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Hot Button: Are Characters Cool Just Because Players Say They Are?
Posted By John Arcadian On March 2, 2012 @ 12:54 am In Hot Buttons | 22 Comments
I’ve come across this phenomenon a few times as a Game Master, and it has always presented a new and interesting challenge in how to resolve it. I recently came across it again, so I figured I would write it up as a hot button and see what our Gnome Stew community has to say about it. Picture this scenario:
Player: Ok. I’ve got my character all set. He is a badass who used to work for the mafia. He left in a blaze of glory and took out 50 of them. He’s known as Invincible Joe, but his real name is Chuck Van Damme. Nothing flusters him and he’s never been defeated. I statted him up at first level like you asked, but that is his backstory…
Game Master: Ok, remember it is a low level game. So you’ll still have to roll.
The First Session Gets Underway, and then a problem occurs.
Player: The guy should be cowering before me! I’m Invincible Joe! This guy should know who I am.
Game Master: Well, you didn’t get the reputation feat, you aren’t in your home city where your name might be known just because of your backstory, and you still haven’t rolled to see if you can intimidate him.
Player: But my character is te uber!!!!! I shouldn’t have to roll!!!
Ok, so that is a dramatic (very dramatic) reenactment, but what do you do when a player builds their character to be awesome and assumes that alone makes it so.
I’m a believer in playing up to character paradigms. If the player has designed a character to be a tough-as-nails ex mafia enforcer, then I’ll generally work with that and play it out. But then there are the times when the player just isn’t playing the character that way at all. The character is supposed to be a badass, but it just isn’t clicking with how the player is doing it. A big component of roleplaying games is getting to be someone we really aren’t in real life, but how far should you go as a Game Master to enable the character? There is a fine line between helping a player enjoy his character and creating a problem.
Should you let Invincible Joe blow over a no-name NPC to get some information they would have given up anyways? Should you do it to help enforce the character concept? What happens when the player expects that to be the case when something important is actually on the line? The player might expect their character’s inherent awesomeness to keep up. They didn’t have to roll before, why should they now? Other players who have more toned down concepts might take a bit of umbrage at the “gimme gimme” nature of Invincible Joe, but more so at the play style and the player behind it.
This isn’t always a problem, but it is when expectations aren’t the same across the board. The expectation on the problem player’s part is that Invincible Joe will blaze through like Awesome McBadass and the NPCs, situations, and rolls will all fall into place, despite what the Game Master, other players, or scenario had in mind.
Depending on which game you are playing, Invincible Joe might get to be an over-the top badass just because he says he is, but not every game uses that style of roleplaying. You also have to factor in the expectations of the other players and what type of challenges they are facing.
This is a very tough question, and the major reason this is a hot button article. How do YOU handle it? This is a common situation in the gaming world, and there are many different ways to deal with it. Sometimes you talk with the player to try to smooth over the issue, sometimes you let the rolling deflate their expectations a bit, sometimes you encourage the good aspects of their character, sometimes nothing works. This is a very situational problem, but one ripe for discussion.
So, how do you handle it when a player expects their character to be cool just because they say they are?
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