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You've Created A Bad Character. How, why and whose fault is it?

R_J_K75

Legend
This is why im a big fan of player's guides for campaigns. Yeah, that means a lot of Paizo APs, but i've come to even write them for my homebrew games as well.
I haven't run any campaigns besides the Realms and some generic adventures so not something I have much need for these days, but for a campaign set in Darksun, Spelljammer, etc, the more complex settings definitely benefits from something like this. The best players guide I've ever read is the AD&D 2E Players Guide to the Forgotten Realms. It's not your typical players guide. It details an adventuring party and reads more like a story and has very little to no mechanics iirc. Its a good source to show players the dynamics of well-made party. I'd highly recommend reading it regardless of the setting your game is set it.
 

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billd91

Not your screen monkey (he/him)
Traveller has a lot of misspelling ;)
It's not really a misspelling unless you're definitely favoring US spelling conventions. But a slight shift in spelling like with the term humaniti instead of humanity, I think, helps shift me in to a slightly different mindset than when thinking about other, mundane things. And I think that's kind of cool, even if not necessarily intended.
 

But a slight shift in spelling like with the term humaniti instead of humanity, I think, helps shift me in to a slightly different mindset than when thinking about other, mundane things. And I think that's kind of cool, even if not necessarily intended.

It actually feels pretty dated to me; very 80s/early 90s. Anecdotally, I remember a lot of intentionally different spellings from that time, in things like umlattted band names, wymyns rights, phantasy magicks, or Faerie Tale Theatre. But once we got into the internet era, it became a huge commercial trend to use a custom spelling to get a better web address (remember Twittr?), avoid legal issues (Aztek), or just to improve search engine results. Also, leet speak stopped being entertaining very quickly.

Basically, once it became xtreme and corporate, it stopped being kewl.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Really depends on the game. Though one of my favorites is Traveller. Chargen is both random and allows for a lot of group cohesive decision making. It's one where session zero character creation night is actually fun to be at from start to finish. YMMV.
I prefer* everyone roll up together if for no other reason than rolls can be supervised and questions can be answered.

That said, I neither ask nor expect the players to share details with each other as to what they're rolling up unless they want to; and if it means they end up with an incohesive party then so be it. They can always (try to) recruit NPC adventurers to fil gaps, and if there's personality or alignment clash within the party that's on them to sort out in-character by whatever means they like.

* - as in, if you show up with a pre-rolled character you'll be chucking it and starting over.
 

DEFCON 1

Legend
Supporter
I interpreted the question "Who is responsible?" to be more about "root cause analysis" rather than blame.
Well, in my opinion since it's the actual character that needs to be fixed, one can still do that without needing to determine who it was that caused the character to be messed up in the first place. Especially considering that more often than not if there really is such an issue, it's never going to be just one person who was responsible for the problem and had the character played badly... everyone involved will have had a hand in it. The player, the DM, and the other players will have all done various things during the game that caused this PC to ultimately not work. Thus... just fix it. Simple as that really. No harm, no foul.

But if one goes searching for that one person over the entire table... to me that always feels like a path towards assigning blame and not towards finding remedy. Granted... maybe I'm not giving individuals at the table enough credit... but it is what it is. To me, an entire table stepping up to share the responsibility and solving the problem as a group just feels more right than everyone pointing fingers.
 
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The more interesting question for me is "Who is responsible?"
This is the more interesting question yes. You define bad thus:

doesn't work with the intended method and focus of play

In that case, I would say that the biggest slice of blame can usually reasonably be apportioned to the designers of the game.

That's based on my long experience of "bad characters" by your definition, including making them myself, particularly in the 1990s. I see a few potential common routes:

1) You picked character/class that, on paper, according to their description, should function well, but in fact, they don't, for largely mechanical reasons (but sometimes also because the setting just doesn't actually allow them to be played!). This is incredibly common - the vast majority of bad characters. 5E is less afflicted by it than most games, as was 4E, but 3E was afflicted with it vastly more than most games.

Essentially you've been "sold a bill of goods" by the designers - and whether that's ineptitude, malice, weird ideas or whatever, it's hard to discern. Certainly some RPGs it seems to be a combination of all three! This is on the designers, especially in complex RPGs. We cannot reasonably expect DMs and players to foresee this kind of thing.

2) You picked a character/class that the game really strongly encouraged you to, and allowed you to entirely RAW and apparent RAI, which makes sense within the setting, but if you actually go ahead and play them, they act as a complete wrecking ball and cause big problems.

