Saturday, March 9, 2019

Players, Only You Can Prevent Fishmalks!

We've all been in a game with that one character. You know the one I'm talking about. Maybe it was the guy who rushed into battle while wearing a nightie he stole from the princess because he thought it would be a larf. Perhaps it's the guy who insists on meowing like a cat, even if his character is not, in fact, a cat. Or the one who ran into the throne room, slapped the king in the face with a fish, and then ran out slapping his bum with it and howling like a wolf during character introductions?

Well, it turns out there is a name for this kind of unstructured nonsense most of us have come to associate with the worst abuses of the chaotic neutral alignment. It's called the fishmalk!

And we all have to work together to stop them from spreading.

What The Hell is a Fishmalk?

Chances are good that a lot of folks reading this already know the answer. If you're in that group, feel free to skip ahead. For everyone else, this term originates from Vampire: The Masquerade. In this game you play a vampire, and your character comes from one of the available clans. One of those clans are called the Malkavians, and there is something in their embrace that breeds madness. It puts a permanent derangement on your character that cannot be cured, and that you will suffer from for all eternity. The purpose of this flaw is to make Malkavians more frightening (as they're unhinged, even by the standards of undead monsters), and to provide opportunity to turn them into tragic figures.

The problem is when players take this derangement, and they use it as a license to be kooky, zany, or otherwise silly. Then any criticism of them being disruptive, nonsensical, etc. is simply deflected by holding up the shield of, "I'm just playing my character!"

As to the term fishmalk... well, it's traced to this image from Vampire: The Dark Ages.

What you see is what you get with this one.

When It Is, And When It Ain't, A Fishmalk

Before you all click away to start using your new favorite term on whatever boards you frequent, I want you to put the brakes on for just a second so I can finish the lesson. Because there is more to a fishmalk than a character who is zany, weird, or inappropriate. What I've just described is Deadpool, and as we all know he's one of the most popular, enjoyed characters out there! So why isn't Wade Wilson a fishmalk? Well the answer is that sometimes he is, and sometimes he isn't.

Context is important, here.

Which, really, is the most important part of any classification system.
If we look at the definition of this term in Urban Dictionary, we can find the context I'm talking about pretty easily.

A person or character who behaves in a "wacky" or "random" manner in an attempt at humor, to the annoyance of those around them.

See that last part there? The annoyance of those around them is a big part of what makes a character a fishmalk or not. Because if Deadpool shows up in a standard Marvel storyline, and starts running around with bunny ears on, or talking to people who aren't there, then all it does is annoy the rest of the heroes, and add dissonance to the story that's being told. However, if we are reading a Deadpool comic, then we see that Wade is actually breaking the 4th wall to talk to the audience Shakespeare-style, and that it is his self-awareness of being in a comic book that leads to him taking the piss out of how serious everyone else is acting. After all, it's just a comic, so who cares?

The same thing applies to RPGs, and what is appropriate in a particular game. If you're playing, say, Paranoia then it's expected for everything to be ridiculous, farcical, and nonsensical at times. The game takes place in a satirical nightmare of dystopian sci-fi, after all, and it isn't trying to take itself seriously. Quite the opposite, in fact. But if you took your character from that game, and tried to play them in a more serious sci-fi game like Starfinder, then suddenly all of the tongue-in-cheek references, stupid decision-making, and popping entire shipping containers worth of pills no longer makes sense. No more than if you took your scarred ex-merc looking to find their children and plunked them into a Paranoia scenario would work; you're a square peg in a round hole, and forcing the issue isn't going to make it better.

Be Funny. Don't Be Fishy.

As I said way back in The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a character who is legitimately funny, or who has some amusing quirks. If you want to play a minstrel whose mandolin is constantly out-of-tune, who can't sing, can't dance, and gets booed off stage, by all means, do so! Just make sure that they can actually help out when it's their turn, that they have a personality and history beyond being a crap performer, and that they are actually a useful member of the team despite the fact they can't carry a tune in a bucket.

And keep an eye on the table all around you. If you're noticing that your character really isn't landing with anyone else, then remember what I said in Make Sure Your Character Is As Fun To Play With As They Are To Play; put them back in your toy box, and save them for a game where they'll be appreciated. Because repeating a joke no one found funny isn't going to get a better result.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday! Have any fishmalk stories of your own, regardless of the game they took place in? Share them in the comments below!

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