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One of the PCs (a greedy, quirky dwarf fighter) in the game I am hosting recently died, and his player chose to join the group as a new character, a human paladin. After two sessions the player is not happy with his choice of character, and often mentions that he loved his dwarf and loathes the paladin character due to his good/lawful alignment.

Unfortunately the PC has to be able to stick around as part of the plot, for at least the next four or five sessions, there is no way around that. The PC has had an encounter with certain NPCs who will play an important role later on - and the NPCs need this PC. Before the previous dwarf's death, I had a similar encounter which I had to reconstruct for the paladin - if I do it a third time my players will think I'm mad!

How can I handle this player being unhappy with his present character? How can I make the player happy again, and avoid having to kill the paladin?

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Do not answer in comments. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 20 at 7:53
    
"due to his good/lawful alignment"? You are, imposing roleplay requirements on this character? Nobody (well, nearly nobody) likes playing Lawful Stupid. –  AJMansfield Apr 21 at 20:50
    
@AJMansfield - I think it's the player's belief to play his character "lawful stupid". I'll show him the tvtropes page you mentioned, maybe he'll reconsider. Thanks! –  mawimawi Apr 22 at 8:21

8 Answers 8

up vote 7 down vote accepted

Address the problem at the source: Retcon1 the story. If your players demand an in-story explanation, remember the origins of the owlbear: "A wizard did it."

At the end of the day, all the participants involved are aware that the game that they are playing is a story. The cleanest solution, therefore, to an external (non-narrative) story influence that is just messing things up is to fix it outside of the story.

Simply say "Hey, this encounter? Here's how it really happened. This way, $Player can play $character and everyone can have more fun." It's the honest way, it hurts the least, and it allows everyone to just get on with things.

As a matter of protocol, I give all new characters a "retcon cookie" (but only one) that can be used at any time to adjust their character sheet in any rules-valid way. There are elements of a character that only come out during play that can just be seriously annoying for everyone involved. There is a tacit understanding that this cookie should be used to resolve a player's issue with her character, not as a "oh, we need to get around this in-story problem... I was a rogue all around." But it's quite acceptable if that restriction is spelled out.


1 A definition of Retcon:

/ret'kon/ [short for retroactive continuity, from the Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.comics] 1. n. The common situation in pulp fiction (esp. comics or soap operas) where a new story 'reveals' things about events in previous stories, usually leaving the 'facts' the same (thus preserving continuity) while completely changing their interpretation. For example, revealing that a whole season of "Dallas" was a dream was a retcon.

For your purposes, the retcon would leave the events of the story the same, but simply indicate that $Player's new character did them instead of the old character, thereby preserving continuity.

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How can I make the player happy again, and avoid having to kill the paladin?

It seems to be a drastic change, so the best way seems to be to create a new character and play that. I'm not in favor of killing the old one though. There are a million ways to part ways and why would it always be death? As a paladin, he could be ordered to help fighting evil in a remote part of the world by his Order. Maybe he is honored for his deeds and becomes a member of the royal guard. Standing watch over the king all day does not make a good adventurer either.

Unfortunately the PC has to be able to stick around as part of the plot

This seems to be your core problem. And it's not because the player wants to play another character. The character is basically unkillable, too. If you cannot commence play without a certain character, you painted yourself into a corner. There are many ways out of that corner, you just have to pick one: maybe the paladin is still along as an NPC to the party. Maybe the party as a whole encounters the NPCs again. Maybe the paladin does die and as a last action gives the characters some token of appreciation that the NPCs will recognize. He could do the same on parting ways when he is joining the royal guards.

I'd say instead of spending energy somehow making the character work, let him create a new character and instead focus on making your story work.

