D&D General Who “owns” a PC after the player stops using them?

Schmoe

Adventurer
Imaginary characters in a game don't meet any definition of intellectual property that I can find.
Intellectual property law covers patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets. I'm not a lawyer, but as far as I can tell there is no legal bearing on any other type of intellectual property. The closest application might be a copyright if you've fixed the character in a tangible medium (such as a written history). But even copyright law allows derivative works such as fan fiction, and an imaginary discussion, such as participation in an RPG where you collectively imagine things about an imaginary character, doesn't even begin to infringe on copyright rights.

I don't think the legal argument has a leg to stand on. The only possible argument I can see to honor such a request is that of being considerate to someone you care about and has strong feelings about something. That's perfectly reasonable! But as other people have pointed out, this opinion seems unusual enough, and it seems to be strongly held enough, that if you are playing with strangers you should really bring it up at the beginning.
 

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aco175

Legend
DM: 'Hey Bob. Remember how when we wrapped up our last campaign you mentioned Gregor, your paladin was going to stay behind in the starting village to try and fix up the temple and maybe start an orphanage? I was thinking of placing this campaign ten years later, and the town has grown and Gregor's kind of become the unofficial mayor. He's going to be like a patron to the party. Perhaps you guys will all play as trainees of the temple. Sounds cool right? "

And then Bob would either say:

Bob: 'Oh wow. That does sound fun. Could my character maybe be Gregor's adoptive son, and then all of my real knowledge of him can play out in game because I'll pretty much know him as well as his son would?'

Or

Bob: `Oh I don't know DM. Gregor was kind of a really special character for me, and I'm really pleased with how his story ended. I'd much prefer to kind of put a bookend on it and leave it there, rather than digging him back up.'
I guess in a session 0 I might bring up the village and the old character but do not think that I would bother to ask if the village just came into play at one point and the new PCs showed up there. In either case if the player said that he had a problem with his PC showing up I guess he would be out of town doing something or more likely dead for some strange reason and just move on.

The village and orphanage now exists in the world so there would need to be some reason for the old Pc to not be there or the village to not be there anymore.
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
If I have Lanefan retire at name level to build a stronghold (which is, in fact, exactly what he's currently doing in-game), he's still part of the setting and still my character. Friends he's made down the years can always drop by to visit and tell war stories, but his adventuring days are pretty much done and he'll make that very clear (in his own not-for-Grandma style) to anyone who tries to talk him back into the field.

The issue is "New set of PCs go to interact with him for in-game reasons and you aren't available."

That he's retired doesn't and shouldn't make him an NPC...particularly while I'm still playing in the damn game! :)

Well, yeah, that's a different beast, but as I've noted before if you decide to wander off from what all the other PCs are doing, don't expect me to keep taking the time out to run, effectively a solo game for you.

And were I ever to leave that game I'd probably hand over most of my characters* to the DM with instructions that - with one or two exceptions - their roles in things become passive rather than active e.g. they'll be stay-at-homes at the party's base, or at their stronghold, or temple, or whatever; but can always be called upon for info or spell-swapping etc.. The one or two exceptions would get more detailed instructions, as they have specific goals the pursuit of which willl go on long after their adventuring days are done.

Sure, I don't have a problem with that; but I think that's a bit different from a situation where someone wants no interaction with the character at all after they've left the game.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
Has the player transferred ownership of the PC to the DM? Like "use them as an NPC if you want"?

If not explicitly done, it can't be "owned" by anyone but the player. Do DM's just steal PCs?

I'd be rather annoyed if I left a campaign and later found out the DM was running my character as an NPC without my permission.
 


Thomas Shey

Legend
Has the player transferred ownership of the PC to the DM? Like "use them as an NPC if you want"?

If not explicitly done, it can't be "owned" by anyone but the player. Do DM's just steal PCs?

I'd be rather annoyed if I left a campaign and later found out the DM was running my character as an NPC without my permission.

As I said, it depends on how important to the setting they've become before they left. If they're still just a random adventurer or equivalent, sure, you'll probably never hear about the character after a player leaves. If they became setting significant by events, that doesn't change just because the player is gone and I feel no obligation to not acknowledge that in play; if a player can't deal with that, don't play a character who's going to be come significant, or in the campaign at all.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
If a player feels strongly about who controls their character after they stop playing it that player needs to be the one making sure the group has a session zero to bring that up before play or they have only themselves to blame when the GM runs an NPC interaction with a former PC still living in the GM's world.
Why is that the player's responsibility?

We all agree from the moment of conception, the character belongs to the player. Heck, there are many players who will recreate the same character in different campaigns or different systems, so that character can belong to the player long before the current campaign, and continue after the campaign.

So we've established the default is that the player owns the character. If there is going to be a transfer, isn't the onus to bring it up on the person who wants to take control of the character?
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I'll sometimes also go the other way if a PC has become an NPC, if the players (generally the same group) want their characters to come out of retirement, then the NPCs become PCs again. I've also had actual NPCs become a PC, though in this case it was me as DM wanting a character for a game run by a friend in the same area.

If there is no expectation that a player is coming back, then anything can happen to the (now NPC) character. Even if the player is still in the same campaign world but old characters have been retired then anything can happen, I might give a fighter that became a baron a noble last stand against an invading army for instance. Probably not just going to kill them for no reason though.
This is written assuming that PC -> NPC. Since that is the entire point of this thread, you can't just assert that without any support.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
I admit, the stance that a player can control their former character even after they've left the game is bizarre to me. The game is a shared imagination between the participants, and the participants always have the right to collectively imagine new things about everything within the game. Once you've left the game, you are no longer a participant.
I have a friend who got a tattoo of his favorite character. He's recreated him across multiple campaigns and even multiple systems. The idea that it is his "former" character is bizarre to me. It's his character, nothing former to it.
 

Blue

Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal
As a DM i have fairly simple policy. Use it or lose it. If you want to retire character for any reason, cool. We figure out his retirement and then PC becomes NPC under my control. I do try to keep them out of game thou. But i will if it fits narrative. Hell, i'll use old PC as antagonist if it fits story.

As a player, i don't care what happens to character once I stop playing it. I stopped caring long ago after seeing enough campaigns fizzle out after only few sessions.
Do you bring up this policy to the players in Session 0, so they have a chance to discuss or perhaps not join the game? Or do you keep it a secret and trot it out when a player has already left and has no idea that you have assumed control of their character without asking?
 

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