My Character Wouldn’t/Would

My Character Wouldn’t/Would

This is a D&D/RPG topic, so if you are expecting it to be about writing, you might get something useful from it, but it’s going to be less useful than  you’d think. There’s another term for this topic, the “My Guy” concept.  The basic idea for the concept is that because of what it says on the paper or the very defined idea in your head, there are certain things that your guy would or wouldn’t do.

Image Source: Wizards

A few common examples:
You’re in a shop and the shop owner has been very nice and helpful to you. You’re even setting up a business arrangement with them. The rogue sees something they want and decide to shoot for a five finger discount on it, even though, that is going to possibly undo a half hours worth of role playing someone else has been doing. Everyone looks at that player, and they say, “I’m a rogue and I like shiny stuff, it says so on my paper, so that’s what my guy would do.”

The party has captured a bandit and are trying to get information out of them. They are rolling poorly, so one of the characters does something that amounts to torture or a threat on the bandits family. The lawful good paladin immediately jumps into the situation and draws a sword against the player character who made the threat. Everyone looks at that player, and they say, “I’m lawful good, so I have to kill anyone who is going to threaten innocent people, that’s what my guy would do.”

The party is meeting with the king. The king, doing their kingly things, doesn’t have much time for the party and when one of the characters suggests that he should pay them more heed, he laughs at them. Because of a character trait of not letting people look down on them, now a character draws a weapon against the king. Everyone looks at the player, and they say, “My guy doesn’t let anyone insult him.”

Image Source: Old Dungeon Master

Now, these examples seem kind of silly, but  you can see why they would be annoying in the game. There are certain things that are so defined with a character, because of what a sheet says or what the person’s idea is for the character that they can’t get past it, for the detriment of the party, the other players, the DM/GM, and the story.

This isn’t to say that your character shouldn’t have convictions and shouldn’t have certain things that you will or won’t do. It’s more that you need to balance it at the table so that everyone is having fun. To quote one of my favorite podcasts, The RPG Academy, “If you’re having fun, you’re doing it right.” This doesn’t mean just you at the table, it means everyone at the table. All the players and the DM/GM should be having fun during the game. So before  your characters conviction changes something, starts a battle with the king and the kings guard or steals from the shop keeper that people have been negotiating with, as yourself, is this fun for everyone? If the answer is that it’s not, or more importantly, if the answer is that it’s going to step on someone else’s fun, don’t do it. If it’s just neutral, like it’s going to give you the spotlight for a little bit, but doesn’t step on what someone else is doing or put the party into a situation that they don’t want to be, that’s fine, but when you start to decrease the fun for other people, you’ve probably stepped too far.

Image Source: Wizards

So, that’s all been fairly negative to this point, and I don’t like to write posts that are just purely negative, so let’s talk about some things that can be useful to remember and that can help if you find yourself getting stuck with things you will or won’t do as a character.

First, remember that alignment and personality trait, bonds, flaws, and ideals are all just guideposts. These are the points where your character is going to make a decision around, but they aren’t the only thing that your character makes a decision with. Consider the situation, consider your characters ability to read said situation, consider your characters desire for survival. If you’re going to go fight the king because he looked down on you, remember, you aren’t going to survive. The king has their own guards, and they tend not to be a slouch.

But more on point with this, just because you are lawful good doesn’t mean that you don’t do actions that are not lawful or good. It means that is your touch point for most of your actions. It also means that you character gets to justify why they would do something that might not be their normal alignment when they do it. This often comes up from the situation you are in. If we go back to the lawful good paladin example above, the character threatens to torture the bandit, why might a paladin let that slide?

Maybe they are caught up in the emotion of the situation. Lawful good doesn’t mean you are an emotionless being, again, it’s just a touch point. Or  maybe they firmly believe in the good in the rogue and that the rogue won’t actually torture the guy, it’s just a threat, and you can have conversation after the fact. Two perfectly reasonable options, or maybe, if you as the player see things going that way, the paladin has now stepped outside to check on the horses and make sure no one followed them so you just happen to miss that line. There are plenty of good ways to keep your character still aligned, but not get into a point where you are going to fight another character.

Second, use this as an opportunity to tell your characters struggle and growth. Gaulmack the Destroyer doesn’t take orders from anyone, so how are they going to do when they are paid for a job with very specific orders and instructions? Do not kill anyone on this mission, it is supposed to be stealth. Gaulmack doesn’t do stealth all that well, Gaulmack is better at killing everything until you reach the objective. Gaulmack also speaks in third person a lot. So the first time you come across a guard, what does Gaulmack do?

Image Source: D&D Beyond

The natural inclination of the character would be to jump in and kill the guard. And if you’re a player who really loves to combat, that might be your natural inclination too. But everyone else is having fun on this stealth mission, so Gaulmack is going to ruin that for everyone else? Or does Gaulmack go off into the corner and start muttering to himself under his breath, “Gaulmack will not kill guard this time, Gaulmack will not kill guard this time.” Now you’ve created a cool little element for Gaulmack and a probably funny moment later when you are going to have to fight or that is one of the stronger options. “Gaulmack not sneak this time, Gaulmack destroy.”

That doesn’t really change Gaulmack’s character in anyway, but it does keep the mission going and it doesn’t jump things off the deep end and take people out of the fun that they are having. It could change it and they could grow from it. To go back to the alignment and personality traits, etc being guideposts not pillars that lock you in place, maybe Gaulmack’s personality trait is “Destroyer”, you could give Gaulmack a temporary personality trait of “Sneaky”. So next time there is a combat, Gaulmack’s plan could be to sneak around, and even just generally around town, now Gaulmack sneaks everywhere. Eventually, Gaulmack then shakes off that temporary trait and becomes the Destroyer again.

Finally, games like Dungeons and Dragons and other RPG’s are improv games. With the exception of games like D&D 4th Edition or RPG’s where it just focuses on combat with miniatures and combat simulation, these games you need to be flexible in. Sometimes it isn’t because you are playing off a character sheet that causes the issue, sometimes it can be because you expected on outcome as a player and that outcome didn’t happen. Now your character is in a situation that neither you or they expected and how do you react?

In this case, it’s totally cool to take five. That’s what I would recommend, and as a DM, I try and keep on eye on that so that I can suggest it even if the player doesn’t. Just take a few minutes to think it through and to wrap your head around it. Then come back to the table with the next plan for your character. These moments are for you to understand what is going on, not to change what’s already happened in the story. It’s also  your chance to use the two tricks above to help build and flesh out your character in a new way.

It also helps to remember two things. One, that everyone else is improvising at the table, so it isn’t being personally done against your character. It was likely either the result of a die roll or because it was a cool or surprising story moment for the DM/GM that might have been done on the fly. Two, that the game is not personally against you. The game doesn’t know how your weeks gone and while the dice might hate you, that doesn’t mean that you have to let that ruin your fun or bring down other peoples fun.

Hopefully those are some solid tips and ideas to think about with your character and what they won’t or will do. This is a game that we all play for fun, and that’s what I as a DM/GM shoot for as well. Do you have any other suggestions or things that can help in situations where a player is saying “My Guy”?

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