Dear DovahQueen – “What Do You Mean _____ Jokes Aren’t Funny?”

We have to deal with a lot of issues in real life. Sexism, bigotry, and toxicity can certainly be reasons that we choose to escape to a fantasy world where we can throw d20s at our problems. Today we explore some practices for keeping our distance from people who would bring those real-world issues to the game table.

Dear DovahQueen: I am part of a bi-weekly group that I was invited to join a few years ago by the then-GM whom I have known for decades. Another of the members who used to play with us is the group Rules Lawyer (RL), and, apart from that annoyance, one with whom I have butted heads with in bigotry issues and a terrible rape joke made at my character’s expense. (Shocker, I’m the only woman in the group.)

Now that I am GM and RL said he doesn’t have time to play anymore, I seized the opportunity to cut this person out of the group email list for game attendance and session summary. Until he got butthurt at the pal who invited me to this group and I was asked to be nice and keep Rules Lawyer in the loop. Not to mention he keeps trying to get RL back into the fold. My question is this:  is there a nice way to say “I don’t like your friend and don’t want him involved in the game I am running” if this issue continues to come up?—Rules As Unwritten

Dear Rules: I’m sorry to hear that you’re having to deal with such a toxic person, and I wish that I could say run-ins with people like this were uncommon. But they’re not. Our community has a bit of a reputation for being chock-full of grognards and adult-children. Now, I don’t think these folks are so ubiquitous that they’re unavoidable, but that doesn’t make the fact that you’ve got to deal with this one being around any easier. Being able to capitalize on the chance to get him out of the current loop was fantastic, and you’ve probably got most of your work behind you. The way I see it, you’ve got several options ahead of you to attempt to wrap up this situation.

First, lemme broach my go-to: “firm, upfront, and honest.” Anytime there’s a situation involving a difference between two or more people, I think it’s a safe bet that application of these three communication concepts is gonna get you started on the right foot. If I were a superhero, I’d be Captain Obvious, right? The tricky part is who you’re going to want to have that conversation with, what you wanna say, and how you wanna say it. You’ve got three options for the ‘who;’ you could either talk to RL, to Pal, or to both. For RL, chances are that he’s not gonna be worth having the conversation with, but I think it’s always important to leave all your options on the table when you’re trying to come up with a solid plan. Can you imagine any scenario where he listens to you? Is there a way for that conversation to remain positive and respectful? Would it help you in any way to get the words off your chest? If the answers to these questions are “no,” then just go ahead and cross him off the “potential conversation list.” Pal is likely the one we wanna talk to, and this is where we wanna be firm, upfront, and honest. Have the conversation once or twice in your head to get the words down, and then just be genuine with him. “Hey, you’re a good friend and I trust you; that’s why I’m coming to you to ask your help with something.” Tell him how RL made you feel, remind him of which events you’re talking about, and simply ask him to understand why you’ve decided to keep RL out of the loop. If Pal is a pal worth keeping, he’s going to understand.

For most situations, you and he should be able to find a workable resolution, but I do have something else to consider depending on exactly how toxic RL is. For a rules lawyer who thinks rape jokes are funny, I’m betting that he’s pretty toxic. In that case, feel free to disregard everything I’m about to tell you; this is for mildly toxic people who you feel actually could learn to be better. Consider guiding the conversation with Pal in such a way that if Pal wants RL to rejoin the group when time allows, Pal needs to take the impetus on helping RL see the err of his ways. Chances are if RL is a sexist, no woman is going to be able to change his mind; it’ll likely take a male that he respects to educate him (if it’s even possible). If Pal wants RL to keep playing with you, Pal needs to A) understand what RL was doing, why it was wrong, and B) get that behavior to stop! Again, if RL is too set in his ways and Pal is too sheepish to make this happen, then keeping RL cut of out your game is prolly the best way to go about it. The main reason I even bring this up though is because if you like this group, it’s nearly inevitable that you’ll eventually find yourself back at the same table as RL unless something drastic causes a rift between him and the rest of them.

The last thing I’ll mention is perhaps the most disposable thing I have to offer; take it with several grains of salt. You’re the GM now, yeah? One advantage of being in the hot seat is having the complete and total authority to say, “SIT DOWN AND SHUT UP.” In this way, if you did end up with RL back at your table, you’ve totally got the upper hand. If he wants to be inappropriate: “Oh! It looks like your comments toward the value of women in society drew the attention of a MASSIVE barbarian woman who stopped in town to dismantle the patriarchy and chew bubblegum… Roll for initiative mother-effer.”




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Loren Sieg

Loren has been writing and playing in tabletop RPGs for over 15 years. As both a GM and player, she pours heart and soul into producing new content and helping shape the way tabletops are experienced. She's worked with companies including Paizo Inc., Legendary Games, Swords for Hire, and Encounter Table Publishing to publish material for Pathfinder Roleplaying Game. Dear DovahQueen began early in 2016, and Loren has been helping GMs and players fully realize their stories and game concepts ever since. When she's not knee-deep in characters sheets and critical hits, she can likely be found studying Biology at Indiana University and/or doing research on different types of marine life.