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Dear anonymous downvoter, please note that downvoting without leaving a comment does not make this site any better because the poster cannot improve if he doesn't know what you deemed improvable. If you think this answer can be improved, please leave a note, so I can do so. –  nvoigt Apr 20 at 15:41
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Dear complainant, re: anonymous downvotes; please note that downvoting without leaving a comment does make the site better, as it signals to future readers that there are those who disagree with a given answer, it improves the sorting of answers on the page, and signals to the answerer that somebody thinks they are wrong. Not every answer which is downvoted can be 'improved' with a simple nip and tuck; using this space to express more fundamental disagreements, rather than simply posting a competing answer, would be counterproductive. Furthermore, by complaining, you come off as petty. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 21 at 13:01
    
For further reading, I would encourage a perusal of this excellent post from Meta.English.SE. Should you wish to receive more anonymous downvotes in the future, I would encourage you to maintain your peevish attitude. It will serve you in good stead. –  LessPop_MoreFizz Apr 21 at 13:03
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@LessPop_MoreFizz That being said, a comment would be appreciated, since I can't find anything wrong with the suggestion being made - I'm curious what the problem is with this answer. –  Zibbobz Apr 21 at 15:04

"there is no way around that".

There probably is a way around it, but it depends exactly what you've set up. The PC could be eaten by a grue next session due to a series of bad decisions and/or dice rolls. The world would continue, even if those NPCs all die due to lack of that particular paladin.

Options that might work depending on your plot and your players:

  • Play that paladin as an NPC for 4-5 sessions. The party (including the player's new character) hang around with him for some reason, he hooks them up with the plot and then leaves
  • Let the NPCs find their own paladin, use a different way to get the party into the plot
  • Let the NPCs do what they like, just scratch those 4-5 sessions. Obviously that's a shame if you've done a lot of work but it becomes a question of railroading. Is the party obliged to run through every scene you've prepared?
  • If "yes", your plot is on rails, then think of any old absurd reason to shoehorn the party into the plot, and be done with it. Maybe the NPCs approach the group assuming that the paladin they need will be with them, when in fact he's left. Maybe the PCs play along. Sucks to be those NPCs. The next plot hook will be neater ;-)
  • Ask the player, as a favour to you, to play the paladin for 4-5 more sessions. Find some way to compensate or make it fun. For example you might agree that the player will play the most stuck-up, nit-picking, irritating paladin imaginable, as a parody of paladins.
  • Pick a different player and say, "hey, do you mind if your character goes on vacation for 5 sessions and you play this paladin instead? All XP counts to your real character". Normally I wouldn't advise passing a character from one player to another, and I'd certainly check the original player is OK with it. But who cares if someone else takes a character you played for 2 sessions and hate anyway?

Basically, first think "there must be a way around this", and then figure out what it is.

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The cure

I think the easiest remedy is to let him pick a new character, and make the paladin go with the group while you close all his plots and prepare a transition. You can also make the player control the two characters, or give the paladin to someone else. Talk to your players about the approach and tell them the situation is temporary.

The prevention

Never make the plot depend on a single factor (for instance, a character). What if the paladin had died? What if he is lost? What if the player has a problem and can't come to play for a few months.

Design your plots to rely on different factors, but don't make any of them indispensable.

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I think the second point about prevention is really important. If you are truly giving your players the opportunity to affect the direction that a story goes in and rolling with the punches that random dice rolls can give you, then relying on a specific anything happening or not happening is pretty much futile. –  Phil Apr 20 at 12:41
    
There are very few players that genuinely only can play a few character concepts. Usually, it's used as a crutch to avoid having to get into character psychology and playing interesting roles. I disagree with your Cure heading, but agree with the Prevention, so +0. –  Jack Lesnie Apr 20 at 14:52

The above advice is all very good, but I would also like to add another option.

Over the years (been GMing since the early 80's) I've occasionally had players make characters that seemed like fun, but once they got into the game discover that they, for whatever reason, just didn't enjoy the character, they would let me know and I would usually go with one of two options:

1) Normally I would just allow them to roll up a new character , but If for some reason the character was already plot integral I would ask them if they wanted to continue until this was no longer the case and then make a new character, some did as a role playing challenge, but most were uninterested. In these cases I just took option 2

2) I simply take over the character as a NPC and allowed the player to introduce a new character, it's not difficult and gives you very fleshed out npc for future use.

