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I'm part of a tabletop RPG (roleplaying game) group, and I also happen to be the host, the organizer and the game master (read: the one who runs the game) of our weekly games.

I got asked to help organizing some RPG event for a local comics and games fair, and one of the ideas was to bring my local RPG group to the event, running one of my games there so that people can take a look.

Unfortunately, one of my players is so used to utter profanities¹ and to label every enemy female character "the bi#@£" or "the wh&$%" that I can't trust him to behave.

I have already contacted the other players in a separate chat, explaining them that I still didn't ask the guy because if nobody could come I didn't want to tell anything to the guy. Let's suppose they can.

What's the best strategy to politely tell him that it's best if he skips the game, without him holding a grudge?

It is possible that he might not be able to be there because he's busy. Is it more effective to inquire if he's busy first?

Is it more effective if I tell him in private, or together with the official announce to the rest of the group?

Note: Someone in real life suggested me to let him partecipate, with the caveat that he must stop playing and go home if he misbehaves. I think I might do this, even if it means a chance of moving the resulting drama to the event. Still, I'd like to know what's the better approach before this point.


1- The Italian language has this special kind of blasphemous profanity that is way harsher (and therefore stigmatised) than your usual profanities.
The local culture is weirdly OK with such blasphemies being used in informal contexts, expecially by people with a low upbringing: cursing this way is considered liberating by many, many old people utter a profanity at the end of every subclause just because, youngsters do it to feel like rebellious grown-ups, raging people shout 'em at the top of their lungs to appear more intimidating, and even milder people sometimes use blasphemy to express sudden pain or high levels of frustration, as an expletive.
Weird, I know, but I wanted to state very clearly that this guy is not some sort of madman because he curses.
His problem is that he is so engrossed in this culture that he has problems behaving normally.
He's not alone in the area, but of course this doesn't excuse him from behaving at formal events.

  • If you simply avoid to invite him, would he assume himself invited and attend the event anyway? – English Student Apr 23 '18 at 15:52
  • Why does he use the profanity? Is he in-character? Does he feel like your friend circle is accepting of it (regardless of whether you are accepting of it, does he think his profanity is accepted)? Or is that simply the type of person he is at all times? You don't really mention if you've interacted with him much outside of the scope of your games. I'd only really object to his behavior in the latter case. In the other cases, it's simply a matter of pointing out that it's a less casual setting than usual (and point out that profanity is not acceptable there) – Flater Apr 24 '18 at 11:27
  • @EnglishStudent he wouldn't come but he'd be resentful of us excluding him. – Zachiel Apr 25 '18 at 10:27
  • @Flater It's the kind of person he is at all times, and we (as a gaming group) accept him. I knew about him from before he joined my group, for he was in a friend's group and he also was in the Boy Scouts - he's always been like that. We don't usually hang out together except for the D&D group. – Zachiel Apr 25 '18 at 10:30
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    Thanks for clarifying @Zachiel. That type of person would be said to "have a complex" here in India (mostly means inferiority complex or anger or an overly sensitive/ touchy person). Needs to be handled with great care not to hurt or provoke him, methinks. – English Student Apr 25 '18 at 10:36
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Let him participate, but have a talk with him beforehand.

My advice is to have a chat with him about the event. Set up expectations and ask him if he thinks he can reign it in for an afternoon. If he says yes allow him the benefit of the doubt, but also give him a way out if things go south during the event.


I have a friend who sounds a lot like yours; she swears a lot, and in particular she swears a lot at people, not just as sentence flavor. It's all meant in good fun and our friend group finds it hilarious, but if you're not expecting it she can come off rude and hostile. Meeting up in public can be very awkward because she's also rather loud. (This is making it sound like she's a terrible friend, I swear that isn't the case!)

We were all pretty uncomfortable with her behavior when we'd meet up for lunch or to go see a movie, so I took the onus on myself to have a conversation with her. Here's what worked for me;

Have a private conversation

This is absolutely a conversation you want to have one-on-one, and ideally in person. Over text might make him infer a tone you didn't intend, and singling him out in a group is just going to put him on the defensive needlessly.

I had her come over for lunch at my house and spoke to her in the privacy of my own home, over food, when we were both relaxed and having a good time.

It is you, but it's also me

We've all heard the "it's not you, it's me". In this case, I made it clear that I wasn't interested in lying to her; her behavior bothered me and our other friends. However, it wasn't like it was entirely her fault. She wasn't doing anything wrong per-se, it was just behavior that was a bad fit for us when we go out.

Similarly, it sounds like you don't mind his swearing, it's just inappropriate for the event. Make sure to make that distinction clear so he sees it's not really about him or you so much as it is the event.

Set up expectations

If he's following so far, just ask him if he thinks he can reign in the swearing for an afternoon. Ultimately you're not trying to control his behavior full-time but rather in this single setting.

If he says no, your job's done. You can safely un-invite him from the event knowing that you had a discussion with him about it and he didn't feel like it was going to be a good fit for him. There's no need for secrets or lies and you also don't have to worry about him that day.

