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Character vs. Campaign

You know what can really derail a game? Making a character that conflicts with the guidelines the GM created for the campaign.

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

Some Guidelines​

Now, I should say up front that I don’t think the GM should be able to make the guidelines so tight they may as well just hand out pregen characters. It is very important to remember that every player should be able to not only create a character they want to play, but one they have had the opportunity to invest some of their imagination in creating. It’s pretty much their only input into the setting of the world and so it’s only fair the GM should share that power a little. For many players, the excitement to join a new game is not to enter the setting but to get to play the person they just created. Cut down that enjoyment and you will cut down their investment in the adventure.

However, there are occasions when players simply ignore the world and create a character they want, or worse, a character actively works against playing the game as a group. For instance, the GM might decide to run a crossover World of Darkness game where each player plays one of the various supernatural creatures each. When the person playing the Werewolf arrives he declares, “My character really hates vampires, like just goes into a killing rage when he sees one.” It may be in character, and it may not have been explicitly against the GM’s instructions. But its pretty clear that in a mixed group, such an extreme reaction to a character someone else is playing is not only going to cause problems, but make playing those two characters together impossible.

Why This Happens and How to Fix It​

In most cases, the player isn’t trying to make trouble. It’s more likely the player simply played a character they’re accustomed to playing, or didn’t consider the consequences of their actions in group play. So in this case the GM should take care not to just say what players can’t play, but to offer them some suggestions of what would be acceptable. One of these templates or examples might inspire a player having trouble deciding what to create.

The GM should also be up front with what will and won’t work in the game they are offering. Being clear about the game’s guidelines may turn off some players to the game early, but will save a lot of headache later.

In the Saga Star Wars game I’m playing in the GM said he wouldn’t allow droids as PCs, and would prefer humans, but anything else was ok. What we didn’t know was that we were all adapted clones of the Emperor, created to give him several possible body options depending on his mood if he was killed and needed to possess a new one. Most of us went for a human but one player chose a Besalisk (large and very corpulent 4-armed guy). In this case no one had gone against anyone’s instructions and the Besalisk is a cool character. But as we played the game it turned out we found ourselves infiltrating a lot of Imperial bases. While the rest of us could disguise ourselves as officers or storm troopers, they don’t do too many XXXL uniforms with 4 arms. It added a difficulty that meant in retrospect, insisting on all human or human-like characters might have helped.

Some players are of course more bloody minded. This often comes from what they think is fun not being what everyone else thinks is fun. This is one of the reasons Guardians of the Galaxy is clearly an RPG group: a wise-cracking thief, a deadly assassin, a powerful warrior, a tech guy, a tree that only says one word, and a talking raccoon with an attitude. The group really worked in the end, but if the GM had been planning a serious and intense sci-fi heist caper, that was off the table the minute he heard “racoon” and “tree.”

So, it’s important to set the theme and mood as much as the physical aspects of the characters. The GM needs to tell the players if they are ok with silly characters from the get go, or if actually they prefer them. If you are playing a game of Red Dwarf or Toon and everyone creates deep and serious characters, it will fall apart just as quickly.

But It Restricts My Creativity!​

Even with many tough restrictions of the types of character allowed, there is still a vast array of options. The GM might say: “You are all cops on a space station. You went to the same academy, you must have the following skills at least at the following levels, off you go.” Restrictive yes, but carbon copies of each other? No. Is your character married? Did they have relationships with any of the others at the academy? Is one of them corrupt or on the take? How well do they react to the internal hierarchy? Do they do anything illegal themselves? The list could go on, mainly as the true heart of a character is rarely to be found in their stats.

Interestingly, whole games that restrict characters are often easier for players to dive into. Vampire the Masquerade restricts you to one of 13 clans as character templates and its one of its most successful features. Star Trek Adventures assumes you are a Federation crew and that’s fine. The three Fantasy Flight Star Wars games are each very specific about the type of characters available (Fringers, Rebels or Jedi).

