How do you deal with a tabletop gamer who isn’t willing to try new things? – Ask The Bellhop

Today I’m going to be talking about how to handle a stubborn player who isn’t willing to try new things. I’m talking about how to deal with a gamer who always wants to play the same board game over and over or an RPG player who won’t try other systems or always wants to play the same character every game.

This topic actually comes from two different questions that I think are dealing with the same basic problem of one player not wanting to go along with the rest of the group.

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Here are the two questions I was asked:

Ranch B writes:

What to do when you have a steady weekly group and as time goes by you’ve got one player who is getting less willing to play other games? After four players all say “Oooooo.. Lets play that” and player five is the only one often doing the “I don’t think I’d like that. Let’s play something else”

David Wood writes:

Do you have any solution for the RPG “picky eater?”

I’m defining “picky eater” as the sort of player who only ever plays one type of character or plays one type of game, and doesn’t handle the paradigm shift to a different system or setting at all well.

Mine in this case is a power-gamer, who prefers superhero systems and only suffers [sic] the minimal amount of story required to get into fights and gain enough experience to buy new powers.

While both of these questions are obviously different and both deal with two different parts of the tabletop gaming hobby I think, at their core they are asking the same thing, “What can you do when you have one stubborn player who will not try new things?” What do you do with a player who, for whatever reason, is stuck in a rut always playing the same game or same types of characters in games? 

Below I’m going to discuss some various strategies to deal with this type of player. 

You need to determine why this player doesn’t want to try new things:

There can be a number of reasons why a gamer may not want to try new things. Knowing what their reason is can help us determine what do to about this problem.

Fear – Often reluctance to try something new comes down to fear. Fear of failing, fear of looking stupid in front of others, fear of getting it wrong, fear they won’t have as much fun with the new thing. I’m certain there are a number of other reasons why a player may be scared to try something new.

If we know that it’s fear that is keeping a player in their rut we may be able to help them overcome their fear. This can be done through incremental changes, either through little shifts to the current game or by swapping to another game with a lot of similarities to the current one. 

Comfort Level – Sometimes this can go along with fear but it can also be something all on its own. Maybe the player is just really comfortable playing what they are playing now. It’s what they know and they enjoy and they don’t see any reason to move away from it. Perhaps what they are doing now is more enjoyable than other past gaming experiences and if it isn’t broken why fix it. 

The key to keeping someone who is comfortable happy is to stick to things within their comfort level. Stick to common tropes or similar mechanics and reinforce to that person that the fun they found in one game or with one character can be found with another. 

The Learning Curve – Some people love to learn new things and can learn things easily. Other people have to work at it and find having to learn something new to be a chore, not something that is enjoyable. This can be a very big reason for some players to be reluctant to play different games. Playing any new game, even the most simple abstract, requires some learning and some games, especially RPGs with thousand-page rulebooks, have huge learning investments required to play. Sometimes players just want to show up and play and not have to work at it first.

The key here is again finding games that are only a small step away from what the picky eater already enjoys. Also key is making sure that any game you suggest has a very straightforward onboarding. Games that require you to know the setting or grasp many different mechanics in order to play are not good choices here.

Other Players – Sometimes the reason a player doesn’t want to play a specific game could be due to the interactions with other players. This could involve a player who doesn’t like direct conflict being asked to play a game that focuses on it. Or it could involve the player knowing that another player in a group plays that type of game in a way they don’t enjoy. The Quarterback in a cooperative game, the player who likes playing Chaotic Evil characters and the Overly Aggressive Wargamer are all player types that other players may not want to actually play a specific game with, though they may be willing to play with these people in other circumstances.

This kind of situation is a bit harder to deal with. In this case, it’s all about knowing the group dynamics and planning your game night around those. If you know that Quarterbacking is a problem just don’t plan on playing any cooperative games and if overly competitive players are a problem maybe cooperative games are all you plan to play.

Getting a stubborn gamer to try new things:

The secret to getting a gamer who always wants to play the same thing to try something new is to make sure to still give them what they like. To do this you first have to find out what is it that they like about the thing they always want to play. 

