Every so often I get the urge to run a game around very tight themes – a game where all the characters are thieves in a thieves guild, a game where all the players are members of a military organization with specific ranks and duties, a modern game where intrigue and politics rule the day, not pure combat, etc. Something with a definite, described theme with information provided to the players about what type of game I’m intending to run. Sometimes I’ve even done weeks and weeks of planning, writing it all out and setting up a wiki, providing a new player packet, or some level of over-preparedness to make sure that I can keep the game’s concept strong and consistent.
Yeah, that sometimes works out. More often than not something throws a monkey wrench into the game, and a fair amount of the time that wrench is one player or another breaking the theme with their character concept. Someone absolutely wants to play a fighter, not a thief. One player has been dying to play this game system, and no one else has run it or is likely to and they’ve always wanted to play this one concept, so c’mon…. please?
I’ve seen this occur in many games I’ve run with different groups and different players, and I’ve seen it in games where someone else has run and I’ve just been one of the players. When I’ve been the GM, I’ve usually caved and let that player break the theme just a bit and allowed something that didn’t quite work, and I modified my game. Then, that one little crack broke the game into a hundred little pieces. That is what usually happened when someone else wanted to run a theme game as well. Whatever the game was, it was still fun, but it wasn’t the game intended. It always seemed like the Game Master just didn’t want to limit the players in creating their concepts. I know I didn’t. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately as I prepare to run a themed game in a month or so. Should I be more strict in limiting the party in order to make it fit the theme? Usually, I prefer to let the players’ fun trump my grand ideas, but in the current game I’m playing in the theme got trampled on in the same way I’ve seen it happen in mine. It’s still fun, just a very different beast from what was originally proposed. I don’t want to see that happen to my next game, but I have such a hard time quashing an excited player.
So, if you set out to run a themed game, how much do you limit the party to keep to the theme? Would you tell a player that they couldn’t play a concept? Would you do it even if it became a big argument? Does your mind change whether or not the player is a friend who you game with all the time or just a casual acquaintance? How important is it to you to keep the theme of the game?