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I have an issue with two players in my very large gaming group that I would like some advice from people who have perhaps dealt with players like these. In terms of age and experience, we're all between the ages of 18 to 21, and we've variously been playing the game for 2 to 10 years.

To put it simply, they will only play weird characters that break the immersion for my self and the other players. An example being a recent pathfinder game where the party consisted of a human gunslinger, human fighter, elf wizard, and a flail snail. It was a one of these things is not like the others situation. No one could really get into the game because of having to imagine this fairly typical group, plus a snail.

There was one instance where one of the players demanded to play an aquatic elf in a land locked campaign. It slowed the group down mechanically when they had to keep finding water. Another example is when the GM was adamant that the campaign he was running was human only, the player still went on to nag the GM to let him play anything from various pixies, plants, and even a swarm. The arguing wound up delaying the campaign from starting for several hours.

I've asked the players why they play these types of characters and they say things along the lines of:

  • Its too hard to play a humanoid character because there is too much to think about when playing a neurotypical standard humanoid
  • I want to play characters that no one can relate too
  • I like playing with self imposed restrictions in terms of how I act.

We have asked them as a group to play more normal characters and there have been mixed responses from the two. One will keep asking whoever is the DM until they break down and allow something. The other will play a more normal character but is clearly not having fun.

If anyone has had experience with a situation like this, how did you resolve it?

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Probably not a duplicate, but related: How to go from a humorous campaign to a more serious one? –  BESW Jun 9 at 23:03
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@BESW I think this sentence "No one could really get into the game because of having to imagine this fairly typical group, plus a snail." is quite clear on where the problem is. It's a question of immersion. Imagine a talking monkey in Casablanca. –  Flamma Jun 9 at 23:17
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I think this question has sufficient detail, we don't need flail snail stories to answer it. Those not experienced with immersion gaming should not answer. –  mxyzplk Jun 9 at 23:39
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Relevant: Geek Social Fallacies #1-3, and possibly #5. –  Jonathan Hobbs Jun 10 at 0:21
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That's three answers-in-comments now. Can we avoid doing that? There is a lovely, spacious, eggshell-interior answer box with a to-die-for chestnut bezel at the bottom of the page. It's a bit of a fixer-upper, needs a bit of work put in, but a little TLC will turn it into a beautiful new solution-home. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 10 at 16:47

14 Answers 14

up vote 63 down vote accepted

Different players get different things out of gaming. Unfortunately, some people's gaming styles mean that their fun comes at the expense of others'.

Often in a case like this, the player either wants more attention than the other players or, via their outlier character, wants their character to constrain/implicitly control the rest of the group. This is unhealthy and distracting to the rest of the group, and they are justified in not liking it.

First, forward the group Making the Tough Decisions (see the "Deciding to React Differently" section) and ask them to read it. "My character would do that" is not an excuse for being a jerk. They need to find a type of character that provides their kind of fun but not at the expense of the experience of the other gamers. I had a player once who wanted to be "evil" and work against the party, so I had him be a spy and send reports back on their activity all the time, but was strictly instructed to "never blow his cover." So to the rest of the group he was perfectly helpful. The player eventually left and the PCs even still kept up with the NPC, they never found out he was a spy. This got that player his somewhat-dysfunctional fun without adverse effect on the group.

Second, the other players don't have to accept the control of the outlier character. Make it clear "we don't want that." If they do it anyway, then just have your characters react as they would in game to a weirdo freak. We had one serious game, with espionage and such, and a player brought in a new gnome character who was clinically insane. He'd just say stuff like "Turnips wheee!" and not make any sense. When he found out our secret-agent stuff, we sat him down and said "So, can you keep our secret?" "Turnips wheee!" "OK, so listen to me very carefully. If you don't start making some Goddamned sense right now we're going to tie you in a sack and drown you in the river." Our characters were not willing to have their lives in the hands of some incoherent freak.

