Gaming Advice: The Main Causes of Gaming Arguments

At its heart, roleplaying is a cooperative gaming experience made richer and more enjoyable by the people with whom you play. In an ideal world, the experience would be a harmonious one, but inevitably arguments occur.


By William McAusland (Outland Arts)
By William McAusland (Outland Arts)


Arguments suck enjoyment out of the game, create bad feelings and – in extreme cases – end up ruining friendships, ending campaigns or breaking up gaming groups. Knowing the causes of arguments helps you avoid them.

  • Not Being Prepared: Turn up on-time and ready. Arriving late and then realising you don’t have your character sheet or still need to level is not going to go down well.
  • Rules Lawyering: Some players love arguing rules, but a GM’s word is final; don’t try and eek out every little advantage from bizarre or “extreme” rule interpretations. As long as you don’t die or expend considerable resources because of the GM’s ruling it’s all good.
  • Not Paying Attention: Forcing people to repeat themselves (repeatedly) or making bad tactical choices because you don’t know what is going on is bad form. Pay attention.
  • Putting A Character’s Needs Above A Player’s: This is huge, for me. If you put your (pretend) character’s needs above those of a (real life) player, you won’t get a seat at my table.
  • Not Knowing The Rules: Know the rules – if you enjoy the game enough to play it, invest the time to learn the rules.
  • Not Knowing Your Character: Know what your character can do. For example, if you can cast spells, know their effects. Better yet, have the relevant text available when you need it.
  • Not Being a Team Player: Everyone acts in their own self-interest on occasion, but deliberately acting contrary to the party’s goal or ethos is just asking for trouble. For example, creating an assassin PC for a group that already has a paladin is inevitably going to create arguments.

Help Fellow Gamers!

The above flashpoints are the main causes of arguments at the game table I’ve seen. Did I miss any? Let us know in the comments below and help your fellow gamers dodge pointless, time-consuming arguments!

Published by


Creighton is the publisher at Raging Swan Press and the designer of the award winning adventure Madness at Gardmore Abbey. He has designed many critically acclaimed modules such as Retribution and Shadowed Keep on the Borderlands and worked with Wizards of the Coast, Paizo, Expeditious Retreat Press, Rite Publishing and Kobold Press.

29 thoughts on “Gaming Advice: The Main Causes of Gaming Arguments”

  1. I feel the complete opposite of “Putting A Character’s Needs Above A Player’s”. The whole point of the game is playing the characters, so a player doing what’s best for himself and also doesn’t make sense for his character is a big negative for me (and other players as well). He may have more fun by doing so, but others at the table have less.

    1. I think it depends on the degree of the action. If it’s pocketing a gem without anyone noticing, then fair enough. If the action directly leads to another PC dying – or some other serious negative outcome – I’m not so sympathetic. For example, in a game many years ago a player made a new character after his previous one died. The new character hated half-orcs, but there was already one in the party. That led to many rather uncomfortable roleplaying situations.

      1. Examples that annoy me are the party paladin selecting the highest value magic item from the loot pile that he can’t use, in an attempt to extort the most in trade from another character to get the item (like a Staff of Power etc.) or trying to sell it to some merchant or other NPC. It benefits the player, but the paladin’s act hurts the party and really doesn’t mesh with the concept behind the class.

        1. Yes. The examples you note would drive me wild (and in fact a similar situation came up just the other day in my campaign). We’ve tried selling everything as well, but that also isn’t a great solution as you are only getting half value for everything.

  2. Players not paying attention to companion animals, familiars, and pets. For some reason, my old group all wanted animal companions of some type, yet even the druid in the party would forget they had the animal or what it was doing. As a GM, I do not think it is my responsibility to handle running animals (just my personal bias) and feel the players should handle it. After reminding them for a few weeks to pay attention to their animals, I stopped and then would randomly ask them if they knew where their animals were. When they looked at me in shocked silence, I would have to tell them the animal was not there. Then, of course, the players wanted to look for their animals which sidetracked the game. I finally had to outlaw all non-bonded animals and if the bonded ones were not acknowledged by the players, I would kill them and the PC’s would have to deal with the consequences. That was not a happy time at my table, but those that really wanted animals learned to pay attention. I only wish it had not come to that.

  3. I had a situation recently in my campaign where one player was violating several of the no-nos on your list and had to dismiss them. If a player is just constantly dragging the game, making it into a slog with constant bickering and pointless contests, and comes to the table without having leveled their character, not knowing the rules, then they won’t last long.

