Am I Just Lucky?

I ask because I have never been in a game with That Guy. Apparently, many other people have, and given that I’ve never encountered That Guy at conventions or campaigns in over 35 years of playing RPGs, I have to ask if it’s just me.

We’ve all heard the stories about That Guy. He’s the killer DM who revels in TPKs and devising entire dungeons whose sole purpose is to obliterate the player characters with no real hope of either escape or– perish the thought– success.

He’s the player who tells the other player characters that he’s an elf fighter-thief, when he’s really an assassin, and will slay the other party members when they’re at their weakest to take all the treasure (and, incidentally, end the campaign in the process).

He’s the person who will have forgotten his wallet when the pizza arrives, but brings a 6 oz. bag of popcorn when it’s his turn to pony up to bring food for the game. Oh, and can you give him a ride to the game?

He’s the guy who, if a woman player shows up, immediately starts either a) being completely obsequious in a transparent attempt to win a fleeting smile from her, or b) being completely rude and obnoxious, making it very clear that he thinks that RPGs are a “man’s game” and that any female who deigns to participate is fair game for being hit on in the way most certain to make everyone else at the table uncomfortable.

He’s the guy who has done a statistical analysis of all the weapons in the rulebook, and has figured out that if one is using a glaive guisarme, that has the best damage-to-g.p. cost ratio of any weapon in the book, as long  as the DM is using weapon vs. armor class. And if the DM isn’t, he’ll insist that that rule be used, because otherwise “it wouldn’t be fair, because I chose this weapon specifically because the rules say it should be better against splinted mail.”

He plays a female character, and acts in completely slutty ways and engages in outrageous behavior that no actual female would ever even consider, even if she was a crack whore in desperate need of her next fix.

He insists on arcane and incredibly complex treasure allocation rules, based not on the use that any individual character can put a given magic item to, but rather who has X number of items, and who is now “due” to have an item, and woe betide the person who trades an item of unequal x.p. value!

Any time the DM says “well, because you’re attacking the ogre, nobody else can, because you’re blocking the doorway”, he argues for a full 30 minutes that what he really meant to say was that he draws the ogre into the room, so that all the other party members can also attack in the same round. Because, it wouldn’t be fair if his character was the only one that could get hit.

He insists on playing a ninja, even though it’s a game set in an analogue of Medieval Europe. Every time. Every… frigging… time.

He insists on playing a drow ranger wielding two weapons, even through the campaign has nothing to do with the Underdark and drow would be completely out of place in the setting. Every… frigging… time.

But you know… I never played with That Guy. Not once, in 35 years. Everybody else seemed to keep playing with That Guy, so it came to be a given that That Guy was playing everywhere, and was infecting every game, but I managed to escape unscathed.

And then people started to write games whose rules were designed to thwart That Guy. We started having formulae with “challenge levels” and so forth, so that every dungeon and every encounter therein was perfectly mathematically balanced according to the rules. We had rules that required that the exact location of each character in every encounter was tracked within five feet, lest someone think they were somewhere and the DM think they were 10′ away, and “DM fiat” be required to resolve the issue.

I must be blessed. Because I never played in a game with That Guy, and I never felt the need to have rules to counteract his diabolical effects. But in all seriousness, am I really that unique? Have I just managed to wander the paths and byways of RPGs for years and years without encountering the legendary RPG Troll? I’m beginning to think That Guy is a myth.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

34 thoughts on “Am I Just Lucky?

  1. Of all those examples I've only ever played with the Drow guy. So no, I don't think it's just you, I think these are stereotypes that are far less common than the conventional wisdom suggests.

  2. Yes, he exists. I've played with at least five versions of him over my 28 years in this hobby.

    Just because you can't see a thing doesn't mean the thing don't exist.

  3. I am the TPK GM guy. LOL

    I used to run a TPK adventure at several conventions late Friday nights. We had to turn people away so many people wanted to play. But it was supposed to be a TPK, so perhaps that doesn't count.

    The rest of the list made me laugh because I know lots of those kind of people.

