Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Just Because You're A Player Doesn't Mean You're More Important Than The Group

Yesterday we talked about how the GM doesn't have the right to modify a player character to make them fit into a story that they are running. Today I want to address the player side of the story. There is still going to be some stuff in here for GMs, most stuff involving the table will affect the GM in some way after all, but the brunt of today's post is directed to the players. Mostly, I just wanna say "go along with the story your group decided on."

Beautiful Unique Snow Flakes
Generally there is the perception that the PCs are beautiful and unique snow flakes. This isn't an idea that I necessarily want to discourage. Both the players and the GM should be aware that the players are supposed to be special and have special things occur to them. However, some players have a tendency to take this to extremes. They want their character to be special at cost to the game. You know who I'm talking about. The guy who wants to play the gaijin in a Winter Court L5R game, the girl who wants to be the supernatural creature in a game about supernatural creature hunters, or the person wanting to play a nullifier/meta hunter in a game about heroic super heroes. Now, I'm not saying these concepts are bad necessarily, but the way I have most often seen them is the player deliberately and specifically trying to buck the trend of what the game is going for. That is bad, and you shouldn't do it.

Why Not? My Concept Is Awesome
Something like the header for this paragraph is the response I've gotten on countless occasions when I - as the GM - have vetoed a concept that went against what the game was going to be about (more on this later.) The problem with the concept isn't that it is not awesome. It is that the concept is more work than is worth it to have in the game. In effect, your concept is going to break the game, and as such compromise the fun of the rest of the players in the group. When everyone is going for story A, and you make a character that would make it into Story B, you are harming that group dynamic.

Remember: You Agreed To This
Where is all this 'you can't do that, and I won't allow this" coming from? Well, honestly, from you. Most groups - most good groups that I've seen/heard about anyhow - will discuss the game before they go into it. The players know going in if they're going for a heroic cosmic level super hero game, or a dungeon crawl fantasy game, or a political and high sorcery Ars Magica campaign. Some basic tenets of the game have been discussed before hand, and you, as a player and member of the group, agreed to be a part of it. More to the point, your group agreed to be a part of it, which means that your plan isn't just going against the GMs plans, but also the rest of the player group.

The Right To Veto
The one defense against this kind of character, the one that is built to buck the trends and expectations of a game, is the GM Veto. Basically, the GM has the right to say if a character can, or can not, play in the game. Don't balk at this as a player, because the GM here has a lot of responsibility that you may not be thinking about.

For one, the GM by default is the owner of the world and they know what is going to happen in the story/what events are going to transpire. This means that the GM knows if your concept will work or will heavily struggle with what is going on. Going back to the Nullifier concept, if my plot as a GM involves an army of Batman like vigilantes coming after the group, I would suggest against a nullifier as well. Why? Because you're going to be frustrated that your main power doesn't really do anything against the enemies you'll be facing. 

For two, the GM is the judge/referee/arbiter of disputes in the game and interpretations of the rules. They are also the one responsible for policing player behavior and handling PvP disputes. If there is a problem with the game, players are expected to go to the GM who is then expected to solve the problem. In a lot of ways this means that the GM is the guardian of the group's fun. Extending this, it means that if a single player has a concept that would lower the fun for the group, the GM should do what they can to keep that from happening. Even if that means vetoing your character.

Finally, the GM knows what they are and are not willing to handle. Just as the players have things they can't deal with, or don't want to, the GM has those too. For example, I strongly dislike the shape shifter power in Mutants and Masterminds, as well as the Mimic type powers. Why? Because they involve the moving of a lot of points int he middle of combat. I don't want to deal with trying to figure out how much of power X or Y said person can get, or have a player out of commission for the 5-10 minutes as they re-arrange their power points to adapt to a new form. As such, these concepts - which I feel will negate a lot of fun and flow in the game - I veto almost immediately.

Talk It Out
If you still want your concept, and think you can make it work, you need to talk to your GM about it. Don't do this in public. If the GM tells you they don't like X, Y, or Z about your character, don't argue in front of everyone. For one, it gets everyone a bit more heated, and for another people who aren't involved may get involved and cloud the issue. Instead, pull the GM to the side and talk about it. Find out what the GMs concerns are, and address them. If the GM still says no, then accept it. If you can convince the GM, then don't betray that trust you've been given by being an ass with what you got through. The key thing is though, make sure you and the GM are on the same page when you want something the GM is worried about. Maybe being on the same page turns a no to a yes.

Why You Want To Do This
I've talked a lot about the "no" and the "do not" but very little on the why you want to do it. The reason for it is simple. With everyone working towards the same goal, and for the same story, everyone can have more fun. When you aren't playing a loner in a team game, you can get more screen time because you are with other people. When you aren't playing a concept counter to the idea of the game, you can be involved in things more easily because the world/events don't have to tip toe around what makes you different. As I said before, the concepts I listed as examples can work, and they can be a lot of fun in those exact situations. But that is only when the player and GM understand, are on the same page, and working towards the same goals as the rest of the group.

Your Thoughts?
My assumption is that I've ruffled some feathers with this. Anything involving telling players no seems to do that, and that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Still, I'm curious to your thoughts on this. Have you had problems with this kind of PC? How did you handle it? If you've never had it, how have you avoided the problem? I know some famous game designers find this kind of PC as a personal peeve and have taken time out in their design process to specifically address the problem (i.e. John Wick.) Still, everyone gets different mileage, and I want to hear how you've done. Sound off in the comments.


  1. I've had my share of players who went against the group with their character. Sometimes it worked beautifully, sometimes it didn't. It should never be done against the GMs judgements...some players are really good at getting their own way either because the GM for some reason didn't say no forcefully enough or because they play a character that fits the group in a way that doesn't.

    If the GM allows it, then I have just one piece of advice: accept the consequences. Remember that you wanted to play this character and don't tell me you didn't know that there would be problems. In the best case, the player views those problems as challenges for his roleplaying and then his character has a great chance of becoming awesome. In the worst case, the player starts to whine and I think as a GM, I would have very little patience with that.

    1. I think the issue can go a bit further too if the character concept didn't betray itself before the campaign has actually started. Sometimes a PC starts acting in a fashion entirely erratic and unexpecded in mid-campaign, when it's to late to stop them from breaking group, story, and even game.

      Like that one guy in my last gaming-group who suddenly decided to open fire on any NPCs the group encountered. Was he trolling the group? Was he playing a closet-psycho who had finally snapped? Hard to tell...

      I find it much harder to tell a player "no" when it comes to an action their character wants to attempt (and is something physically entirely possible), than stopping them from implementing a character-concept that doesn't fit the game from the get-go.

  2. Jeb, a good addition and a way I haven't really seen a game go when a player brought in a world/story/group breaking character. It is true, if you choose to go against the grain, knowing you are doing so, you need to understand that there are going to be issues where it gets rough, and you will just need to deal with that.

    Mad, those issues are also hard to deal with, and generally speak to a deeper issue. Often if a player is doing that they're bored or unsatisfied with some aspect of the game. Maybe they wanted/expected more combat, maybe they feel they aren't getting enough attention. In that situation I'd talk it out with the player. If they insist that everything is fine and they're "just playing their character" then "just have the world react."

    It doesn't usually take too long for an armed group of trained individuals to go out looking for the person randomly killing strangers they meet on the road. Actions have Consequences. Criminal/Violent actions have violent/terminal consequences. Not saying to just gib the PC, but they're not going to have much in the way of friends to speak on their behalf, are they?