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When Fantasy Meets Reality

What happens when the awesome role-playing idea you created for your character doesn't work in your game?

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Picture courtesy of Pixabay.

"What do you think, sword?"​

One of my players in my ongoing Dungeons & Dragons campaign envisioned having whispered asides to his weapon, raising the question if the weapon was sentient or if his character was delusional. It was a fun idea...

But it doesn't work in an online game. Between Zoom and Roll20, initiative is carefully managed so that each person gets to speak in turn. Background noises make it difficult to hear, so random asides from other players don't work as well.

We settled instead for having more of the dialogue happen in the fiction summaries we create afterward. I sympathize; this happened to my character too.

"Take your hands off your mouth, I can't hear you"​

When one of my characters died from a plague in a 3.5 Edition Dungeons & Dragons Living Greyhawk game, I decided to play him as a reanimated necromancer in 4th Edition convention games. My corpse-character wore a mask to (poorly) disguise his condition and would roll a six-sided smiley-face die to show what mask he was wearing that day. It was meant to be funny and creepy. But he had to talk sometimes, so I would cover my mouth when I spoke for effect.

At one crowded convention hall at Gen Con, the Dungeon Master wasn't having it. He told me point blank to stop role-playing like that, because he couldn't hear anything I had to say. I realized that while the concept was fun for me, it wasn't fun for everybody else, so I dropped it. I still rolled the die to determine his mask in social encounters though.

That character ended up becoming Mr. Mask in my fantasy trilogy (he's introduced in Slightly Furmiliar and is the main character in Unfurmiliar), so his ridiculous backstory lived on.

"This isn't working..."​

I'm always willing to experiment with role-play, but I try to be cognizant when something is annoying or not working. Conversely my players often "feel out" their characters in Session Zero and lower levels of D&D, changing elements as they progress: backstories may be tweaked, accents may come and go, masks may be dropped, and we may not talk as much to our weapons as we used to. But it's important to to be flexible enough to allow space for both players and game masters to experiment. And if it doesn't work out, it's okay to drop it.

Your Turn: What role-playing quirks sounded good in theory but didn't work out in practice?
 
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Michael Tresca

Michael Tresca




King Babar

God Learner
Less of a roleplaying quirk, more of a character concept.

I was the DM for a short campaign of Lost Mine of Phandelver last year with some friends of mine. One player was really excited about the idea of playing an Eberron-style changeling. I had some reservations, but this was going to be a "hair down, everything goes" kind of campaign, and the idea of changeling bard sounded really cool overall.

Anyway, throughout the entire run of the campaign, about 10 sessions or so, they never revealed the fact they were a changeling. Even the other players never found out, let alone their characters. The player simply never brought it up. There were opportunities, mind you. I tried my best as a fairly new DM to give everyone a moment to shine in roleplay. But yeah, never came up, and I still wonder what their plan was (I never got the chance to really ask, because the switch to online made communication difficult).
 
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Marc_C

Solitary Role Playing
One of my players once was adamant about playing a deaf/mute bard that played a little drum attached to her hips to express herself and play music. The player claimed the bard could feel the vibrations in her body so the music was in tune.

Maybe a great writer could make that work in a novel but in practice her character died quickly during the first session in the sours of the city they were exploring.
 

payn

Hero
I wanted to make a Tengu Katana wielder that used the Iaijutsu technique in 3E/PF1. The action definitions and feats just wouldn't allow it to work.
 

I forgot to mention the Paranoia character I played who was constantly laughing hysterically. Lost my voice. Gave up the character soon after.
I had a swashbuckling/piratey Aaracokra Monk in a Shaolin temple/wushu-themed convention game a couple of years ago where we were all monks. Did a squawking parrot voice all game, and it definitely made me hoarse for the rest of the day. :D
 

I had a swashbuckling/piratey Aaracokra Monk in a Shaolin temple/wushu-themed convention game a couple of years ago where we were all monks. Did a squawking parrot voice all game, and it definitely made me hoarse for the rest of the day. :D
I believe voice actor keep water with them to avoid such things.
I would share one of mine but it would be all of them and I feel far too low to mock myself properly.
 

talien

Community Supporter
To put it in more actor-y terms (I'm not an actor, although I did take a few acting classes), early sessions are a bit like workshopping a character. You drop stuff if the character survives over time, due to convenience, the group's reception to it, or because it doesn't fit the campaign.

