This week we’re talking about making sure you’re playing the right game.
Sometimes, you get a character that just doesn’t want to play the game. I’m not talking about a player who doesn’t want to play the game and has either been dragged there by a best friend or significant other or just dropped off by someone you owe a favor. I’m talking about an honest to goodness player who just so happened to accidentally make the wrong character. Maybe you’re running a pirate campaign and the player made an extremely law abiding pacifist. Maybe there’s a chaotic evil barbarian who is now stuck dealing with courtly intrigue for the rest of conceivable future. Maybe you just ended up diametrically opposed to the rest of the party on some crucial issue, such as whether or not prisoners should be sacrificed to the dark gods. Whatever happened, the Game Master and the player are both saddled with dealing with a character who should probably not be in this game.
There are a couple of good ways to deal with this. The best one, for everyone involved, is to find a good, story specific reason for the character being there and to make sure everyone involved gets interesting role playing experiences. Perhaps the pacifist has been kidnapped by the pirates for his useful skills and is undergoing Stockholm syndrome? Maybe he will even have to chose between defending himself from an attacker using lethal force or having his character killed, both of which are interesting and flavorful steps in the story. Perhaps the barbarian was hired as a bodyguard, and is playing the imbecile in order to gather information. Throw him a few combat encounters against people attacking his charge and maybe a whirlwind romance with a promiscuous noble, and he will probably end up happy with the campaign. If you can fins a solution that makes sense, and everyone is happy with, and especially if it furthers the story, use it.
If you can’t find a good solution, and there is no way the barbarian can stand sitting around with a complete lack of social skills and glaring at nobles every session, make a new character. If the player made someone who didn’t fit, just have them make a new one who does. They obviously wanted to play your game, just give them the opportunity to do so properly. Obviously, this is not an option undertaken lightly. If the situation is going to change for the character very soon, and they will suddenly make a lot more sense within the story, tell them to tough it out. If you do decide to take this option, and it has to be a mutual decision between the Game Master and the player, try to either keep the character in the story or allow the player to bring them back later. Perhaps the barbarian is still around as a bodyguard, or the pacifist is a merchant in one of the towns the pirates will visit. Whatever happens, the character’s continued existence in the story will give the player a sense of closure, and disappearing or murdering the character in question will leave a bad taste in everyone’s mouth.
Resist the urge to either make or let them keep playing their character. No matter how interesting that character is on their own, the damage to the cohesion of the story is not going to be worth it in the long run. Plus, the player will end up either repeatedly derailing the story or being completely irrelevant for large portions of it, and not only are the two of you not going to enjoy that, it will ruin things for the other players if it gets out of hand. As a rule, it is a good idea to let players know the kind of campaign they will be taking part in ahead of time, and work with them in character creation, to make sure that their characters are going to fit in to the campaign you have planned.
All this being said, I should reiterate that quirky characters are generally an acceptable and fun addition to a group, as long as they were either planned to be or are still a working character. Every group has the “Don’t look at my sheet” guy who is secretly playing an assassin, and that’s not really a problem as long as the rest of the group either doesn’t find out or doesn’t mind. Everyone has had the psychotic neutral character who laughs at your human “morals” and hurls people out the airlock whenever it’s convenient for him, but while he doesn’t exactly fit in with a group of merchants, he’s still capable of being a part of their game. It’s only when a player shows up with a character who’s entire life plan is to build a ten-foot-pole emporium and the rest of the party really wants to get on with saving the princess that problems arise.
So remember, Game Masters make it clear what kind of game you’ve created, and players make sure your character has a valid reason to be there.