Tuesday, July 3, 2018

5 More RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

About two years and change ago, I wrote a post titled The 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing. I'd written some controversial posts before, but that particular piece exploded. Once the initial furor died down, little brush fires would start up from time to time when it got re-discovered and re-debated by people. Then Nerdarchy gave me a shout-out last year, basing a fairly popular episode on the five characters I put forth, and the resulting explosion made that piece my most-visited post ever.

Thanks again, guys!

I've been thinking on the concept of disruptive, frustrating, and all-around trying characters again, though. So I thought it was time to create a follow-up to that original piece, and talk about 5 more concepts that I would be glad to never see again... as well as some advice for making them functional, if you insist upon them.

And for those who have been fans of my more controversial posts, might I recommend also taking a look at I Don't Really Care What Gygax Had To Say as well as It's Okay To Admit There Are Problems In Your Hobby.

Anyway... on to the new list!

#1: The Kleptomaniac

"Hey, Varas, have you seen my-" Gold? No, why? You think I stole it? I didn't, no one saw me!
Thieves have a long and storied place, both in the genre of fantasy as well as in tabletop RPGs. It was even the granddaddy of the rogue, for those who've been playing that long. There are some characters, though, who are not thieves in the professional sense of the term. They're kleptos. These characters must steal everything. This includes goods they could actually afford, the treasure they find in dungeons, and even the purses and backpacks of their companions while they sleep.

Some players think this concept is hilarious, and anyone who doesn't see the joke is clearly just a stick in the mud who doesn't know how to have fun. If the DM protects this character from having his hands cut off, it often sours the rest of the table. And if his victims are allowed to pay him back for his acts? Well, that often leads to a sulky player.

This is why so many DMs don't allow you to play a kender.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Just be a thief. There's nothing wrong with being a thief, and a party can really benefit from having someone who's light-fingered at the right time.

"At the right time" being the key phrase.

Generally speaking, this means that your fellow party members, friendly NPCs, and your allies, are off-limits. For maximum efficiency, only steal objects that are valuable, and only do it when it would have an impact on the game. Swiping a few coppers from the drunk at the bar isn't really worth the time or effort. Palming the dungeon key from your jailer, though, is something that will earn you a great many thanks from your fellow party members who would like to just walk out of their cell.

#2: The Proselytizer

"Excuse me, have you heard the good word?" Only a thousand times, Jerry.
There is an urge to model the fantastical off of the familiar. And when we attempt to model characters who genuinely believe they have been chosen to do the will of the gods, and that they are on the side of good and truth, we end up with a bunch of sanctimonious, stuck-up, self-righteous killjoys for some reason.

Paladins, clerics, and other servants of the divine come in a thousand different flavors. From the pious to the quiet, from the brooding to the jolly... but there is always that one character who wants to do nothing but tell you their good word. Who wants you to listen to them sermonize, who wants you to pray with them, and who will often withhold their aid from you if you choose to act in a way that runs counter to their own faith.

Whether it's the holy knight who guilt trips her companions who choose to celebrate with wine, or the cleric who shames his party-mates as they come out of the brothel, you are not winning any friends among the table.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

There is something admirable about someone who sticks to their own beliefs, despite temptation. The key to remember, here, is that your vows, your oaths, and your faith are yours. So if those vows aren't actually compromised by the company you're keeping (if you are a servant of the light, your god might frown on you for keeping company with Blitzrock Baby-Eater, for example), don't make a big deal out of who the rest of the table chooses to play.

By all means, roleplay your discussions about religion. Have long philosophical talks about the meaning of good and evil in your fantasy setting. If other members of the party follow your god as well, then discuss the vows you took, and the proper path you should follow. But if your faith declares you must give your wealth to the poor, or only eat simple meals, or do Crossfit every third Saturday, don't nag everyone else for not following your restrictions. Especially if them not following your restrictions doesn't actually hurt you in any way (losing your powers, being expelled from the church, etc., etc.)