This may lead to group exclusion. Which is sad but sometimes you have to do it. We had one player that was always "like that," and when he brought in a new character to our sci-fi game it was the last straw. Our spaceship touched down, we went recruiting crew. This guy couldn't even express why we'd hire him. "I have... skills. I can do things... that need doing." We left him on the planet. The group met later and decided to disinvite him from the group, as he just did that all the time.

@JonathanHobbs cites the Five Geek Social Fallacies, and he's right to do so. Heck, there's two of them, let them go play their own freak game together. Because groups have a right to set their playstyle. It's like recreational sports teams. Some people want to be goons and dress up in mascot costumes and play silly soccer. Other teams want to be serious and compete. Both get something different out of the hobby. But the serious team is welcome and expected to bounce a "mascot boy" from their team.

And third, we come to splitting the party. I was running games for a fairly large group, and I and some of the players wanted to do a more seriously immersive game. Half the group was on board and half wasn't. So I started an immersive game and invited those people to it, and I started a "fun" game and invited the others (eventually rotating out of GMing for the "fun" one). We had a five year long super deep immersive campaign that everyone looks back on, ten years later, as our single best roleplaying experience ever. You deserve that, and you don't have to always give in to someone that doesn't want that.

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+1 for "Making the tough decisions". I like playing odd characters, and sometimes they just didn't work with the group. Reading the essay helped me understand that good roleplaying does not mean "always do what your character would do, no matter the consequences to the rest of the party". Good roleplaying is having fun, and helping other people have fun too. –  Gustav Bertram Jun 10 at 11:07
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Your second point, regarding outlier characters is great. A group can act in-character to remove a PC that doesn't fit in, realistically any adventure party wouldn't bring an aquatic elf on an adventure to a heavily landlocked region. My group had a guy like that, one time he picked languages none of us knew. So in-character we didn't listen to anything he said. –  Will F Jun 10 at 18:12
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-1; you make a huge leap to your conclusion that the players are making the choices that they are purely because they enjoy controlling the game or messing with others' fun. I see no evidence of this; for all we know, the players would be just as happy with their characters if they were in a game where they are appropriate and not scene-stealing. Which is a shame, because most of the answer is excellent. –  KRyan Jun 10 at 22:53

Let's remember that almost every "adventurer" (player character) kills people for a living. I don't care what alignment or religion they are, at some point in their career they have killed people for money. People who kill others for money don't put up with people that annoy them or cause additional risk in their lives; they kill them. Yes, this causes rifts in the group of friends playing the game, so you want to try other alternatives first, but if the player delivers a foolish character and refuses to actually join the party (by "join" I mean be helpful and hold up his end), I would expect the other players to openly off him and then make suggestions about his next character.

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This answer says a lot about what "should" happen, but doesn't say anything about what the GM can do to make these "shoulds" a practical reality. Could you edit it to include the GM techniques you use to implement your vision? –  SevenSidedDie Jun 28 at 15:55

As GM, you have the right to tell a player that their character is inappropriate for the campaign or the party. This character concept violates the rules-as-written, the rules-as-intended, but most seriously, it violates the rule of fun. This character makes the game less fun for everyone else involved.

Some good advice from the 3.5 SRD (yes, I know, he uses Pathfinder, but it's good advice nonetheless) page on Monsters As (Player) Races

While every monster has the statistics that a player would need to play the creature as a character, most monsters are not suitable as PCs. Creatures who have an Intelligence score of 2 or lower, who have no way to communicate, or who are so different from other PCs that they disrupt the campaign should not be used. Some creatures have strange innate abilities or great physical power, and thus are questionable at best as characters (except in high-level campaigns).

So a number of points:

  • The Flail Snail monster page has no level adjustment score. It was never intended to be a playable race.
  • It cannot communicate effectively. Other PCs are unlikely to know Flail Snail Sign Language. Writing in slime is nifty, but how long with that take to do? Definitely inappropriate in the middle of battle.
  • It is so different from the other PCs that it would disrupt the campaign
  • It has at least one insanely high-powered innate ability - magic usually just bounces off it, or even reflects! That's before the saves kick in.

