The Player From Hell

In September of 2006, I had the privilege and horror of meeting someone who would change the way I look at inviting new people into my home and gaming life… forever.

Be warned: this is a very long story. Go to the bathroom, grab a bowl of chips, maybe a few beers, and a comfy chair. It’s a tale that might be hard to believe—but it’s exactly what happened with absolutely nothing left out.

It is my hope that this cautionary tale will help, in some small way, the gaming community at large.

As much as I’d love to spill the beans on this douchebag’s identity as a warning to other gamers, it has been advised that I change all names to protect the innocent.

The story begins at a time when I and my fellow gamers, Steve and Tom, wanted to try our hands at forming a new group with people who gamed similar to us—folks who had an interest in advancing the shared story and ran characters that played well with others. Gamers who enjoyed an in-depth plot as opposed to fighting each other or running off to strike it on their own. No independent Wolverine’s, no loner Raistlin Majere’s, no chaotic Elric’s of Melniboné. We wanted a group that would work well together and have fun without continually grinding every session to a halt with arguments and outlandish behavior.

My two friends and I decided on a roleplaying-heavy campaign based on Alderac Entertainment Group’s World’s Largest Dungeon. We also set aside a few ground rules about what D&D books would be allowed, and what races, classes, feats, spells, and alternative rule sets we wanted to see in the game. We settled on the following:

  • No races or classes outside of the Player’s Handbook.
  • Anything else, such as feats, spells, or prestige classes from other sources, would have to be run by me on a case-by-case basis.

We felt we could be picky with new players; our e-mails to others not only detailed at great length what we were looking for in fellow gamers, but also explained what they could expect from us and the campaign. After some trial and error, we managed to find a nice group of people who were extremely excited about the ideas we proposed. It seemed they were also tired of gaming with individuals who did little social interaction between party members; they too were fed up with players who derived enjoyment solely from kicking down doors and killing things for their experience.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that play style, mind you. We just wanted something different.

In rolls Jack. Jack sends this e-mail to me:

Hi, Chris, thanks for the email!

I am definitely looking for a group, and I like how you approach it with your prerequisites—I, too, am sick of Gm’ing with the person who wants to play an x-man wolverine style loner in our heroic game and is constantly going off on their own! Good for a movie, lousy for an RPG!

After a few messages back and forth, Jack mentions to me that he’s interested in playing a warlock. I remind him that we are using Player’s Handbook race and class combinations for this campaign only. Fortunately, Jack immediately trails off into other potential options. Many more e-mails come my way, all of them containing some variation of the following: “Oh, I can play a druid! My favorite class in the world! Oh, I can play a barbarian! My favorite class in the world! Oh, I can play a cleric! My favorite class in the world…”

Because I firmly believe that you can’t game with people you wouldn’t hang out with in real life, I ask Jack and the rest of the new players to come over, check out the game room, and hang out with Steve, Tom, and I. Everyone did so, and much fun was had talking about nerd stuff—although Jack said he hated Firefly, so really I had ample warning that this wasn’t going to work out.

After everyone left, I still had an uneasy feeling in my stomach. Although these new people professed to be roleplayers and wanted to get into a deep, immersive game, they were very quiet and shy—two attributes not typically found in people who launch into monologues during combat. Nevertheless, In order to give everyone a chance at a better second impression, I asked them all over for a 20th-level battle to the death against my newly purchased colossal red dragon miniature.

Fast forward. Everyone’s gathered around my gaming table. Jack has just arrived with two boxes of miniatures from the War of the Dragon Queen set as a gift; this was great, but odd since not even people I’ve played with for years had ever brought a gift to the game, let alone someone I didn’t even know.

People began to ask what kind of characters they could make and I said the sky’s the limit. If I have the book, they can use it to make a dragon-killing machine. Jack asks if he can build a warlock and I said of course. Once the 20th-level characters were made, the red dragon came out to kick some ass. After six hours of combat, we were nearing the end of the night. Since the dragon had already died once to Steve’s monk—thanks to the 500 points of damage he dished out from his +5 wounding dragon bane fists—I really wanted to make sure and not hold anything back. With this in mind, I used spell immunity to nullify one of Jack’s character’s major abilities.

That’s when things went south.

Jack’s mild-mannered tone suddenly became antagonistic and his demeanor got heated. He claimed I was using the spell wrong and misinterpreted the warlock’s powers. Since combat had been going on for a while, I called for a break. While several people got up for food and other refreshments, the rest of us poured through all the books I had. In the end, I judged that the spell was used correctly. Jack then threw his binder, character sheet, notes, and pencil down onto the table and exclaimed, “Well, then I guess my character turns invisible and runs away because now I’m useless!” I tried to explain to him that his character was in no way useless—there were still many other ways to combat the enemy, not that there was a lot of time left in the evening anyway. His continued argument was that I was robbing him of his character’s only ability, that he was completely useless, and that I should never have cast spell immunity. Jack behavior signaled the end of the session and everyone left.

