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When we first met to create my players' characters, the first thing I asked was to create normal characters (e.g. no freaks/depression/obsession/psychologically disturbed, etc). Normal people with normal lives, career events permitting (it's a Traveller game). I do not like freaks and I believe that you do not need a freak to make an interesting and fun character to play. (I believe a more experienced player might manage to roleplay a freak character in an interesting and not problematic way.)

One player, after making him rewrite his character twice (he was making freak characters), created a very interesting one (finally!). He told me he likes freak characters, but only after we started talking about the freak characters he was creating, and not before. He did not understand how a normal character could be interesting. I tried to explain, but apparently he did not understand my point.

Now this player is very inexperienced. I'm convinced that he plays like this because he has no experience but hack&slash. By now he seems to have grasped my point that normal characters can be interesting to play now, because he's not roleplaying a freak. However, he simply does not roleplay as the character he made. So, how can I help him to roleplay the character he made?

TL;DR: My inexperienced player described his character one way, but he's roleplaying it completely different. Since I think it's due to his inexperience, how can I help him roleplay the character he made?

Some Background

The first time he created an apathetic medic without emotions who saw people as machines to be repaired. That's not normal, that's a psychological problem! In a realistic setting (as is hard sci-fi) no one would take him as a crewman, in fact probably they would take a person like this to an asylum.

When I say I made him rewrite the background I mean I told him something like “This part is not ok because it's a freak thing. Change it please.” I absolutely did not write his background as I wanted it, I only told what and why a certain thing would not be ok with me, because looked too freakish to me. Of course I made suggestions for his background, but I believe that's part of a GM's “job”.

His character is a medic-born person that happened to become a pirate, started to despise pirates and pirate life, and decided to become a Marine (as a medic) to fight them and bad people.

The problem is that he's not roleplaying his character at all as he has described it or how it's supposed to behave: as a medic (most of all) and a marine. I realize that saying that he's supposed to roleplay it in a certain ways is bad – it's his character, after all – but how he behaves is probably not what the character he described would do.

He's inexperienced in RPGs, and in fact this is the first roleplaying campaign (strictly speaking) he's ever played in. This is probably the cause, and it's not his fault, but my problem is that when other people try to explain to him why his character would not behave in a certain way, he seems refractory to our explanations and gives us illogical justifications. He doesn't even seems to follow his main goal (the search for his missing love).

I tried to ask him if he wanted to change his character a bit, but he said he does not see any reason to and continued to explain to us why he behaves like that. I fear he will continue to roleplay a “freak”, or that he'll change the background for the worse.

A more experienced player of mine suggested changing his character by some incident in game and a roll of the dice. Something like “you have been wounded in the head, now you behave strangely,” in order to make it more similar to what he seems he would like to play, but that seems to me like cheating and a cheap solution.

I didn't know the Same-Page Tool before we started to play, and maybe using it could have helped, but I think the main problem is that he's just green at roleplaying and can't “enter” into the mind of his character.

Campaign info

This is a sandbox-style game. It's also in a hard sci-fi setting, where people should behave and react as in real life.

I am the GM, and this is my second GM experience (not counting few one-shots) and I've never been a player myself (sadly).

I told my players "give your PCs a motivation to travel in space and a reason of why they're together".

The PCs' names are Vincent, Lucien and Ryan. Lucien is my problematic player's character. The main goal for now is to find Vincent's father, who left him with his mother when he was a child, and sister (who is Lucien's love). Before the campaign started, Lucien saved the life of Vincent's sister, and fell in love with her. Due to his Marine duties he could not stay with her and she disappeared again. Later Vincent found information about him and decided to meet him to get more information. Lucien had no further information, but they became friends. Vincent then decided to get a ship and to take Lucien and Ryan (a common Marine friend) as crew and investigate about his sister.

So, why can't he be a freak? Because sooner of later (before finding his sister) Vincent would see how Lucien really is and would dump him in space before letting his sister stay with a freak (even if they do not know if she loves Lucien). And, being a freak, I'm not sure he could have managed to enter the Marines and stay there so many years.

The players know about each others' backgrounds, we all worked them out together.

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You might want to read up about how to deal with disruptive players, see: rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/11189/… and rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/12884/… for starters –  Clara Onager Apr 22 at 7:47
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Please delete obsolete comments after they have served their purpose. –  Brian Ballsun-Stanton Apr 23 at 11:01

6 Answers 6

up vote 3 down vote accepted

To make your question short, and to see if I understood it correctly, we're talking about a player who made his character a certain one and roleplays it entirely different. You added that you think that it comes from inexperience, and that he created this character after you said "no" to some "freak-character"-ideas. You want to help him roleplay the character he created.