More open games are the ones that can run into problems. We added “Associations” to Victoriana 3rd edition as we had many people say of 2nd Edition “but what do you play?” The answer of “any Victorian you like” just left them confused. Similar advice was required in Doctor Who as “anyone from the whole of time and space” was quite daunting as character options. So a totally blank page is actually problematic rather than freeing. To quote Monica in Friends, “Rules are good, rules control the fun.” Essentially, a few restrictions are not a hurdle to be overcome but a guideline to help reduce the impossibly wide selection of options.

Isn’t This the GM’s Job?​

It’s a common refrain that it’s the game master’s job to make every character work for the setting. But I find that long-term, cohesive campaigns are a collaborative effort from the start. It’s everyone’s job to work the characters into the adventure, and that starts at character creation. It’s up to each player to create something that will fit into the adventure. It’s up to every player to create a character that can at least join the player character group (even if they hate everyone) and then it is up to the GM to adjust the setting a little to make sure everyone fits. If any single person ends up having to do all that the game will suffer.

So, while it is up to the GM to allow a certain amount of freedom in character creation, the players have a responsibility to make that job as easy as possible. They need to meet the GM halfway; sometimes, explaining why the guidelines are there can ruin the adventure or secrets of the campaign. If in my Star Wars game, we’d known what we all were from the start, a huge part of the driving mystery of the game would have been lost. GM and player trust go a long way in creating a fun game.

Your Turn: How do you manage player concepts that don’t fit your campaign?
 

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Andrew Peregrine

Andrew Peregrine

Hussar

Legend
I have to admit that the mindset baffles me. Who looks at a game, like Teen Hero Campaign, and thinks, "Yeah, Constantine would totally fit in here"? :erm:

I once ran a hard SF GURPS game based on Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars series. Had a player come in who decided, mid way through the fourth or fifth session, to announce that his character, hand picked for a Mars mission who had gone through months of psychological testing and whatnot, was a fugitive ninja from the Yakuza with PTSD. Completely blew up the entire game.

The true irony here is that I'm probably the last person to stand on anything like tradition or canon in a setting. I will absolutely fold, spindle or maul a campaign to fit in a concept. No problems there. You want to play a Warforged in Dragonlance? I'll make it fit. But, you want to play a warforged atheist who refuses to believe in gods and actively resists and opposes anyone who has any dealings with the gods in a Dragonlance game? Umm, really?
 

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I do want to give a shout out to the players who do have a thing but are flexible with it.

In my local group, we have the "Donataur." This guy, Don, always wants to play the biggest sized race the GM allows. Minotaurs, Half-Orcs, or Half-Giants, whatever, he was good. His build focus was on doing as much damage as possible, OTOH, he also left his mental saves low. His characters were never disruptive and always ready for adventure.

But those who knew him? Their PC would run away the second he failed the dominations spell. The players would be giggling until his dominated character caught them.

As long as he could do that one-trick pony, he was flexible on what he needed to build to fit into a setting.
 

Consider it an intensifier.
Agreed. The redundancy is likely intentional, to disparage.

IMNSHO, too many DMs are hypersensitive to anything remotely non-traditional and cry "special snowflake!" far too readily.

I think thats great for your setting. I was simply making a joke about just how popular being a necromancer seems to be for players.
Fair. I haven't seen it myself. Perhaps the cumulative effect of the Abhorsen books, the Diablo games, and the trend toward more "light-grey-and-dark-grey" morality (as opposed to either black-and-white or proper grey-and-grey) has given people the notion. In a different setting, I might permit it, but we'd have to lay down some ground rules so it doesn't fall afoul of the "no evil PCs" thing. Because that one I'm not budging on, and it really means what it says, not "you can play an evil PC as long as you pass it off as Chaotic Neutral or Lawful Stupid," not "I do enough good things to balance out the murder and assault!", not "well I only do things the universe labels as 'evil,' I'm not ACTUALLY Evil-evil!"

So if a player could sell me on a genuinely not-evil (doesn't have to be good, but can't be evil) necromancer, I'd let them play it. But they'd have to sell me on it.
 

Hussar

Legend
Why the aversion to evil characters? I've run multiple alignment unrestricted games now and I find evil groups pretty fun to be honest. For one, I found that evil groups are FAR more likely to cooperate than supposed good ones. Mostly because you know that if you step too far out of line, there's nothing stopping your companion from shanking you in your sleep, unlike a good group that can run around in a thousand directions because no one can actually take charge.

