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I've been playing with a good friend of mine for a couple of games now (Exalted and Pathfinder) with another friend as GM. In a few weeks, I'm going to be running a new game because the GM is getting close to burning out. I've been talking to the group about their character concepts, and it's becoming increasingly obvious that my friend plays exactly the same character in every game (and it's essentially herself with powers). I'm not sure if this is necessarily a bad thing, but it is sort of getting old. She also wants to have lots of cool things, regardless of how much they'd even make sense in the setting, but is unwilling to come up with a justification for it. She's also proven resistant to subtle attempts to point this out to her.

She also likes to multitask a lot at the gaming table. While we all appreciate her making us food, when she does her homework at the table it really breaks immersion. It's also a little frustrating when she only ever tunes when it's her turn to roll for something, often without paying attention to what's going on. Sometimes these actions are detrimental to the party because of it.

Does anyone have a good idea on how to broach these topics with her in a way that won't seem overly confrontational? Or am I just overreacting?

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Honestly it sort of sounds like she just wants to hang out and tolerates the RPGs because they're a group activity. Maybe try switching to board games? –  Tacroy Sep 18 '12 at 16:26
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Overreacting to what exactly? It appears as if this individual is hindering the enjoyment of the game by the rest of the players. If that is the case then I agree with you that a conversation needs to be had. Maybe the player would prefer to play less often, or maybe they are missing something in the game to keep them as hooked as the other players? –  Joshua Drake Sep 18 '12 at 16:27
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You could always point her to this thread... Be careful to criticis her actions and NOT herself. –  Sardathrion Sep 20 '12 at 10:07
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6 Answers

up vote 27 down vote accepted

These are all interpersonal problems rather than gaming ones. Here's how I'd handle each of them.

Same Character I'd tolerate it. Not a big fan of this kind of behavior, but it happens. I think it's a roleplaying maturity thing.

One thing I used last game might help you. I like the list of 100 questions about your character, but didn't want to overwhelm my players with homework. Instead of asking them to fill out the list I asked them all 1 question from it before each game. This worked great because it helped grow their characters as the game progressed and because it was one question at a time they actually put thought into the answers.

I bring this up because some of the questions were useful tools to differentiate the player from the character. Asking them what advice the player would give the character, how the player and character would disagree, etc, was useful for the players who were a little too close to their characters. You could ask everyone this like I did or even ask her alone.

Setting inappropriate powers I'd brainstorm with her. "No, you can't play a robot because they don't exist in the Forgotten Realms. How would you feel about a golem?"

I think the important thing here is to work with her rather than restrict her. The idea isn't to keep her from playing a robot. It's to figure out what she is trying to express by playing a robot and then figure out a setting appropriate way to express the same thing.

Since you are the party who knows the most about both the restrictions and features of a campaign setting, you're in a better position to figure out alternatives to her ideas than she is.

I also find it helpful to use book and movie examples as a good way to communicate the feel of the game you're going for. I was trying to run a gritty and dark campaign, but one of my players wrote a 5 page faery tale for her background. With her permission I altered it, but it was clear that she wanted to play a G/PG character in my R rated game. Neither of us were happy.

Since then I've told my players what books or movies inspired the game I'm planning on running. This doesn't have a perfect success rate, because some players won't read books, but it's drastically cut down the number of mismatched characters I received. If only the Game of Thrones TV show came out before I ran my GoT game, the players might not have tried to act like an adventuring party.

Finally, it is possible that a character can't be fulfilled in a certain setting or even a certain campaign. As GM you need to recognize when this is the case. In this case I'd suggest having the player shelve that character until the next game.

Multitasking Intolerable. It's one thing if she's off screen for a while, but if she's playing she should play. If she doesn't have time for the game or if she isn't interested enough to play 100% of the time, she shouldn't be there.

This is one case where I wouldn't go for the one on one conversation. It would seem like you're bullying her. I'd lay down the law in front of everyone so that it's obvious the same rules apply to everyone.