As I see it, this problem is made from two smaller ones. The first is that he doesn't see his character as interesting because the character "is normal and normal is boring". The second is that you wanna help him understand why the way he plays the character does not fit the story-world of your game.

Helping him understand that "normal is not boring

This is the more important problem, as it stands in the basis of the entire problem. If he'll see that normal characters can be interesting his "anti-persona" will perish and he'll roleplay a normal character and not a freak one. The main trick here is to show him that normal characters are not entirely normal, i.e. "no person is like the others". In order for that to work, we need to give the character depth.

The easiest way to give depth to a character is through internal conflicts. Having goals and all is nice, but without something that blocks oneself from achieving them it is far less interesting. First thing to do is to go over his character's background and see if he implemented there an internal conflict for his character. If so, show it to him and talk with him about it. If no, sit with him and help him to come with one. The internal conflict doesn't have to be extravagant, but it needs to be there. An example one might be that he loves Vincent's sister but secretly hates Vincent himself, or another like Loves the sister but thinks that he's not good enough for there. I'll take the second one as an example for this section.

The conflict gives us a few things, a few added benefits. It gives the character 2 conflicting goals: "Get the sister and prove that I'm worthy". Now, with those two we also get a kind of an achieving-plan: "If I'll show her that I'm worthy, by getting something amazing done, she'll want me and I'll be able to get her". More than that, the character gets the knowledge that each advancement in order to achieve one goal will drive the other one to the far end.

But the first conflict is even more interesting. The character here has the knowledge that he needs the brother in order to save his lover, but he just can't stand being near the brother. He'll drive the mission onward for two reasons but he'll have doubts about his lover- if he'll marry her he'll be stuck with this brother of hers.

To make long story short, simple conflicts can show the player that even normal characters are interesting and unique. When combined with goals they force the character to take certain steps along the roads, to commit certain actions along the way, that he won't want to do but will make him doubt himself and question himself and see that his problem are far more interesting than those of every freak that he'll encounter.

Another nice way to help him see the importance of conflict is through showing him and analyzing with him certain protagonists that are normal people, from the stories and movies and series (of any form)that he likes. He'll see quite quickly that the conflicts make them interesting.

But he may say that it is not enough. For that there are a few more literary tools that might help him see why normal people are interesting. The first one is having flaws (internal or external) and the second one is using "The Ghost".

Flawed characters are characters that just like normal people aren't perfect. Those flaws can be internal (self-doubts, for example, or a mild paranoia) or they can be external (they're look frightens ordinary people, for once, or a missing hand for the other). The idea is that the character has to deal with the flaw, and one day to find the strength to overcome it. The fight for the overcoming act makes the character far more interesting. A nice example of that can be seen in The Rain Man, where he learns at the end that he can count on strangers/"dumb" persons like he's brother. Another nice example can be seen in the story of The Ugly Duckling who although looking terrible learned to acknowledge himself and to accept the way he looks, to accept his difference.

"The Ghost" is an event from the past that just like a ghost haunts the character to this day. Again, trying to cope with it is what builds a deep character. One example for this can be seen in the movie Inception, where we literally have a ghost- Cob's wife. Another example for this can be seen in the movie Casablanca, where he has to deal with his broken relationship with Ilsa. This Ghost is far more interesting as the originator of the Ghost actually comes back to his life. In Frozen we see another kind of a Ghost- the act that one feels guilty about. Elsa actually killed her sister.

All of these techniques are there for one reason- to make regular people interesting, to give depth to the characters, to make them human beings with goals and drives and psychology.

Helping him see that his character doesn't fit the world

After he understands that he doesn't have to be a freak in order to be interesting, he will be far more understandable about playing a character that fits the world. Then, try to explain to him as calmly as you can what it is in the way he played his character that doesn’t fit the world.

Explain to him that the characters are in a world where being a freak is bad, where achieving one's goals is the ideal. Each and every one for himself, as the saying goes. Give him examples from the way he played his character and analyze with him, in a one-on-one conversation where his way of acting came from. Use the background he created to illustrate to him where your problem comes from.

Then ask him what problems he has with his character, and together try to find a solution. Maybe let him be just a little bit freakish. Maybe he needs to just create a different character. This is basically between you and him. After that show the updated character to the group and get their approval.

When combining those two, you'll get a player who his far more willing to both play the character while also seeing the problems with the way he played his character before.

Combining the two solutions

When combining the two solutions you get a better player, who understands for the future also how to create regular characters that are not freaks yet far more interesting than those freaks will ever be able to be. Furthermore, you get a player who is willing to play his character as written while still making the character fit into the world. Hope any of these helped you.