The next morning, I found the following e-mail from Jack waiting for me:

let’s just agree to disagree and go our separate ways amicably. Please keep the miniatures as a gift to assist you with your campaigns, and I’m going to go back to my Fantasy Hero gaming; I’m done with AD&D in any incarnation. take care and have a great TWLD campaign!

I wasn’t surprised at his reaction to drop from the campaign; in fact, I’d had a discussion with Tom just after Jack’s departure the previous night, wondering whether to invite Jack back. After all, I’d dealt with players like this before—they’re not fun to be around. Nevertheless, Tom wanted to give him the benefit of the doubt, hoping it was just a one-time thing. So I wrote back:

That’s extremely generous of you, letting the group keep those expensive minis. You definitely didn’t have to buy ’em! I’m sorry you feel you don’t have a place in the group.

…to which he replied:

I don’t have a problem being in the group—I just figured I’d make it easier for you, as you probably would not want me to continue. I would love to play the World’s Largest Dungeon but I figured you’d not want that. If you do, then I will. The problem was the warlock—it’s such an open to interpretation class, that it can be a problem, like it was.

I was frustrated with D&D’s rules on things—too much open to intepretation, but thinking about it last night, that’s only on a really super powered game—TWLD is 1st level—and would be a fun game. I do apologize for last night, but I did not mean to overreact that much. It’s all up to you, it’s your game.

If you don’t have a problem with me being there, I’d love to play the 1st level game—but it was my fault for overreacting and insisting on the stupid warlock.

If you DO let me stay with the group, I will promise to keep rules disagreements to myself—I don’t know why I overreacted like that, believe it or not, that was very atypical for me. 1st level game won’t be a problem—and i really do want to play TWLD. but, I do get hyped when I’m amped up on caffeine a bit, and I think I just went overboard on my frustration—I really do want to game with you guys

In my book, an apology goes a long way; I never mentioned to Jack that I had considered asking him not to return.

The group spent the next few weeks making characters, discussing the upcoming campaign, and waiting for the day of the first session to arrive. While everyone had settled on a character, Jack was still unsure. He bounced back and forth between 10 or so ideas. Druid/fighter? Fighter/ranger? Ranger/cleric? Cleric/druid? All the while dropping hints that he would love to play a warlock, if only I would let him. Every e-mail. Every chance he got. I would reiterate that everyone was playing Player’s Handbook-only classes, and that was the decision from the beginning. He said he understood, but that didn’t stop him from continuing to drop hints. Though I tried to ignore it, it grated on my nerves. Other DMs might have relented, but there were two very good reasons why I didn’t—reasons that were carefully explained to Jack on several occasions.

First, one of my pet peeves as a DM is when a player asks to run a non-Player’s Handbook race or class, and then demonstrates to me that they don’t understand any of the extra rules that come along with it. For example, choosing to play a drow but not understanding level adjustment. When someone asks to play something non-standard, I expect them to show me how it works; I have enough on my plate as the DM without memorizing even more before the game starts. Since I knew we were building a group with a few fresh faces, this was a strong reason to set this rule prior to campaign start. Also, I hate to be the guy that says “I told you so,” but I was right to make this choice: after the dragon battle, it was clear to me that Jack didn’t understand any of the extra rules or abilities that the warlock came with. When a simple spell seemingly nullified his character, he grew irate and made a scene.

Second, and probably most important, the warlock didn’t fit the flavor of the campaign. If you’re playing a Sci-Fi game, would you allow a dragon hunter in? Or in a spy game, would you allow a cyborg? Or in a fantasy game, would you allow a starship captain? Probably not. It was said from the very beginning what the rules for character creation were, and he was welcome to accept or deny.

Fast forward. Our first session had come and gone and was a success (complete with more miniatures as gifts from Jack). We were now at our second session (this time with a book gift: the Spell Compendium). Near the end of the evening, Jack managed to knock one of the bad guys unconscious. This wasn’t just any bad guy, though: it was someone who worked with the dragon that killed Jack’s character’s wife. Understandably, he raised his weapon and prepared to coup de grâce the helpless creature. Immediately, Tom’s paladin stepped in and said, “You’re not going to kill a helpless creature, no matter what he did!” Pretty standard paladin stuff.

That’s when things turned ugly. In a nutshell, Jack said he was going to attack anyone that stood in his way. Of course I groaned; one of the strongly stressed caveats of our campaign was that everyone would create characters together—characters that would get along and want to work as a team. Now here we were, our second session nearly over, and already someone’s about to get attacked by a party member. Tom attempted to reason with Jack’s character. “You shouldn’t kill this bad guy. One, we can question it. If you kill it, the trail turns cold and you won’t find your wife’s murderer! Two, killing the creature won’t bring your wife back, three…” Jack thought for a split second, and then moved towards the paladin. “I don’t care. Out of my way.”

