Controversies about Roleplaying: Common Pitfalls in the Hobby



Slaying the Dragon by Dagny Mol

"Slaying the Dragon" by Dagny Mol is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0


Anything that humans can use, we can abuse; anything we can enjoy can come with unexpected problems. Tabletop roleplaying is no exception, and I'm not going to pretend otherwise. I've seen folks make some grand messes due to gaming and made some poor choices at times, myself. I'm not writing this just in the spirit of disclosure and fairness, however. I'm writing this so that new gamers can be aware of issues they might see, in the hopes that they'll be prepared.


On one hand, tabletop roleplaying doesn't have to be a very expensive hobby. You can borrow books from others or ask for them as holiday or birthday gifts. Tracking down used or cheaper copies is easier than it's ever seen. You don't have to collect tons of dice or armies of miniatures (depending on which game you're playing, of course). You can record things on paper or free digital options like Google Docs.

Trust me, I know all of this from first-hand experience. I was raised poor, and I was a college student barely covering my bills during my first decade of gaming. I wanted to have a solid collection of books but I had to pull out all my money-saving tricks to make it happen. And I've had to sell portions of my collection during times when money was tight. Still, I always kept an eye on my budget and kept my expectations realistic.

But collecting can be a real joy in this hobby. Books, dice, miniatures, and more - they can all seem too neat to pass up. This can be painful for those who aren't working (such as teen gamers) or aren't drawing much of an income. Some items are expensive, especially as you buy more of them. With 24/7 online purchasing power from many different outlets, it can be easy to spend way more than you intended. It's also more difficult for some folks to manage their impulses when it comes to buying what they love. It can feel so rewarding to buy things, and humans can go overboard trying to obtain whatever makes us feel good. Staying aware of what we're buying, how, and why can help us, however.

Plan to Get What You Want

I've found that using a gaming-related skill can help a lot in this matter: planning. Make a list of what you want. Organize everything into these basic categories: what you want and need to get the most out of your gaming experience (must-haves) and what would be nice but is completely optional. Then hunt down prices at various outlets without buying anything yet. Figure out what you can ask for from others as gifts and put them on a list you can share with folks in your life. You might have to wait a while until the next holiday and you might not get what you hope for, so the items on your wishlist should be things you can stand to wait for. Then note what you'll probably need to purchase for yourself and plot out what you can afford to get and when. Treat yourself, but try to stick the plan so you don't go overboard. Adjust as necessary, but don't abandon the plan. You can probably get most what you want without going into debt, as long as you keep an eye out for opportunities and exercise some restraint.


There are many problems that can arise with a social hobby like tabletop roleplaying, so I'll only touch on the most common issues I've seen here.

Finding a Group

The first perennial roadblock for many folks is not being able to find other gamers to play with. If you want to have game sessions in the real world rather than meeting online, you're going to need to connect with interested parties in your area. Even if you're willing to drive a distance, you'll still be confined to a certain radius. And even if you live in a well-populated area, it might not be easy to find gamers for various reasons. There may not be many who love tabletop RPGs, or they may not be public about it. They may already have their groups set up and aren't open to new members. They might not know or be interested in the type of game you want to play, or they might have a very different play style than you'd prefer. Most of these issues can arise even in online gaming.

I've seen a lot of jokes in recent years about making a dating-style app to find people to game with - something many gamers can join, indicate their preferences, and search for games on. In all seriousness, it's not a bad idea. Finding a group at all can be a long struggle for some; finding the right group can feel impossible for others. There are as many variables at work in finding a gaming group as there are in finding a romantic partner, and it's just as vital to have good chances of getting along.

Word of Mouth

Talking with people you know is still one of the easier ways to find other gamers. Friends, fellow students, and others in your life might be tabletop gamers or know about locals who play. As long as you feel you can trust them to be constructive, it probably won't hurt to ask. If you think asking particular people like coworkers might lead to trouble, it's okay to to with your gut and refrain. While many people are open-minded about tabletop games now, some still aren't. Some people keep their private hobbies to themselves rather than discussing them at work, and that choice is valid. Do what seems best for yourself, given what you know of others; there are other options you can try.

Local Stores

If you have a local game store, you can try to connect with others there. I do have to specify "if" because many game stores have died and they aren't easy to keep alive, so many towns don't have them. It can be easier to connect with a group if the store hosts games, which some do for free on a first-come, first-served basis or a small fee.

Online Options

Virtual tabletops like Roll20 allow you to search for games to join but there are some drawbacks. First, each only searches within its own service, so you might have to join and search various VTTs. Another problem can be finding the system and setting you crave the most. Dungeons and Dragons might not just seem like the most visible option; it could be most popular by far, so if you're looking for something else, you might be out of luck. Some services might not have character sheets or other premade options for the system you want to use, and it isn't always easy to make them, particularly if you're new to the service. Still, a VTT can be a way to find an online game that works for you.