  4. I think the main cause of tabletop arguments boils down to trust, and a battle for an individual’s control versus collaborative group cohesion. I consider RPGs to be games of trust by their very definition as a “shared fantasy;” a consideration that is easily subsumed in the company of friends (who regularly play together) but unrealized by players too heavily emphasizing an arbiter divorced from the specific-tabletop game experience. I value this organic “happens at the table” system to be far superior to the programmed objective response from even the best video games or completist rulebook.

    The early concept of having a separate player’s handbook from a GM’s rulebook meant that RPGs as originally envisioned had some rules develop as part of the group experience at the hand of the GM. A player’s handbook was never meant to provide the players all the rules – that required a Group Manager for that. And it meant trust was front and center.

    This is a focus on the players, the people at the table. You cannot trust a Cleric to heal sno matter the statistics on paper if the player is not going to do it. Same with the GM not being a douchebag.

    Sadly some persons cannot trust any one because this is the way they are for whatever their reason. They may tell us that trust needs to be earned before it can be given, and these players will take advantage of rule bending because they feel empowered and entitled by rules in a book. They may reply that ignorance of the rules is against the concept of the game and even express offense at ignorant players because they feel they are essentially part of a competitive game: either every man for himself or the group against the GM. And they feel let down by less than optimized players.

    However, tabletop RPGs can be played by a player without much knowledge of crunch. They can play even if they are unfamilar with the dice. And it can be fun to play with such players or as such a player. But you have to do it with trust.

    IMHE, the real response about trust is that it cannot be bought: it must be given. You cannot fall backwards into the arms of someone if you are always facing them. But once trust has been broken, it may never be repaired. This brokenness may be what a group inherits from players new to the group who hold to a paradigm of group dynamics that makes them unable to give everyone their trust.

    To me, such people are not fun; and I would not want to invite them to my table at any cost.

  5. “Not Knowing The Rules: Know the rules – if you enjoy the game enough to play it, invest the time to learn the rules.
    Rules Lawyering: Some players love arguing rules, but a GM’s word is final; don’t try and eek out every little advantage from bizarre or “extreme” rule interpretations. As long as you don’t die or expend considerable resources because of the GM’s ruling it’s all good.”

    I find this amusing, know the rules but don’t insist on playing by them… 😉

    I get what you are saying here, there is a difference between a Rules Lawyer (TM) and someone who occasionally brings up rules issues. However often this distintion depends on how fair a GM is. See what I have found causes the most unhappiness at the gaming table is related to fairness, either rulings or actions that are actually unfair or even just perceived as such. I’m not talking about Balance but about what seems fair and making sure everyone at the table is treated that way. Fairness though is sometimes subjective which is why there are rules for RPGs at all, the rules provide baseline and fall back to resolve disagreements, break or bend these too often and you damage a valuable tool for conflict resolution. Combat rules, for example, work a certain way not because those particular rules are necessarily the best solutions but because they are universal; everyone follows the same rules, good or bad, because to do otherwise will very likely be unfair to someone at the table. If someone spends the time and effort to follow the RAW, usually having to sacrifice something to get the PC they want, is going to start feeling a bit resentful if the GM keeps making rulings that negate their efforts.

    This is one of the problems with GM fiat and things like “The Rule of Cool” in games because they almost invariably break or bend a rule, which is why it should be used sparingly and most of all fairly. If a GM relies too heavily on fiat or TRofC, then they need to learn the rules better themselves and figure out how to keep it fun without breaking them so much.

    (PS. the email looks random, but it’s just the built in masking, emails to it will still get to me)

  6. Can’t say I agree with most of that, on the GM is always right that’s mostly true, but GMs are only human and at the end of the day a good GM is an impartial guide, not asn unapproachable dictator. However, its his game, so if the GMs a problem you can play elsewhere, disrupting the group beyond leaving it is uncool.

    Now, my real beef.

    Putting A Character’s Needs Above A Player’s: This is huge, for me. If you put your (pretend) character’s needs above those of a (real life) player, you won’t get a seat at my table.

    This is the mirror image of what I feel, if you don’t roleplay your character your welcome at my table, but you’ll get less xp and game time. A GM who minimises the roleplaying that is not a table I’d want to play at, although what the real life needs of the player could be that would be compromised by roleplaying a character in a pretend environment, I don’t pretend to understand. At the end of the day its the roleplaying everyone is there for, mechanical resolution and uninspiring gameplay is covered by computer gaming these days, the roleplaying is the only reason to be playing.

    GMs should obviously have a passing familiarity with the rules, but players need not know anything apart from their character and that characters place in the world. Its better if they do, but irrelevant if they don’t.

