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Geek Proud, GeekOut.

Dear Dungeon Master – MarySue

“Slightly fatigued with Mary-Sues” of Liverpool writes:

Whenever I start up a game, or try to join an RP online (Star Trek or otherwise), almost every other player seems to want to break the boundaries of class or race to make their character ‘the exception to the rule’. I don’t mean multiclassing (which of course also happens) but more like “Yeah I’m a Vulcan, but this Vulcan has emotions”, or “I’m a high elf who’s actually a dark elf”, or “I’m a paladin, but I’m a pirate bard warmonger. Oh yeah, they deity I’m devoted to is the lawful good pantheon head”. Even stuff like “Oh we’re doing normal D&D? Cool, then I’d like to play a half-orc, half-Aasimar barbarian, and my character path is that I’m the son of a divine being and my powers will slowly develop as time goes on”.

The question is: do you experience this as well? Does it piss you off? Do you find that characters like that are actually interesting?

Also how do you deal with it? Do you kill one of their legs and raise it from the dead? (I know it happens, don’t try and tell me it doesn’t!)

And final question – do you find that characters that are rolled within the worldly norms (Sun elf bladesinger in forgotten realms/good old fashioned Barbarian etc) actually work better and give people more of a chance to be exceptional by playing the story rather than trying to force it at creation stage?

Hello Slightly

The exiled drow rejected by the society he knew and unable to be accepted by the society he chooses to fight for is not an unheard of cliche, it might well be that there was a time when one could hardly move through a game shop without stumbling across a Drizzt Do’Urden or variation thereof, and while the hobby is supposed to be about imagination, and while heroes are supposed to be exceptional examples of their kind… yeah, yeah, there is a definite trend towards “I’m an X but Y” where in the written lore the two variables are – not mutually exclusive, but outlandish and absurd.

Now there’s nothing wrong with playing a quirky character, and there’s nothing wrong with playing an outcast, happy people with cushy lives don’t go out adventuring… unless they do, you have to play the guy who got bored with life and took up the sword and fireballs at some point.

For example, you can be the pirate paladin, hells, I’ve literally just done it, an enforcer of the honour amongst thieves, share your loot, say nothing to the cops, and if you don’t play nice with your other underhanded brethren expect to be smote in your sleep (I can do that, my god said I could). But there is a balance to be struck between quirky and different and wacky and outlandish. Fantasy is supposed to be outlandish, so is sci-fi to an extent, but there is a difference between a Ferengi whose bad at business and decides to join Star Fleet, and a Ferengi who hates greed and money grubbing behaviour and lives like a peasant out of choice, that Ferengi would be stoned to death, like the guy who decided to roll that character. That character would be a pariah, that character should be a pariah, and that’s how the world would treat them, and that player would have to come to terms with that before they sit down or have a miserable time at the table.

Giving your character a place in the world, ties to nations, loyalty to factions, all offer potential for characters to be part of the world, opening avenues of role play and adventure, not to mention having allies may prove essential if a character is a loner and outcast. A character with family is – of course – asking for more trouble than the half-klingon-half-tiefling warlock of Salvatore, but it’s more dramatic and awesome trouble than it is painful and contrived awesome. It is more epic to have to leap to your death to save your estranged brother than it is to have everyone in every town you enter ask what the hell you are.

Hybrid characters are relatively easy to dismiss as a concept, you can play the pure biology card: “the pairing doesn’t work, no offspring can come of the union” or in the case of divinely or fiend-touched bloodlines, one lineage dominates, but if your player can present you with a well-reasoned, well balanced race that fits the world then by all means let it through… but let’s be honest here, it sounds like that’s not the kind of player we’re talking about here.

I for one have been lucky, I only rarely have to deal with such characters and they are usually only in single-game adventures, the kind that you want the obscene and ridiculous concepts so you can squeeze as much ridiculousness out of three hours as possible, however, might I suggest requesting from players that they either:

  • Follow guidelines to character creation, such as making membership to a faction mandatory, like Star Fleet, or a Ravnica guild as examples, or excluding certain races. It may seem harsh at first but given justification you’d be surprised how many players can get behind “the plan”.
  • Have new players pitch two or three character concepts. Clearly you’re dealing with some excessively creative people… maybe too creative… and giving them that brief will let them explore a few ideas, while allowing you to pick a selection that you think will gel together best.
  • Talk to the players once they’ve given their characters, and impress upon them the hard life they face as their chosen character, and ask if they’re willing to face that played out in game.

If, after all of the above, they still can’t play your way, clearly, yours is not the group for them.

 

And for the record, it was both legs, and it was one time! He was fine! He was walking around on them for months of game time with surprisingly little issue. He just spent a lot on replacing leg-wear.


If you have a question… ask it! I might even answer in this ridiculously long and rambling format. I’m not promising to turn this into a series, but when if it happens, it happens, and I’m perfectly fine with it. Other people have made a series of “Dear Dungeon Master” letters, but don’t let that stop you coming to me… this is fun!

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3 responses

  1. I’ve definitely been in a campaign with quite an awkward person before, they wrote pages of backstory including things like being the leader of a powerful organisation of magic users and marrying a dragon before helping to fight off a large demonic invasion… for a level 1 wizard. Other than that there hasn’t been anything that’s annoyed me in the way you mentioned other than perhaps this one player that changes up the class between campaigns but always plays like a rogue. I have noticed though people that make backstories and characters like the ones you mentioned also tend to be the people that want to be the answer to everything in the session as well.

    Personally I like to start with a very simplistic backstory and character (definitely no hybrids) that I build up throughout the campaign so you don’t end up with those awkward cases where someone claims to have done something in their backstory but nat 1’s a knowledge check in session and yes I’ve also met someone that tried to say they did a tonne of stuff in their backstory in an attempt to barely roll int checks. I also love to make my characters unique but in plausible ways like an anti-hero paladin that abused the oath of vengeance to get away with things (just like you mentioned “my god said i could” lol).

    Liked by 1 person

    March 21, 2019 at 12:17 pm

    • Oh I do like the player who is the centre of attention, the chosen one, the crux of the campaign, buddy if I wanted a “lead character” I’d appoint one.

      The “My God said I could character” was Pally 2/Rogue 1, and was called Staircase because one time he threw a guy down a staircase four times. He did it because the guy wouldn’t pay for a job that was done, a theft of documents. Nice and easy, not a saviour, barely a hero, but a champion for the honest crook. Nice, easy, fun!

      But I’m in the same boat, I don’t encounter too many PC MarySues, I’ve been lucky, but it’s also part of why I don’t play online which is where “Slightly” is finding most of his problems.

      Liked by 1 person

      March 21, 2019 at 3:48 pm

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