I am not offering any GMing advice today. Instead I am sharing a story from my GMing past, because I believe sharing these types of things have a real value that is hard to categorize and quantify. Take from it what you will.
I had a player in my games who was notorious for always playing the loner PC. His characters were not just orphans without any close friends, but they also consistently found reasons not to be with the other PCs no matter what the situation was in the game.
During a zombie apocalypse game his character abandoned the rest of the party and took the party’s firearms with him. In a supers game his PC would leave the rest of the party to fight crime on the streets when the Mayor called for help from the team. In a fantasy game he would always play the ranger type character so that his PC could go scout ahead of the party, but not necessarily report on any dangers that he discovered.
I tried to provide incentive to have his PCs join the party. His character would find clues that if combined with what the other PCs knew would surely move the plot and the adventure forward. The player’s response? His PC would either try to sell the items that he found or he would simply discard them.
I confronted the player directly about the behavior in private. I explained that I did not want to tell him how to play his character, but that the rest of the players and I were annoyed with his behavior and that it seemed to be that he enjoyed the negative attention he was getting from the rest of us. He responded with the dreaded “That’s what my character would do!” justification.
I asked the rest of the players to share how they felt about the situation, and this player responded with concerns that the group was ganging up on him. I tried designing sessions with the problem player’s input so as to create situations that had interesting reasons for his character to stay with the party. That approach resulted in the character often changing his mind as to what was most important to him.
Finally I just gave up. I did not care what his character did anymore when he separated from the rest of the party. There were no clues to be discovered by his PC, and there were no random crimes for his hero to thwart. If his ranger went West the party would be given reasons to head East. The action in the game world was always where the party was. At first this only happened a few times, but since his PC would never re-join with the party on his own it became my standard response to his standard way of playing his characters.
I did not want to boot this player from the group, because I (and the rest of the group) actually enjoyed his company as a friend. He was fun to hang out with, and he was very informed about RPGs in general. I just decided that I would deliberately remove any incentive for his character to split from the party. Looking back that was a stupid way to handle the situation, but hindsight is always 20/20.
The ignoring his PC approach worked, but this solution had about as much satisfaction for me as it did for the player. None. The player was now forced to have his PC stay with the party if the player wanted to be a part of the game. It was selective railroading. Other PCs controlled by other players could split from the party and find interesting things to interact with, but his characters would always discover empty rooms and mundane scenery. Then again, the PCs controlled by other players would also return to the party and not abandon their comrades.
The player caught on. It was inevitable. He was not stupid by any means.
He asked “Why is that my character never discovers anything when he splits from the party anymore?”
My answer destroyed our friendship instantly. I did not think about what how I should answer him. I did not yell nor lose my temper with him. I sighed and the words tumbled out of me effortlessly not because they were easy to say, but because I was too exhausted to keep holding them back.
“Because I hate gaming with you.” was my response.
I instantly regretted saying it, and I tried to back pedal and explain that I did not actually hate gaming with him. I just hated how his characters always abandoned the party. It was just that one particular behavior that I hated, and not gaming with him as a whole.
My first response was the truth though, and we both knew it. I hated gaming with him. I liked hanging out with him. I liked talking about RPGs with him. I loathed gaming with him. He ruined games with his behavior. It did not matter if I was the GM or if I was another player at the table. I hated gaming with him. This was not originally the case, but after so many “My PC ditches the rest of you.” scenarios I just did not want to run or be in a game where he was a player.
Yet my words were received as “I hate you.” Of that I am sure. Regardless of what I actually meant, he took that response to be my rejection of him as a person.
He left the group. We are no longer friends. The games got better.
I do regret what I said because it hurt my former friend’s feelings. When I look back at what happened though I cannot decipher a way to have resolved the situation without his cooperation. I and others were there to game and not to provide counseling for his bad habits. Eventually the group would have to have asked him to leave. That does not make me feel better about the words that I blurted out so hastily though (and my attempts to apologize since then have been rejected).
Perhaps there is a bit of GMing advice in this story after all, because I now realize that his departure from the group was unavoidable. If a person does not want to cooperate with others at the table then you as a GM are powerless to make them behave differently. But the blame for telling a friend that I hated gaming with him lies solely with me.
So keep in mind that the only thing which you truly have control over at the table is yourself. Feel free to comment on what I have shared with you, and if you have a similar story to tell please do so in the comments section below.