Often a good way to avoid these situation is to always have good contingency plots, this is particularly important when making a player integral to a plot line, I've learned over the years that players have a terrible knack for getting killed at inopportune moments or just not doing what you thought they would, which makes (to me at least) the game fun from a GM perspective, having these contingency plots prepared makes your live as a GM easier, allows you players to feel like they're in a living breathing world free to do whatever they want without feeling railroaded and makes you seem like a badass GM with a never ending supply of stories and adventures.

This gets even easier as you develop a world of your own and it becomes easier to have multiple plots in action at once, switching to new plots because your PCs did something unexpected becomes easy and organic after enough time because like the real world, there's always something interesting going on.

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Something Completely Different

  1. "Listen.. cough... the Yosritsi Prophecy... must not.. be fulfilled! * dies *" -Use it to add to the challenge - now they have to race to find out what the NPCs told the paladin that he struggled to give them some clues before he died!
  2. "Heh. Like you fools could stop the Yosritsi Prophecy from being fulfilled.. clearly I was wasting my time here! * evil vanish *" - Gasp!!!! The NPCs come running to the party - they were wrong! The chosen one is one of the PCs!
  3. "YOU WERE THE CHOSEN ONE!" - The NPCs are wrong. It turns out something else was going on the whole time!
  4. "Yes... excellent.. just according to plan... * /Mr. Burns *" The NPCs were lying, and their lies sent the paladin to his death. Vengeance!
  5. "Real paladin? There was no real paladin. It was smoke and lies and illusions, and I was the ringmaster to it all! You suffered at my hands, adventurers, and now you are far too late to stop the Yosritsi Prophecy!" The NPCs never existed, and the Paladin is actually the BBEG.
  6. "Never fear friends! We're nearly there! The Yosritsi Prophecy CAN be stopped!" Man, ever since Jim the Halfling Thief showed up, this paladin has been a pain in the ass. (nothing stops players from grumbling about NPCs getting the spotlight like making them hella annoying)
  7. "Wait, so the Yosritsi Prophecy says that a group of people - that look exactly like us - will one day end the world, and must be stopped? And you've taken on the holy vow of fulfilling the Yosritsi Prophecy, no matter what?""Yes.""$@#%."
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Killing the character is so... straightforward. It lacks imagination, and imagination is what D&D is all about. Also, just killing them would rob you of a chance to do every DM's favourite thing: put your characters through hell.

Notice, that's the character going through hell, not the player. If done right, the player will love it.

Talk to the player and figure out exactly what the gap is between what the character is now, and what the player would rather be playing. It sounds like you have a pretty good handle on this already.

Then, see if you can find a way to close that gap.

Tell the player that you're going to try to do this. Don't tell them how you plan to do it, but you could drop hints if you want. So, the player dislikes the Lawful Good element? Which do they dislike most? The Lawful, or the Good?

If it's the Lawful, then put them in tough spots where their laws are forcing them to do something that they have in-character reasons to not want to do, or where their laws conflict. Random example: an NPC is trying to find out who killed their father, and have vowed to kill whoever it is. The paladin knows who did it, but it happens to be someone the paladin respects, and they did it because the father was secretly evil. The paladin can't lie, but he also has to uphold justice, so now he has a problem. If he tells the truth, someone they die may be killed, but if they lie, then they could prevent an unjust death. (Yes, this is basically the tale of Spiderman/Green Goblin/Harry Osborne. Any good plot deserves to be stolen and turned into a D&D campaign.)

If it's the Good, then put them in tough spots where their good alignment forces them to do something they don't want to. Random example: an ancient and powerful curse is awakened, and threatens to unleash hellish destruction on a whole town... unless an innocent life is sacrificed somehow. And lo and behold, the party - particularly the paladin - ends up in the right place, at the right time, with a suitable NPC available. If they kill the innocent, it'll haunt them, but they'll save the town. If they spare the innocent, then they have a lot of work and a lot of deaths to contend with.

