Visiting the Archives: Roleplaying Pitfalls…

2008 October 27
by Vanir

Last year, our good buddy Vanir created a truly excellent thread on Roleplaying Pitfalls. I would like to present the first installment wherein he examines schtick and its effect on your roleplaying experience.

Originally Posted on 10/7/2007 by Vanir-

In a lot of gaming groups I’ve played in, it’s not an unusual occurrence for eyes to roll and mumbles of “damn it, not again” to be overheard when somebody decides to roleplay. Frequently, this is because the would-be roleplayer has decided to do something stupid and/or outrageous in the name of roleplaying. Having put much more emphasis on roleplaying in the last several years, I think I’ve figured out a major reason why — and how to minimize its effects.

When some people roleplay, it’s more like they’re following a list of unchangeable rules they’ve established for their character. They’re dedicated to “fighting evil” and that’s what they do no matter what.The worst example of this is the dreaded “attack on sight” mentality.

I’ve also seen a lot of people who think a particular concept would be funny and that’s their character’s schtick for the whole campaign. For instance, their character is afraid of rats so they’d make a big five minute deal about checking for rats under every snowbank if they were in the middle of the Arctic tundra. These kind of characters seem to me like the player is telling a joke that takes six months or more to tell — but the punchline still makes everybody roll their eyes. It wouldn’t be so bad if this was something this character does somewhat regularly in the course of roleplaying, but when it happens without fail, even during battle, it is murder-inspiringly annoying.

You’ve probably figured out by now that I’m not crazy about this particular brand of roleplaying. Either the characters just get irritating or the players do things that cause things to go horribly wrong “because that’s what their character would do”. Like charging a dozen orcs all by yourself with a first level wizard.

Of course, there are always the characters that you didn’t mean to end up this way. These are the ones that you’ve honestly set out to roleplay fully, but either the concept didn’t work out as well as you’d hoped or the setting changes or doesn’t allow you to do what you had planned. And you end up doing the same thing over and over and over and getting bored. Bat Loaf is a very good example of this — he was a ton of fun to play for the first 5-6 sessions. The problem with Bat was that there were many, many roleplaying opportunities well-suited for him in the beginning and it was fun because his misadventures would spill over into what the other players were doing and vice versa. As the story progressed these roleplaying encounters dried up in favor of Major Plot Events — but there was still an inn, booze, and women in every town we’d travel to. Eventually the cycle of “go to inn, get drunk and find chick, run away, occasionally Inspire Courage +2 in combat” got old. For everyone, since it meant splitting the party pretty much every single session. And it just got boring for me.

Intentional or not, the problem with schtick is that it eventually gets in the way. One-trick PC’s are either a direct hindrance to the game for everyone, or they just aren’t fun anymore after awhile.

The Cure

I think schtick comes from three sources: lack of imagination, laziness, and an inability to sense danger. A little effort goes a long way when making your character. And the reason the other players get irritated when a Schticky player does things is because he’s not playing the same game they are anymore. He’s playing his own and doesn’t care about the consequences for everyone else. Which makes them want to hurt him.

Here’s a few ways to avoid personal bodily injury:

  • Well-Developed Characters
    Well-developed backstory and character motivations and schtick don’t mix. They cannot exist together. A well-developed character with a frequent quirk is fine – it’s just a personality trait and doesn’t define the character. The difference? A one-trick PC is that same quirk armed with a battleaxe.
  • Acknowledge That Your Character Has Intelligence
    Your character REALLY hates orcs. Your character is also, in most cases, an experienced warrior. They know it’s dumb to face a dozen orcs alone. Instead of attacking them all, think of strategies. You might even use (gasp) TEAMWORK. Or decide that you could do more damage later if you live to fight another day. Most one-trick PC’s are roleplayed as if their INT was about 6 or 7. Their INT scores are probably much higher, which means they wouldn’t think in such simplistic terms as “ORC! BOB SMASH NOW!”. Act smarter than that, and make your PC’s act smarter than that.
  • Change Things Up
    Nothing says your PC can’t change if it’s not working as planned. Hell, an emotional crossroads makes for a good roleplaying excuse. Incidentally, that’s how I saved Bat Loaf from one-trick PC hell — I married him off, got him some new abilities, and had him start a bardic rock academy / militia. All of a sudden the old boring stuff became backstory for me to build on and he’s fun again.

Hopefully, this will significantly decrease the number of eye-rolls at your gaming table. Have you had problems with Schtick in your gaming group? We’d love to hear them, and how you deal with it.

In the next installment of Roleplaying Pitfalls, I’ll talk about another issue plaguing today’s modern roleplayer: the dreaded Spotlight Hog!

Until next time….

<evil laughter>

Oh wait, wrong column. My bad!

2 Responses leave one →
  1. Elf permalink
    October 8, 2007

    When I was running a campaign there was a paladin who was a little, shall we say, simple. He had good intentions, of course, but he would often say the first thing that came to mind, plot or party safety be damned. This wasn’t a bad thing, as it was quite amusing at times, when he would decide to say ‘hi’ to the big bad boss instead of hiding, or similar events. It was particularly amusing when he tried to detect undead (not detect evil, as this was a World of Warcraft paladin) whenever he remembered he could do it, whatever the situation, including when talking to NPCs, but when he actually encountered a ghost it didn’t even occur to him to do so.

    But there was a limit. When he wanted to run forwards to introduce himself to what was obvious danger, or blurt out something that would obviously harm the plot, but both of which were within his character, the party started to become frustrated. It would have been possible for the player to reign in his urges, but then the character would be compromised, and despite everything it was quite well-defined.

    As the GM at the time, I decided that I needed to take responsibility, and realise that just because a character says he does something it doesn’t mean he actually gets to do it. It’s not a case of whoever says something first gets his way, after all. When the player said he was going to say something or run off somewhere, I would let the game pause briefly and announced ‘Chaps, Metrius looks like he is going to say something stupid. Are you going to let him?’, or ‘Metrius is looking like he’s about to run off. Are you doing anything about that?’ This gave the other players the chance to put their hand over the paladin’s mouth, or grab his shoulders to stop him, serving the purpose of letting the game continue as desired with the benefit of having the paladin’s character intact.

    Of course, if the other party members were slow or didn’t care, the paladin could still do what he wanted.

  2. CourtFool permalink
    December 9, 2008

    For me, this is far less common than the players who treat role playing like a tactical wargame. Perhaps it is because I am generally the drama queen. While I do not play my characters as stupid, I do make an attempt to avoid using player knowledge, often to the utter contempt of my fellow table-mates.

    I agree that one trick PCs are often a symptom of immature (nothing to do with age, merely gaming experience) players. I have even seen veteran players (often reforming wargamers) who when they finally decide branching out and putting some personality into their characters decide that Str 18/00 Int 3 is the only true way to role play.

    I think it is important to remember that your fun at the table does not trump everyone else’s fun. Identify what the others (including the GM) want out of the game and find common ground. Build a three dimensional character that works well with the other characters or at least does not annoy the other players.

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