As an example of this, I encourage you to check out this Ask The Bellhop Article: Looking for games with a similar feel to Catan.

In that article, we have a similar situation to what I’m talking about today. A group where everyone only wants to play Catan and nothing else and a frustrated gamer who wants their friends to try something new. There I talk about finding out what the group likes about Catan and then suggest other games that have that same component in it. For example, if the group likes the dice driven resource generation then I suggest checking out games like Valeria Card Kingdoms, or if the trading aspect is what they like then perhaps Bohnanza would be a good fit, and so on.

I suggest doing the exact same thing for the tabletop picky eater.  In Davids’s case, with a player who only wants to play big bad superheroes, I would suggest systems that feature overly competent characters. In most Fate games the characters are extremely good at what they do, and while they will face setbacks they generally won’t fail at what they are good at. If it’s not being a badass that they player likes but rather the actual combat mechanics, then maybe look at a game like 4th Edition Dungeons & Dragons which features a highly detailed and tactical combat system that is almost at the level of being a stand-alone board game. 

You want to encourage the stubborn player to try new things that aren’t totally new. Show them the same things, but with a different dressing. They get to still enjoy the thing that they like about gaming while broadening their horizons and letting the overall group have new experiences. By slowly shifting things just a little bit you can slowly introduce new games and game types to the group.

Is having a picky eater at your game table really a problem?

Another thing that I think every group in this situation really needs to think about is whether or not a player always wanting to play the same thing is really a problem. 

If a player always wants to play Terraforming Mars and that’s the only game they enjoy, then you invite them out when you are playing Terraforming Mars. When you aren’t, they don’t get invited. This isn’t being done to be mean or passive-aggressive. If you know a player isn’t going to enjoy playing a game, don’t invite them to play it. Now if you are a group of friends and you all still want to hang out maybe you compromise, you play Terraforming Mars one week and something else the next, or, on a longer game night, you play Terraforming Mars first but then something new. 

The same goes for RPG groups. If you know that Julia only likes fantasy games you don’t invite her to your next Cyberpunk Red session or if you do you invite them you make sure to point out what you are playing well in advance and then that player can make their own decision. 

If one player always wanting to play the same thing really is a problem for your group, and that player really isn’t willing to explore new things, it may be time for that player to find a new group. 

With today’s technology, finding players for a game, any game, is easier than ever. We are no longer limited to that same group of five people that you happened to find locally to play games with. Not only is gaming way more prevalent and there are probably gamers in your area interested in playing whatever game that picky eater wants to play but you can play pretty much every game out there online with players from all over the world.

Regarding players who always play the same characters in roleplaying games: so what? I, personally have never understood why some groups and some Game Masters insist that players explore new options and broaden their boundaries. If someone only enjoys playing big dumb fighters, let them play big dumb fighters. If someone always wants to play the mage who’s steeped in local legends and lore, let them be that mage. The goal of any game is that all the players at the table are having fun and if that player is having fun, who cares if they play the same thing every time?

Now, where this can become an issue is when that player’s playstyle somehow impacts the fun of the other players. I personally usually see this with players who want to play the loner, a thief that steals from the group or the secretly evil character. In this case, the player’s fun is derived by disrupting the fun of others and this is probably not someone you want to continue gaming with. At this point you don’t have a picky eater, you have a problem player. For some discussion on how to deal with problem players check out my How Do You Deal With A Game Night Failure? article.

Having to deal with a picky eater who won’t try new things is a social problem and needs to be dealt with as such:

When you take a step back and look at the problem of a tabletop picky eater we have a pretty standard social situation that we all find ourselves in often enough in our non-gaming lives. You have a group of people who want to do one thing and one person who wants to do something else.

How you approach this at the game table should be the same way, with the same social etiquette that you use in a non-gaming situation. For an example of this situation just sit down with your family and ask “What do you want for dinner?” or think of the last time you decided to order pizza at game night and one of the players was a vegetarian or had dietary restrictions. 