    In your last case, you say the new player is picked out for the blame, but the player who chose paladin to start with in your scenario, is restricting the choices of every player after him, now there is nothing wrong with playing a paladin (or assassin), but to lump the blame on the guy who wants to play the assassin, without acknowledging the paladin players contribution to the problem seems unfair to me.

    Of course, my objections above, are purist in nature, but as your points are pure (in that they lack context) in nature.

    You do however use some absolute terms “you won’t get a seat at my table.” I know the GM is GOD mindset is a thing, and in context its quite right, but in the abstract or out of character the GM is just a bloke who runs the game, he’s the banker in monopoly if you will, he is still a player, a player with extra responsibilities.

    To provide some context to my comments, I’m coming from the viewpoint of its the roleplaying we’re here for, not the rules resolution. As such I find some of your causes for arguments to be the cause for argument. In that several of your points seem to minimise what is the primary aim in my personal view. Lots of people play for all sorts of reasons though and as I don’t know you from Adam, have none of that context to be reasonable with :). Particularly, the “Putting A Character’s Needs Above A Player’s” I’ve admitted I don’t really get what you mean here, maliciously playing a fat joke character to mock another player is obviously wrong and very rude, but that’s not really putting the character first. Anyway, to my way of thinking as a player, and especially as a DM, if within the context of the game, acting out of character is a punishable act, either by loss of xp, loss of opportunity, minimisation is narrative until the player is on form again, in extreme case play will halt and justification for the actions sought, but stopping play requires out of box, blatant, disruptive or damaging out of character behaviour.
    I very much agree with your opening statement, “the plays the thing”

  7. This is more in character creation, but it stays relevant through the game.
    Plan your group out ahead of time. Figure out the how and why your characters are together. The GM will thank you for it, and the overall experience will be better.
    In a group game, don’t be the angsty loner. It divides up group time that would be better spent doing group things.

        1. Not sure you were wrong either way! But to your point, Shakespeare stories would not make a very good RPG session, in my opinion. Angsty loners are fine in their own stories.

  8. perhaps you could elaborate on ‘putting a characters needs before a players’ to me this sounds like you’re advocating breaking character, which kinda defeats the point of a roleplaying game, if you break character you’ve basically ruined the game, or at least as much of the game as is attached to your character, who is definitely ruined once he starts to act contrary to his personality.

    1. I certainly don’t mean this in relation to minor choices/roleplaying opportunities – from such discussions come some of the greatest roleplaying experiences we’ve had.

      My concern is with more important decisions. For example, I was in a game when a player made a new character that hated half-orcs even though there was already one in the party. The PC wouldn’t help the half-orc in battle or heal him. It created a huge problem that eventually culminated in a player leaving the group.

      1. Sounds like the player who left had the problem and resolved it, but without knowing context again its hard to judge. Was a half orc hating character, pre existing, made at the same time or added to the party later. In the first 2 cases that player should have known and isn’t accepting responsibility, if the half orc hater was added after, the GM share a greater amount of the responsibility, for not advising, or engineering a narrative that takes advantage of the tension to generate fun. Of course, the half orc hater could have been a provocative hater. I think really though having let either character exist in the same party the GM has to shoulder the responsibility and work with it again without context, its difficult to postulate a solution.

  9. Hey guys,

    Just thought I’d chime in on “Putting A Character’s Needs Above A Player’s” as there is a lot of conflict revolving around it.

    This basically refers to a mutual respect from each player at the table regarding not on their behavior in game, but out of game as well.

    1. A character and player’s needs are not dissimilar, in both cases all players need to respect that the other players on the table have a right to play their character with their RP in mind.

    2.It is also the responsibility of each player to produce a character RP that cohesively fits within the group.

    3.Any form of conflict that may arise from points 1 or 2 NEEDS to be communicated between players (preferably not at a game session) BEFORE an RP or Player based based conflict arises.

    4. Sometimes players use their character to abuse, express or invoke a negative response. This can come in the form of a tantrum or reaction to a player disagreement. I feel it’s the DM’s responsibility to isolate these occurrences and the offending player either talking them down, making them aware of the consequences of behaving this way or asking them to leave. (no different to a referee throwing a red or yellow card)

    As an example I actually did play an Assassin in a group with a LG paladin. However before we even played the first game I sat down and discussed how I could run the character on this table with the paladin’s player. We came up with a compromise that worked well for the entire game but only by sitting down and discussing it.