Sometimes campaigns last long enough for the character to develop enough to even come to these decisions, but it can have long-term repercussions: one of my players used a French accent for his elf, and all future PC elves from in my campaign world ended up using a similar accent.
 

OptionalRule

Adventurer
I think it's worth separating the idea from how you're expressing it in game. If you want to wear a mask and describe that, I don't think people would have a problem with it, it's the hand over the mouth bit that didn't work. Likewise with whispering to the weapon, the whisper is the problem, not the concept. It's perfectly fine to interject at full volume, "I turn to my weapon and whisper...". Roleplaying doesn't have to include pantomime, just as it doesn't have to include accents, speaking in first person, or a number of other things.

So it doesn't have to be all or nothing. This form or nothing at all, go with your great idea but think a bit and have some consideration for how the other people at the able will receive it both in it's form and pacing.
 
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MarkB

Legend
I built a warforged druid with the concept that all his class features, including spellcasting and wildshape, were functions of his warforged construction - his root-like endoskeleton was a living plant, and thus he'd spontaneously grow and lash out a vine to cast grasping vine, or sprout pheremone-laden blossoms to cast charm person.

I really wanted to get in those descriptions, and even just not tell other players what class he was. But ultimately, those flavourful descriptions hog spotlight, and the other players need to have a general idea of what your character can do.

I compromised on throwing out a couple of descriptive flourishes when he first cast spells, and thereafter he was just a regular druid who didn't really think of himself as a druid.
 

billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
I think it's worth separating the idea from how you're expressing it in game. If you want to wear a mask and describe that, I don't think people would have a problem with it, it's the hand over the mouth bit that didn't work. Likewise with whispering to the weapon, the whisper is the problem, not the concept. It's perfectly find to interject at full volume, "I turn to my weapon and whisper...". Roleplaying doesn't have to include pantomime, just as it doesn't have to include accents, speaking in first person, or a number of other things.

So it doesn't have to be all or nothing. This form or nothing at all, go with your great idea but think a bit and have some consideration for how the other people at the able will receive it both in it's form and pacing.
Yeah, I think there are a lot of concepts that outright fail because they were, in the end, ill-considered for the game they were in and others that fail because the people involved just didn't think of an effective way to handle it for the situation or second-guessed themselves out of continuing.
I think MarkB's example of the warforged druid could easily have worked and not been considered spotlight hogging - after all, if you're describing your spell or other magical effect, which too few players do I might add, you legitimately have the spotlight. You just have to be informative about the spell you're casting and then relatively quickly describe how it appears. I'd be willing to bet you could do so in 5e and still be faster than a 3e monster summoning character's turn or a multi-weapon attacker with a high enough BAB to get rate. You just have to be prepared before the initiative turn comes your way - something I recommend ALL players do, no matter what they're playing.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
Just because I am in love with the concept does not mean the rest of the group will care or that the idea functions in the current game.

Often we come to the table with a character we whipped up out of whole cloth only to find out we made a silk sash when we needed a burlap sack.

I play at a table that does little to no "roleplay" but I don't let that stop me. I make character choices that have no impact on the game and almost never come up but they are for me to have and know, and increase my enjoyment alone.

Many people play the same one or two characters over and over, no matter the alignment, traits or nature and demeanor that you have chosen. I am as guilty of this as anyone. I have a certain Lawful Evil character that I can't seem to stop playing as well as a loud mouthed rogue I have done a million times. Both of these "characters" have a tendency to knock the train of the tracks. My antics tend to entertain, everyone is laughing including the GM but then I feel bad for taking up so much of our time at the table with my crap.

