Monday, January 7, 2019

Make Sure Your Character Is As Fun To Play With, As They Are To Play

We've all had to deal with that one social event that just ended up becoming too much of a chore to handle. You know, like when you first met up with this group of folks down at the local bar. They got together every Thursday, and had a good time. Then Brian decided to join you. He was Sharon's friend, and you figured you'd give him a chance, but you just don't like him. From the way he drinks too much, to how he can't hold his temper, to how he always expects someone else to cover his tab, he's just not worth the trouble.

At first you just felt more tired than refreshed after your night out. But then you felt actively stressed by it. You started skipping an occasional meeting, and noticing others doing the same. Finally, you just couldn't take it anymore, and made some excuse before you never went back again.

And that, friends, is why I walked away from that table, and never looked back.
Cool story, but what does it have to do with gaming? Everything, since you ask.

Because a lot of us have been Brian. The problem is that because we are having fun, we don't always look around and notice that no one else is. Whether it was that dashing swordsman Jacques who was constantly trying to get into the pants of the rest of the party, the vindictive priest Grumheld who refused to heal anyone unless he'd been praised or bribed, or that sour-faced thief with the cheek scar who never even told anyone his name, but stole everything that wasn't nailed down and blamed the rest of the party for the crimes when he got caught, you got so wrapped up in your own fun that you forgot this is a team sport.

Which is why it's important to look around, and make sure everyone is on the same page as you.

Is Your Character Someone You Want To Spend 4 Hours With?

Have you ever stopped, and asked how much time goes into a campaign? Not on the prep side, but just in how much time you're spending around the table with the rest of the group?

Time to break out the spreadsheets!
Let's be generous, and say that your group meets every other week, and that your sessions are roughly 3 hours long each. That doesn't seem like much, does it? But given that campaigns on that sort of schedule can run for up to two years, let's crunch the numbers.

That's 6 hours a month, 72 hours a year... so roughly 144 hours of exposure time.

Ask yourself if your character is someone the rest of your table wants to put up with for three hours at a time. Then ask if seeing this character month in and month out, and knowing that the player is going to have to deal with someone abrasive, rude, confrontational, or just plain stupid is going to be a good time for them, as well as for you.

Then, if you've identified a problem, find a way around it.

You Can Stay True To Character, And Still Be Fun

This is usually the point at which a lot of players with problematic characters will turn up their nose and demand to know why they should play totally different characters than the one they want to play.

Aside from the fact that ruining everyone else's gaming experience just to get your jollies in makes you kind of an asshole, you don't have to sacrifice your concept to play someone that's sunshine and rainbows all the time. Just file the rough edges off so you aren't constantly pricking everyone else at the table.

If you're going to be a little prick, at least be endearing about it.
If you have someone who is going to be a strain on the rest of the table's patience, the key is to turn that negativity toward the NPCs as much as possible, and to make it clear that even if your character may be hard to like sometimes, he does his job, supports the team, and helps everyone accomplish their goals.

Take your angry, grizzled, confrontational hard case (more commonly referred to as a Wolverine homage). To make this character easier on everyone else, find a reason to be on their team. Maybe you and the paladin go way back, and he saved your life from orcs in that trench, so even though you feel like you're babysitting most of this group, you still respect him enough to try to keep this team alive. Maybe the tough exterior shows a crack or two when one of your team goes down, and you go into a frenzy to save them before dropping to your knees to provide first aid, swearing a blue streak about how no one dies on your goddamn watch. Not anymore. Or perhaps when the wizard saves your bacon with a well-timed lightning bolt, you buy him a drink and give him a gap-toothed smile before telling him, "Ah, I guess you're all right for a wand-flicker."

You can use this same logic on any concept that causes friction at the table. Your thief's light fingers causing a problem? Make it a point that he never steals from anyone he works with. You could even give him an honesty streak, or make it a pride thing so that he would never even consider letting someone else take credit for his jobs... even the botched ones. Is your half-orc with rage issues causing too many messes? Consider that he's in a different culture, and he needs to understand how issues like this are solved here. Talk to a fellow party member and run a whole sub-plot where Garag Skull-Cleaver learns that the law of the jungle does not apply in towns, and he needs to learn the laws of this new land if he is to be a champion here. Or make him more child-like than actively aggressive, looking to his party members for the sign that it's time to play the fight game.

Whatever it is, make it so that the rest of the table can get in on the action. Whether it's, "crotchety grandpa dwarf decides we're all his adopted kids now," or, "Krunk learns to use his words," or, "that one time Black Fingers decided to steal presents for friends who couldn't afford them," the key is to make it so that it's not just you having fun and everyone else dealing with the fallout. Be a catalyst that lets everyone play as a group, and you'll find that your table will not be able to get enough of your characters; even the grim, dark, foreboding, or brutal ones.

If you enjoyed this, then you might also want to check out:
- 5 RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing
- 5 MORE RPG Characters We Should All Stop Playing

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday installment. Hopefully it got some wheels out there turning. Anyone else have actionable tips? If so, leave them in the comments below!

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  1. 5E handles thieves very strangely. They get mottos. The motto for my thief was treasure above all else or something like that. Which really didn't work for a thief that was working with a party. Basically I modified it slightly. As long as the thief felt anyone in the party was going to help him in getting more treasure, he was willing to help them. It worked well, I was true to the character, and didn't get killed by the rest of the party.

  2. Thanks. This is a good gentle reminder that everyone needs periodically.

    More often than not these are issues that must be addressed outside of table time. There’s also a difference between playing a butthead and being a butthead.

  3. Very quick rule of thumb: If a player has to utter the phrase "but it's what my character would do" more than once the PC (and quite likely the player) is probably an asshole.