Friday, January 6, 2012

Character Flaw

I recently booted a long standing player from both of my games after we had a falling out in regards to his actions.  I am not going to go in to all the details here, but I will address his arguments and justification regarding his actions in my game: he was playing in character.

Playing in character is important.  If you create a PC then there should be some consistency to how they are run.  Vegetarians do not suddenly start ordering steak cooked rare and restaurants.  Characters with strict codes of killing do not enter beserker rages in the middle of combat.  Starship captains should not be touting the Prime Directive in one episode and violating it the next.
Get it right, fanboy
Oh.  Right.  Starship captains should not flagrantly violate the Prime Directive in the pilot and then irrationally adhere to it later.
That's better
If characters do act out of character there should be very, very good reasons for it (i.e. mind control).  GMs should encourage players to run their characters in a consistent manner.

However, there is a dark side to playing in character and that is when doing so is detrimental to the campaign.  A player can be too in love with their concept and run it with a manic zeal, much to the dismay of GM and fellow players alike.  Or they just like being douche bags.

Here is an example.  One of my players was running a character who decided to be a bit anti-social.  Anti-social is fine.  This player was running his character as being someone who did not mesh well with the others and this is an extent.  What really rubbed people the wrong way was when this one player's PC was discussed: Sand.  Sand had nobly sacrificed himself to save the team from what appeared to be certain destruction and this player decided to play his character as thinking Sand had been an idiot.  In character arguments ensued and it got to the point where there was no way in hell the PCs would work with a character who was essentially a monumental asshole.  The player had taken playing In Character to an unreasonable extreme, to the point where his character was unplayable.  Having a diverging viewpoint is all well and good, but when it almost feels like one player might be criticizing another player through his character, well it is time to stand back and re-assess.

I was in a Dungeons & Dragons game many, many years ago run by a guy named Ned.  I had issues with Ned's game because I rolled up a swashbuckler and we found ourselves in an African campaign.  So my character was an African native swashbuckler.  It seems Ned did not want to reveal his campaign setting and apparently felt if he objected to my swashbuckler concept it would give away his plans.  So I was playing a character with inappropriate skill sets.  I don't think anyone was very happy with Ned but we gave it a couple sessions*.  Anyway, the opening adventure involved getting the PCs together and Ned did have a very clever way to do so.  The town in which we all resided in was attacked by a powerful force who managed to magically subdue and enthrall everyone.  Our PCs were put in a chain gang and when opposing forces launched a counter attack the magical spell was broken and our PCs' minds were freed.  And there we were, literally stuck together, having to work together to escape.  It was a fantastic method of getting the campaign started because we had nothing in common save for a common enemy and goal, namely to flee and to stick together for mutual protection .  It sure as hell beat the "you meet in a tavern" trope so many of us GMs have relied upon for years.

However, one of the players, (I think it was Herb), decided at the first opportunity to break off from the party and board a ship.  Rather than submitting to the party's majority decision to take one course of action, he decided to go by sea.  He was essentially waving a big middle finger to GM and players because he was not getting his way.  Part of his excuse?  He was playing In Character.  Never mind that in doing so it gave the GM headaches, or that it meant if the GM did go along with this the rest of the players would have to spend considerable time loitering about while the GM ran his character through a solo adventure.  It was selfish and juvenile and Ned promptly killed Herb's character off, having his ship attacked, I think, by zombie pirates.  Bear in mind this was a decade before Pirates of the Caribbean came out so Ned truly was ahead of his time.

So back to the player I recently booted.  This player is in another game and he makes a series of poor decisions. And one of his justifications is he is playing his character In Character.  An honest argument to be sure.  But this game was just starting out and the main thrust of the story is getting the PCs together as a team.  It was a matter of several players coming to rescue another, with another pair of players stumbling into the situation.  This player decided that he was going to do things his own way and not stick with the players, which complicated things further.  Which meant that made things complicated for me.

I understand how it seems sometimes a player's duty to thwart the GM.  The GM's job is to present obstacles for his players to overcome, after all.  However, there are situations where it is the job of the players to actually help tell the story along with the GM, almost collaborating with him.  The most important of these is when the PCs first meet, the PCs are becoming a team or adventuring party.  Splitting off from the party because you are playing a grim loner is very uncool because you are essentially saying "I gotta play In Character, it is up to the GM to give me excuses to stick with the group".  That is true to some extent.  It is also the player's job in this instance to be saying to themselves "Why should my grim loner stick with this party?".  And there are plenty of reasons why if you work at it.  In this particular scenario I had worked to get the loner PC to the others and the atmosphere was one of a group of people meeting a mutual threat.  However this player decided to take a single instance, a thin thread of an excuse to break off from the party that greatly complicated things not just for myself but for the PCs as well.  It was selfish of him to do so.

So e-mails were exchanged, consensus could not be reached and I decided to boot him.  I was not happy with this decision.  We have been gaming together for going on two decades now and he is an excellent and creative player.  But at the end of the day I was still his GM and he was not acknowledging his errors nor was he seeing the difficult position he had put myself and his fellow PCs in.  He was having too much fun playing In Character.

*There is nothing wrong with a campaign taking place outside the traditional pseudo-European setting.  But a GM that does not come clean with players beforehand regarding his intentions regarding campaign settings is just being an unreasonable jerk.

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