A few weeks ago we discussed the many ways that players can help the Game Masters burn out so they won’t want to run a game ever again! Now let’s discuss another hot topic — ten ways to belittle your players and make them wonder just why they’re playing this game again. The joys of belittling your players are many and varied, and you can do it in a slow and insidious way where a multitude of little comments build up in a way that undermines their self-esteem without ever revealing what you’re doing and why!
1. Give your group of players a nickname they’ll really hate. Call them your “adorable little munchkins who could power game their way out of a paper bag,” or your “band of dumb crazies,” while shaking your head whenever you discuss their antics. Sure, some players might like those nicknames if they are actually trying to be crazy or the game is about power gaming, but this pointer is directed to those many players who have to suffer such nicknames despite their actual intentions, desires and play style.
2. Laugh at your players when they don’t understand your plot. Blame them for ignoring all of the obvious clues you’ve seeded throughout your complex story line and conveniently forget that they have several days to a few weeks between each game to dull their memories. Without the big picture framework, it can be easy to lose facts among the sea of words typical of any campaign. You can always make your laughter sound playful with a paternalistic shake of the head to show that you’re not being mean (or bitter!), you’re just astounded at how little their pretty little heads can retain.
3. Call your players fools, and laugh at them some more, when you manage to trick them. It doesn’t matter that part of the reason why the game can run at all is because players conveniently overlook certain details (such as not doing background checks on every quest giver that comes along) or that you have control of the entire world and how you describe it. It doesn’t matter how easy it is to overlook, blank out or get confused about a few lines of verbal description amid four hours of what is essentially a conversation. Now while every GM should be able to take pride in a job well down with a cleverly crafted conspiracy, you can take it several steps forward by making it all about how much the players are failures because they didn’t figure it out. Remember, you don’t win unless they fail.
4. Grumble when your players move cautiously and do those constant background checks that you taught them to do. Encourage them to just do the damn quests, then go back to No. 3 when they comply and punish them some more for not taking their time with every situation.
5. Rather than having a conversation with them out-of-game about any behaviours that are causing problems in the game, passive aggressively punish their characters for their choices instead. That way the player won’t quite know why it happened or how to fix it and your players get to enjoy having every other player annoyed and frustrated with them for consequences that affect them all. That way you get bonus belittling from the other players! Since many games involve consequences for in-game actions, you can easily cover it up as a normal outgrowth of a situation rather than an attempt to teach them through punishment.
6. Give the characters belittling nicknames that will stick and influence how other people (and the player themselves) sees that character. Call them “that annoying little girl,” or “the dumb lug,” or “the stuffed shirt.” After awhile it’ll become difficult for the other players to see them as anything else. When describing encounters they are in you should also reinterpret their character’s actions in line with the nickname, perhaps by OOCly expressing astonishment at “the dumb lug’s moment of wisdom.” Remember that even if your player started that nickname, you can make it belittling by continuing the joke even after it’s long stopped being funny.
7. Why only give such nicknames to your characters? Give them to your players as well! Have oodles of fun by consistently referring to your friends as the min-maxer, the manic pixie girl and the drama queen to make sure they know how little you think about their roleplaying ability. Use these nicknames frequently without ever asking your friends if they’re actually okay with it and never protect their reputation by adding such silly caveats as, “but they only min-max as far as would be fun for the campaign.” Instead make it seem like they can’t play or do anything else!
8. Just be upfront with your belittling with phrases such as “I can’t believe you idiots did….” or “You guys have really screwed up this time.” This punishes the “play to lose,” “accept what happens,” or “play for story,” dynamics and ensures the players know that there was a right way and a wrong way to game and they did it wrong. This way the players themselves feel like failures and may even try to find someone to blame among the group.
9. Reward only one type of behaviour and then punish them for doing it like there was an alternative. In other words, make combat the only option which works in your campaign and then taunt the players for not bothering to talk to their enemies. Point to the one or two options where diplomacy could work and ignore all of the times that the players tried to use diplomacy and it just blew up in their face. Or make diplomacy the only workable option because the bad guys are so enormously powerful and then complain that the players never want to fight.
10. Talk about how running games is such a burden and how your players always ruin the game for you in vague and powerful statements within ear shot or while discussing the game with them and other people. Fail to have a real conversation with them about what you need to be happy and how they can help out with that. Expect mind reading. Ignore the possibility of compromise. Be a martyr and refuse to respect your own time and effort as well as the players by continuing to run a game you hate rather than finding a game that can suit all of your interests. (Real Advice: If your players are really that toxic and the game is truly horrible, stop until you can find a better group. Seriously, don’t hurt yourself and other people by wasting hours on what you hate.)
NOTE: This is a satirical article so please don’t take these ideas as actual advice. Also bear in mind that many of these toxic habits can be picked up by a Game Master through previous experiences with players and GMs and probably aren’t intended to actually hurt you. This doesn’t stop it from being a problem as unintentional belittling is still, well, hurtful but it is important to be mindful of if you need to approach your GM about a toxic behaviour. Assume the best intentions until proven otherwise, but do have that conversation with them about anything they are saying or doing which is causing you harm.