  4. We had "that guy" in our group for over a year. He managed to cause a rift in the group between those who thought he would grow up and those who saw that he never would. Eventually we all woke up and stopped playing with him.

  5. Given your very precise descriptions, I think that MAYBE you HAVE played with "That Guy" before! LOL

    I've played with a couple of those types over the years: The DM and the "Cheap Skate!"

    Oh! And "That Guy" who doesn't like "gals" in the game.

    Man, I really HATE "That Guy," which ever type shows up. The game is not fun with "him" around.

  6. Wow, you think more recent rules were writting to thwart "That Guy"? I never thought of it that way, but it makes a scary sort of sense!

    As for gaming with That Guy, I've encountered that way too much in my time, unfortunately. I knew one guy who insisted on always playing a drow anti-paladin. All. The. Friggin. Time. That was during the 2E era. And since he was taking sword lessons in the real world, every D&D combat would become a session of him jumping up from his seat and showing us in excruciating detail what his character would do with every sword swing.

    Flash forward to my current gaming endeavors: I played exactly two sessions of Pathfinder with a pathetically killer DM. He insisted on killing all of us in increasingly esoteric ways. The real crime was that he played the game completely by the book, and never rewarded player creativity via DM Fiat.

  7. I have indeed encountered "that guy" before. And it is my experiences with "that guy" that have cemented my opinion that rules can not stop "that guy", in part because the campaign I encountered him in was a home brew rule set, and no matter how the GM altered the rules to account for the abuse, he simply came up with a new way to abuse things. The ultimate problem is not that he's violating or manipulating the rules of the game, but that he's violating or manipulating the rules of social interaction. And no rule book in the world will fix this.

    The only way to rid our hobby of "that guys" or at least diminish them is to stop playing with them. To often I see groups continue on because "he's the only DM" or "he'll grow up" and on and on. Partly this is because geeks in general are not known to be confrontational, but partly because we all feel bad when we tell someone to take a hike. Unfortunately, we must realise that continuing to play with "that guy" is the RPG equivalent of giving your dog a treat every time he pees on the carpet.

  8. I should mention though that that is the only "that guy" I've encountered, and that I do believe the problem is far less widespread than the internet would make it appear. I think it's also seems larger because when people do finally tell "that guy" to go take a long walk, he simply latches on to a new and inexperienced group, so for any given area there are only one or two "that guys" but every group has encountered one of them at least once.

  9. I have had two male players who couldn't handle playing female characters. They both swore they were great at playing female characters, and maybe they were for "That Guy" GMs, but not for me.

  10. For some of us growing up playing AD&D (1980 onward), we didn't have a lot of choices in who we could play with. I grew up in a small midwestern town (pop. 6500) and there were maybe 7 people total playing during this time. You didn't have a lot of options if someone was a jerk. Those of us playing at that time were not exactly trendsetters for the social scene. We all had our querks and issues and it just felt nice to have a group to hang out with – even if each of us could justifiably be called "problem children" in certain areas.

    While today I would never tolerate someone who was behaved as poorly as you describe, it took me a long time to get to a point where I could feel comfortable saying it – and be willing to walk away from the table if necessary. Even today there is still an 'uncomfortability" in telling someone how to behave, especially if that person is in some position of dominance (like a DM, or campaign administrator for a 'living' campaign, etc).

    If you've never truly encountered "that guy", then I both envy you and pity you. I envy you because you've managed to find that perfect group every time. That's something many people can only dream of. With how you beat the odds each time, go out and buy a lottery ticket after every session. I pity you because you've never had to find a way to deal with the problem child and still keep the group going. It's an easy decision when you can kick someone out and the game can still continue. Not so much when the consequence of excluding someone ripples beyond the individual person. That's a tremendous amount of peer pressure on people who may not be mature enough to deal with it correctly. As I said – I have the fortitude today at the age of 42 to either get rid of the jerk or walk away from the game. Not so much at the age of 11 when my social circle could be counted on one hand, and the alternative felt like exile.