Tabletop Wizard seems to offer a simplified way to find games to join on their site. It's free for basic use but you can spend a few bucks a month to make your games stand out in search results (if you're a GM), or if you just want to get rid of ads. I haven't used it so I'm not sure what the experience is like or how successful people are in finding, joining, and actually playing with groups there.

Message forums have been a common way to hunt for groups in recent decades, but they're hit and miss. They don't usually have a standard format for describing what you want or what you're offering, which can lead to misunderstandings. On many sites, forums aren't as visible and active as they once were; on social media, they're entirely absent. Meetup is a way to try to find local gamers online and meet them IRL. I tried it once a long time ago and met a man who's now my brother from another mother - but we were the only two who showed up out of the whole group that said they'd be there. I didn't try again after that.

Getting Along

Once you find a group, chances are you'll have personal clashes with others at some point. Some groups are formed by people who are already good friends, but even friends can disagree. Other groups might have members who don't know each other well, which can lead to more misunderstandings. Everyone at the table has their own desires for what to play; everyone has their own ideas about what the rules mean and how things should be done. Hopefully, the group shares more opinions in common than not, but that isn't guaranteed. It's worth some effort to try to get along with people who mostly seem okay but may have some rough edges. (Of course, if you feel unsafe or unwelcome, it's best to carefully make your exit. Even if it took a long time to find such a group, you can find another that makes you feel secure, so don't ignore your gut.)

There are some common points in the tabletop experience when things can easily become awkward, confrontational, and otherwise uncomfortable, so they're worth knwowing about.

Starting Out

Starting a new group can be odd for a few sessions. Try to give folks some grace and time to gel. If it's still uncomfortable more often than not after a few tries, talk with the GM about it.

Trying a new game system or setting can lead to issues as people wrestle with learning rules and how to use their characters. Creating character sheets together so everyone can ask questions and hear the answers can help, but it also means all the players will need access to copies of the rules.

False Starts

Showing up late without warning, or showing up late regularly, can make the rest of the group grumpy. Sending a text or message to let the GM know you won't be on time is the polite thing to do. Since the GM is running the session, it's important for them to know who will be there. Many gamers take pains to arrive on time. If the game is being hosted in real life, it's common for hosts to put effort into making the environment comfortable. Many groups will understand that things can get in the way of being on time - but many groups will kick out a player who can't be relied on to show up often.

Cancelling at the last moment - or being absent often - can also make groups unhappy. It's true that a game isn't a job and some understanding should be shown. People get sick, things come up unexpectedly, and some absences are to be accepted. But a tabletop gaming group with a schedule is a social obligation and members have expectations. One problem is when people fail to show up with no warning, even when they could have safely sent a quick text; as above, it's usually deemed rude not to give your GM a heads-up. You don't have to message the whole group or continue to answer their messages, particularly if they're mean or you're dealing with other matters; just tell the GM.

Another major issue is that some GMs won't run a session if enough people don't show up. Some GMs will cancel everything if even one player is missing. In small groups where each player is needed for decent odds at success, that can make sense. Other GMs will cancel the whole session if two or more are missing, particularly if it won't make sense for characters to suddenly go missing. A few GMs will run as long as one person shows up, even if it leaves others behind the curve. But players who miss out even though they showed up can be resentful of whoever was absent. This is especially true if the same person is often gone and seems not to care about the game. Discuss options with your GM and be honest. If you can't be there regularly, you may have to bow out.

When Worlds Collide

Disagreements about how to play often crop up when playstyles clash. If one person likes to speak as their character - in the first person, taking on their character's cadence and mannerisms - but other players really don't, things can get uncomfortable fast. If a player has made a lone-wolf character who's always off doing their own thing when the group wants to pursue a quest together, expect some disatisfaction. When one player tries to act as the party leader but others don't want to be told what to do, arguments are likely. While the GM is typically meant to help navigate these problems, communicating as a group could be needed to get everyone on the same page.

Gamers can get heated about rules and outcomes. Arguments about how rules should be applied can last for hours, derailing game sessions altogether. Having written rules to refer to can be nice but won't necessarily keep disagreements from happening. People have different interpretations and can make mistakes. When players fail important rolls, it can be incredibly frustrating. If it leads to the death of character or other major turns of fortune, people can respond with more passion than you might expect. And any suspicion of cheating can lead to ugliness quickly. The GM is often the one tasked with keeping things calm, but everyone should work to stay supportive. GMs usually have the final call on how rules are applied, but there's nothing wrong with the whole group figuring out a compromise everyone accepts.

