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Officers' Quarters: Thanks, but no thanks

Scott Andrews

Every Monday, Scott Andrews contributes Officers' Quarters, a column about the ins and outs of guild leadership. He is the author of The Guild Leader's Handbook, available now from No Starch Press.

With all the emphasis this summer on complaints, prima donna raiders, AWOL guild leaders, and rebuilding, this week seemed like a good time to focus on an email from a guild that's flourishing. Success, alas, comes with its own set of problems, but at least many of those are good problems to have. For example, when your guild is the rising star on a server, it seems like everyone wants to get in on the action. One guild leader wants to know: How do you turn down players politely when you don't want to invite them to your rapidly expanding roster?

I hear a lot about small guilds falling apart in the new guild system that was implemented in Cataclysm, but my guild is having the opposite problem.

In classic, I started a guild for myself and several real life friends. It was just our five man team for a very long time, no recruiting. We were very active in our realm community, so we had a lot of in game friends outside the guild and eventually some of these people began asking to join. We were glad to have them and so we grew slowly. But in Cataclysm our roster exploded. Every time an efriend's guild would die because too many quit or jumped to a mega guild, they would ask to join ours. The problem is that many of those people wanted to bring their friends too, so with every person that asked to join we would have one or two of their friends also asking. We grew so fast it all caught us unaware.

We have gone from five people to almost 75. What was once an amazing, intimate guild is now full of a lot of people we only sorta know or only sorta like. I am also worried about future drama which seems inevitable once you have large numbers of semi-trangers interacting constantly on the internet. I was hoping some of the people would leave on their own when they didn't fit in, but the guild perks are too good. Not a single person has quit the guild since joining.

The real issue for all of us is handling all the people STILL asking daily to join. Some are strangers or people we dislike and saying no is easy. But there is a significant portion who are people we have played with for years and don't want to alienate or offend, but are not people we want in the guild for various reasons. Many of them are otherwise nice people who tend to attract drama, some are fine to hang out once and awhile but not people we want to be around all the time, some come with spouses or friends we don't want, many are simply just are just not a good personality fit, and some are people we don't know at all but are friends with existing members. Only the smallest percent of people asking are genuinely close efriends that we really would love to have in the guild.

The problem is that it is very hard to say no to a casual friend that we have played with for many years just because don't like them "enough." It looks especially poor if, after turning them down under some weak excuse of "too many members," we turn around and invite someone else that we happen to really like. I feel bad turning down the friends and family of current members just because we don't know them at all. We have a lot of friends in our realm community and a good reputation and I don't want to come off as rude or elitist. I am not going to boot anyone who is already in but I need some graceful way to turn away these casual friends and friend-of-friends while still being able to periodically bring in people we really do want in the guild without looking like a liar and an asshole and damaging our server relations. I need some plan that does not feel arbitrary and that minimizes the fact we are basically playing favorites (I think this is our right but I don't want to be a jerk about it). It seems weird to suddenly start using a guild application system after we've spent months inviting people left and right, and it looks suspicious when a guild that is vocal about being non-recruiting and "invite only" has an application process. It's especially silly since everyone knows that it's the same few of us making all the decisions anyway.

Please give us suggestions or ideas. None of us are going to jump ship to start over.

- Conflicted Guild Leader
Congrats, CGL -- you have stumped me!

I've been wracking my brain trying to think of some way to do it that wouldn't cause issues, and I just can't. If they are people you've played with before and you never had a public problem with them in the past, then there's really no way I can think of to decline them that won't lead to hurt feelings at some point.

You can either be honest with them and hurt their feelings now, or lie to them and hurt their feelings later when they find out you are in fact accepting others into the guild.

If the issues you have with them have never been discussed with them, then they just don't know that you don't want them in the guild. That's why they're asking for an invite, after all.

What I've done

In the past, when this sort of thing came up for me, I usually either took them in and kept an eye on them, or told them the truth about why I wouldn't accept them. If you don't tell them the truth, they'll just ask again in the future at some point and you'll have to go through the process over and over again.

If you accept them, on the other hand, eventually they will exhibit the behavior that you don't like. That is the time to finally put your cards on the table and let them know that what they're doing is bothering people. At that point, they'll either tone down that behavior or get so mad that they gquit. Either way, it's another problem solved for you.

If you're really trying to keep your population under check, however, then you might want to go with option B, which is tell them why you won't take them. Now, there is a way to handle this without causing a big fuss, but it almost never works out.

The truth hurts

Here's what you do. When they ask for the invite (again), tell them this: "The officers and I discussed it and we just feel like you're not a good fit for the guild. I'm sorry." This message tells them two things: one, that the decision wasn't just one person's alone; and two, that they aren't wanted in the guild -- without getting into specifics. You're offering them an easy way out here. They could just say all right and end the conversation. For the best interests of everyone involved, they should take their no and accept it. But, in reality, almost nobody will.

They'll all want to know why. You don't have to tell them even now, but for someone you've actually played with before it's going to be pretty tough to get out of this conversation without giving them some kind of reason. At least this way you didn't just come out and tell them the harsh truth up front. At least this way they made you tell them. It's a small difference in the end, but it always made me feel slightly better about it when it got to that point. Yep, you'll probably wind up alienating them as you fear, but those are your only two options when it comes down to it: invitation or alienation. Anything else is just a half-measure that won't resolve the issue in the long term.

Before you take this step, however, ask yourself honestly: Would it be that horrible to invite this person? Remember that a big roster also generally means you're not dealing with specific individuals nearly as often as you would in a smaller community. Of course, there is the downside, as you point out, that each person often means they'll want to bring in a few friends, too, so keep that in mind.

Applications are helpful

On a final note, I would strongly urge you to create a guild application and use it for everyone, even close friends of guildmates whom you can't possibly turn down. There are quite a few reasons why this is a good idea:
  1. It's just fair to make everyone go through the same process.
  2. Asking a few personal questions on the application lets everyone in the guild get to know this new person a bit before he or she joins.
  3. It could give you reasons to decline someone if you want to keep the roster from ballooning.
  4. It weeds out people who are too lazy to fill out an app, which is more than you might think.
  5. You'll get a better sense of what new recruits expect from your guild -- and what they can offer you.
Life is a lot simpler in a five-person guild, isn't it?


Recently, Officers' Quarters has examined how strong new leadership can create a guild turnaround, the pitfalls of promising more than you can deliver, and lessons learned from Scott's own guild demise. Send your own guild-related questions and suggestions to

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