In conclusion, this is not an appropriate character concept, and you have the right to tell them no.

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Relevant section of the PFSRD: d20pfsrd.com/races/other-races –  SevenSidedDie Jun 17 at 19:44

Play Gamma World or a totally gonzo FLAILSNAILS-style game. In Gamma World, it's totally normal to play a telekinetic flower or something like that, and FLAILSNAILS-style gonzo games, while rooted in traditional fantasy, tend to have an "anything goes" attitude. Revel in the crazy over the top ridiculousness.

Of course, maybe the other players won't like that. So what you really need to ask your group is: do you really want to play together? Different players want something totally different out of the game. Some want a pretty serious, plausible game, others want over-the-top crazy. Trying to mix those in the same game is not going to work. Expecting some people to have no fun is not reasonable.

So it's entirely possible that your group can't play together. If your group does want to play together, probably because you're friends and like hanging out together, you need to find a compromise to make this possible. Make sure everybody is on the same page regarding game style and what they expect out of the game. And because different players want different, incompatible things, you should probably have two different games and alternate between them. One that is fairly serious, and the gonzo players will have to agree to make fairly realistic characters if they want to play in it, and one game that's no holds barred, anything goes, and the serious players don't get to complain that it's not realistic, because that's the entire point of that game.

Some players will enjoy one game more, others will enjoy the other game more, and that's okay, because you still get to hang out together. And maybe the serious players will enjoy the occasional crazy. And maybe the gonzo players will manage to create characters that are still interesting and unique without breaking the expectations of the serious game.

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There needs to be a conversation at the start of the campaign where the campaign-style - the agreed parameters of what it will be like, and "feel" like, both from a PC side and the GM side - is worked out.

GM: "I'd like to run a game where everybody plays humans, elves or dwarves. No halflings, no gnomes, no half-orcs, and definitely no weird monster PCs. The game is to be mainly serious in tone - no joke characters. No naked people covered in erotic tattoos, no really strange pets."

Player: "Oh, but I really want to play something little like a kobold or gnome"

GM: "Well, I could maybe bend the rule and countenance a halfling. Or a relatively short dwarf."

... and so on until they either agree, or someone pulls out. Some players will balk at the 'no weird monster PC' line and say 'nah, not interested'. You need to accept that if you have a hard limit on what you're running, that's going to happen - you can't have a game that will work for every possible player.

If it tends to be a problem of 'style creep' where a reasonable game slowly turns into a parody of itself, write the agreed style up in a campaign contract after the initial conversation so people can see/remember what was agreed to.

If you're in a situation where the game has already gone on for some time in a manner you're not prepared to continue with, you may need a minor campaign reboot.... which again, will be the point where you need to have the conversation.

Try to be as explicit as you can about what you see as disruptive and try to compromise on some of the things that are less of a problem for you. Some GMs have a big problem with lack of party cohesion for example, while others see it as part of the drama of the game. The same applies to players. It's important that everyone have some sense of the expectations that people are bringing to the table.

None of the approaches are inherently good or bad, but that doesn't mean all must be accepted in the same game.

Edit: There's the issue of how to deal with an existing 'flail snail' type character in said reboot. Does the PC retire gracefully to an NPC with a potential future cameo appearance? Does it go out in a dramatic scene replete with campaign hooks? Does it undergo some dramatic transformation to a more 'in campaign style' character? That would be something to work out with the player, after the style of the ongoing game has been thrashed out and agreed on.