If it's both, then do both!

Now comes the important bit: with enough of these big tough situations, their alignment can shift. This takes a while, which is why it's important to tell the player that it'll be happening and explain that it may take a while, but it'll be worth it and you'll make it as coll as you can. That way, they hang in there, waiting for the next step on the road, reshaping the character as they want them to be and generating a really cool story about the terrible hardships that broke the paladin's spirit, causing him to forsake his vows and his code of conduct, and... well, your player gets to choose what happens next.

We have this happening with multiple characters in our current campaign. We have a wizard whose lust for power is slowly driving him to forsake his friends and commitments and slide towards the Dark Side... I mean, Chaotic Evil. We have a rogue who's been through such hardships with the party that it forged incredible friendships, eventually inspiring him to disregard his own interests to selflessly risk himself to save his friends, shifting him towards a Good alignment. And we have a bard who has seen one too many comrades die despite her best efforts to save them, and is slipping into madness and becoming increasingly Chaotic, doing whatever it takes to keep the party alive.

When done well, character evolution is an incredible driver of good plot and player enjoyment. You've got some real potential here; work with your player to have some serious fun with it.

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Brian stated it far better that I could ever could. If a certain mechanical aspect blocks your story and hurts the fun of your players, throw it away. But I do believe that there are other things to solve this idea which may be a little less drastic.

Talk with the player

It is my number one solution to most of the problems I've encountered: have a conversation with her and see if she can manage to play the character for a few more sessions. At the end of the day, this is the cleanest way to solve it. If the player says no we don't have any other choice but to retcon the story. If, on the other hand, she says yes we can move forward to solving the problem in the short (or not so short) term.

Through the conversation you should get another thing, which is what drew the player to this particular class. Maybe it was the powers and abilities of the paladin or maybe it was a certain part of the fluff. By knowing what drew the player to class you will know how to bring back some of the original sense of enjoyment, enough for at least a few sessions.

Be willing to tweak some of the rules

As it looks from here, one of the leading problems was the alignment problem: your player doesn't enjoy playing an LG character. I see 2 ways to solve it: Changing the alignment restriction or changing the sense of the alignment itself. Changing the alignment restriction is probably easier and it has been used for quite a time in many many places. The Paladin is a hero for good, a fighter for the holiest of causes, a person who fights for the greater cause, the one that will bring the highest amount of good for the world. Not all good is LG, and as such we can have a paladin who fights for good from the perspective of CG, for example. CGs are still good, and the example of Robin Hood is used to illustrate this alignment mainly because he used a less honest way to create good, so there is no badness or harm made to the concept.

A far preferable way to solve this, at least for me, is to change the meaning of LG. Alignments in D&D were always spectrums which usually touched one another in one way or another, in one place or another. OOTS actually gives a great example of city of LG Paladins who are still LG but are still quite different from one another. Some of them actually commit actions that would be perceived as villainous even though made for the sake of the greater good and many a time even succeed in that.

Focus on what interests the player

There are still other ways to engage a player and helping her enjoy the game even without helping her mechanically. There are drives for each and every one of us, drives that makes us wanna play, reasons that we come every week. Those reasons are the things we're looking for in order to have fun. Have in your session more of those drives of the particular player. She makes a huge sacrifice here, so make it pay for her in other terms.

If the player really likes fights, have more fights in the game 'till she changes character. If she prefers interrogation scenes have more of those. It doesn't mean forgetting the other players, or always letting her win, but just to raise the number of times that you do the things she likes to see in the game the most.

Change the next parts of the adventure so she'll be able to change class

A little bit harder to pull right but a far more useful way to retcon the story is to actually retcon the next parts of the story, those that they haven't reached for yet. Postpone the plot that you've written for a session or 2 and let the other characters meet those NPCs. Then you can quite easily give her the time and space to switch characters between the sessions. They can even serve as a plot-reason for the character change, deciding to switch some of their employees or whatever from one group to the other.

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