That’s when I stepped in and explained to Jack that he should work with Tom to justify not killing the monster, helping everyone to win. Jack’s reply was, “Backing down would be against my background. My character just wouldn’t do that!” The funny thing was, Jack’s background specifically stated his greatest fear was that the vengeance to find his wife’s killers would consume and destroy him.

I decided to come from another direction and explain that, at the second session of a campaign, it wouldn’t be wise to make such absolute decisions about a character that’s so young in his gaming history. It was important to allow him to grow with the campaign; forcing the character to follow such a strict set of guidelines would set him apart or against the party.

The rest of the session went smoothly and everyone left happy—or so I thought. I sent the following e-mail out to the group the next day:

I had a lot of fun last night! My personal favorite moment was getting to play Boots Malone again. Great, fun character from Canary’s past. Getting just about every character in on that interaction was awesome, too. I’m also pleased at how the world has come together as a setting. The colaboration we all put in really made it a fun world to play in. Of course the inter-character connections really came out better than expected. The extra hour of roleplaying at the end of the night was REALLY worth it!

My least favorite moment was, of course, the moment where two characters almost came to blows. In a campaign this complex, of course two characters are going to want different things—and no, I never expect someone to play “against their character.” However, always leave your character a little leeway so that if the other player gives you a way to justify a certain action in your character’s mind, everyone wins!

Also, if one character gets his way one time, make sure and give in the next time. That way everyone gets a chance to be “the boss.”

Jack wrote back:

That’s where we disagree—my disagreement wasn’t with Tom—it was my character vs. his character having a dispute—a team of characters is NOT a football team—they’re not a well-honed, no-friction group recruited to defeat a foe—there a bunch of individualists who choose to work together—to keep a “novel” perspective, such as in the Dragonlance books or such, the characters fought—quite often, in fact—but they never came to blows (not that I remember); I didn’t take Tom playing the Paladin the way he did—that made it more realistic, in my opinion—if everyone gets along 100% perfectly (the characters, i’m not referring to player problems) then it’s totally unrealistic—until they learn to work together, to trust each other, to throw in their lot together so to speak, differences of opinions, especially about something so important, are bound to happen.

the party of adventurers are not a troop of Boy Scouts—they’re fighters, warriors, wizards, holy warriors, thieves—there are going to be differences in the way the characters would agree on things—that’s just reality! The problem is when someone takes it personally—I wasn’t going to kill or even attack the Paladin—my character was going to try to shoot around him, but held his fire.

However, I do understand your perspective, but I also hope I’m not going to be lectured every time I roleplay my character in character, just because another character disagrees. That’s the whole thing about creating an epic story like this one will become (and it’s damn fun, too). I know, as a DM, you don’t want your story (or pcs) to be killed by inter-party conflict; but I think Tom & I roleplayed that right on target—we disagreed—almost came to conflict, but did not—and later, after cooling down, the Elf apologized to the Halfling and confessed his error—and the two characters will be closer, as a result!

If our party is going to be the “Happy Happy Joy Joy Club” that never disagrees, then I’m sorry—I’ll disappoint you terribly as a player down the road, because the Elf is not always going to agree with eveyrone in the group or their characters—that’s going to happen.

I only got a bit incensed when you instantly took the side against the Elf who, in my opinion, was playing in character—you didn’t let the situation resolve, you stepped in and lectured the player (me) which I took as very condescending and unnecessary. I wasn’t going to explode the group nor the party nor the game—the Elf was trying to take revenge on those he believed murdered his wife—nothing more, nothing less—I don’t see that as game disruption, I call that playing in character. This is not a Wolverine mentality—this was ONE instance where the hot-headed (justifiably so) fighter was about to put an enemy to death, but a more cool-headed Paladin had to intervene. That’s typical in a group—not a problem, and didn’t cause me any ill-feelings towards anyone—the only thing that cuased me a bit of ill-feelings was when I was ordered by the DM to change my action, and then with a corresponding lecture.

I didn’t need that, nor did the game. I quickly let it go and moved on, and even roleplayed the Elf’s reaction to the paladin later—I STILL don’t see the problem. If this causes us to split as dm & player, I would be sad by that as that was the most fun I’ve had in a game in a LONG time and I think it’s only going to get better—but I truly hope that we don’t have to get into this “talking down to” when you think I have to be redirected—it shackles the character, humiliates the player, and I think is totally unnecessary.