I found that my evil groups are far more like gangs - extremely violent and evil to everyone else, but, very protective of their own group because they are all intent on their own survival and betraying the group is unlikely to result in a benefit for the betrayer.

Granted, I can totally get behind the notion that some campaigns are not geared for an evil group. Sure. Totally understand. But, it's a refrain I hear so often - something to the tune of "I never allow evil PC's." I find evil PC's to work just fine.
 

Dannyalcatraz

Schmoderator
Staff member
Totally true. It's all about player buy in.

What baffles me is players who automatically push back against any limitations, regardless of the limitations. Hey, let's play a no-caster D&D game for a change - I get three caster characters immediately pitched. Hey, let's play a Dragonlance game set during the War of the Lance - ok, now we have the gnomish sorcerer, dragonborn bard, and kender cleric? Err, ok. Hey, let's play a naval campaign set in Saltmarsh - ok, we're all land based characters, with no naval skills, and zero interest in being on a boat. Hey, let's play a high concept post-humanist SF game set in the far future - ok, I'm going to play a luddite anti-tech character who refuses to use any technology. :erm:
Sounds like you’re herding cats.

Do your players have pointy ears on top of their heads, meow, and push their minis off the table?
 

prabe

Aspiring Lurker (He/Him)
Supporter
Why the aversion to evil characters? I've run multiple alignment unrestricted games now and I find evil groups pretty fun to be honest. For one, I found that evil groups are FAR more likely to cooperate than supposed good ones. Mostly because you know that if you step too far out of line, there's nothing stopping your companion from shanking you in your sleep, unlike a good group that can run around in a thousand directions because no one can actually take charge.

I found that my evil groups are far more like gangs - extremely violent and evil to everyone else, but, very protective of their own group because they are all intent on their own survival and betraying the group is unlikely to result in a benefit for the betrayer.

Granted, I can totally get behind the notion that some campaigns are not geared for an evil group. Sure. Totally understand. But, it's a refrain I hear so often - something to the tune of "I never allow evil PC's." I find evil PC's to work just fine.
I'm not @EzekielRaiden and I'm not attempting to speak for them, but I have a similar restriction at my tables (usually phrased as "your characters should be willing to be heroes (though they don't have to be nice") because ... well ... I find those kinds of motivations easier to prep for, and those are the kinds of stories I prefer to be part of--even as GM. Also, my wife will not play in an evil-PC game, and I will not set out to run a game she does not want to be part of; I presume my wife's preferences are not part of Ezekiel's considerations, though. 😉
 

talien

Community Supporter
I've found that character conflicts are often tied to player issues. Or to put it another way, the lone wolf character comes from a player who doesn't particularly like the group, the GM, or the game they're running.

I've come to realize that often lone wolf players are a form of passive-aggressive push-back on the game. They begrudgingly play within the game system, but so much on their terms that even though they're technically playing a species/class etc. allowed within the game, it's pretty clear the character (as expressed through the player) doesn't want to be there.

As a GM, I spent a LOT of energy constantly corralling said character to engage them with the plot, and only realized it was me working extra hard to keep the player entertained (often at the expense of the other players).
 

Why the aversion to evil characters? I've run multiple alignment unrestricted games now and I find evil groups pretty fun to be honest. For one, I found that evil groups are FAR more likely to cooperate than supposed good ones. Mostly because you know that if you step too far out of line, there's nothing stopping your companion from shanking you in your sleep, unlike a good group that can run around in a thousand directions because no one can actually take charge.

I found that my evil groups are far more like gangs - extremely violent and evil to everyone else, but, very protective of their own group because they are all intent on their own survival and betraying the group is unlikely to result in a benefit for the betrayer.

Granted, I can totally get behind the notion that some campaigns are not geared for an evil group. Sure. Totally understand. But, it's a refrain I hear so often - something to the tune of "I never allow evil PC's." I find evil PC's to work just fine.
@prabe has the right of it.

It's not that I don't believe evil campaigns couldn't be fun in the abstract, nor that I have any difficulty conceptualizing what one might look like. I just have no confidence that I could run a game that provides anywhere near as interesting and rich an experience for someone wanting to play evil.