For how to approach the situation, I think it depends on what kind of multitasking the player is doing. I'm willing to be less than polite to someone who is playing video games at my table. For homework, I'd ask nicely. Homework is an obligation, video games aren't. I'd also offer that the player could skip the game session.

Sometimes players feel like game sessions are an obligation too. I had one player with anxiety issues who was getting stressed out about game, but didn't want to miss hanging out with people. The answer for him was to invite him to come hang out while we game, but have no character of his own. I let him play NPCs when he was up for it. If your player is stressed to attend session and finish homework, try telling her she can stay at the table but not play while she's doing her homework and then when she finishes she can come back in. Tell her that it's not that you don't trust her to handle both, but that it's distracting for everyone else.

Also, to clarify when I say multitasking is intolerable, I mean playing RPGs and doing something else entirely. If you're playing game and looking up spells for your next level or writing your backstory, that's fine by me. Your head is still in game mode. Depending on the game, I might even allow miniature painting, but that's pushing it. (The sort of game where I've seen that done in a reasonable way is 3.5 with long combats. When it's 30+ minutes between turns, putting another shade of red on your cloak is entirely reasonable.)

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the List of 100 Questions link goes to a login that says the page is by invite only. anyone know of a copy of it that's available for everyone to see? –  Matthew Najmon yesterday
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In my experience, someone who plays the same character time and again does it for any of three basic reasons:

  1. Filling a Niche: Most of the time in my circles when I see "Typecasting" it's because a lot of players have a favorite character type for a given game. For example, I've joined a few tables where I've said "Oh, D&D with Players A, B, and C? Then I'll need to be the healer to round things out."
  2. Glorified Self Image: Often the first character in a system fits this. Players either make what they see themselves as in that system's terms, or what they wish they could be which seems more the case for this player. They play the game to get some thrill or fulfillment they don't get in real life so they get the most excitement when their character does what they're good at for that ego boost. For example, I've seen a player that always played the attractive socialite to counter their real life shyness.
  3. Comfort Zone: The player has an archetype they just simply like to play, and let's face it, they normally do it well because of all the practice. For example, a player that always plays the brute but that's because they are well versed at (in game) thuggish intimidation and how to apply force. It was not a reflection on their character, they just had a knack for that role.
  4. (Edit 1; thanks Zachiel) Fulfillment: Sometimes a character gets replayed within the same system, same DM/GM/ST but a different campaign because the player had a sort of bucket list for the character and hadn't checked off enough items to stop playing them. For example, a character whose past never catches up with them, or that love interest that never gets closure. Maybe it's forgotten, maybe it gets overlooked, or maybe the game just ends too soon. I can say that personally I've had this happen, where the character had some good things going but the plot inspiration went another direction, although normally "reincarnation" involves DM collaboration/approval.

There have been a couple of times when showing new players to a showcase of games, at game three or four (usually the end of the series) I will ask them to give me a role outside of their comfort zone. By creating their characters for them, I can give them a character that fits the new caste that they want to try (emphasizing the physical, mental, and social at different priorities than before). Perhaps making the starting characters for this game for the entire table could help curb this problem. By providing a new archetype, the player will hopefully stay tuned for a situation where the new skills can be used.

Another solution can involve Meta-Game XP. Make someone at the table on a rotating basis the official note taker for the session and allow an extra stipend of XP to that player if the notes they take are actually good. If this player is mechanically minded she may become a better participant by virtue of the extra deed to become stronger.

Last mentioned, but first to try is overtly talking to your player and finding out what she wants from the game. As mentioned above she might just be there for the social experience and not specifically the game. If this is the case, then see if she minds being a support character to the plot. Should she not mind being a support character, you can develop your plot around her and it may not be as big of a problem on the long view.

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There are a few reasons why she is doing what she is doing.