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This is the answer I was looking for: you told me not only about how to help my player understand that normal characters are not boring and why his character doesn't fit the world, but also how to add conflicts and "ghosts" that can be really useful for any character my players (and me when I'll be a player myself) will do. –  FraNe91 May 1 at 16:15

You're right, saying "OK, your character's been hit in the head, that's why he's acting strangely" is lame. You should not be rationalizing your PCs' strange behavior like that...

...but your NPCs and other players definitely should!

OK, so the company medic, who's always been a dependable Marine, even though his background has some unusual aspects and a few funny gaps, has inexplicably started to act a bit oddly. Well, not just a bit oddly, to be honest... and it seems to be getting worse. Surely, sooner or later, his friends and fellow Marines should start to wonder if, maybe, something's wrong with him.

Only, when asked, he denies acting in any way strangely. Maybe his superiors even order him to take a psych evaluation, but it comes up saying he's still perfectly normal. But the weird behavior continues... maybe there's something stranger, even nefarious behind it? Sounds like something the PCs ought try and find out, even while keeping an eye on their fellow.

In short, sounds like the start of an adventure, or at least a side plot.


What I'm suggesting is, don't try to change the way your player plays his character, even if it doesn't fit your concept of how the character should be acting. Rather, treat it like any other player actions — take it, let it happen, and make the world (and the other PCs) react to it. But don't just ignore discrepancies between the character's actions and backstory either, because the backstory is also part of the world, and other characters (both PCs and NPCs) ought to notice if a character's behavior suddenly changes significantly.

For example, next time the medic does something weird, you could just nudge the other players towards wondering about it simply by asking them if they've noticed anything odd about the medic's behavior lately. You don't need to go anywhere immediately with that, but just suggest to the other players that their characters might have a legitimate reason to be curious about that.

Then start dropping hints about what might be causing the medic's odd behavior. Maybe there's rumors about a new kind of mind control technology that isn't detected by normal scans. Maybe there's a news story about a plague of unknown origin causing strange behavior changes. Maybe they hear an old tale about some guy who was captured by pirates and brainwashed into joining them, and about how they also planted some posthypnotic suggestions in his mind that were triggered long after he'd been recaptured and returned to normal society.

Mind you, those hints could well be red herrings. Indeed, in a sense they definitely are, since I'm sure your medic's player had nothing like that in mind. But the point is that, bogus or not, your other players now have a motivation to start looking into those things, and once they start, who knows what they'll turn up.

Also, and this is kind of important, encourage your player to play along. He doesn't need to decide whether the rumors you've thrown out about his character's behavior are true, since his character wouldn't know anyway, but he should decide how his character's going to react if and when he hears about those rumors himself. Otherwise, let him know that he's free to play his character any way he wants, but do encourage him to think about any suggestions about his character that other players (or you) might come up, and, if he finds them interesting and appropriate, consider accepting them as true facts about his character.

Also, of course, if your players do eventually determine that their medic's odd behavior is due to, say, an alien virus that's trying to make him part of a hive mind, and if they manage to find a way to try and cure him, you and the medic's player (possibly together with the other players) need to sit down and decide if that's really going to work. But, depending on how things work out, that may be many sessions in the future, and many things, not the least being the player's role-playing experience, may have changed. Don't worry about it too much yet.


Now, a few words of caution. First of all, this is obviously just one way to approach the problem. It might, or might not, work for you and your players. It does require a few things to work, not the least being that a) you need to be willing to think on your feet and let the plot develop organically from your players' actions, b) your "problem player" can't be too disruptive — his behavior needs to be something your party and setting can more or less handle — and c) your other players need to have enough role-playing skill to pick up the suggestions you're throwing at them and roll with them, letting their characters react to them (and to their fellow's weird behavior) in ways that would be natural to them.

That said, if you've got all that, you just might want to try thinking of your oddball player, not as a problem, but as a rare opportunity. After all, just how naturally and convincingly do you think your average player would play a brainwashed ex-pirate, or a puppet of an alien mind parasite, if you told them to do so?

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I think the basic problem is that you made him rewrite his character until it matched a character you wanted him to play, rather than what he wanted to play. So on paper he matches your expectation, but it's not actually what he wants to play. It also seems that you set a rather strict set of limitations on character personalities, which might match the game you want to play, but does it match his?

Now he finds himself in mid-game with a character he doesn't want to play, and other players constantly telling him he's playing wrong, when in fact he's just probably expressing frustration, or maybe boredom, with playing the wrong thing. The more he's been confronted with how it's his fault, the more he could become entrenched in his "wrong" frame of mind.