If he says yes you've got him on your side for this event. He's agreed to try to curb the behavior and you can invite him knowing he's going to try to behave.

Set him up for success

Now just because he says he'll try not to swear doesn't mean he's going to manage it 100% of the time. Discuss what an "appropriate" amount of swearing is for the event. Create some kind of subtle signal you can give him if he's getting too excited and forgetting himself that won't be a distraction to other players or draw attention from any crowd looking on.

For example, we set it up for my friend that if she was getting too swear-y and loud whoever was closest would just gently tap her knee under the table. It was subtle but a good reminder that she had promised to rein herself in a little. She actually picked the signal out herself, and it made a huge difference. No one yelled at her for swearing, we didn't feel the need to mock her for slipping up and after just a few outings she barely needed it.

The idea is to discuss this with him. If he's interested in playing with you he should also be open to modulating his behavior and be receptive to whatever you set up to remind him when he slips up.

You also might want to discuss what happens if he slips up too much. He might have to leave mid-session, and that's something you should have planned out and have him agree to ahead of time.

In conclusion

Let him make the decision of whether he can control himself for the game, and help him modulate his swearing if he does decide to participate. You have nothing to gain from omitting the truth or lying to him about the event other than an annoyed friend, whereas he might surprise you and rise to the occasion if you give him the chance to.

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It seems from your question that you are not at all judgemental of this person. You already have a good understanding of why this person behaves as they do (their background, culture etc) and your concern is how others will view this. This is helpful, because you have already separated the person from their behaviour, and the key to tackling the subject without it being an attack on them as a person is to isolate and focus what you say on their actions or behaviour.

I do have some experience with a former colleague who used a lot of profanity which seemed to come from their choice of subculture. I observed that he could control it, but only in formal settings. He wasn't at all offended when I asked him not to swear, but because he was relaxed around me he couldn't stick to it; yet in a formal setting such as a job interview he could control it without problem. It may be similar with your friend - he will almost certainly be able to control his speech, it is all down to whether or not he wants to or thinks he has to within this setting.

If you go about confronting him this way, it may be that he promises to make the necessary changes in his language. Whether he can or not is anybody's guess - you know him best and have hinted that this is very deeply ingrained. Still, if his language is as bad as you say, until someone tackles this with him and he even tries to make a change he is seriously limiting his social circle.

You could try saying to him:

I'm concerned because some of the players I want to invite to the game will be offended by profanities, and you do use a lot of profanity in your speech. As Game Master I am responsible for the game and if they are offended then that reflects on me. I don't feel that I can invite you if you do use that kind of language, unless you really think that you can control it?

If he becomes offended at this he may not even want to come to your game, which answers the question of can he control himself and solves your problem.

If he protests that he ought to be able to swear as much as he likes, just repeat your stance with this consequence:

It isn't anything personal, it is just that others don't find that kind of language acceptable and I can't have people offended at my games. I'm sorry I can't include you on this occasion.

If he does come to the game on the promise of cleaning up his speech but the profanities come tumbling out anyway, he may well apologise on his own behalf, knowing that he may have caused offence. If this happens you may get a true insight into whether or not the other players are offended by his language. It is possible they are more relaxed about it than you imagine!

But the bottom line is this: it is a private function, you are the organiser, everybody is there by invitation and you are completely in your right to make rules. This doesn't make you judgemental. If you have told him in advance what your expectations are and he does not meet them then you are in your right to either (a) ask him to leave immediately, or (b) just not invite him in future without any further explanation.

  • The real issue here is that he's not used to formal environments, so I don't know if he's able to control himself. I was sure that he wouldn't have tried to protest my request to behave (and indeed he didn't). – Zachiel Apr 25 '18 at 10:23
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How do I approach telling someone that they are not invited to an event that I am having?

It seems like you are displacing the problem and avoiding talking about upsetting people who wish to participate in your RPG. A simple solution is to publish some ground rules on acceptable interaction and language, pointing out cultural differences between players need to be taken into account and violation of the code of conduct means exculsion from some group activities. This avoids things becoming personal, and is reasonable. My kids in there teenage years used to swear at their friends on facebook and chats, to a degree that could really upset others. Our solution was to talk about it, and point out in face to face interactions this kind of language would just not be acceptable. Put simply when typing into a screen the normal filters got switched off. Thankfully they have now calmed down, and brought things back to a reasonable level. Put simply if you do not provide feedback, how are the individuals going to know the impact they are having on others, and will just continue, and wonder why they are getting excluded, which is not good for any parties.

Talking through issues pointing out the impact effect, avoids blaming someone, and asking them to consider how they would feel if they were described in these terms. This technique has been used in lots of social situations, where the person doing something is cut off from the impact of their actions.

  • It looks like you're trying to solve the title question without considering the context: here it's not about the player behaving in order to avoid driving away other partecipants, it is about putting up an unacceptable show for casual spectators, resulting in the whole group possibly getting banned from organizing similar public events in the future. – Zachiel Apr 25 '18 at 10:26

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