When did "roleplaying" become a suicide pact?

Some players seem to come up with an idea for a character and then want to stick with that idea through hell and high water — being ‘true’ to the idea that they originally generated the character becomes the way in which they ‘are’ that character. So, before hand, the player might decide that the concept of their character is that the character is an elf hater. They might generate some sort of backstory where the corpses of their parents were found riddled with elvish arrows, making the character a kind of Charles Bronson: Deathwish’ guy who just hates elves. Should an elf show up in the game, the player will have his/her character react with hatred, attacking or refusing to cooperate with any elf (whether NPC of PC).

Unfortunately, the player will argue that his/her character’s maniacal hatred of elves will allow no other action. If objections are raised, the player will say, “But I am just playing my character.”

The problem with this approach to roleplaying(at least from my point of view), is that it tends to make all interactions with elves ‘about’ that one player character’s pathological hatred of elves. Any time an elf steps into the game, the player will grab center stage by acting on the object of their character’s wrath. Unfortunately, this seldom seems to leave much room for other players to ‘play’ whenever an elf is around because the violent dislike of elves ‘built into’ the one player’s character will preclude all other action on the part of the group.

I would suggest that generating a character with an impossible personality trait (like an unreasonable hatred of elves) can serve as a ‘poison pill’ for any hope of cooperative play. Instead of just being a ‘quirk’ of one player’s character, the player’s choice can become that which all of the action revolves around and the rest of the players need to either spend their time making sure the player character in question avoids elves or be content to having every elf NPC or PC get hacked down or driven away. My suspicion is that creating a player character that, by design, cannot cooperate with the other player characters is perhaps a passive-agressive power move on the part of the player. He or she selects a role that insures that the action will almost always revolve around them.

5 Comments on “When did "roleplaying" become a suicide pact?”

  1. Higgipedia says:

    A friend of mine once told me that every player “wants to sack the quarterback.” Few players *don't* want their characters to shine. What happens is that some players either aren't confident in themselves or their referee. An extreme character type gives some players a crutch to use to get over some of the “tougher” parts of roleplaying.

  2. Jeff Rients says:

    “Yeah, well I was just playing my character when I killed your elf hater in his sleep.”

  3. Mr. Chappell says:

    It's interesting that AD&D/1E had a racial preferences section in the PH, almost hard-wiring in racial tension among party members. In the LOTR one of the core themes was how different races put aside their prejudices to unite against a common evil, as embodied in Legolas and Gimli's quips toward on another.

    I love characters that are flawed or have quirks. It keeps the game from being just a series of stale archetypes working in tactical situations like robots. Also it can be great fodder for banter among the roleplayers who are “role”-playing, not just “roll” playing.

    I've come to the conclusion that their are three kinds of quirks or flaws:

    1) Minor ones that create flavor but don't disrupt the game or the the group dynamics.

    2) Negligible ones that, if a certain situation arises, COULD dramatically pull the game in a different direction, potentially at the cost of disrupting the trajectory of the story (for better or worse) and creating ill will within the group dynamic.

    and 3) Quirks or flaws that, if taken to their logical end, are outright HOSTILE the game. They derail the adventures everyone is emotionally invested in, break down any semblance of a cohesive group dynamic, and will more than likely change the game to being “all about character X.” It's just poor gamesmanship, where the one player's ego of being “true to character” is taking a higher value than the ability to play well with others.

    As a seasoned player, I know I can sometimes become bored with the standard tropes and so, to entertain myself, create fringe characters that push the limits and try new approaches.
    It's likely an attempt to sniff out a new, unlikely heroic personality, to express one's individual creativity, or to really challenge the limits of what the game can, or should be.

    The challenge for me personally is to find that line where my creativity is channeled toward making the game BETTER for everyone involved, not worse.

    This, of course, goes as much for how the DMs create and utilize NPCs as well as the players. If “being true” to the NPCs makes the game not enjoyable, than the DM is in error just as much as the players would be doing the same.

  4. Carl says:

    The other thing that this approach to role-playing ignores is how multi-faceted personalities really are. Just because you are an elf-hater doesn't mean that you have to lose self control and go into a murderous rage. Are you a berserker or an elf-hater?

    Properly role-played, the elf-hate could manifest itself in all kinds of ways without derailing the game or making the players actions take center stage. The easiest of course would be to fall to the back and turn away when encountering elves, because of emotions that threaten to boil over.

    Nobody wants to screw their comrades over in real life because of past baggage that they carry around, and in many cases, people go to great lengths to CONCEAL that past baggage.

    A great RPG scene would be the party talking amongst themselves after the encounter with the elvish sentinels out in the woods, and at that point the “elf-hater” could reveal what a struggle it was to maintain calm, and perhaps re-cast the scene that just happened through the eyes of prejudice and attempt to convince the other party members that the elves had evil intentions.

    That sounds like fun to me, but perhaps I am a nut.

  5. 1d30 says:

    I gotta say, first thing I thought of when you described the player aggressively sucking by making every elf encounter about him and antagonizing the elf party members, was this:

    The whole damn campaign is now about elves. Every person who you want to befriend will now be an elf. Every person you need something from and can't just kill him, BAM elf. The only available patrons are elves. Your superior officer in a wartime setting? Elf, of course. I know that sounds pissy, but it's either that or tell him his character concept is not appropriate for the campaign.

    Saying your PC is a goblin-hater is fine, because the PCs would probably be fighting goblins anyway and no PC would be a goblin.

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