Different groups have different social norms, and not all of them are supportive or healthy. This can mean that new players may not be comfortable with jokes or other interactions while the rest of the group doesn't see a problem. Groups can also become insular and resistant to change, so even if new members raise concerns, they aren't really heeded. Sometimes a player, a GM, or the group will turn on one person. This can lead to insults, unfair rulings by the GM, and attacks on their character in the story for no good reason. A group where most drink alcohol may become unbearable for a member in recovery. In such instances, the odd one out will feel pressure to leave, and while that is probablly for the best, it can be a bitter rejection to handle.


Perhaps the most common drawback is becoming so engrossed in the hobby that you start to neglect other important parts of your life. For young folks, this can mean foregoing homework (or ditching classes) and eventually lead to slipping grades. Adults can end up going to work exhausted or missing work altogether in favor of gaming for hours on end. Relationships outside of the hobby are likely to suffer when a gamer is so fixated that they don't want to do much of anything else. This is especially true when friends, romantic partners, and family members aren't gaming with them.

And while this might sound ridiculous to those outside the hobby, it helps to understand this: unlike other kinds of games, you don't have to actually be playing in an actual session in order to participate in the hobby. There are so many books to read, plans to make, and daydreams to have. Just talking about a favorite roleplaying game or character can be a lot of fun. Some gamers create pieces of art and do other crafts for their games, such as painting miniatures, which can take even more time. And you don't have to be a kid to prefer playtime over obligations. Adults need recreation, too, and many are sorely in need of stress relief. For some gamers, the more stress they're under, the more they try to vanish into the hobby. It becomes compulsive, encompassing, and difficult to stop.

The thing is, minors have to answer to adults in their lives, from teachers to parents to other older family members. I first dove into tabletop RPGs in high school and it didn't take long before I was gaming late and daydreaming in class. Then I discovered roleplaying online and became obsessed with that. If my grades had started to drop, however, my mother would have definitely sat down with me about it. She would have instituted changes, even if I didn't agree with them. So the best advice to parents of young roleplayers is what they're probably trying to do anyway: set fair and healthy boundaries, talk with kids not just about gaming but about what might be causing them stress, and make sure young gamers know that their responsibilities have to be met before they can enjoy leisure activities.

But a real point of concern remains for adult gamers: There's little to stop a grown person who lives on their own from going to work and then spending the rest of their time absorbed in one activity, whether it's roleplaying, sports, or something else. Sure, parents or friends can voice their concerns and even threaten social penalties, like withdrawing their support. But that might not lead an adult gamer to stop, take stock, or change their behavior. What I'm talking about here is obsession that becomes more encompassing and intense over time until other vital areas of life suffer. The danger takes on broader dimensions because when adults have problems regulating themselves, they stand to lose a lot.

I've seen obsessions with gaming contribute to the end of romantic relationships, including marriages. But it's never been the only factor. One thing I've learned is that when an adult becomes obsessed with anything to the point that they'll neglect those they care about, other things are wrong and probably have been for a while. People may be suffering but not know how to fix things. Communication may already be broken down. There are reasons they want to escape so badly, and they probably need help to deal with those things. When adults end relationships it can involve their livelihood, children, and consequences that hurt for years. It's best to seek help before risking so much.


For neurodivergent people with conditions like ADHD, anxiety, and depression, it can be easier to enter a state of hyperfixation. We pay complete attention to one thing, and everything else is tuned out. While this intense concentration can begin voluntarily, it isn't always a conscious choice or easy to stop. It may simply be a sign of great personal interest, but it can also be a coping mechanism to avoid sadness, fear, and uncertainty. Most people will enter a state of flow on and off in their lives. Flow is similar in that a person becomes focused on what they're doing. The big differences are that with hyperfixation, people have trouble disconnecting from the activity and are more likely to neglect themselves and others while pursuing it.

If you think you might be obsessing or hyperfixating on games, you can try to set time limits or a schedule for yourself. Cell phone alarms can be useful to alert you, but you have to make yourself disengage and move on after the alarm goes off. It could also help to keep a journal to record if you're able to stop when you should, how you feel, and setbacks like poor grade reports or comments at work. But then you should consult your journal about once a week to see if you notice negative trends. If other areas of your life are suffering, you have to be honest about that. You should contact a professional if you're uanble to regulate these matters on your own. Sometimes outside assistance makes all the difference and helps us enjoy life and our hobbies again.


Back to Top ^

Resources are free for personal use; please do not offer them for sale or claim them as your own work.

Please do not repost material elsewhere; link to this site instead. Thank you, and happy gaming!