All of these situations, including the one happening at your game table, are solved the same way: by talking it through. 

Your group needs to sit down and discuss the things I mention above. Acknowledge that the group thinks there is a problem, then determine if it really is a problem and if it is a problem find out why one player always wants to stick to the same routine. Once you know why that player feels the way they do you can all discuss potential solutions. These solutions should be drawn upon knowing what it is that the player actually enjoys and why they are reluctant to try something new.  

This could lead to a few different places. Maybe you have the conversation and nothing changes. You all now know why that player enjoys what they enjoy and why they don’t want to try something new so you continue to play those styles of games with them. Maybe the player didn’t realize it was as big a problem and they agree to try new things. Maybe a compromise is reached and you mix up game nights with some old favourites and new experiences.

It may end up that the final call is that the picky eater leaves the group. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The goal of getting together and gaming is to have fun together. If one or more players aren’t having fun it’s time to reevaluate and possibly move on in hope of finding a new group who better aligns with that player’s goals. 

I realize sitting here saying this it makes it sound easy. I know it’s not. Having to sit down and discuss these things often isn’t an enjoyable experience. It can be hard and painful, but a little hurt now can go a long way to building a better stronger gaming group, leading to more enjoyable times in the future for everyone.

A conversation about expectations should happen early and can recur over time:

A lot of game night and game group problems can be prevented just by talking about them ahead of time. The situation we are talking about here, with a gamer who isn’t willing to try new things, is one of those problems that you should be able to nip in the bud.

Roleplaying has a term called Session 0. This is a meeting that is held before the first game in order to set ground rules and to make sure everyone is on the same page. I am a big proponent of using a Session 0 both for RPGs as well as for any game group, even those playing board games.

Before any game is played a number of things should be discussed. This includes all the normal Session 0 stuff like house rules, social etiquette, and safety tools, but also you should discuss expectations. What are people looking to get out of the group? Will you always play the same game? Will things swap up and if they do, how often will they swap up?  Is this going to be a long campaign going for years or a short story arc? 

By the time you are done this discussion, everyone should be on the same page. If there’s a picky eater there they should be happy with the decisions made and you shouldn’t hear any complaints in the future. Everyone present should know what they are signing up for. 

While Session 0 is becoming more and more common with more groups what you don’t see very often is people returning to this and having that conversation again. This is something I would like to see more of, a check-in now and then to make sure everyone is still enjoying the game or the direction the group is going.  I suggest you do one of these intermission sessions not long after you start gaming, just to make sure everything is matching people’s expectations.

It can be that during Session 0 a player thought they wanted something and it ends up they didn’t, or something that sounded like it was a ton of fun played out much different from what everyone thought. Just because you had a Session 0 and everyone agreed then doesn’t mean that no one is ever going to change their mind and regular check-ins can help with that. 

One final note on this discussion, they don’t always have to be started by the facilitator or the Games Master. Any player at the table or any member of a group should be able to say, “Hey, I think there are some problems going on and I think we need to sit down and talk about them.”

Game Groups Can and Should Change Over Time:

When you do find yourself with a picky eater in your group you first need to determine if it’s really a problem. If it’s not bothering the other people in the group, then don’t worry about it. If it is impacting the fun of the other players then it’s time to sit down and have a conversation. Find out why the player doesn’t want to try new things and what they like about the games and playstyles they do enjoy. Use that to determine where to go next, which could include trying games with similar aspects to the games the picky eater likes or it could mean that the players part ways in search of gaming groups that match their preferred playstyles.

This conversation can and should happen before the group even starts gaming together, to make sure everyone is on the same page. In addition, these conversations shouldn’t be a one-time thing, but rather should recur whenever a problem like this (or any other game group problems) pop up. 

Remember the goal of playing games together is to socialize and have fun. If someone isn’t having fun, it’s time to do something to fix that.

Have you ever had to deal with a player who wasn’t willing to try something new? What did you do?
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