But—it’s your game—and a damn fun one at that—but if you want to rule that inter-character disagreements are never allowed and characters are expected to be 100% pleasant and in agreement at all times with each other, than I’ll follow that rule, too. I just don’t think it’s real roleplaying on that level. It wasn’t game disrupting—it was putting major text into the story of both the Halfling and the Elf playing their personalities and purposes to the hilt—I think it was pretty fucking sweet myself. But that’s just me.

That’s my two cents on it—I now know never to voice a difference with another opinion on somethbing in my background, but I think that makes the character colorless and an automation.

…to which I replied, just to him:

Is this something you would be interested in talking about? Normally I’d just let you speak your piece and let it go at that (after all, not every disagreement has to end with one person changing their mind). However, your statement: “…I now know never to voice a difference with another opinion on something in my background…” makes me think that you might not understand what kind of game I’m trying to run as a DM, and what kind of game we’re trying to build as a group.

I just want to make sure we’re on the same page!

…to which he replied:

Well, saying I’d never disagree with anyone or anything said or done is obviously an exaggeration…of course I will disagree with some things—but, I’ll definitely take my character down about three ‘notches’ in his intensity and play down his vengeful emotions, as they are seemingly inappropriate for the game and the reactions of other players, which was not my intent. I was only trying to create a background strong enough to keep the character focused (and interesting…playing a core class for 20+ levels and 1-2 years is going to be challenging) even though I’m totally looking forward to it, as the game itself will be quite fun. I would just appreciate a less-lecturing way of countering me if you feel I’ve overstepped my bounds as a player—if the character does, let him get whacked! He deserves if it he gets to out of line haha (just kidding but you know what I mean)

At this point, I should mention that another player in the group, George, had taken the Spellfire feat from Magic of Faerûn and was planning on playing a mystic theurge much later on. The next day, the group received this e-mail from Jack:

It just sunk in—Running a Warlock isn’t okay cuz it’s non-core/base class, but it’s okay to run a Mystic Theurge with SPELLFIRE?!?! compare that combo at any level to my duelist, and the Elf can just sit in the background and comb his hair. I think that’s way unbalanced to allow someone that much power but to deny the rest any power frameworks outside the norm when spellfire is a death star! How is that okay but the other PH 2 Classes aren’t? just a bit confused here…

…to which I replied:

Because of the number of times this has been brought up, I’m getting the impression that perhaps there’s some hard feelings that remain because I didn’t allow the warlock. I hope I am mistaken.

The mystic theurge is a prestige class from the Dungeon Master’s Guide, a perfectly legitimate choice. I told everyone that they could take any prestige class they wanted, as long as they okayed it by me. George asked me and the mystic theurge passed inspection. George’s character didn’t beat the snot out of all the monsters, nor do did he rule combat to the exclusion of everyone else. Everyone had plenty to do (bad dice rolls notwithstanding).

In my opinion, spellfire is a balanced system that has checks and balances built in. One, it requires a feat. Two, it requires a readied action. In it’s current, post-errata form, it is no more powerful than a sorcerer who casts magic missile three times in an EL1 combat (that’s three force missiles that always hit, no saving throw). If for some reason it became unbalanced, I would do something about it. From what everyone has seen of my DMing, I hope everyone recognizes how careful I was when I constructed the campaign; I had the players create characters with backgrounds that would get along and classes that would shore up each other’s weaknesses. I would never just let someone run wild if something got out of hand.

To my knowledge, I have not denied any other alternative power frameworks (that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t, because I might). In fact, I am using a few other new rulesets in the game: weapons that get powerful with the PCs instead of random +1 magic items would be one of them. I buy D&D books so I can slowly add things to the game as they fit the feel and flavor of the game. George’s background happened to fit the idea, theme, and feel of spellfire. I allowed that choice based on careful consideration. I also allowed Sara’s character a few concessions based on her character’s interesting background.

Everyone’s having fun. No one outshined any other character in either of the adventures we’ve played thus far. Everyone’s had more than enough opportunity to be in the spotlight. Fortunately, we have a group mature enough to be able to discuss these kinds of things—which I think is awesome. So let’s discuss ’em, because we need everyone to be on the same page!

…to which he replied:

good—that and one other thing I want to discuss

#1—on that somewhat repetitive note, yes I think running warlock multiclass is nowhere near as powerful as a Mystic Theurge who also gets Spellfire..I think I’m getting short-sheeted so to speak on that. (and running a fighter only for 20 levels will make me turn him into a frenzied berserker lol) even I don’t have that kind of patience.

#2—on a POSITIVE NOTE—Jack is off to the gaming book store! Need anything <wink wink>—I’m picking up a book or two for ME, and thought maybe our DM who has gone above and beyond buying lots of neat toys for us to play with (and continues to do so)—so ya need any AD&D 3.5 books (or anything else there) for yourself (and this is FOR you, not MY book that I leave there)

p.s.—no that’s not a bribe nor kiss-up maneuver, i was planning on doing this today before we even started these emails

so ya need (or just want) anything besides minis?

