Wednesday, May 10, 2017

A Reason To Adventure

One of my biggest pet peeves as a GM is PCs who don't have a reason for participating in the adventure. You've seen them around. You're running a Super Hero game and someone's looking to play someone who is trying to hide their powers and not get involved - even if it means people get hurt. You're running D&D and someone is looking to make a character who would never go into an old tomb looking for their fortune. You're looking to run Shadowrun and someone's looking to make a SINner with a dayjob who doesn't want to mess either up by doing something illegal. It sucks, and today I want to talk about it.

Why It Sucks
I understand the draw for these characters and why players make them. Sometimes it even happens on accident. Movies, books, and TV shows - and comics and videogames - are full of stories of reluctant heroes who don't want to get involved but are drawn in anyhow. Heck, "refusing the call" is part of the Hero's Journey. By having this character the player wants to have a reason for the character to get involved.

I say this so you know I understand. However, when it comes to table top RPGs it is a completely shitty thing to do. Why? Because it's not fair to the GM.

Think of it. The GM has to run the world, the NPCs, the adventure, and the whole game. They need to have a bunch of characters in mind. They need to have a plot and events going on with hooks to pull motivated characters in. They have to have the whole world running, and on top of that they now need to find some super special way to pull in this PC, overcome the inertia of a character setup to not go the way the game wants to go, and then not only that but also give them a reason to get involved in what is going on.

My Solution
I solved this problem in my games a couple years ago. My solution? You don't want to get involved in things, that's fine. Just don't expect me to give you screen time.

I'm very clear at the beginning of my games what I am looking to run. It is a discussion with the table. We all decided we were going to do a Teen Superhero story. Not a story about super powered teens, but a story about super powered teens trying to be heroes. That was the deal. That is what I set up. That is what you agreed to. So if you come to the table with a character whose powers are subtle and who doesn't want to get involved, and instead wants to hide their powers - even from the other PCs - I simply don't have time for you. I have 4-5 other people and a world to run a game for.

Your Responsibility
I look at it this way. The GM is responsible for the world outside of the PCs themselves. The players are responsible for the PCs. That responsibility includes having a reason to get involved in the type of game that is going on. If doing super heroes, that means playing someone who wants to be a hero. Running Shadowrun? That means making someone who is a shadowrunner. That's all you have to do.

Now, yes, the GM still has to meet you along the way. The world needs to have an on-ramp for the adventure and story that is going on. It's just your job to take that on ramp. If no one goes for it, then that's worth discussing. But if everyone else is trying to take the on ramp, and you're elsewhere trying to hide from that story...well, that's on you and it's not worth ruining the game for everyone else to accomodate you.

Long story short: make a character who wants to be part of the game. Not one who wants to avoid it.


  1. Oh yes, I've seen them. Usually the players of these PC's tend to think they can bend the group to revolve around them and only them. Who want the other players to beg them to stay with the group and expect the other PC's to follow their lead and obey their every command. Although I've been on the other side of the fence as well: a GM who failed to understand the need for a group to know what they were doing and whether there was any point to what we were doing at all. Don't get me wrong, I'm okay with messing around and doing random stuff, but it's less fun when you have a GM who railroads like crazy while the rails are completely invisible to the group and you keep running into invisible fences when you're trying to figure out what you're supposed to be doing. Suffice to say, once my PC started asking why we needed to go down a certain road, or ask why we were supposed to help a little girl who'd lost her teddy bear... the game imploded shortly after.

    Most of the campaigns I've played in are long-runners, and I have retired PC's because they were starting to question why they were adventuring. One notable example being the Fighter who got a steady job and a family and decided adventuring was no longer worth the risk. Looking back, the other players tried to convince me to keep playing that specific PC in a way very similar to what I just described above, as if I wanted the group to revolve around my PC. Except I decided I no longer wanted to play her as part of her characterization, and it took a lot of effort from my side to explain that to the other players. She would've gone on to become an NPC, except we changed to a different GM at the end of the campaign because of RL reasons.

    In my current campaign I expect the PC's to be willing to adventure as well, to have a reason to be together despite their different backgrounds and experiences. It's very similar to your solution, though I tend to use personal goals for the PC him/herself in order to keep them in the group. For example, the Cleric joined the group because an item of his had been stolen and the group could help him regain it. By the time he had found it again, he had been impressed by what the group was doing and decided to stick around. Had there been any chance the Cleric would've left after he found his item? From the PC's perspective: certainly. But the player enjoyed playing the PC and came up with reasons for the PC to stay of his own accord, after he had reached his goal. He didn't want to abandon his new friends, and it had gotten rather personal for him after the one who had stolen his item ended up going after an old friend of his.

    1. I will happily work with a player to help find reasons why they should be in the game and on the adventure. I tell them this, but it is on them to ask me if they need help otherwise I assume they have it and will tell me all about their character when they're ready.

      And retiring is fine. I actually love it when that happens because it gives you a sense of progress in the world - and that character can always show up again if need be for whatever reason. Maybe they heard something that can help the PCs or they have a tip on a new dungeon or something.

      As far as GMing goes, I also agree. If the whole party, or even multiple members of the party, aren't sure what they should be doing despite paying attention, that's a GM fail. You got one person standing strong against the current though, that's on the player. Exceptions do happen though, as do misunderstandings.

      I mean, just because Bob the Paladin is up to adventure, doesn't necessarily mean he's up to adventure by means of joining the evil cult and helping them steal stuff to smite the world.