Home / Delve into the Depths in the Kobold Blog / Pack Tactics October: I Yelled at a Player. AITA?

Pack Tactics October: I Yelled at a Player. AITA?

Pack Tactics October: I Yelled at a Player. AITA?

It’s time again for the Kobold Press advice column, Pack Tactics! For the next few months, we’ll be taking questions from players and GMs. A crack team of Kobold Press regulars has gathered to answer them, bringing their own perspectives to answer questions on how to play and run a better game.

Our roundtable experts this month are Ben Eastman, Basheer Ghouse, Phillip Larwood, Ben McFarland, Brian Suskind, Sebastian Rombach, and Mike Welham. You might recognize some of these names from Kobold Press products like the recently updated Tome of Beasts 1 and the brand-new Campaign Builder: Cities and Towns. Together, they represent more than 100 years of gaming experience and know-how.

Whatever questions you have about running a game, handling tricky metagame traps, and ruling edge cases, they’ve got an answer. Sometimes several!

Regretfully Authoritative asks . . .

I run a virtual campaign for my players, let’s call them Jared, Katy, and Ross. We use a VTT and voice chat but not video. In a recent game, Jared’s PC was stunned by a statue for four turns (according to the directions of the adventure) and his familiar was eliminated in short succession.

While the other players took their turns, Jared kept giving tactical “advice” to them. This reached a breaking point when after Katy’s turn was declared over and we had moved on to Ross’s turn, Jared tried to walk back Katy’s turn into something more tactically advantageous. The entire table started talking at once, and it halted the game.

I reacted maybe too quickly, yelling to get everyone’s attention and keep the game moving. I admonished Jared for disrupting other people’s turns, especially when his character couldn’t do so. We finished the game, but I didn’t feel good about it like I normally do. I apologized to everyone, including Jared for the unfairness of the encounter and my outburst.

The thing is, even though yelling doesn’t feel like the right thing to have done, I still think that Jared was being disrespectful to the situation the PCs were in and to the other players at the table. Was I wrong? What should I have done, or do if there is a next time?

Brian Suskind. I think our Regretful GM was dead right. First of all, it’s always a bit murky about whether the players can discuss tactics out of character during a battle. Second, Jared was a statue and shouldn’t even be talking, especially on someone else’s turn. That was Katy’s moment in the spotlight, not time for Jared to chime in.

Now, I feel for Jared. It’s hard to be in the wings waiting for a turn that will likely play out with little more than a pass or fail die roll. Next time, it might be interesting to give a sidelined player something to do on their turn in the initiative, such as describing a dream or out of body experience. You can allow a sidelined player to at least participate narratively, even while their character is incapacitated.

Mike Welham. I’m not actually bothered when someone suggests tactics for my character, though I understand that not everyone might be so inclined. As far as handling that situation, I’ve been in games that had an after-session meeting where people talked over everything that happened, good and not-so-good. That’s an appropriate time to discuss mid-encounter kibitzing—not during the game, but afterward. That’s where everyone might find that it’s not actually a problem! Or everyone can agree on a new house rule about playing together when the GM is not trying to juggle a bunch of other jobs.

Ben Eastman. This is a frustrating situation for likely everyone involved. Players want to feel useful, after all. And it’s reasonable for a player in Jared’s position to chime in. The problem comes when Jared plays general. In these cases, the PCs have a backstory and history together that can be leveraged not just by the GM but by everyone else at the table too. Jared could explain why Katy’s character would hear Jared’s character’s voice in her head making the suggestion. If Jared can’t within a reasonable amount of time, then the encounter needs to move forward. In this case, Jared could talk about past battles as precedent but there’s also downtime activities that could be called upon. Let your players make things up, as long as it makes sense and is fair to everyone else.

Basheer Ghouse. Attempting to retcon a turn is a violation of the game’s purity, though. You’re no longer minimizing risk with a careful plan if you retroactively change a turn, especially if you retroactively change someone else’s turn. Shot-caller is a valuable role for a player who is otherwise out of action and can help keep people on track with a complex plan, but this wasn’t an appropriate way for Jared to approach it. Yelling isn’t an ideal way to correct such a breach of combat etiquette, but I believe it was acceptable for the GM in the situation. I recommend formalizing rules of engagement for the future, and interrupting such violations in a calm, firm, but clearly annoyed manner.

Ben McFarland. I wouldn’t want players armchair advising other characters’ combat choices, especially on turns that aren’t their own. I agree with Basheer and Brian on this though, the OP’s outburst may have been suboptimal but it was understandable. To get around this kind of situation, I try to cut it off at the first instance, politely but directly. If I know a player has a tendency for this I devise a plan for it ahead of time. I’d also give the sidelined player a monster to run in combat instead (which frees me up), and offer them an end-of-encounter bonus for every critical hit and every character reduced to 0 hp while playing on the opposing side. Give them different skin in the game.

Phillip Larwood. A little left of topic, but a GM can just disregard an adventure’s directions if they would cause table problems. For example, in this situation, I would have reduced the stunned condition to the dazed condition or decreased the condition’s duration to the end of the PC’s next turn. A minor change like that keeps a lot of these “bored player” situations from popping up in the first place.

I also agree that being stern with players has its place. If the game gets bogged down like this, I don’t think making your point is a bad thing. You just have to do it in a way that seems reasonable to your players. Be firm without letting your emotions get the better of you. Remember, you are ultimately in control of the pace of the game.

Sebastian Rombach. I’m a little surprised no one else brought this up, but RA said this situation was virtual. That’s a huge factor here! VTTs are different from face-to-face play. When you’re not streaming video, it’s impossible to read body language—that’s crucial for reading social cues like when to speak or flagging for attention. Before next time, RA should discuss available options with players. It could be as simple as making a dedicated effort to just stream video and look at each other.

Another idea is to try a safety tool like a “red card, yellow card, green card” system. Many VTTs have safety tools like this, or something similar. Safety tools don’t have to be just for trauma warnings. If you’re not comfortable with how a player is behaving, a GM can throw out a yellow card too!

What Do You Think?

How would you handle this situation? Let us know in the comments!

Do you have a question for the pack? Let our pros weigh in on your tough questions. Then check back first Friday of each month for more Pack Tactics!

about Sebastian Rombach

We can neither confirm nor deny that Sebastian is actually three raccoons in a trenchcoat. His freelance contributions can be found in Tome of Beasts 2, Tome of Heroes, and more. You can roll dice with him at https://startplaying.games/gm/dontbreakthedm or follow him on Twitter and Instagram @dontbreakthedm.

1 thought on “Pack Tactics October: I Yelled at a Player. AITA?”

  1. 1. Once the next turn begins, there’s no going backward unless it’s to fix a major error, such as mistakenly declaring something dead that should be alive. Reversing time just to tweak an action or make an overlooked attack should never be allowed (unless you’re playing with children).

    2. Whether players can give advice that their characters couldn’t give is a table rule. There’s nothing wrong with it, but the GM needs to let players know whether it’s allowed, or the group needs to make the decision collectively. If that had never been covered, then the player shouldn’t be blamed. If it had, then the player should have been reminded as soon as he started speaking out of turn.

    3. Yelling was the wrong play. Most VTTs have a private text function; it could have been used to shush the player before the situation got out of hand.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join the Kobold Courier and Earn Loot!

Stay informed with the newest Kobold Press news and updates delivered to your inbox weekly. Join now and receive a PDF copy of Caverns of the Spore Lord

Join The Kobold Courier


Be like Swolbold. Stay up to date with the newest Kobold Press news and updates delivered to your inbox twice a month.

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This
Scroll to Top