Space Orcs and Ninja Gnomes

This week we get back to some more Roleplaying fun time:

Sometimes when I am preparing a campaign for a game one of my players will pitch a character at me that doesn’t fit in game or at least I think will not fit.  How can I let the player know in a way that doesn’t discredit their idea as a whole but lets them know that it isn’t right for my game?  My players are clever and creative and can spin a yarn as to “why” they should be allowed to play their character idea.  How do I set them straight?


As DMs, we have a constant struggle between keeping the players happy, keeping ourselves happy, and staying true to our story.  Whenever something threatens any one of these we have a potential issue.  Generally, when an issue arises I try and blame it on someone else. Usually this fails, but it’s always worth a try.  The problem you’ve laid out has its hand in all three of these issues, and ideally we need to try and balance them to make the campaign run well, and be fun for everyone.

I’ve said time and again that I like to give my players a lot of leeway with their creativity.  Most players I’ve known get the most pleasure out of creating a really great, interesting PC.  Sometimes this leads to really bizarre and strange things (like time traveling Orcs from Jupiter) and sometimes it leads to epicness. 

When a player approaches you with a character idea that seems a bit off, before you decide, “No, that won’t work,” mull things over for a bit, and think about how much extra effort and work you’re willing to put in (which for me depends on how much beer my players bring me.  As a side note, every good DM should demand tribute be brought to every session, in the form of whatever pleases you most.  This really encourages players to view you with the respect and authority you should be commanding). 

There are two basic reasons a PC might not fit into the campaign:

1) The character is out of place/time
2) The class/race doesn’t exist in your world

There are plenty of other reasons that could come up, but I’ve found these to be the most common.  There are some easy steps we can take when faced with these problems, the first of which should be to see how flexible your player is feeling.  If it’s a class/race issue, why not discuss similiar but different alternatives (they want a Gnome Ninja, but you don’t want Ninjas in your campaign, so would they be content with a Monk?).

Occasionally players will acquiesce easily (particularly the weak-willed, which you can recognize by the high quality of their tribute).  If they don’t want to budge, explain your position.  If you make them understand that you’ve got an amazing campagin idea and that they will not be disappointed, you might have more luck.  If you promise them all sorts of epicness they’ll be more likely to give in.  It also helps to promise them a chance to play their idea in a future campaign.

A really stupid PC idea: Half-Orc Bard

Some players are much more stubborn and persistent; the kind that send you emails and texts, and call you at 2:00 am with a new argument for why their PC should be allowed.  The kind that won’t leave you alone until they win the argument.  These players are much tougher to deal with, particularly because they tend to be excellent at formulating arguments.

When these players get going, we should ask oursleves: how good is their argument?  If it makes sense, consider giving in.  Let them have their way, so long as it doesn’t throw things off for you too much.  On the other hand, if things are going to really screw up your campaign (like out of place/time PCs), you may want to be firmer.  But before you lay down the law consider some creative rewriting.

Our players’ ideas can really lend a lot to our own campaign and story ideas.  I’ve had plenty of stories that I altered to fit in some amazing PC backstories (I always do this to some degree, but I’m talking pretty big rewrites).  Why not have a character that’s actually from some alternate plane or dimension?  Or a character that was sent forward in time by some weird temporal anamoly created by a Sorcerer’s experiement gone wrong?  They can add a whole new level to the story that can make for interesting encounters and NPCs.

You can also try turning the players against each other.  If you convince your other players that their fellow player’s idea is terrible, you’ll be that much more likely to win the argument.  However, I usually try my best to keep everyone happy.  If it means some changes on my end, I’m fine with that, but I’ll let the player know that his or her character means more work for me, and that I expect them to give a little in return.  Compromising is great, as long as it’s really a compromise

But sometimes, as a DM, we do have to just say no.  There’s not really an easy way to do this when you’re dealing with persistent players.  They will whine and kick and scream the whole way, and all we can do is tell them to sit down, shut up, and respect our authority.

Yours in Player Domination,
The Dungeon Master

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6 Responses to Space Orcs and Ninja Gnomes

  1. Darren says:

    Oh I so know this.

    I find it best to let as MUCH bizarre and contradictory stuff through as possible without wrecking the story. If you need to change the story slightly to accommodate? Do it!

    Some of the greatest roleplaying moments can be had through bizarre characters. In one of my Play by Post games, I had a Monk/Cleric and a Bard (and NPCs, an archer and a Fighter).
    Someone wanted to join as a Mage… but he didn’t like my general Mage backstory possibilities, so he made a character, a Mage from 2000 years before…

    When he entered, it was through a coin. The bard’s family was rich, and that was due to an enchanted, gold-making rock. Little did they know that it was the mage’s prison…

    And so the party was dishing out gold from an adventure reward, and the bard used a little magic to organise it quicker… and BANG, the table explodes to leave a disoriented mage and the tavern in ruins. Whoops.

    Come to think of it, that doesn’t sound as cool as it actually was. Darn it ^^

  2. Ask the DM says:

    It’s true. Sith shouldn’t even want to help each other let alone waste their energy healing. The idea of a bunch of Sith adventuring together is contradictory to the nature of the Dark Side. You guys should stay true to the Force and just be a bunch of evil bastards and hope you can survive. And if you die, well, that’s the nature of selfishness and greed right? That’s high quality roleplaying that is.

    On a side note, I’ve actually never succeeded in having an RPG group with a Healer. No one ever wants to, because they can be boring to play. But it means I have to be creative with the way I structure things, and they have to be more careful about diving headfirst into battle. I like non-traditional parties just as much as non-traditional characters.

    • Grace says:

      Healers are my favorite classes to play in MMOs, because they’re both fun and necessary. Then again, it also sets me up to get lectured by incompetent players who don’t realize that having me there doesn’t make them invincible. General rule of thumb is that things that will kill you in real life will probably kill you in game, healer or no. If somebody’s stupid enough to stand in fire and not move out of it, they’re going to die, and doubly so for lava.

      I’m very curious about how Sith side in KOTOR is going to turn out. As you said, it just doesn’t seem normal for Sith to be helping each other. I’ll be interested to see how they try to explain that one.

  3. Grace says:

    Oddly enough, this reminds me of a conversation my boyfriend and I had last night about what classes we’re planning on playing when Knights of the Old Republic comes out. We decided that we want to play Sith, and I said that I wanted to play a healer (fundamentally necessary in MMOs), but that doesn’t really fit in with the general idea of what Sith are supposed to be…

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