This was no longer just an odd an trend; his buying gifts for me and the group was becoming downright creepy. Every time he came over, he’d have a box of minis or a book.

I replied:

Here’s my take on overpowered/broken things: they become overpowered/broken things the moment that the person with the overpowered/broken thing outshines the rest of the party. I would never let that happen.

I also don’t want anyone feeling like they’re being left out in the cold. I have given everyone a little piece of the pie. Mystic theurge notwithstanding, the only special thing George has is spellfire. No “legendary weapon.” No random unknown items that will suddenly give him amazing abilities. Everyone got something cool and unusual in their background. Most people got it for free. George had to spend a feat to get it and has to use a readied action to use it!

Then everyone began to chime in. Unanimously, the group agreed that George, with Spellfire, was definitely not ruling the game, nor taking away anyone’s spotlight. Then Jack wrote again:

I just picked up the Dungeon Master’s Guide II for our DM’s use for the game it’s pretty dang cool, I must admit. Maybe I can find something in there that will help me run a default class character for 20 levels w/out wanting to feed myself to a Purple Worm LOL. I think contributing to a story line is great—everyone has done that—and quite well—I guess I just had dreamed about playing in TWLD with more than a Fighter, since it’s such an extensive, intensive, and long campaign.

Oh well.

It helps when you’re playing what you really want to, instead of settling for. Also true, the roleplaying and setting is 75% of it, but having a character grow from 1st to 20th and beyond (perhaps) is a long time to deal with a character whom is boring at the outset.

But that can be overcome.

At this point, I think even Tom was getting tired of the warlock issue, so he wrote:

Correct me if I’m wrong, Jack, but are you saying that you are going to play a fighter for 20 levels when you don’t want to? I thought you were having a hard time choosing between all of the different Prestige Classes available. Sure Chris put the nix on a starter classes from supplimentals, but there are like 11 core classes that all have a great ammount of flavor and just as many Prestige from just the DMG. I mean he’s allowing me to play a PRC from a book that’s not in print. all I had to do was give him the headsup and it was approved.

i think you’ll find Chris can be very leinient when it comes to that kind of stuff. There was a feat path I was going to take, but Chris was all like “don’t waste a feat on that, I’d allow that as a maneuver. A lot of DMs do that because alot of these abilities don’t need a feat, there just maneuvers.” And if you do get bored of your character just retrain him (either hand wave or go on a sidequest). The worst thing that can happen in a D&D game is a player getting bored with their character, I mean, that’s why there is a big long chapter about changing your character in the PHB II. In fact, the header for that chapter is along the lines of Having a player intentionally kill their PC to have a new one is bad (besides, you’d start one level lower).

If there’s not a PrC that interests you in the DMG look in the other books, there are hundreds of PrCs out there, and If you are going Dragon hater, look in the draconomicon, I think theres a PrC called Dragon hunter.

Just my two coppers, because I don’t want to see ANYBODY playing a character they don’t like or think is boring, and I’m not even the DM! Imagine how Chris would feel/Feels about this situation, hearing that you are not totally excited to play your Character. I’m SURE he would feel the same way and probably make the same suggestions.

A very well thought out e-mail. Then Jack wrote this secretly to Tom:

Well, he says the warlock is underpowered, now that he’s seen it. But he still won’t allow a few levels in it. A Mystic Theurge with Spellfiire is way overpowred (in my opinion) but he permits it. I don’t understand his rationale—but he gets pissy if I question him on it. It’s not like I’m asking to play something that is a Death-Star that will kill everything—quite the opposite, in fact. I just like the flavor of the character mixed with other things.

But for now, a 20th level uber-fighter it is. It may be boring as all get out, but that’s life. I can make a fighter interesting enough. My only major bitch (and Chris and I will never see eye to eye on this, and that’s fine it’s not a game-wreaker for me) is that EVERYONE is playing EXACTLY WHAT THEY WANTED TO PLAY, with PERKS! I’m having to settle. Oh well. Like I said, I’ll make a 20th level fighter that will make chunks out of anything he enounters, or mow down 7-10+ smaller creatures every round. Even now I’ve got +11 to my ac, strike twice per round, and have +7 to hit and +5 damage. And I’m 2nd level… What WILL be overpowered is the 16+ fighter feats I’m getting all on two-weapon style. My combined bonuses on the last level or close to it will be over +18 to hit and over +18 damage with at least 7 attacks per round.