Like, yes, there is a small part of it that is basically "I know some people will try to exploit having an evil character to justify being a dicl to others," but that is already mostly dealt with via the "you kinda need to actually want to adventure together" thing. It really is just...I find evil almost always either depressing, disturbing, or dull. It is thus very likely that if a character goes full evil, that's gonna just sap any enthusiasm I might have for interacting with them, which is absolutely going to negatively affect the play experience.

Keep in mind, when I say "no evil" I do actually mean evil (though as noted I also mean "don't try to weasel through with CN-but-actually-evil" etc.) The party barbarian briefly flirted with trying to create his own spider-bot pet which (as O explained to him) would require a sacrified humanoid soul to function without any modification. The player did not see how doing that and trying to become friends with an assassin cult could maybe possibly be crossing some bright lines and a Conversation was required.

I don't, at all, mind characters who struggle with morals or make some bad decisions. But there are certain lines that can't be crossed without some enduring consequences, e.g. murder in cold blood, that are too much for me to stomach as DM. Cross those lines and I no longer think I can run a game that will work for that character.
 

payn

Legend
@prabe has the right of it.

It's not that I don't believe evil campaigns couldn't be fun in the abstract, nor that I have any difficulty conceptualizing what one might look like. I just have no confidence that I could run a game that provides anywhere near as interesting and rich an experience for someone wanting to play evil.

Like, yes, there is a small part of it that is basically "I know some people will try to exploit having an evil character to justify being a dicl to others," but that is already mostly dealt with via the "you kinda need to actually want to adventure together" thing. It really is just...I find evil almost always either depressing, disturbing, or dull. It is thus very likely that if a character goes full evil, that's gonna just sap any enthusiasm I might have for interacting with them, which is absolutely going to negatively affect the play experience.

Keep in mind, when I say "no evil" I do actually mean evil (though as noted I also mean "don't try to weasel through with CN-but-actually-evil" etc.) The party barbarian briefly flirted with trying to create his own spider-bot pet which (as O explained to him) would require a sacrified humanoid soul to function without any modification. The player did not see how doing that and trying to become friends with an assassin cult could maybe possibly be crossing some bright lines and a Conversation was required.

I don't, at all, mind characters who struggle with morals or make some bad decisions. But there are certain lines that can't be crossed without some enduring consequences, e.g. murder in cold blood, that are too much for me to stomach as DM. Cross those lines and I no longer think I can run a game that will work for that character.
Yeah, the common no evil characters is often two fold for folks. One is to head off dink characters that just want to PvP and crap on campaigns. The other is, some folks want a heroic tone in the games they play. You can get anti-heroes out of evil characters, but eventually they go homicidal on their allies or just lone wolf at best.

After alignment and no evil rules we have all kinds of folks trying to test the limits. Essentially, its another version of trying to play a thing that is banned or doesn't exist in the GM's campaign anyways. So folks are now trying to justify necromancy as not actually harmful, but really good for society. Another popular one is, their character is an assassin who only kills bad guys. Surely he is good and not evil? It's a weird form of rules lawyering where folks get at best a relative morality debate going to justify doing evil things in games but ultimately being a good character.

My take is just let them do evil things. You want to fight fire with fire? Ok, so you are a societal outsider who harnesses the power of necromancy. There is a cost to this. You need to realize that society at large doesn't accept this nor understands it. You have to operate understanding that folks will recoil in horror from you if they dont outright try and stop you. You only want to assassinate bad guys? Ok, you need to understand that murder isnt self defense or even a last resort for you. Its the first thing on your list of things to accomplish your goals. Killing is your method, but you do it for the greater good even if it means you are an evil son of a bitch.

Of course, a GM is always welcome to make necromancy and assassination good and acceptable in their campaign worlds too. Though, when the GM says heroes only, you play something else for the sake of the group. If thats too much, politely excuse yourself from the group. It's ok for people to have different playstyles, but ultimately all gaming is compromise. If evil isnt one of those areas for you, just walk, dont be a dink, just leave.
 

pumasleeve

Explorer
Why the aversion to evil characters? I've run multiple alignment unrestricted games now and I find evil groups pretty fun to be honest. For one, I found that evil groups are FAR more likely to cooperate than supposed good ones. Mostly because you know that if you step too far out of line, there's nothing stopping your companion from shanking you in your sleep, unlike a good group that can run around in a thousand directions because no one can actually take charge.

