Ask The GM: The Unhappy Couple

By John Serpico on


Jason A. asks – I’m the DM for a 5e Dungeons and Dragons campaign. There are five players, including my brother Mike, my brother’s best friend Kate and my brother’s best friend’s husband Jared. The campaign has been happening weekly for just about six months, and Jared’s behavior has made it a really tough six months. He insisted on using an Adventurers League character that didn’t really fit in with the story. He often shuts down other players’ ideas and tries to take the lead in all in-game social situations. He also spends a lot of time “correcting” Kate’s strategy in combat. I don’t think Kate seems to mind his attitude, but I definitely do. I’m reluctant to say anything but this campaign feels like a job for me.


This situation is unfortunate, challenging and a lot more common than you think. If a a pair of spouses or partners both enjoy gaming, then it stands to reason that they’re going to game together at some point. Of course, there are going to be natural differences in their playing style and interests. One person may be a “damn the plan, let’s charge” kind of player while the other is a “check for traps in every room and think things out methodically” sort. Just because people are married doesn’t make them suddenly identical, after all.

The issue that you’re encountering is not a difference in styles, because differences in styles are fine. What you’re running into is that there’s a jerk at your table, and that jerk’s relationship with someone else is making an intervention more complicated. If this game was you and five friends and no romantic entanglements, my advice would be to sit Jared down and tell him that the way he’s interacting with Kate (who, in this scenario is just your mutual friend) is distracting to you as a GM and making it tougher for you to run the game. Jared would likely get defensive but, hopefully, relent after realizing he’s hurting the game. If he didn’t, then I’d suggest a next step would be removing him from the game and telling the other players that your and his styles just weren’t gelling.

But this marriage is an added complication. Jared can easily translate “I don’t like how you’re treating this other gamer” into “I don’t like how you’re treating your wife” when you talk to him. And considering the mental picture I have of Jared as an abrasive bully, there’s a better-than-50/50 chance that would happen. And all of a sudden you’re thrust into the role of reluctant marriage counselor to someone that doesn’t want marriage counseling. And that is not where you want to be.

So my advice is going to be a little more nuanced. The first step is to break out this problem into three separate problems – his character choice, his steamrolling at the table, and his “correcting” of his wife. That will allow you to think about individual solutions for individual issues. The second step is recognizing that you have to do more in this situation that you would normally need to. That’s important, because that means you’re giving yourself permission to not like these conversations and complications. With that permission in place, the next step would be to chat with Kate. I’d ask her opinion of the situation only as it relates to the both of them. That is, don’t ask her about his choice of character, but just focus on their interactions at the table. “I’ve noticed that Jared is trying to steer your character into doing things that aren’t your first choice. I wanted to check in and make sure that you feel like your character is your own and you feel good about her (or him).” I obviously don’t know what Kate would say in response, but at least she’ll know that you’ve noticed the interactions and that you have some sort of issue with them.

After that, I’d talk to Jared, but just about one of the issues. I think his character is what it is. You’re all stuck with that Adventurers League character and it’s up to you to find a way to engage that character into a broader narrative. I also wouldn’t bring up the issue of his behavior towards Kate, since that’s the thorniest of them. Instead, lead with how his character keeps being the loudest voice when talking to NPCs. Tell him that you’d like his help empowering other players to talk more. Give him a task – to encourage others to be bolder in the game. If he takes to that with good nature, that opens the door to you talking to him about Kate if his behavior towards everyone else doesn’t change.

Also, from a game-running perspective, see about separating him from the group from time to time. Put Jared and one other player at the east gate during a siege and the other three at the west gate, or something like that. See what happens. Breaking up the monotony of “five characters in this exact marching order” may naturally force Jared to let others be more independent and empowered. Or he may double down on his “well actually”s and force your hand. If things get worse instead of better, regardless of Jared’s relationship, he might just have to go.

Regardless, the culture at your table isn’t sustainable and it won’t change unless you intervene. Just do so with a careful and deliberate hand.

Happy GMing!

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