But, I’m not going to continue to debate Chris about it. I think he’s being totally illogical now that he’s examined the warlock carefully and found it under-powered, and is allowing a lot of other things (especially funky PrC’s) but won’t allow a warlock. Insane. But I don’t want to leave the game, nor be kicked out of it by continuing to bitch—that’s not my intent. This is going to be one of the best campaigns I’ve ever experienced in 30+ years of gaming.

I’m just jaded (on this 1 and only 1 issue) because of his unwarranted disallowing of a character. I’ve played D&D for over 30 years—thirty—I’ve played everything to death there is—this is a new type of character I’ve never been able to play outside of one session with a 20th level every other game I’ve played in. But I know you’ll need a meat-shield, so I’ll provide one (not your Paladin, he does just fine!) I don’t think this email is going back to him, and I would prefer it if you didn’t show it to him.

Well, you all play what youd like, and I’ll play what we need. It’ll work fine. I won’t kill the character, I don’t do that. I roleplay it til it dies or goes deity—whichever is first But it IS a “yawn” of a concept (my character) a straight blade wielder. Good for short term, damn boring for a 1-2 year 15+ level super game I’ve always wanted to play. Now I know why you’re playing two characters?

Notice Jack says to Tom that I won’t allow the warlock because it’s underpowered—something I never said. It has always been the same reasons: no one plays non-core classes, and the non-core class he wanted didn’t fit the flavor. So Tom writes back to Jack:

I understand where you’re coming from. I’m just concerned because you don’t seem to be playing what you want to. PLEASE don’t feel like you need to play a fighter because we need a meat shield. We don’t have to have this diverse party of gap fillers. In fact, have you seen the swashbuckler class in complete warrior? I KNOW Chris will allow it because it’s his favorite class. Like I said, rework the mechanics of your character. I don’t want you to be bored, especially in a campaign that you’ve been wanting to play. I understand that you’ve been wanting to play a warlock, and I do understand your frustration with Chris’s nix on the character, but I don’t want ANY hard feelings between ANY players. The main thing I am concerned about however is the fact that you feel you NEED to play a fighter. Don’t settle for anything, instead both you and Chris need to compromise. You want to play a warlock, he doesn’t want you to play a warlock. Ask him personally, not in a group e-mail how you can come to a compromise. I’ve said all I can say, and I can’t say no more. Just talk to him about it, and everything should be fine.

(By the way, I had no idea that there was a swashbuckler class. I think Tom meant to say that my favorite character ever was a swashbuckler—in actuality, a fighter/rogue. Nevertheless, this little slip of the tongue got Jack pretty upset as you can see from his reply:

If Chris would allow a Swashbuckler, breaking his own rules because it’s HIS favorite, then following that logic he should allow me to play a warlock, because it’s MY (the players’) favorite. I’m the one running the character—not him—why should he care if it’s his or my favorite why should it matter? He said a warlock is underpowered—good, let me play it, then. What? No non-core classes? But you’d allow your personal favorite one to break that rule? Double-talk. Double-standard. Broken rule based on personal DM preference. He’s not the one running the character—it’s not his entire thing in the game—he’s the DM. The player, however, runs a character and that’s the focus for the entire campaign. It makes NO sense, none at all. Like I said, not a deal-breaker nor game-breaker for me, but close. And it would be, if he told me swashbuckler is okay as a non-core starting class but a warlock isn’t, just because he likes the one and doesn’t like the other. If game balance has nothing to do with it, then why forbid the fucking class? This drives me nuts.

A vanilla elven fighter it is, no deviations, no PrCs, no zip nothing. He has a rapier in each hand, and he kills things. He’ll be roleplayed as if it was exactly what I wanted, but secretly (well, not totally since you know) I’m thoroughly annoyed for being denied what I’ve always wanted to run when the DM is happy to break his own rules for what HE wants, but not what the PLAYER wants, when game balance is not threatened. Ridiculous.

Matter of fact, the last thing my character did before the game ended was take out his bow, snap it in half and throw it away, and the same with his shield, his quiver and every arrow in it. He has leather armor. Two Rapiers. His clothes & basic supplies. And that’s it, and that’s all he’ll EVER permit on his person.

Wow. So then Tom hastily replied:

Whoah! I must apologize, I’ve made things a lot worse than they needed to be. First off, let me apologize for putting words in Chris’s mouth. I should not have said what I said about the swashbuckler (I was thinking it was still a PrC). Which for the most part is ok. Here’s the thing though: the whole core classes and core races wasn’t just a Chris thing. Both I and Steve had that as a pre-req for this group. We are playing with whole new people and we have had bad experiences with people who want to do so right off the bat.

Just FYI, you weren’t the only person denied. Steve wanted to play a half giant or something (first time) and he also wanted to play an artificer. We put the kaibosh on that because we’d be breaking our own rules. Here’s the big thing though, as far as everybody getting what they want and you being singled out is not necesarily true. It just so happens that (as far as I can tell) everybody else is fine with working with the core classes. I’m happy to play Rogue and Paladin, heck if I had to chose one or the other I’d be fine.

