RPGs As Sports: Getting Cut

The latest installment in my series on treating RPGs as sports is about cutting players.  It’s inspired by the recent Randy Moss fiasco where he got cut from the Vikings after being with the club for only three games.

It’s somewhat the flip side of tryouts.  When do you decide someone shouldn’t be part of the team any more, who gets to say, and how does the cut get made?

Most groups run across this problem at some point.  Someone acts like a tool, or a freak, or just is making the game un-fun for everyone, or attendance is bad, and you want to unload them.

So what’s the line?  Well, to a degree it depends on how “serious” your game is – check out my post on categorizing your game as pick-up, league, or pro.

If your game is a pick-up game, then really you are almost never going to tell someone to leave short of them specifically doing something big that makes them unwelcome – messing up the host’s house, sexually harassing a female player, threatening someone, or other kinda “big bad” event.

On the other hand, in a “pro” game, you might let people go for poor attendance or just not making the team as good as it could be.

In a “league” game, it’s a lot more hazy.  It helps to have a process in place ahead of time.  (When Brad Childress cut Randy Moss, he kept emphasizing that “we have a process we use in these cases, and that’s what I did.”)  Just as in a sports franchise you have various stakeholders.  There’s all the players, and then there’s the GM (who you might think of as the coach) and there’s the host, who you could almost think of as the “owner”.

Why is the host so important?  In the end, it’s the host’s right to tell someone to “get out of their house” or whatnot (even if you game in a shared space, the game store owner or librarian or whatnot is the host and can chuck someone out).  The group can decide to move as a result, but there’s no such thing as “taking a vote” to see if someone can stay in my house.  But that’s more of a special case for the “one person specifically wants them gone because they did something” as opposed to the more usual “the group is getting kinda sick of them.”

Similarly, the strength of the coach (GM) varies from group to group.  In some, it’s “GM call” both on tryouts and ejections.  In many, it’s seen as a group decision.  But a lot of this depends on specific expectations being set.  Personally, I consider it a group decision to tell someone to leave the group, but my decision as a GM if I don’t want someone in my game.  (Kinda like it’s the host’s if they don’t want someone in their house.)  However, some groups may set the expectation that it’s not even the GM’s call on their game, so it’s worth making sure everyone’s on the same page there.

In the more general case of someone being disinvited from a group, please keep fairness and respect in mind.  It can become a very politicized thing that leaves everyone feeling bad.  “Jenny and Brad called the GM and said Bill had do go or else they’re not coming, but he’s friends with Ted, and it’s Ted’s house…”  If you get group infighting, everyone loses.

The best thing to do if people are seriously starting to grumble about someone is have a full group meeting without that person and hash it out with everyone there.  You don’t have to use Robert’s Rules of Order, but again it helps to set the process – is it “majority rules” or “anyone can vote him out” or “anyone can vote him in…”  Have a frank discussion about why people want the person out of the game, discuss whether the group in general feels like it’s merited, take a vote, and then act on it.  Don’t let it spin around for weeks – everyone will just have a bad time for that duration.

Maybe you all agree the person just needs a talking to.  This is even more sensitive – it’s hard to do this without the person getting put on the spot and feeling defensive.

Three real world examples after the jump.

First, in a long term game I was DMing, one player was acting erratically, arguing to the point of it clearly being out of character, acting like goon in the game – because of a fit over leaving the copper pieces behind in a treasure cache, he suicided his character by hugging a spectre.

This game was a “pro” game and I was GM, and it was understood that other players could give me feedback but I was the decider.  Anyway, the player called me up and the first words out of his mouth were “I have an idea for a new character!  My old one’s problem was that he was too much of a team player!”  You can imagine my wince at that.  Anyway, I actually kept him in the game – I told him that getting heated with other players wouldn’t be OK and he was on warning, but also I let him play a character that was a plant by an evil organization, who was under orders to go along with the PCs and send reports back on their activities, but in all other ways to be an enthusiastic party member.  This was one of my rare flashes of true GM brilliance; he played fine after that and got his passive-aggressiveness outlet in drafting lengthy missives about the PCs’ doings and shortcomings to his evil masters.

Do try to find solutions as opposed to just tossing someone.  We all like our gaming groups and no one likes to be rejected, and it’s hard to do it as well.  I’ve both been laid off and had to lay people off and/or fire them in my professional job, and the former is actually much easier.

