There is the assumption made by every DM when you sit down at there table. You are here to play. Or at least that’s what the DM hopes your here for. Game such as Dungeons and Dragons, GURPS, Call of Cthulhu and even Big Eyes Small Mouth requires a shred of maturity to run fluidly. I’m not saying we have to be serious and not let the game be fun but at some point there has to be a limit to the distracting comments.
To start, lets define Maturity.
The dictionary defines it as: “The state of being mature”. We are talking about psychological maturity which can be defined as “the ability to respond to the environment in an appropriate manner”. One of the many things that comes when you gather groups of people into one location is they talk. If not controlled this develops into a lot of side chatter which can ruin the tone of the game but furthermore can spark jokes into your group. Now, humor is good but that point when someone has made the same joke 4 times you tend to get tired of it. It was funny the first time but each time its pushed for it gets thinner and thinner. At some point it just develops into an annoyance and causes other players to not have the most fun they could be having at the game. The best way I can find to understand this is that its an attention grab. This extra true when it isn’t even their joke they are repeating.
I was running a desert campaign set in the “Sandstorm” campaign setting. I thought hey, it would be cool if the natural events like sandstorms was a threat to the party. “Yeah, that would be cool” was the thought but the moment the words sandstorm came out of my mouth the next day a player got up and said “Stop, I need to play something” then proceeded to pull out his mobile phone and play, take a guess, Darude Sandstorm. This was a problem at this point for two reasons, one he stopped the game for this and two ignored me (the DM) when I asked him not to. The players seemed to enjoy it and so I let this go and moved on, having him silence the song so we could move on. I asked everyone to roll a fortitude check for attempting to move through the sandstorm and press on but the moment I said sandstorm he did it again. This repeated around 4 times before not only I but the entire group was sick of it. The lack of self control to not be the center of attention tore apart a relatively good session. It was funny the first time, yes, we get it… but how many times does it take before it is no longer funny? That is the ultimate question here is at which point do we sacrifice the game itself for a quick joke?
It isn’t always this innocent though. More prevalent in this (honestly) over sexualized culture is perverted jokes. This is everything from a simple suggestion to blatant indiscretion of speech. This may be different in private groups that take place in home settings but for public games such as DND Encounters this can pose a real problem. How far is to far with a sex joke? In private groups it can get very dirty in context and even further in some cases and yes, it is funny. Was it funny the second time you said it? Or the Third? And when does it distract from the game itself so much that the DM cant get it back on track? Is it still funny?. There is a general level of respect that should happen and yes the DM should be the one in control but it isn’t his job to parent the players and ask for a little self control. I run a lot of games out and around the public as I’m trying to promote and make more DND players in my town but what do outsider think when all they see is a bunch of guys sitting around a table making sex jokes? It scares away potential players now I do understand that the game is meant to be fun and I am not by any means saying that we shouldn’t make sex jokes or we shouldn’t have any fun with it at all. All I am asking is at which point is enough enough?
I imagine I’m not the only DM that has this problem with players so I am not going to write all this out without a solution to it. The way I have found that works with most groups is being honest and clear with what you expect from them. When they go to far with a string of jokes and comments get there attention and say “Hey, that was not OK. ” Make it clear that they did something you didn’t agree with and if they respect you, as a DM of course, they should comply to this. Otherwise ask them why they are there if not to play the game? Be honest about it, are they there because they have no where else to be? All their friends are here? If they are not here to play your game they do not need to be there and will only serve as a distraction. If they are there to play the game then a simple slap on the wrist should be all it takes. Now, I have run into several special cases before that simply did not know that they weren’t supposed to do this. Not all Gamers are the most social people and some may not see anything wrong in there actions. In this case simply stating that you are uncomfortable/not OK with the behavior should be enough in most cases.
Maturity is not the overall required thing in games though. In RPGs such as MAID and similar comedy based games the lack of Maturity could be productive to the circumstance. In games that value tone and environment over content, such as Call of Cthulhu, simply need a higher level of maturity or the game itself is ruined for that session. So advocate and promote maturity where it is needed and loosen up when not. Remember, we are all here for the same purpose, to play the game and have fun.
So remember, there are more players here besides you and just because it was funny once doesn’t meant it will be funny every time.