I was lucky enough to be invited into a friend's online D&D game about a year or so back. The game is run by a friend of a friend, and said DM is new to being behind the screen so is focusing on running pre-made adventures and campaigns. Currently we're doing Tyranny of the Dragon Queen, but as we're more than halfway through we've begun some light discussion of Out of the Abyss. The fun thing is, Out of the Abyss apparently has an interesting hitch in it: for the game to work, the PCs have to be interested in returning to save the Underdark, after a particularly nasty time down there. Today I want to talk about that, and what that conversation means for all games, not just people looking to run Out of the Abyss.
Responsibility for Involvement
The crux of the conversation here is about requirements of play, and deciding just who is responsible for making sure that a PC has reason to be involved in what is going on. Depending on where you look you'll find people arguing that this is for the GM to do, or on the player. I agree with the latter. If something is important for the whole campaign, the onus then is on the player to have a reason to be involved. However, if this importance isn't communicated before characters are made, then it is on the GM.
For example, if I say I want to run a super hero game where the PCs are teens newly awakened to their powers and on the run from a Government institution trying to capture them for research, and you want to play a Robin or Nightwing esque character then it is on you if I refuse to let the character into the game for not fitting, or find that your character has no direct reason for involvement in the plot as you have no powers. It was communicated what the game was going to be about, you made something not covered by that, and that is on you.
On the other hand, if I just say I'm running a super hero game and approve your Robin analogue and you find the game has no hooks for you. Well then, that'd be on me. By not sharing the core of the campaign I forfeited the right to put the onus on you to make an appropriate character. Furthermore, by approving your character, I've further stated your character fits into the plan.
The Trap New GMs Fall Into
The trap I see a lot of new GMs fall into comes from not wanting to say no. GM advice is full of addages like "never say no" but what's dropped is that as the GM you should never say no to a character in play. Before the game starts, part of your job is making sure that the characters being made fit into the world you are using and work for the adventures you are planning.
So often I've seen GMs - and even myself - bend over backwards to try and include, motivate, or otherwise hitch a character into a plot when the character in question has no interest in that plot and was in fact designed for an entirely different experience. A character who wants nothing to do with having super powers in a game set up for everyone to already be practicing super heroes is problematic, and can completely kill a GM's interest in a game - I know, it's happened to me.
The solution to this problem though, is as said above: communication. You may feel silly telling your players that you want them to make characters who are already active and willing Shadowrunners for your Shadowrun game, but starting that conversation lets people know that you're game isn't going to be about how people become Shadowrunners, but rather what happens once they are. If someone wants to do their "fall to the shadows" at the table, they can talk to you about it. But if they try to just slip it in, you're completely in your rights to just say "no" to the character or leave them twiddling their thumbs as other people have fun because they want to be a wage slave SINner and thus aren't going to the bar to meet Johnson and get involved in the mission going down.
Even The Best Laid Plans
The catch to all this is all these plans can still fail. You can say no to character concept after character concept that doesn't fit your game. You can talk at length with your Players as a group and individuals about what the game is going to be about, and what they need to be willing/motivated to do for it to work. You can do all this, and come to a hitch when mid story the character just doesn't want to do it.
This is one of the fun - if challenging - aspects of Role Play. Characters develop over time. The plan you have for who the character is going into Session 1, and who said character is coming out of Session 3 are very seldomly the same character. Why? Because as you interact with the table, the world, and the other players the character grows and changes. As the character goes through adventures, combats, and XP growth they will develop as people as well as as stat blocks.
And that development may come down that this character made for a game about people without powers saving people with powers comes out to not want to do that anymore. They're spent. They're done. They hate super powers and what trying to help the ingrates with them have cost them personally.
When that happens it's ok. It's also worth a conversation with the GM. Maybe things can be salvaged. Maybe it's time that character hangs up their spurrs. Either way, a player shouldn't be stuck with a character that no longer wants to go with the flow of the game, and the GM shouldn't be stuck with a PC trying to derail their game just by existing. So talk it out. Come to a solution. Even if it's a remade character.
TL;DR for GMs
1. Talk out your game and the high level needs/expectations it has for what PCs work for it.
2. Don't let in PCs that don't gel with 1, unless you've had a long talk with the player and you're both 100% good with what it means.
3. Even then, maybe say no to that other character.
TL;DR for Players
1. Make a character that will work with the game your GM is trying to run.
2. In the event your PC grows in such a way they no longer work with the game, talk to your GM about it.