lumpy is as bad as you make him out to be, you’ll have no trouble getting the other players in the game confront your GM with you as a group to discuss the issue.

  • DO NOT criticize your GM during this talk though. He’s coming from a good place.  It’s hard enough to get people to come to games consistently, and someone who takes games as seriously as Lumpies do, are nothing if not likely to be in their seat when the game is ready to start. This doesn’t excuse their poor behavior, but it does make it tempting to keep them around. He’s also giving another person the benefit of the doubt, something that he’s doing for you too, to be fair. So instead of pointing fingers at the GM…
  • Have everyone write down how THEY feel during the games so far, when Lumpy starts to make a fuss. If they express the fact that they’re not having fun when he’s there, your GM should realize that he’s placating one person at the cost of alienating the others. And eventually, it will be just him and Lumpy throwing dice at each others’ heads.
  • If you have to, contact your previous GM and have him write his experience with having Lumpy around. Sort of like a reference letter for how he’s done this before and it’s a pattern for him.
  • Ask the GM to set up expectations, and clear grounds for banning someone from the game. Ask him to promise that if a certain scenario happens X more times, then Lumpy is no longer welcome to play. Make sure you can all agree to this promise, and make sure the GM is committed to it. No, flopping like “Well, that last time he only argued for 4 minutes straight, it wasn’t SO bad compared to the other times”.  It’s time to be stern.  It’s important that your GM knows that if he doesn’t moderate the other players, you guys aren’t going to stick around.
  • He may or may not want to tell Lumpy that he is on thin ice. Sometimes this just makes it worse. It depends on the person. Depends on how the GM handles these confrontations. I’m going to lean towards the side of having to let Lumpy know that he’s got a few more strikes before he’s out, but really this one is up to the GM. But either way he decides, he has to stick to what you all agreed to if the munchkin behavior continues.

As for approaching Lumpy on your own, and speaking to him privately, it may or may not work. If you feel comfortable speaking to him and asking him to tone it down, and you’re diplomacy skills are high, then give it a shot. But chances are you’re pretty ticked off about his behavior and talking to him will likely bubble up some of those bitter, resentful feelings. If that happens, he’ll pick up on it in a second and just get mad at you. Hell, even if you’re diplomatic about it, he might just decide that you’re an idiot and ignore what you have to say. Such is the way of the Munchkin.  I highly suggest leaving this to the GM, their role as the Game Master includes handling game related out-of-character conflicts as well as the in-character ones.

The Outcome: Lumpy realizes his mistake and he plays nice from now on. OR Lumpy does what he always does, and meets the GMs criteria for being kicked out. GM kicks him out, you all can get back to playing the game. OR Lumpy acts up, GM continues to ignore it, you all have to find a new game to play. OR You all follow lumpy to his car at the end of the night, pour glitter all over him and tell him that if he ever comes back from that point forward you will all collectively pretend that he and/or his character is Edward Cullen.  NOTE: Please do NOT do that last part. I’m pretty sure it counts as some form of abuse/assault.

Preventative Measures: Know your GM – Any GM who’s been around the block in open games will have experienced this scenario, and will have their own way of dealing with a Lumpy. But some have built their experience by just avoiding confrontation all-together and telling themselves that this is as good as it can be when they have Lumpy problems. Newer GMs sometimes don’t see it coming and have no idea how to respond.

  • When you join a new game that is open to the public, it is not too much to ask your GM about their etiquette policies, and what the rules are, what the grounds for banning will be.
  • If it seems as though they don’t have anything set up, ask them to create something all players must agree to before joining the game. I suggest googling phrases like ‘RPG etiquette’ and using some guidelines others have come up with as a basis.
  • If your GM decides they’re not going to bother, then join the game at your own risk. Like renting an apartment where the landlord can’t guarantee he’ll fix the plumbing if it breaks… know what you’re getting into. If you jump on board for this game, don’t get attached to it, because public games with no standards for players, are trouble.

It's a fate worse then game-death if you ask me.

Notice that all of the above suggestions weigh heavily on the GM. It should be glaringly obvious why: They’re called the GAME MASTER for a reason. Keeping the playing experience going smoothly is their job. Who else’s job would it be in a game like that? Their responsibility is a big one, and if they don’t understand that, then they probably shouldn’t be running open RPGs, and especially not harboring players who take a game so seriously, when they themselves do not.  It may be tempting to take matters into your own hands, but if you are that compelled to take on this responsibility, consider becoming a GM of your own game. This way you will have free reign to deal with a Lumpy as you see fit; by covering them in glitter and only speaking to them in Twilight quotes.

Sincerely,
Pink Hair Girl

If you’ve got a snag in your social life, cramping your g33k style, feel free to ask me for some advice! Write to pinkhairgirl@g33kwatch.com.

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Pink Hair Girl

After her DNA was spliced with that of a jelly fish, Olivia became known to all as Pink Hair Girl. She also gives advice to geeks all around the world.

One Comment:

  1. I have a couple of favorite GM’s of all time and never noticed a problem with munchkins even though I know some of the people in our group were totally munchkin in other things. I will admit that I don’t entirely know thier strategy but basically the way they organize the activity never seemed to allow a munchkin to really take hold.

    – They were clear up front that the group was focused on the story and having fun and that they would override the “rules” in order to promote story and fun. They also encouraged players to think of “what thier character would do” rather than “what skill and roll would the player execute”. This pretty much takes away the munchkins powers by killing rule lawyering.

    – They had a defined ettiqutte. It wasn’t written down in our case but it was always very clear when you were violating this ettiqutte as most of the players and especially the GM were not shy about pointing out if you were interrupting or monopolizing or any of the other sins. They also stuck very closely to turn orders and made sure everyone had opportunity to talk.

    – They tended to reward good behavior by allowing that to influence the story and in some ways ignored the less good behavior. They were long running groups so if a person was disatisfied with the level of participation there was plenty of talk between sessions including ideas on how to properly influnce the story. They were also masters of understanding characters and giving every character an opportunity to shine. I think the big key here is make players who are adding to the story and fun keep adding and helping those that are not become people who can add to the experience. It certainly helped me become a better player and a better person.

    In the end I suppose these GM’s had players that never took the encouragement and were disruptive and I agree that if all else fails you just have to tell those people that they aren’t a positive influence and are no longer welcome in the group. I know that when I GM I wouldn’t have the same skills to deal with this sort of behavior which is why I don’t hold public sessions and instead play only with friends. I thing that GMs should learn to recognize this in themselves and from thier groups and maybe direct chronic lumpies to more experienced GMs who can mold them a bit.

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