#3: The Murder Machine

"Afternoon, sir! A fine day for-" I bury my ax in the innkeeper's face!
Combat is a healthy chunk of any RPG. Even in situations where you're trying to pull off a bloodless heist, or orchestrate a political coupe, there's always the chance that swords come out, and blood is spilled. However, there are some characters who exist only to leave a wake of destruction and death behind them. Every merchant they've ever met, every town guard who ever asked them their business in the city, and every bartender who ever asked what they were drinking was met with death threats... if the character bothered to speak at all before just running them through.

There is some exaggeration here, but if you've been round the gaming block before, you know a Murder Machine when you see one. Likely because you're constantly trying to stop them from pulling steel, or slinging spells, as a response to anything resembling conversation openers from an NPC.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The concept of a character who only comes alive in battle (or one who only feels comfortable there, since they know the rules of combat) is one that's quite common in a lot of different genres. But if you're going that route, you still need to flesh out who your character is off the battlefield, and what triggers their aggression response. Are they a socially-awkward hulk who gets angry when people laugh at them, so he tends to brood and glare in silence unless someone actively puts in the effort to get past his outer defenses? Is she paranoid, seeing violence or the threat of violence as the only thing that keeps those around her honest, and preventing them from thinking she's weak? Or does this character deal with a bloodlust that has to be slaked, which is why they don't come near civilized places unless they've had enough battle to get it out of their system?

There are all kinds of options, and all sorts of characters, that fit this mold. From warriors on a hair-trigger, to formerly brainwashed bodyguards, to sorcerers who have trouble controlling their tempers along with their powers, the easiest way to avoid going too far and becoming a Murder Machine is to make sure there is always a method to when your character decides that violence is necessary. And to make sure they have personality and presence when initiative is over, and it's time to play the rest of the game.

#4: The Square Peg

A dozen books full of character options... and this is the one you chose?
RPGs are a group-oriented activity. Everyone makes their avatar, and comes together to tell a cooperative story... but it only works if everyone is willing to work together. A square peg character, though, does not fit the game. Whether it's conceptually, or in the execution, it does not matter how hard you hammer that peg, it is not going to fit.

Anyone who's played for a while has examples of this one. Whether it's the sadistic, demon-worshiping child torturer who tried to join the party of holy warriors, the paladin plunked down in the middle of a gang of thieves and assassins, or the light-hearted bard who showed up to the grimdark game, these characters are like a sour note. It's like the player behind them is off in a totally separate game that no one else is playing, and it wears pretty thin pretty fast.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

The easiest way to fix a square peg is to simply shave off the corners until it fits in the round hole. As an example, say you are the monster who tries to sign up with the party of holy warriors. You could be a repentant villain, attempting to undo your past wrongs with the skills you learned before your change of heart. Or you could take a few precautions to keep your wickedness hidden, ensuring your companions don't instantly sniff you out. If you're a bastion of law, but you find yourself surrounded by thieves and killers, ask how you came to be there? Do you attempt to use diplomacy and intimidation on their behalf, lowering the body count and achieving real results so that no one has to get hurt? Or have you turned your back on righteousness, and you're going your own way now?

And if you're the light-hearted minstrel in a world full of darkness and terrors, the easiest way to fit is to squat down in the mud and blood with your companions, light up a smoke, and drop your performer's cheer for a moment. Take a deep drag, and talk about how hard it is trying to keep the light burning in people's hearts when you live in a world full of rain. But someone's got to do it, and you're pretty sure they don't know how to handle a mandolin.

The core concept of most of these characters can be preserved, while shaping them to fit the game you're actually playing. But remember, not every character will fit in every game.

#5: The Rando

"My elf jumps off the bridge." But why would he- "Did I stutter!?"
Random chance plays a huge part in any given game. It determines how persuasive the judge finds your arguments, whether your shafts strike your enemy in the heart, and whether you manage to fight off that cold you contracted on the trail. But there are some characters who seem completely determined by the whims of chance. Everything, from how they feel when they wake up in the morning, to who they're friendly toward, to which enemy they attack in battle, is decided with a roll of the die.

This is both annoying, and potentially hazardous to the other characters, as well as the overall plot.

But If You're Going To Do It Anyway...

Don't... just don't.

