My grandfather was as stubborn as they come. Mulish doesn’t even begin to describe how obstinate he could be. It didn’t matter if you showed him documented evidence that he was wrong. He just wouldn’t change his mind. That said, he was thoughtful, caring, and played board games with his grandsons at any hour of the day, so I’m not complaining. Everyone knows someone like this, and most gamers know someone who roleplays like this in their games.
I call this person a Roleplaying Mule. This person settles on a character in a unique manner. The RM commits to a vision in his head and flat-out refuses to deviate from it. The vision must be preserved at all costs … even if doing so means that the rest of the table suffers.
Before I go any further, let me say for the record that I’m a big fan of a well-roleplayed character. I enjoy coming up with my character’s personality even more than I like picking his feats and powers. And I’m a power gamer, so picking feats and powers is like picking which cupcake to have—they’re all so delicious! Finding a hook, a role to play, so to speak, is great, but it’s important to remember that the game is a cooperative experience. You have your fellow players to consider.
The RM doesn’t do this. He makes deliberate character choices that can hamper other characters at the table. Playing a character to extremes can be fun, and a little interparty conflict can provide hours of entertainment. One of my favorite characters frequently misconstrued nearly everything his allies said, but I learned to watch that I don’t cross the fine line between occasionally-irritating-in-an-amusing way to outright infuriating.
Examples of the RM abound. One version of the character pursues his goals so single-mindedly that he ignores everything that anyone else at the table is trying to accomplish. He always want to turn left, even if the rest of the party is headed right. Another is the player who builds a character in direct opposition to another character. The “I hate elves” RM falls into this camp, made worse when he does so knowing he’s joining a party with an elf character in it. Another RM deliberately feigns ignorance to the detriment of his party. “I don’t think my character will understand the message, so I’m just not going to relay it.”
But the worst examples of RMs, as far as I’m concerned, are the adventurers who have no right adventuring at all (“My character’s an agoraphobe and never leaves the house”) or who are sociopaths (“I kill the paladin in his sleep” or “I steal the wizard’s gold when he’s not looking”). Why are these people adventurers? Who would want to hang out with them? If a player can’t come up with a healthy reason why her character is palling around with the party, odds are good he’s in it for the wrong reason.
All of these players typically fall back on the defense of, “that’s what my character would do.” There are variants: “I don’t think my character would know that.” Or “This is the character I made.” They boil down to the same excuse, and regardless of the rationale, it’s lame.
This is a cooperative game. Neither players nor characters should interact like obnoxious teenagers playing Halo. The people you’re gaming with are friends, and basic rules of consideration still apply.
Sometimes, the best thing for the game is to actually act out of character. Just like in real life, sometimes we’re faced with a situation that forces us to behave in an uncharacteristic way. Just as we all have choices to make, and sometimes we give up our preferences for another, we should follow the same principles in game. Stubbornly sticking to your guns when it comes to your character’s personality can end up robbing another player—or maybe all of them—of their chance to have a good time. If you’re an extreme roleplayer, keep that in mind next time that defensive thought, “Well that’s what my character would do” springs to your mind. Maybe it is, but … maybe not this time.
How about your game? Tell us about your favorite oddball character at firstname.lastname@example.org. We’d love to hear from you!