You mentioned in the question, and in the comments below, that the characters he created "didn't fit your campaign". But remember that the dynamic of "it's the GM's campaign, the players just live in it" doesn't work for everyone, and if the players want something different, it might be to everyone's benefit to modify the campaign according to the players, rather than expecting them to conform. The players' character might not be a good fit for the campaign that you had in mind, but remember that it's not just your campaign.

The best solution isn't to somehow make him conform to a character concept that you want and he went along with, but to revise his character description so that it matches what he really wants to do. Talk to the player. See where the problem lies. Ask him why he's playing the way he does, and whether he wants to play something else.

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Not all character concepts fit in every campaign. That's a fundamental concern that shouldn't be ignored either, because it's the other half of the dilemma at the core of the question. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 20 at 18:01
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@TimLymington There's a possible good answer there; how to change the campaign to accommodate the "odd one out" without yanking the rug from under the other players who are already on-board with the original premise, is non-trivial and would be a valuable insight. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 20 at 18:53
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@SevenSidedDie That's the problem, it doesn't fit in my campaign, and that's exactly why I clearly asked my players to create normal characters before starting playing. I don't think I set strict personality limitations, I just asked characters without personality/mental problems. The first time he created an apathetic medic without emotions who saw people as machines to be repaired. That's not normal, that's a psychological problem! In a realistic setting (actually is hard sci-fi) no one would take him as a crewman, in fact probably they would take a person like this in an asylum... –  FraNe91 Apr 20 at 19:34
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I think you still misunderstand something. It is normal and not despotic for a GM to say, "You're all company members aboard a trade ship. Make characters that fit," and object when one makes a weird character. Just like it is considered a problem with the player if they make an accountant or a traitor when the DM said, "You're all adventuring heroes in a cooperative party." The GM is 100% within his rights and responsibilities here. Your answer is effectively saying the GM can never play hard sci-fi, which is unreasonable, and unhelpful besides. –  SevenSidedDie Apr 21 at 3:19
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I think it's perfectly normal and non-despotic - until it causes a problem, which is (from the limited information we have) what is happening. My starting point us the problem, not the request for specific characters. –  lisardggY Apr 21 at 6:46

Another solution to the problem is to turn it into an opportunity for roleplay.

Invent a reason why this character is behaving so oddly, hard sci-fi has loads of fantastic options for this, for example:

  • The character is a robot/cyborg/alien who doesn't know who what they are
  • The character is a clone or duplicate human with transplanted memories (Blade Runner!)
  • The character has undergone extreme brain surgery after a near fatal accident but has no memories of the accident or convalescence (works for Joss Whedon every time)

Then tell the other players in secret but don't tell the problem player.

This should settle the other players down so that they are not constantly bickering with the problem player. Then, over the course of time, the problem player will hopefully come into line and the backstory details will eventually emerge in a natural fashion. Adding similar elements in what the characters are dealing with will allow you to provide some foreshadowing for the players.

The other alternative, and it's never a great one, is to ask the problem player to leave. That's a whole different issue so should be dealt with as a separate question.

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Don't focus on correct, but on fun

People play this game to have fun. Telling others that their ideas or ways to approach the game are wrong leads doesn't seem to increase the enjoyment at the table.

You explained that freak characters don't fit into your campaign. Of course that's your prerogative, but don't you think the group might have a better time if you just let him be? Let this one player play the character he wants to play, and let the rest tip the balance towards normality.

I find it hard to imagine that his one character concept is so disruptive and destructive that it breaks your campaign. Yes, it might be a bit more challenging for you as a DM, but that's a good thing. Just start the game and play it, and if his freaky character actually leads to problems in the game, have a time out and talk to him. And if you really, really, really can't find a place for the type of character your friend wants to play in your campaign, play the campaign without him. Because in the end, that's still better than forcing him to play a character he cannot identify with.

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This answer assumes that attempting to create a consistent, verisimilitudinous world can't possibly contribute to the group's fun as much as letting the player have a character that is disruptive to the mood the other players are working on. You're right that maybe letting him play the character would be the best solution, but maybe it wouldn't be; YOu don't address that possibility. -1. –  GMJoe Apr 22 at 6:42
    
A consistent, believable world doesn't mean a world of universal conformity. –  DrewS Jun 13 at 19:30

In order to adjust for the new player "greenness" I would often have the player make a character roll their intelligence or wit or intuition or what ever is appropriate for the game when they state an uncharacteristic action.

"Oh, you want to call the King a moron? Well after succeeding an intelligence roll your training indicates that would be a bad idea and could start a war. You may want to reconsider." Or "I'm sorry but your intelligence roll failed and soon hear the clicking sounds of many trigger happy body guards before the words finish leaving your lips."

Of course there are still those players who insist on taking the actions and as Ilmari Karonenthe mentions, consequences should reflect the severity of the social Faux pas.

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