Oh no, not one of THOSE!

There is one thing I can say on the internet in game spaces that I know will garner immediate eye rolls and groans of “oh, you’re one of those players.” All I have to say is, “I play kender.” Visions of spotlight hogging, thieving, obnoxious, self absorbed players dance into everyone’s minds like sugar plums the night before Christmas. Yet, when I take the way that I play a kender at the table and apply it to a different character trope, like a magical girl who’s a little hyper, or a hengeyokai rogue, folks have fun and no one bats an eye. There are lots of tropes that fall into this category — the lawful stupid paladin, the lone badass, a Gungan. Sure, they can be tricky to work with, but they’re just as likely to be a fantastic rainmaker style character. So why do we assume that a particular race or class is at fault for bad play experiences when we are all at the table to play together?

You want to play a what now?

There are several assumptions people make when you say you want to play an “annoying” character:

  • You will not share the spotlight with everyone else at the table.
  • You will take actions without consideration for what the rest of the party would like to do.
  • You will steal from your party members/specifically work against your party in some way.
  • You will use this character as an excuse to be a jerk.

Unfortunately there are people who play like this anyway, without regard for their friends at the table, and they are disproportionately drawn to the kind of races/characters who will give them the excuse to do so. If that has lead you to ban kender from your games, more power to you; I understand.

I’m Shellzy Oakjumper, Very Pleased to Meet You!

 I played a kender in my very first D&D game, before I knew any better.  
I played a kender in my very first D&D game, before I knew any better. The campaign lasted two years of weekly play, kender and all. While at first I suspect I was a bit problematic, we soon found the rhythms necessary to keep everyone happy at the table — and considering that it was many of our first time playing, there was a learning curve for everyone involved anyway. Soon enough, little Shellzy Oakjumper was the fearless face of the party, doing the talking and Charisma-ing and definitely all the sneaking. Playing her meant feeling my way through some specific social dynamics to make it all work.

  • No stealing from party members (learned that the hard way…I was young!)
  • Letting other people take the lead whenever it made sense
  • Letting my party stop me if they ever didn’t agree with my actions…or begging them to if I hadn’t expected them to let me go through with something
  • Talking like a kender — a lot, in a rush — but only when it was my turn (and never ever expecting to finish a story about my Uncle Trapspringer, which only got me in trouble when they actually did want me to finish the story)

You Must Have Dropped It! Can I play It?

As with any edgier gaming idea, playing with a crazy race/class/persona requires the whole table to be onboard, and for the players and GM to trust each other enough to create the sense and feeling of a character without it taking over the entire game.

Although I lucked out the first time I played, you will have a much better experience if you plan it from the start. Communication, as always, is the key for being successful at the table. With good communication, those races that everyone loves to hate can add depth and forward momentum to a game. Here are some things to sort out before your game starts:

  • Make it known that when you do stupid things, you are okay with and expect to be stopped. This is the RPG equivalent of being an actor who is planning to be interrupted but will keep the sentence going until their partner jumps in.
  • Make it known that as a player you are happy to work with the group to make decisions. If your Gungan curiously starts wandering off down a side path, use the same expectation as above that if the party has decided on a different direction, you expect to be dragged back by the back of your shirt.
  • Create clear expectations about what is acceptable in your party. Can your kender “borrow” things from other party members, or just NPCs? Can your lawful stupid paladin take physical action against a party member they think is being evil or are they limited to vocalizing their displeasure? Sorting this stuff out before the game starts means you can find in-game reasons for the boundaries if necessary.
  • Have a reason to be in the group. If you are the kind of character who is just going to brood and wants to do something totally different, make sure you have a reason to play the same game as everyone else, even if in character it’s reluctantly. Don’t make your party talk you into every single action they want to take as a group. Express your reluctance in ways that don’t slow down the game, like muttering to yourself.

As a player, there are some things you also need to be okay with going in that won’t really effect anyone else at the table.

 Just because your character is always talking doesn’t mean that you should always be talking, player. 

  • Be okay with taking the consequences for your actions in game if you aren’t stopped from doing something stupid or self harmful. They may see you walking towards that trap and decide they don’t feel like babysitting that day. That doesn’t mean in character you should not take that action, but be cheerful about taking your lumps.
  • Share the spotlight. Just because your character is always talking doesn’t mean that you should always be talking, player. When it’s your turn, give the feeling and impression of not stopping, but always stop when it’s time for someone else to talk. Don’t linger on your brooding ways at the expense of everyone else having a moment to take action, or, paladin, even if something is evil, sometimes let someone else react first.
  • You may have to jump out of character to differentiate that you, the player, are onboard with group actions or do not have a strong opinion. This is part of clarifying that you will not be offended or hurt as a player if your lone wolf gets plunked on a horse sitting backwards glowering while you all go off to do a thing.
  • Don’t slow down the game. Pick your moments to express the character and give that flavor to your play, but don’t make it every single minute and every single decision. If no one is jumping in, ask another player if they would be comfortable doing x to stop you (“would it be okay if you snagged my topknot and dragged me away from the display of shiny rings before I get there?” or “I’m going to do this! Please stop me…”). Don’t interfere with the game running smoothly.

So…Can I Play a Kender At Your Table?

The thing that makes character types that people despise work in games is a player who is extra careful not to be a jerk and very attuned to the table around them. Playing this kind of character requires better than your average dungeon crawl communication, but when done properly they can be a memorable addition to any campaign. Do you have any experience playing the characters everyone loves to hate? Have they been in your game? Did it buck the trend or were they just as bad as you expected?