This is slightly different to the above, because it may not be that the designers lied to you, as much as they encouraged you to behave like a particular kind of maniac and said it would be fine and that their game could totally handle it. And it totally couldn't. The blame is a little more complex here, because it's usually not just a rules failing, but the designers encouraging essentially obnoxious play by for example, including a class which is designed to mess with/disrupt other PCs, despite the game being an essentially cooperative one (assuming it is). There was a lot of this in '90s RPGs. oWoD having a particular ton but D&D and Shadowrun and so on weren't immune, nor was indie stuff like SLA Industries. There were 2E Kits, for example, that no-one should have been playing. oWoD Vampire Paths that had no place in an actual group. This is like, still I'd say, 70-80% on the designers, because they why did they even include that option? Why did they encourage people to take it? Unless your RPG is a special "expert mode" one full of disclaimers, you have to assume your audience is mostly new-ish to RPGs, and somewhat naive/innocent. If you put a lot of disclaimers on something and explained its role, more culpability goes on the DM and player involved, but it'd take a lot to get to even 50% only being on the designers.

Between them, that is almost all the "bad characters" I've actually seen in games. Easily 80% - most of them type 1.

The rest usually boil down to "Player designs character who fundamentally conflicts with the ethos of the game and the player knows it", like me when I was being a difficult teen and made a rude, unkempt cowboy for Castle Falkenstein and accidentally taught myself a lesson. If this can be achieved RAW/RAI and setting-appropriate, maybe a small amount of blame goes on the designers, but not much - only if it's so "within the lines" that the DM has difficulty saying "No" or even seeing it'll be a problem does more than say, 10% go on them. Otherwise the blame usually should be mostly with the player, but also with the DM for allowing the character to be played, if it was obvious.

Support characters definitely have niche appeal. Some people love them, but boy, if you are not that type of person, they're the worst. Every time I've tried to play them in MMOs, everyone ends up miserable as a result.
Yes whereas I am 100% that type of person, and MMOs where there are no support characters (which is quite a lot of them) or where "everyone is" (usually in some totally fake bollocks way, like GW2) tend to gradually bore me to tears. I mind less with TT RPGs, because support characters only really make sense the context of fairly complex mechanics with some degree of potential metagame thinking and many RPGs eschew both.
 

Umbran

Mod Squad
Staff member
Supporter
First of all, how and why can this happen. There are a few ways, I think:

1. Intentional Traps: This is less common that it once was, but not gone. Sometimes designers decide they should include bad choices in characters creation/advancement, just to catch the newbs and "reward system mastery." (Looking at you, Monte.)

Er. This may have been covered in the intervening pages, so my apologies, but...

What counts as a "bad choice" is often context dependent. In a most basic example - there are some choices that would be a real waste for a character in a long D&D campaign that is expected to run from level 1 to level 20, but are perfectly fine choices for a one-shot, where the long-term ramifications will not impact play.

This can be combined with some realities - like how many games intended to go to level 20 don't make it anywhere near the target. What's a bad choice if we only make it to level 3?
 

I'm running a Mutants and Masterminds campaign right now. Since it's a point buy system, I told the party they can redo their characters if they like. Since we're not experts in that game and point buy characters can vary widely from what a person envisions, a person not liking their character is quite possible.

Turns out, one of my players became unhappy with the campaign. After a long conversation, one of the other players who was enjoying it suggested that the dissatisfied player rewrite their character. They did, and it's been fine ever since.

TLDR, a good GM should allow rewrite or address the situation if a character turns out to not work.
 

TLDR, a good GM should allow rewrite or address the situation if a character turns out to not work.
One thing I like about the Sentinel Comics RPG is that it explicitly allows (even encourages) character rewrites on a regular basis - about every six sessions or so. Not only does it allow players to make adjustments if they find something isn't as fun as they expected it to be, it's a pretty good way to model the way many superheroes shift their abilities and behavior over time in response to story events - or if we're being honest, due to new creative teams wanting to make their mark on a character and disregarding past continuity. :) It's still optional - you can keep the same character sheet forever if you want, gradually accumulating collections that directly increase your power and versatility while remaining fundamentally the same hero - but you can also do more radical alterations like (say) that time Peter Parker sprouted four extra arms for a while or became Captain Universe.

You'd still need GM permission to rewrite yourself fast enough to keep up with Jimmy Olsen though, much less Robbie from Dial H For Hero. :)
 

Thomas Shey

Legend
I'm running a Mutants and Masterminds campaign right now. Since it's a point buy system, I told the party they can redo their characters if they like. Since we're not experts in that game and point buy characters can vary widely from what a person envisions, a person not liking their character is quite possible.

Turns out, one of my players became unhappy with the campaign. After a long conversation, one of the other players who was enjoying it suggested that the dissatisfied player rewrite their character. They did, and it's been fine ever since.

TLDR, a good GM should allow rewrite or address the situation if a character turns out to not work.

Honestly, in a lot of cases this should probably be okay at least for the early part of the campaign even if it isn't so much dysfunctional design as just a character type that looked fun on paper but the particular character is badly suited to the player in practice.
 

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