Second, shortly after I joined my current gaming group, they started talking about letting a guy go.  This game was more league to pickup than anything else, with a lot of rotating of GMs.  The guy didn’t poop on anyone’s floor or anything, he was just a tool who always roleplayed tool characters and one day everyone said “You know… This game would be a lot more fun without Bob.”  Even though I was new, their process was democratic, so they called me up and discussed.  Being new I said I didn’t have a super strong opinion, but I certainly had often looked at him and wondered “WTF is this guy’s problem, but he’s an established member of their group…”  Anyway, there was unanimity for either “he should go” or “I don’t know if I feel that strongly but it certainly wouldn’t hurt my feelings” and one of the senior members talked to him and told him it wasn’t working out.

That event gave me a good feeling about the group, actually.  They had a democratic process and didn’t just pretend, they even asked me the new guy.  And they conducted the cut respectfully.

That’s one thing Brad Childress did right about the Randy Moss thing.   Obviously there had been a lot of stuff picked up by the media where Moss acted like a jackass.  And we probably only heard 5% of it.  But he didn’t go into the whys or badmouth Moss to justify his decision, he just said “it wasn’t the best fit for our team, we wish him well” and that’s it.

Third, I got cut!  Of course it’s easy to feel this way as the cut-ee, but I don’t feel like it was done well.  My wife at the time and I joined a game in Connecticut.  During the game, there was a dispute about treasure distribution.  One player (the host) felt that her character should get something, and I felt it would be as useful to me and others, and offered to dice for it.  There was an impasse, and I asked the GM and group several times, “Hey, out of game, I’m fine with her getting it – do we need to meta-decide this, or keep roleplaying it?”  “No, no, just roleplay it” was the answer.  Well, I trusted that – I’ve played in groups where you specifically are allowed/expected to roleplay inter-character conflict and it’s part of the whole deal.  So we haggled for a while, until eventually I gave in and we moved on.  Well, next week I get an email from the GM that “we decided” you shouldn’t come back.  Upon asking why, it turned out that the hostess/queen bee didn’t want me coming back, and basically he was giving into her.  I was a bit unhappy of course, but my wife was even more unhappy – she asked “So I’m uninvited too?  I thought I was a player in the game, if he’s saying it was a group decision, why was I never consulted?”

In the end it was a host veto and that’s life, but my wife’s point was that the GM was pretending it was a group decision, and hadn’t talked to her, which meant it was NOT a group decision, and frankly treated her like an appendage of me and not a person.  I know it’s complicated when there’s SOs and friends and relationships involved, but if you don’t handle things above board you come off as a weasel.  It wouldn’t have been harder to call/email her about it, and even if she dissented to see it’s a majority decision, and then if she didn’t want to attend any more since I got bounced it would be her decision, and not a “layoff by proxy.”

I could write a lot more about this, but I’m interested in hearing your thoughts – have you ever cut someone from your team?  Or have you been cut?  Did it go well or poorly, and what are some good guidelines to follow?

8 responses to “RPGs As Sports: Getting Cut

  1. Getting that ‘about to be cut’ feeling myself in the local BattleTech game. After something like eight years, it seems I am too effective for my own good as an OpFor player. The ‘character’ players want someone who will provide a walk-over and ego-boost for them each month.

    Me? Not to put too fine a point on it, but I didn’t drive two hundred miles round trip to stroke someone’s dick. If the GM doesn’t want us to win, he should bloody well tell us before cutting us loose on his pet players.


    As for RPGs, I was cut about five years back – first I was the GM’s assistant. When I objected to the GM’s son acting like a tool towards his father and everyone else, as well as the idea of some low-level carrying around Thor’s Hammer, the players tried to co-opt me by having me become a player.

    When it became clear I still wasn’t going to let them gang-bang the GM – in other words, I wasn’t going to side with them just because I was a fellow player – they talked to the GM when my son and I were not there and decided to change the D&D game to a Star Wars game. Needless to say, I could see the writing on the wall and did not return.

    It permanently soured things between the GM and me; the guy had been my good friend for something like seven years. More important, it spoiled roleplaying for my son (he has not played since) and for a while I just want to corner one of the other gamers who connived behind my back and pay him personally. With a tire iron.

    What can you do with weak gamemasters and passive aggressive players for whom ‘everything is politics’ and the best kind is played with a knife in the back? Nothing. I vet the group and I accept or reject *them* based on a pretty standard set of criteria. At age 50, life has begun to assume a definite span and it’s not as long as I would like. Why spend what’s left with people you don’t or won’t like?


