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?