Tori sat at the head of the table behind her GM’s Screen. Today was the start of her new post-apocalyptic campaign and the group would start by generating characters.
Tori: Okay, what are you guys thinking of playing?
Marc: I want to play a scavenger that kitbashes vehicles and equipment.
Gina: I’m going to play a merchant with leadership skills.
Brandon: My guy is going to be a gladiator that fights in village arenas for money.
Tori: Okay, those sound like good concepts. What about you, Jimmy?
All other players, in unison: I’m going to be a badass loner with a katana!
Robin’s Laws of Good Gamemastering describes a Specialist as a player that always plays the same type of character. No matter what the genre or system, this player always adds the same signature characteristics to his characters. Even when forced to play something different, the Specialist will either work his signature characteristics back in (e.g. the shifty, back-stabbing “noble knight”) or grudgingly play the new concept with decidedly less enthusiasm.
Over the years I’ve heard plenty of GMs and players complain about Specialists. In my own circles, we really did have a player that would work a katana into every character that he could. I have another player that always wants to play a psychic. One player is a constant chaotic (always throwing in the monkey wrench when she could). Other players usually roll their eyes when the Specialist introduces her new character and often pre-empt the Specialist (“and let me guess, she’s a ninja”).
So what should you do with a Specialist?
On one hand, there are strong arguments to leave the Specialist alone. We all game to have fun and if being a psychic or wielding a katana makes the game fun for the Specialist then why take that away? Why force her to play something she doesn’t want to? As long as her character is a good contributing member of the party then what’s the harm? There is something to be said for allowing players to stick within their comfort zones.
On the other hand, there are strong arguments for breaking the Specialist out of his comfort zone. One is personal growth. Maybe the Specialist always creates a combat machine because he never tried, and would ostensibly enjoy, playing a negotiator (and perhaps his insistence on combat machines limits the scope of your adventures). Another is role ownership. If the Specialist always plays a priest, then no one else at the table (especially in small groups) will ever get to play a priest. Challenging the Specialist to play something different can also shake up and freshen the table dynamics, as your other players have likely gotten into the habit of treating the Specialist the same way in every campaign.
What say you? Do you have Specialists in your game? If so, do you tend to encourage them to play different roles or allow them to remain in their comfort zone? Does the type of Specialist or other factors weigh into your decisions?