When I DM, I only allow humans, any demi humans are strictly on a case by case basis, you have to justify why an elf s in human lands. I don’t like the demihumans (except for halflings, which I still wouldn’t allow) so I way more strict about campaign settings than Chris, and I wouldn’t allow many of the Prcs either. We are trying to make an interesting game with what’s presented in the core books.

At this point I feel you need to call Chris and work this out, because all that’s going to happen by venting to me is getting second hand responses and getting more upset (a la the swashbuckler comment). and I have to be perfectly honest, the way you have worded your intentions makes it sound like you are punishing yourself to spite/make Chris feel guilty. And besides, if you are bored with all the other classes, what will you do after the warlock? books only come out every so often. Seriously, I don’t want to see our respective friendships explode because of a D&D class. not to mention the game being blown up because of something.

I hate it when one person isn’t having fun. If nothing is done about it, we all end not having a good time. If you come to a gaming session and say things like “well, we’re all gonna die anyway” or, “whee, another level of fighter, how exciting” we all feel down, and if your having a problem I can’t accept that to affect others. This isn’t about you and Chris, this is about the group, so I hope you understand my feelings about it.

Instead of calling me as Tom suggested, Jack sent me an e-mail; at this point, I was not yet aware of anything that went on privately between Jack and Tom:

Need some character development input. I’ve played every kind of character there is in the last 30 years of gaming, and they’re kinda boring. That’s why I like the warlock from the PHB II—it’s different in ability and flavor, and it’s new (to me). I know you won’t le me run one (even though it’s ‘underpowred’) fine, so be it. but if I run a straight class fighter for 20 levels it’ll turn into a frenzied berserker. What else is new out there that you’ll allow that is not the norm, if anything? 20 levels and 1-2 years of game time is a long time. I love my character concept, I hate my character’s class. I can stlil roleplay the character’s character just fine; but I need to do something with his class/profession. It’s just too godawful boring I’ll hate it in 2 months.

Instead of answering his e-mail, I decided to call him. In a nutshell, he thought I was being unfair for reasons that were imagined or assumed. For example, “You won’t let me play any prestige class I want!” was something he said. To which I replied, “Did you check to see if you could?” and he said, “No, I just knew you wouldn’t let me play them.” There was a lot of double-talk on his end, and some confusing circular logic. Several times I had to repeat what he said back to him, just to make sure I was understanding it. This was when he got really angry, saying that I didn’t needed to repeat things back to him as if he were five. I told him that in any Psych 101 class they always say it’s best to paraphrase, to make sure you’re understanding what the speaker is saying. That’s when he screamed, “You can take your Psych 101 bullshit and shove it up your ass! Fuck you!” and hung up.

Minutes later, he sent this e-mail to the entire group, sans me:

I hung up on Chris. I’m sure you’ve heard that by now. He’s a condescending little asswipe with a short-man’s complex that just loves to lord it over others with his “i am god, I am gm” ways. His condescension on the phone was LEGENDARY. He’s not worth speaking to, I will find a game without an egotistical powertripper like him in it. I just am annoyed I bothered buying him miniatures before I found out what he was really like. I loved playing with you all, but that powertripping little prick can go fuck himself. I would never game with him again.

Have fun, hope you can with GOD ALMIGHTY running the game.

p.s.—I already took my books home that I had left there, so I won’t be back for anything. He can choke on the fucking minitiatures for all I care.

So then Tom wrote to Jack:

I’m sorry that things didn’t work out. I tried my best to work with you on a player to player level, but unfortunately things did not work out. I’m also sorry that you and Chris had disagreements, that could not be taken care of on a more friendly level. As I’m sure you’re aware, I live with Chris and we don’t have much room to sprawl, so I at least heard his side of the conversation and the parts where you were upset enough for me to hear you clearly. I’m sure this is the last thing you want to hear right now, but I agree with Chris. I don’t think he was being condescending, and I don’t think he was being unreasonable. He was in a very calm and prefessional manner explaining what was going on and his justifications for it. Like I said, I only heard about half of what you were saying, and your arguments were cyclical and based on assumption. The thing that hurts me most, is that you think Steve and I are getting special treatment because we are from a previous group. We are both playing core classes, and building our characters more around our backgrounds than our classes. Everything that is not core was approved on a researched basis.

My prc, the devoted defender, was taken into account and Chris said it wasn’t game breaking and it fit with the campaign. Here’s the difference, however, if Chris would have said no, I would have gone a different route. I’m fine playing 20 levels of paladin. I prefer to make my characters progress based on chalenges to their character, not chalenges to the ECL. This has turned into something more that warlock v. DM, this became a Player v. DM and if this were D&D, you guys would have come to blows. I feel that your being upset with Chris quoting Psych 101 fundamentals to you could be interpreted as condescending, but that was the first thing we learned in PSY 101, and I use paraphrasing everyday.