I found that my evil groups are far more like gangs - extremely violent and evil to everyone else, but, very protective of their own group because they are all intent on their own survival and betraying the group is unlikely to result in a benefit for the betrayer.

Granted, I can totally get behind the notion that some campaigns are not geared for an evil group. Sure. Totally understand. But, it's a refrain I hear so often - something to the tune of "I never allow evil PC's." I find evil PC's to work just fine.
Ive run several evil campaigns. My only rule is that the game experience remains cooperative and they have all gone fine and been fun.
 

CleverNickName

Limit Break Dancing
Why the aversion to evil characters? I've run multiple alignment unrestricted games now and I find evil groups pretty fun to be honest.
Speaking for only myself: I don't enjoy them. I don't want to participate in a story that perpetuates (or encourages) evil behavior...I want to write a story about destroying evil behavior. Yes I know it's all make-believe, yes I know we are all just exploring our fantasies without fear of consequence. I get it, and you should play the game you enjoy.

It's just that my consequence-free power fantasy is helping other people, not oppressing them (or worse). In real life, I can't overthrow the wealthy crime syndicates and return the stolen money to the people. I can't cure cancer and save thousands of lives. I can't always bring the guilty to justice and free the innocent. But in D&D, I can.
 
Last edited:

J.Quondam

CR 1/8
Why the aversion to evil characters?
For me the aversion isn't to the evil characters, so much as to that one player who takes it too far.
I mean, campaigns implode all the time, and that's fine. But if a campaign is going to implode, I won't let it be because some filthy edgelord decides to yuck all over it and the other players' enjoyment.

Yeah, this aversion derives from a very few bad experiences. But life's too short and game time too precious even to run the risk of enabling that sort of douchenozzlery at any table I'm at. So screw that. I play for fun, not some dirtbag's lulz.
 

dragoner

Dying in Chargen
For me the aversion isn't to the evil characters, so much as to that one player who takes it too far.
I mean, campaigns implode all the time, and that's fine. But if a campaign is going to implode, I won't let it be because some filthy edgelord decides to yuck all over it and the other players' enjoyment.

Yeah, this aversion derives from a very few bad experiences. But life's too short and game time too precious even to run the risk of enabling that sort of douchenozzlery at any table I'm at. So screw that. I play for fun, not some dirtbag's lulz.
Pretty much. It always turns out to be something weird and bad, and I don't want to be involved with that, especially not running it, and in public definitely not.
 

MGibster

Legend
For the most part I don't care for evil character campaigns. But every Vampire game I've run or participated in has been an evil character campaign (at the end of the night, they're all preying on human beings). In my Delta Green games, the PCs tend to do some pretty horrifying things including murder and torture. And while I haven't run a Conan game yet, I imagine they PCs may very well engage in banditry like our favorite barbarian did.
 

I have to admit that the mindset baffles me. Who looks at a game, like Teen Hero Campaign, and thinks, "Yeah, Constantine would totally fit in here"? :erm:

People so focused on the next cool idea they have for a character that, to one degree or another, the setting is basically irrelevant to them. There are some people who really, really don't engage with a setting meaningfully.

I once ran a hard SF GURPS game based on Kim Stanley Robinson's Blue Mars series. Had a player come in who decided, mid way through the fourth or fifth session, to announce that his character, hand picked for a Mars mission who had gone through months of psychological testing and whatnot, was a fugitive ninja from the Yakuza with PTSD. Completely blew up the entire game.

The true irony here is that I'm probably the last person to stand on anything like tradition or canon in a setting. I will absolutely fold, spindle or maul a campaign to fit in a concept. No problems there. You want to play a Warforged in Dragonlance? I'll make it fit. But, you want to play a warforged atheist who refuses to believe in gods and actively resists and opposes anyone who has any dealings with the gods in a Dragonlance game? Umm, really?