    (For those interested my assassin had a contract on his paladin, however my Assassin was very prideful. He found my character and proposed that with no deadline on the contract, my employer would think me dead and hire people “stronger” than I was. This would give me a great opportunity to rid myself of competition and prove definitively my skill as an assassin. Agreeing to it the only condition I had was that should the assassins ever stop coming I would then turn my attention finally to him. But until that point it fell into my interest to keep him alive.)

    Case in point any and all story and character options are possible as long as you respect each other as players and talk things out, get everyone working on bringing out the best in each other.

    1. Yes, I think you are right–respect is a key point. Respecting the other participants is tremendously important at the table. Assuming everyone at the table are friends this really shouldn’t be a problem. I suspect it’s more of a problem at pick up games at conventions and in online games–but that’s just my supposition.

  10. One big class of arguments that I don’t think is on your list revolves around expectations management. One or more of the players is not playing the same game as the GM, or each other.

    The players (one or more of them) show up with a bunch of characters with Pacifism in a game that the GM thought was going to be a gore-fest. A “Loot the Dungeon!” game is played as a murder mystery. Stuff like that. That might be more common in generic systems not built around a premise by default (“We’re playing Buffy the Vampire Slayer. What did you THINK the game was going to be about?”) however.

  11. Okay, here’s been my experience. I also play Warcraft and I’ve noticed they have put into place rules to manage similar problems over the years.

    1. No player-on-player thieving.
    2. Loot rules. Just simple die rolling doesn’t suffice. We started making artifacts bind-on-pickup long before WoW.
    3. Easy access to bags of holding. Players want to haul of their loot.
    4. Easy access to raise dead. Players don’t take kindly when someone goofs and everyone dies. All permanent-death runs were advertised well ahead of time, no surprises.
    5. Hand-out extra experience points when the DM goofs.

  12. I disagree with rules lawyering. Sometimes it’s helped save a party from a incompetent DMs screw ups. It’s sometimes helped other players remember something that can really help them or keep them alive. The rule “the DM is always right” is most often done when the DM is DEAD WRONG and just to inflate their fragile ego.

  13. I want to chime in on the “Put the characters needs before the players needs” bit. I have a problem with that too. Players that use their characters to get all the spotlight, all the attention, etc. are a real problem and frustration to other players. Be thoughtful of others, see who isn’t participating and draw them in. Try not to blow up your teammates along with the foes. Just be mindful of the actual needs of the party, of the other players, and not just your own jollies. Be generous! 🙂

  14. To me, the “Putting a character’s needs above a player’s” issue is something I’ve come across so often that I’m confused that some people apparently haven’t. I’m glad for them, just puzzled.

    To me, this is about the kind of player who makes a character that is designed to cause trouble and then insists on using the infuriating “That’s what my character would do” to justify being an enormous arsehole. They are saying “You have to let me do this because it’s in character,” but they conveniently ignore the fact that THEY are responsible for making that kind of character int eh first place.

    The GM does have some responsibility in such cases too; they have every right – and duty – to put their foot down on that sort of incredibly selfish play-style, one that tramples on other people’s enjoyment. So yeah, don’t think it’s OK to wreck my play session, or everyone’s, and then claim that it’s “In Character” and therefore I’m not allowed to be angry, or upset. YOU make a character, YOU have responsibility for how that character interacts with others. This may not be what the OP was driving at, but to me it’s something that wrecks fun and therefore is not OK. RP is not an excuse to be an arse and get away with it. I know that not everyone uses it that way, but too many do.

    With regard to the half-orc hating character, who was introduced apparently KNOWING there was already a half-orc in the party, then at the very least, it should have been discussed with the half-orc’s player. Bringing in a character who is likely to be incredibly disruptive to the party’s dynamic is not something to do without at least agreement on what is and isn’t acceptable in that regard.

    Everyone has the right to enjoy themselves playing their character at the table, but if your idea of enjoyment is trampling all over everyone else’s needs and making them uncomfortable, you’re a jerkass.

    1. For me, I think this is more irritating that a rules lawyer. Sure–rules lawyers are irritating, but the rules are there for a reason (and–of course–the GM can change them if necessary). Playing an irritating, disruptive PC is more down to a player’s personality type (or current life stress or whatever) which is a much harder problem to approach.

  15. You forgot “Not Getting Your Way” and “Living In Denial Because Your Carefully Crafted Though Ill Conceived Plan Didn’t Work”

  16. Spells I made them write them out on index cards (I provided) and when casting just handed me the card, rather then calling it out which would always get other people’s opinions on what spells they should cast…worked well for the latter and writing it out helped them learn the spells better…

Leave a Reply

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

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.