I must admit that I am extremely upset with you. What was between you and Chris, with me trying to difuse it in the middle, you brought everybody else in on. It’s not fair to everybody else to use unprofessional and inappropriate language to badmouth our friend. I thought you were a counselor, Jack, how did this situation get so out of hand? If anything, you should have been calming Chris down, but I am suprised at how things turned out for the worst. I appreciate all you have contributed to this team, but again I am shocked at how unprofessionally you left. When I left Adobe, I didn’t tell customers or co-workers how much my HR department sucked.

Now I have riled myself up, and I apologize for that, but you have done something to me that is unforgivable: hurting the group. If you have a problem with Chris, awesome. But by bringing your negative emotions to the table and making everybody else feel uncomfortable by reading this, I do not forgive you, that was so unbelievably unprofessional.

I tried my best to mediate the situation, but you would not yeild. You knew EXACTLY what you were getting into. That’s why we had those two sessions of character building, so EVERYBODY would be sure of the rules. I assume that before you showed up for the first time you knew what the background was, it’s what our world was created around. Everybody else worked within the “confines” of the campaign setting, and I am so proud of the story and setting of the campaign, I think the makers of Dragonlance would blush after seeing all the work we put into this campaign.

And that brings up another good point: by you selfishly leaving the group, you have invalidated the work of 6 hardworking individuals.

Thanks for the time, and I am sorry that things couldn’t work out, and take it easy.

No further responses were sent to or received from Jack—until the next morning; I woke up at 9:00 AM to find three e-mails from Jack. The first was sent at 7:43 AM:

miniatures are yours, Spell Compendium is a loaner and I’m coming to get it back. I let it stay there at your place “leaving it here for the game” was my exact quote, but the game is over as far as I’m involved with it, so I’m coming to get it. No words necessary—I knock—you hand me the book—we part in silence, no problem. I would assume and expect you would not deter me from getting this book back, since I have bought you $70 worth of miniatures which definitely WERE (and still are) a gift and am not asking for them. But the Spell Compendium is a book I lent you, not gave to you, and I expect it back. Name the day and hour you’ll be there, and I’ll come get it and be outta your life. cool?

Sure enough, when Tom and I went out in the living room to check, there was his book.

Keep in mind that I woke up at 9:00 AM and his e-mail was received at 7:43 AM; I’d had no opportunity to reply to it. But still, there was more. At 8:29 AM, Jack sent this to Tom and I:

MY LAST EVER CONTACT—I’d ASK that you read it as it pertains to this situation please… Ungrateful little pricks. I spend $200+ investing in your game to try to make it better, and what do I get? Not even a thank you. nothing but ego, condescension, guilt trips, and bleeding heart stories about how I ruined your game. Not one bit of MY LOSS in all this entered your little self-absorbed adolescent hearts?

Oh please, Tom—I get PAID to deal with teens who treat me like you two do—I don’t get PAID to get this BS from you, so I’ll respond as any other human would do—ie, I’m not your fucking therapist, moron! KEEP the Spell Compendium. Really. I’ll go return TWLD hardcover I had bought AS A GIFT TO THE GROUP, still wrapped in its original plastic (so you know I hadn’t opened it) and get my $100 back, and you can keep the Compendium. I hope it helps you in your game with some good spell ideas.

Despite all this, I wish you both the best, even though I’m really fucking pissed at you right now—have a great life, NEVER contact me again, enjoy the $100+ worth of shit I bought for your games, and have a great time with that great group of players. But get the FUCK OUT OF MY LIFE. End of our relating.

Best to you—just have the best in life FAR THE FUCK AWAY FROM ME!

ps—Post anything, anywhere, about me using my name, email address, or anything alluding to me, and I’ll sick my entire law firm on you for slander and libel, and sue you both into absolute poverty.

Don’t go there.

Take the $100 worth of freebies as compensation, and let it slide, or my attorneys (who are free for me, on retainer, I work with them) will UTTERLY DESTROY YOU IN COURT.

Part ways, put nothing in print, and I’ll do the same.

Later

The following was the last e-mail in my inbox and it was received at 8:35 AM—still 25 minutes before I even woke up:

previous email means KEEP THE BOOK in case you deleted it. don’t leave me voice messages, don’t email me, forget alla bout me and never write anything about me or to me ever.

any communication to me or about me will be construed as harassment and will be dealt with in litigation.

have a nice life (really!)

enjoy your campaign,

thanks for screwing me over by making me leave, jerks

And that’s the story!