    On using rules to curb "that guy" – while I don't think that rules generally are created for that purpose, I have found myself (as a former regional campaign admin for LG) in the position of doing that very thing. It's one thing to play a game where the target audience plays in groups of 4-6. It's another when the rules are being used by 20,000+ people, all of whom talk and share rules 'interpretations' so that they can get the best advantage for their character. I redesigned an entire regional metacampaign ruleset because a few people found ways to exploit the rules to an egregious effect – and the only thing preventing wholesale ruin was that some of the other gamers couldn't bring themselves to do it. It's like gun control (if you'll pardon the analogy) – everyone who uses a gun is not a criminal, but criminals use guns – and since we can't stop all criminals, we can at least deprive them of as many tools as possible. (Sidebar – no, I am not in favor of gun control, but I do understand some of the rationale behind it, even if I don't agree with it).

    That said – I also agree that "that guy" will always find a way around any rule designed to curb his behavior. And if kicking out the guy isn't a practical option – your remaining choice is to take away his capability to exploit the rules. So I understand why a rule could get changed or implemented in a game by a designer.

    The best thing those of us who are more mature can do is serve as mentors to younger people, and call out jerks when we see them so that the 11 year old doesn't feel trapped or pressured to put up with the behavior. Robert Sutton, PhD of Management Science at Stanford University wrote a book several years ago called "The No Asshole Rule". It's available on Amazon and Barnes and Noble, and while it's written toward a work-environment, every single thing in that book applies to our game hobby as well. I encourage everyone to buy the book, read it, and implement the rules in the game. That single rule should be Rule 0 for any game.

  11. Rules being made to thwart That Guy, munchkin style are nothing recent, however–see the Notes on Spells in the original Dungeon Masters Guide for a prime example.

  12. One of my players begins every session arguing why we should play 2e with players option. He always has to play an Asian class no matter what the setting, either ninja, monk, wu-shen ect. He insists that a first level monk must have a real to life fighting style in which he can detail his exact strikes. Also if anyone mentions anything about real life history he will talk for at least an hour about how he knows everything about history.

    Also he hits on the females players to the point the tell me to make him stop.

  13. Part of the issue can indeed be friendships. A lot of times extricating yourself from a situation with "That Guy" can be tricky, especially if he's buddies with the GM, or friends with one of your other friends.

    I've been lucky to have some gaming groups that have been able to handle it maturely, but that's not always the case.

  14. In situations in which you've got a lot of turnover of people (college clubs, expat groups etc.) I expect running into That Guy is more common since you can't just keep on playing with the same group forever and you've got to be more open to random people and That Guy is more likely to show up than average since That Guy is more often looking for a group.

    Have run into a few people who capture bits of That Guyness but never enough to be unbearable and all with some good things to balance out the bad (for example The Greepy Guy had a great head for mechanics and was helpful about it and never in a rules lawyery way). Maybe not guys I'd invite to my own gaming table but no one who'd be a deal breaker if another DM invited them.

  15. "He plays a female character, and acts in completely slutty ways and engages in outrageous behavior that no actual female would ever even consider, even if she was a crack whore in desperate need of her next fix."

    Actually, I've had this at least twice… always by female players though.

  16. Here's the overall difficulty in gaming/dealing with geeks socially – they are (almost as a rule) socially inept. Geeks are great guys and gals. My people, if you will. We share interests, laugh at the same dumb crap, get each others' obscure references, and watch out for each others' food allergies 😉 However; extricating That Guy from the group, or yourself, when you can't rid the table of That Guy is always dicey…of course, pun intended. Sadly it usually comes down to 1 of 3 scenarios: he's a dick about it, you're a dick about it, or you get stuck in the awkward mediator position of keeping the dicks from killing each other.

  17. I started playing D&D with those guys… players pickpocketing each other, the dreary silence of EVERY player writing secret notes to DM and never, ever let the thief count the treasure. Somehow it was ok when everybody was that guy, but it was more relaxing when we quit it. At least we all chipped in on the pizza.

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