First is a motivation difference from the group. The motivations are:

  • Tactician They enjoy moving the pieces on the battlemat, they love planning battles, and managing the battles.
  • Hack The barbarian or Slash the Fighter They are all about killing. They don't care one whit about flanks, reserves, or anything else (to include acting, stocking up on supplies, fencing treasure, etc.).
  • Method Actor This player is all about the drama and would rather have a long diplomatic discussion where they play in character than to have a short fight to settle the issue. Sort of the polar opposite of the hack and slash character
  • Friend this player enjoys the group. They would play RPG to hang out with the group, they would do macrame if it means hanging with the group, whatever the group wants to do they are OK with (like joining a cult, or embracing whatever stupid pop-culture meme is the current fad).

Now of these motivations (tactics, killin', acting, friendship) are usually present in all players to a varying degree. Take a minute to gauge your players (all of them) and yourself. If she is one of the friend types (and from your description it sounds like she is a very strong friend stereotype), then you likely won't get oscar-worthy acting from her. Ask yourself if her actions are a deal-breaker. If you can live with it, then chin up and deal with it.

A second reason she may be detaching from the group is plot-fatigue. If your campaign has been life or death for a while with the pressure building up on the players, some players (myself included) will burn out on that much serious/dark material. Throw in a silly side-quest and see if it gets her attention again. Something like the village they just saved realizes that next week they play [sport] against their rival in [next town over]. There is always skullduggery, and they want your players to give them a morale boost by stealing the opponent's mascot. On the flip-side, the dagger of prolific flatulence is very funny to me, but were I to get one from a treasure in an adventure I'd get sick of it pretty quickly and would beg the local priest to lift the curse (and pay heavily for the privilege) so I can once again get back to "serious business".

Finally, she may not be comfortable playing new characters and is insecure that she will be mocked because she does not know how to breathe life into a character outside of her "comfort zone" of alter-ego. I can attest that once you get into this habit, it is HARD to break out from. If the tone of the campaign, or the group's collective personality is making her uneasy, she's not going to step very far from her comfort zone short of divine intervention. How do you make her feel more comfortable? Assess the motivation she has as compared to everyone else in the group, don't tailor the game to her, but throw her a few plot-cookies.

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+1 for detailing motivators and the 'whys' of RPGing. I read something not unlike this in my management book the other day, and enjoy it's application to my favorite hobby :) –  LitheOhm Sep 19 '12 at 18:57
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Stop being subtle. Tolerating players at the table is not good. You should enjoy their company and roleplay, not simply accept they are taking a spot.

Have a discussion. Mention the points one by one and make sure she let you finish before talking. Do the same. Let her talk and listen. Make sure that she understands that it has nothing to do with her as a person but as a player.

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+1 for prioritizing the DMs fun experience as well. It's not thought of by many, PCs and DMs alike. –  LitheOhm Sep 19 '12 at 18:56
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Part of a GM's job is to humour the players' requests. For example, when someone in my Eberron game wanted a gun, I let them have a rifle with the stats for a masterwork crossbow, and fit it into the setting as an uncommon weapon from Cyre.

You also have the right to say no. The GM's word is law, and if the player wants something that won't work within the setting or rules, politely inform them that it can't be done.

You can also encourage your player to play a different character than they usually do. They might have more fun and find the game more interesting with a different outlook and new systems.

It sounds like your player is quite self-centered in their play. Encourage her to imagine the game world and see that her character is both part of a team and part of a larger world. Try to involve her character in the world more directly.

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Approach them directly in private. Avoid passive-aggressive remarks, non face-to-face discussions, or public discussions. In the last case, everyone will know who you are talking about and it feels unpleasant to be singled out, even if that singling out is not explicit.

When you finally address them present your general concerns, don't just dictate rules and call it a day. Be open to push back or a controlled degree of argument. Perhaps (for example) their completion of homework is the only way they can be available to play and you will need to compromise. Essentially, hear them out.

Once they understand your concerns, brainstorm with them on how you both can address them. Always remember that they know themselves better than you do. GMing is a two way street.

Lastly, if all else fails, pull rank. Sometimes the law must be laid down. I have been on the player end of this and walked away feeling like the GM was a jerk but the next session I was back to having fun.

If pulling rank fails, make them walk the plank for insubordination. Sometimes you just have to say "tough."

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