RPG is a medium where we are all responsible for one another's entertainment at the table. It is unique in that way. Ideally, each one of our characters will get our moment to shine in turn and have meaningful growth, but some people could care less and just want to bunny hunt, which is fine. The nice thing about the medium being more popular now is your chances of finding a group that wants to role play how you like are higher than ever. Just because your friends game does not mean you like role playing with them. I have friends who should never have a DMG in their hand again.

If your character only expresses themselves through interpretive dance, that is fine, but you may have a hard time finding the table for that.
 

Character concept based on rules, class feature and spells have usually turn short rapidly for me.
concept based on personality, belief, faith and so on evolve much better.
The OP idea of the sentient sword is brilliant.
 


billd91

Hobbit on Quest (he/him)
One factor, there are a lot of games that are tool-kittish enough that there are a lot of possible concepts that might work at one table, but won't work at another. Vows of poverty, silence, pacifism can all be evocative in the right campaign but tremendously problematic in the wrong one. Same with other oddball concepts like a superhero built like The Shoveler in a more high-powered JLA game, or about half the characters in the Legion of Substitute Heroes for those LSH fans.
I've got one player in a D&D 5e game who is a bit of a pacifist. He won't attack with violent spells or weapons in his normal persona - but he's not opposed to violence from his peers, it's just himself. So that works with an adventuring group. He's a bard so he gives them inspiration, undermines opponents with hideous laughter and other debilitating spells - and it's working out. Interesting side note - he's playing an aasimar with fallen options. When he makes the transformation, he can then unleash the ultraviolence himself. It was kind of a cool idea, so we're going with it. But if he had a pacifism that required his companions to go along with it, the character concept wouldn't have gelled with the rest of the party.
 

univoxs

That's my dog, Walter
Supporter
One factor, there are a lot of games that are tool-kittish enough that there are a lot of possible concepts that might work at one table, but won't work at another. Vows of poverty, silence, pacifism can all be evocative in the right campaign but tremendously problematic in the wrong one. Same with other oddball concepts like a superhero built like The Shoveler in a more high-powered JLA game, or about half the characters in the Legion of Substitute Heroes for those LSH fans.
I've got one player in a D&D 5e game who is a bit of a pacifist. He won't attack with violent spells or weapons in his normal persona - but he's not opposed to violence from his peers, it's just himself. So that works with an adventuring group. He's a bard so he gives them inspiration, undermines opponents with hideous laughter and other debilitating spells - and it's working out. Interesting side note - he's playing an aasimar with fallen options. When he makes the transformation, he can then unleash the ultraviolence himself. It was kind of a cool idea, so we're going with it. But if he had a pacifism that required his companions to go along with it, the character concept wouldn't have gelled with the rest of the party.
I did something like this in an evil PF AP. Possessed oracle. My character wasn't evil but was constantly driven to the dark side by its demonic infestation. The character cried a lot while the rest of the party laughed. Fun.
 

I had a player that once tried running a barbarian that didn't even know how to speak, could only grunt. He got really tired of that idea, really quickly. He thought it would be fun/funny, and he got really tired of being left out of social interactions and the like.

I tried running a mime rogue/assassin in a GURPS campaign once, who was literally mute. It was as awkward and challenging as you might expect, and sadly not as fun as I had hoped. :D

I had a dwarven paladin that was daft and bombastic. I blew out my voice one session and that was that for him.
I forgot to mention the Paranoia character I played who was constantly laughing hysterically. Lost my voice. Gave up the character soon after.
 

talien

Community Supporter
One factor, there are a lot of games that are tool-kittish enough that there are a lot of possible concepts that might work at one table, but won't work at another. Vows of poverty, silence, pacifism can all be evocative in the right campaign but tremendously problematic in the wrong one.
This 100%. Role-play is collaborative and could be brilliant with a certain group and terrible with another, or work fine for a certain campaign and not at all with another.

It occurs to me that this might be something GMs struggle with who haven't been players for some time. I was primarily DM most times, so in some respects I think I treated my PCs as NPCs. And discovered that what made them fun and memorable as NPCs wore thin when I had to play them week after week.
 

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