Play enough games and you'll come across someone who is playing the same character from a different game. Some people frown on this practice. Some people love it. Most seem to fall somewhere in the middle. No matter what though, it is something that you should understand as a GM if you have a player doing it in the game. As a player you should also be looking at a few other factors to keep the character fresh for both yourself and the other people sitting at the table. As such, we'll be discussing this type of role playing in two posts. Today's post focuses on the reasons someone would do this, and thus what you need to know as the GM. Let's begin, shall we?
As a note, and as usual, I'll be going over the three most common reasons for this that I've seen.
Believe it or not, a lot of players can get hung up on a character if they didn't get closure with them. Maybe they played the character in a game for years and then the game just ended as so many games tend to do. Maybe they had to move away from an old gaming group, or the gaming group moved away from them. Maybe the character died in some random encounter before they could get to a meaningful point in their personal story, but after the character had managed to grip the player. Whatever the reason, the player is looking for something to end the character's story and put it to rest.
When you have this in your game, talk to the player about it. Where do they see the character's story going? What do they want out of it? What to them would make a satisfactory ending? When asking about the ending, make sure to also mention a satisfactory fail condition. It might not exist, but you want the player thinking about it if at all possible. After all, sometimes people don't succeed at their epic quest. Sometimes Inigo loses to the six fingered man.
This is probably the most common reason I've seen for a repeat appearance of a character. Something happens and the game comes together quickly. Maybe it is only supposed to be a one shot, maybe it is a last minute invite to a game, or maybe the player just feels rushed or can't think of another character. Put on the spot, the player reaches for a well known and comfortable character. Nothing wrong with this at all when you think about it, but as the GM you also want to talk to the player about the game. Sometimes thie pick of the comfortable character means that the player is unsure about some aspect of the game, and thus is making an area where they are comfortable. For example, maybe they're playing a particularly favorite fighter character - or character based off that character - so they don't have to worry about motivations and thought process while they pick up a new system or feel out new players to the group. Sometimes it is just a rush, be aware of that and let the player have their fun. Other times, it means there is something about the game that the player - possibly subconsciously - is worried/anxious about in the game.
Can't Play Anything Else
At first glance this appears to be the exact same as the character above, only it is a bit more problematic than that. This player honestly doesn't know how to play another character. Maybe they've been playing the character in a long (like 5+ years) campaign and have forgotten how to play others. Maybe the character is cathartic to them in some way. Maybe they just have never wanted to try something else and so never went out there. The point is, even if you mandated a different character it would be very similar to this character.
Now, I said problematic and that may be a bit misleading. As a gamer, game designer, and GM who believes in improving my own skill at the game table - and with a group who feels the same - this seems problematic to me from a player standpoint. You don't learn how to do things, or see things, better if you are always married to one view point. This player may be ok with that though.
As a GM, you handle this like any other character. With luck, you'll have experience to draw upon for dealing with this particular character. Without it, it will be a new experience for you as a GM, even if it is similar for others in the game.
Exploring A New Aspect
I know I said three above, and this is four, but I want to touch on it too. Similar to the closure reason, this player is trying to explore a different aspect of the character. Maybe the previous game focused on an older more experienced version of the character, and the player wants to explore the younger years. Maybe the player played up the brute before, but wants to play up the smarm and charm this time. Either way, the player wants to look at a new aspect of an old character.
As a GM, you want to talk to this player. Ask what they want different, and then give them the opportunity. You have something familiar here, yes. However, you also have that familiar thing acting in new, different, and likely interesting ways. That can be a very good thing for everyone.
Have you seen other reasons for this behavior? Do you have experience with it? Sound off in the comments below.