Well, there's still some difference between "This character concept makes no sense in the context of the campaign" and "This character concept, whether it makes sense or not, is going to be a giant brick thrown through anything anyone else wants to do because they're so much something the setting is going to react to like a triggered immune system." Though both of them can turn into an excuse in spotlight hogging, and they aren't mutually exclusive.
 

I do want to give a shout out to the players who do have a thing but are flexible with it.

In my local group, we have the "Donataur." This guy, Don, always wants to play the biggest sized race the GM allows. Minotaurs, Half-Orcs, or Half-Giants, whatever, he was good. His build focus was on doing as much damage as possible, OTOH, he also left his mental saves low. His characters were never disruptive and always ready for adventure.

But those who knew him? Their PC would run away the second he failed the dominations spell. The players would be giggling until his dominated character caught them.

As long as he could do that one-trick pony, he was flexible on what he needed to build to fit into a setting.

Yeah, that can get a little tiresome, but its not disruptive, per se.
 

I've found that character conflicts are often tied to player issues. Or to put it another way, the lone wolf character comes from a player who doesn't particularly like the group, the GM, or the game they're running.

It can be, but some people just trend in that direction no matter who they're playing with, what campaign or what system. I suspect (and that fits the couple cases I know well enough to judge) its a reflection of certain personal issues they're dealing with.
 

Its possible for an "evil" campaign to work, but you usually need to end up still having some Lines Not to Cross. A few years back I played in a play-by-post superhero game on RPG.net where all the PCs were basically, quasi-reformed supervillains trying to stop the advent of an Evil Mastermind Who Destroyed the World in the future (which is where they came from, where they'd been working for said Evil Mastermind), and it was kind of interesting watching these bent and broken people engaging with the fact they really did need to step up and do the right thing (and some of them were far more in redemption mindset than others--a few thought their own particular brand of crazy was fine, they'd just Get To It Later after they stopped the whole thing being burned down).

But it mostly worked because all the players were onboard and were clear that there were places not to go.
 

Hussar

Legend
Of course, a GM is always welcome to make necromancy and assassination good and acceptable in their campaign worlds too. Though, when the GM says heroes only, you play something else for the sake of the group. If thats too much, politely excuse yourself from the group. It's ok for people to have different playstyles, but ultimately all gaming is compromise. If evil isnt one of those areas for you, just walk, dont be a dink, just leave.
Heh. Generally my problem has typically been, as soon as I say, "No (insert whatever here)", I have players who absolutely insist that they want to play that right now.

Basically, I think if I want to run a more restricted campaign, I'm going to have to go full on reverse psychology on them. "Ok, guys? Next campaign, I want you all to be evil necromancers." and I will get a group of Lawful good paladins. :D Then again, they're probably smart enough that the #$)$)#%()% players would simply do what I asked.
 

Hussar

Legend
Speaking for only myself: I don't enjoy them. I don't want to participate in a story that perpetuates (or encourages) evil behavior...I want to write a story about destroying evil behavior. Yes I know it's all make-believe, yes I know we are all just exploring our fantasies without fear of consequence. I get it, and you should play the game you enjoy.

It's just that my consequence-free power fantasy is helping other people, not oppressing them (or worse). In real life, I can't overthrow the wealthy crime syndicates and return the stolen money to the people. I can't cure cancer and save thousands of lives. I can't always bring the guilty to justice and free the innocent. But in D&D, I can.
Yeah, I've found that the campaigns themselves aren't that different. Just the solutions to problems. Basically, the PC's turn into characters from Watchmen or The Umbrella Academy. Anti-heroes essentially. Which I've found is a lot easier to get buy in from the players on in the past.

A LOT of it comes down to players wanting the DM to keep his or her greasy fingers off the player's character sheets. If the character is evil, the DM cannot ever say, "Oh, you wouldn't do that". Not that I would, but, I think a lot of players get trained in ways to very jealously guard their characters from DM interference.

Might explain a bit why the players play characters with pretty much zero ties to the setting. The orphan character from far away that's a fish out of water. A perfectly fine archetype, the first few times, but, an entire group of this time after time after time gets a bit off putting to the DM. After all, why am I bothering with more than the bare minimum of a setting if the characters never actually use any of the setting?
 

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