As I said with The Misanthrope in the first installment, this kind of character doesn't need to just be played a certain way; it's incomplete. Whether you're actually rolling a d20 to determine every action the character takes, or you're choosing to make them behave in a truly random manner (not impulsive, or silly, but outright nonsensical) just stop. Sit down, and create a character who has reasons for their behavior, who has motivations, goals, drives, and a purpose.

That is not to say you cannot play the fool (such as someone who feigns getting absolutely fall-down drunk before an important mission, or whose zany antics are actually a cover for a cunning strategy), or that you must be serious all the time. Characters are people, and like people they can be complex or simple, clever or stupid, brave or cowardly... but the thing they have to be most is consistent. So figure out who your character is, and what makes sense for them to say, do, think, or believe according to the core of who they actually are.

That's all for this week's installment of Moon Pope Monday. Sorry it was a little late, but I was on the road most of yesterday, and didn't have time to sit down and bang this one out. For more of my work, check out my Vocal archive (especially my Gamers page), or stop by the YouTube channel Dungeon Keeper Radio where I help out in bringing Evora to life. To stay on top of all my latest releases follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. Lastly, if you want to help support me and my work, head over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page or consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi!


  1. Yes, yes a thousand times yes.

  2. OK. I have to speak in favor of playing a Kender. People completely misunderstand it. A Kender is not a kleptomaniac in the sense of someone with a mental problem. Instead she's like a child, who sees something she likes and takes it. She's NOT interested in selling it for money. And if someone is using it, she will never take it. Many times she will forget she took it, even if she kept it in her bag. If someone asks, she most likely remember and give it back. If it loses interest to her, she will likely drop it. This things in the bag could be used as part of the game.

    Example. While walking through a dungeon, she will find a very shiny rock that caught her interest. She picks it up, and admires for a little before putting it in her bag. Later on, the wizard needs a diamond as spell component, but doesn't have one. The kender might ask how does it look like. They will describe it, and the kender will ask, "Something like this?" and there it is.

    A kender won't just simply steal. A kender won't take things and sell them, won't take things she knows her friends want, and have on.

    However, if you or your DM don't know about Kenders, then I agree, don't play it, specially if you just think they are Kleptos.

  3. Jose, I'd offer a rebuttal. They -are- kleptos; but the problem is most players (and DMs) don't understand what that means. A klepto pockets random things, oftentimes completely unaware that they did it. Case in point, the most popular kender, Tas... there's been a few times he's been "caught" with something that even he didn't remember picking up.

    The problem is, a lot of players use it as an excuse to blatantly steal things from other PCs. Whether to use, sell, or just think they're funny.. and yes, -that- gets obnoxious, real quick.

    I had a player who wanted to play a kender, and I worked it out with him. As the DM, -I- decided what ended up in his bags, and when. It made roleplay more enjoyable, in the end.

  4. I have to speak up in defence of Randos. I played in an excellent Stormbringer game. My character was a sorcerer-priest of the Chaos Lord Baloo. Basing decisions off the roll of a die (a d8 naturally) was part of his faith. Early on he was shown a vision of the future; of the Young Kingdoms destroyed within his lifetime and everyone slain. He became desperate to leave for another world and passively suicidal. After all if he couldn't escape he was doomed to die so why should it matter when or how. So he'd dive into any portal he found, call up things he could barely put down and go mano-a-mano with things that could kill him with one hit. The only time he showed any modicum of sense was when the party encountered Elric and my character ran away screaming "The black sword! We are doomed!" He was insane, not stupid.
    Ironically the campaign ended with the fate of the world still in the balance. When I next ran D&D I had him pop into existence over a city street, dance a gig of joy, eye the PCs suspiciously and spit "A city of Law. How disgusting!" Before running off never to be seen again.

    My point being he had reasons for his actions beyond being crazy or being random for the sake of randomness. Since then I've always kept a Baloo like entity in the wings to deal with Randos. "Serve me and I'll reward you. Cross me and I'll destroy you."

    After all it's often how the GM deals with difficult characters that can make or break a game. I always have trouble with paranoiacs.