  2. I’ve cut people from games before. Each time it’s been a singular decision since I was the GM. The reason was I was running 12 players through Kingmaker, I had rotating rosters, I set up events for mini-quests and it was generally fun.

    The problem was that it became too much work on my end during a busy time at university. So I decided to cut down from a weekly game to a fortnightly game, it wouldn’t be fun or fair for each group to play once a month. So I cut 6 players, generally the ones that seemed to cause the most party conflict, or contributed the least to the story. Most players understood, but two seemed pretty hurt. Ultimately the game improved greatly, and I still run the occasional “pick up” game with the more reasonable cut players.

    • I had that kind of situation and ended up splitting the group, which worked well. The “Pro” players did Sat afternoons and the “Pickup” players did Wed evening. The pickups weren’t bad, but they weren’t ready (or in many cases willing ) to go “move up.” (This is similar to our local soccer leagues here in Austin – there’s divisions, and a team can “move up” but sometimes it involves a shakeout of the roster both of people that suck and just people that don’t want to put in that much effort into that hobby.) A lot of it is about not making value judgements, “pickup” players/games aren’t inferior, it’s just that people have different interest levels and talents and it’s good for them to play in their range.

      As I get older, I start to have less and less patience with larger groups – frankly 4 PCs and a GM is what I consider to be the efficiency limit, and larger than that I’d rather split and have 2 games (people can play in both, and you’ll always have a couple people who have multiple nights free a week to game). Some of that will be examined in my next post, on “Hustle!”

  3. Now this is a topic I can strongy relate to .. recently my group has been going through a turmoil of too many players (6+) and trying to cut the numbers (I’m GMing) and some players wanting to do other games but not by offering something new, just crappping on my head as a GM. Even after I’ve said I had no problem with that, I like the idea, but if most folks actively *want* me to GM, I’m happy to do it. Its a mess, thats for sure. Navigating everyones desires and egos..

    To cut the whole story short, nowdays (after too many emails and talks) we have 2 regular sessions, Wed & Sat. Saturday is the standard one and all regulars are there (5 players + GM).
    On Wednesday I GM for only three people. They *love* the characters, developed mutual backstories, work very well together and really enjoy the AP (CoC, btw). And they don’t want any more PCs.
    The problem began when one of the ‘other’ players said she wants to join this game even tho she’ll usually be late for sessions because of classes and stuff. I made a mistake for letting her join for two sessions and now I can’t find a way to tell her not to come. We even moved time slot for the game (I know, sneaky and really not nice or sincere) but she didn’t take the hint.

    On the last session I got into a fight with her (that was a funny story) and I don’t want to worsen the situation by dumping a rejection just like that. Afterall, we will still continue to game and all of us are RL friends.

    • Yeah, that’s a tough one. You’re going to have to sack up, man. Wait till after the fight thing is over, but then it’s on you (from your story I assume as GM you’re the one with unilateral invite/uninvite rights) to handle this.

      Here’s the thing – you don’t really have to sink into the mire of navigating everyone’s egos if you keep it professional and coach-like in the first place. If you have poor personal boundaries, then people instinctively abuse them. Giving in to her wanting to join in the first place was a step down the slope, so it’ll be harder at this point, but just be honest. “The group wasn’t really looking to have anyone else join but I invited you anyway, since you’re my friend and all, and with more people and schedule disruption it has affected the game’s pretty in depth plot and group dynamic. I know you’re busy, and of course classes have to come first… Do you mind if you sit out of this one? We’ll still game together on Whateverday of course! I’m sorry for the start-and-stop, that’s my bad.”

  4. I like the way you put the whole thing and it is true afterall.
    Yesterday we gamed and in the end we did talk and she agreed that its not fair to the rest of the team if she were to jump in at random, in the middle of sessions, etc.. besides, the way things are likely to develop, it wouldn’t be easy to find reasons why a character joins or dissapeares at certain points.

    oh, and you mean, ‘sack up girl’ 😀 I will , as always 😉

    p.s. I really love your blog and can’t wait for anothe PFRPG AP to happen so we can all get more session reviews

    • Cool, I’m glad it worked out!

      And the next session of Reavers is this Sunday. We only play it every other week and I took a week off, so it’s been a little while, but we’re still plugging away! With the first plot arc complete I had to do a bit of work to block out the next one. It’ll be a little Second Darkness, a little Razor Coast, a lot of Pathfinder modules, and a little Dungeon Magazine!

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