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It's already been said, but in my experience tabletop RPGs are inherently CO-OP games meaning they should work as a team to mitigate their individual flaws. while not a flail snail, I had one player who was an uber power player, not that he was good at making strong characters, but he knew how to use Google to find strong builds and use tese to hijack the party to play his way. to make things worse, if I, as the DM said no to one of his idiotically overpowered ideas, he would make me feel like I was the bad guy for not letting him "free". My answer to him was:"if you want to play diablo, then buy diablo"(which he did). I have other examples of this, but suffice to say that this escalated in a large part of my friend circle being torn asunder and 2 years later the wounds still haven't healed. As a DM I solved this in the following way, I now have a strict set of house rules regarding character creating conduct during sessions, ... This is the first thing I clarify to my players, and I have it written down so there can be no discussion. If someone is not comfortable with these rules they are welcome to leave, no hard feelings, but I game to have a good time, not to worry about who I might offend playing a game.

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Hi and welcome to RPG.SE! This answer is heavy on the story, but not on the details of your suggested fixes. It would be really helpful if you outlined what your house rules on character creation are (at least in broad strokes). –  wax eagle Jun 11 at 14:11
    
Thanks for the comment, well, the rules are: 1 a maximum of 3 rulebooks per character 2 no tier 1 classes 3 no character sheets until I approve the background my players create –  Jef Jun 19 at 10:56

In a lot of ways, my personality is like the "flail snail" guy. I never want to play "just another fighter/rogue/cleric/wizard" — I feel like there's no way for the game to produce memories if I have a bland character.

What do "flail snail" players want? The same thing that I crave: a significant portion of the limelight. They want their characters, and therefore themselves, immortalized in the stories the other players tell for years to come.

And honestly, the "flail snail" character is gonna be remembered, for better or for worse. And that just feeds the beast.

What can be done? Your problem players have said:

I like playing with self imposed restrictions in terms of how I act.

This is a great way to play a character that is memorable. Beware though, that a player's restrictions should never, ever:

  1. Change the fundamental rules and expectations of the game
  2. Restrict other players

Instead, a player can restrict him or herself by creating a character "tick" that governs how they role-play in the game. (As opposed to how they play the game.)

Suggestions that I have played to make my characters memorable without resorting to making my characters ridiculous:

  • A fighter who specializes in disarm and always deals the killing blow to his opponent with their own weapon.
  • A one-armed barbarian. I played the whole game with my dominant hand behind my back, even writing on my character sheet with my weak hand.
  • A halfling rogue whose disguise/bluff/UMD skills were so high (and my personal bluff, of course), I had the whole party thinking I was a human wizard for several sessions. (The DM obviously had to assist with this.)
  • A gnome with "Profession: chef" that always took bits of the various creatures we killed to see what new and exotic flavors they might have.

If you ask any of my groups about their favorite stories, they'll mention these characters by name and a few things that happened. That strokes the ego of the "flail snail" player in me.

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An addition to this: while there is nothing wrong with playing a character who will be remembered or takes a notable spot in the limelight, make sure not to overdo this: this will inevitably create resentment in the eyes of your fellow players. The goal of roleplaying is having fun, not making sure you become immortalized in story and song. –  Thomas Jacobs Jun 11 at 6:05
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I really like this answer because it's a great way to do things if the players are capable of assuming that role without hurting the game. I play roles like that whenever possible because I like the (key word) personal challenges involved. I've found that if you do it right, it often breaks other run-of-the-mill players out of their shell and makes them want to challenge themselves too, when they see how much fun it is, which ultimately leads to great storytelling opportunities. –  thanby Jun 11 at 16:57

Well I've been on the other side of that argument once, so this might be helpful.

I played ( and am still playing) a very socially awkward character. He is basically a very scholarly, naive and plain annoying kobold. I love playing him that way. That went well for a couple of sessions, then it got annoying for the rest of the group, mostly because i hogged a lot of the dm's time. We talked it out and came to the compromize, that I would restrain myself most of the time, but sometimes at appropriate moments (or what I consider to be such) I would play the character fully for half an hour or so, that happens about once every 3 sessions.

So what I would advise is to let them make moderatly "weird" characters and give them opportunities to play on the weirdness. If done right that can actually help immersion, because after all. You are playing wizards and Sorcerers battling evil Monsters and rescuing princesses ;). But in exchange those players don't play on that weirdness the rest of the time. You may need to add some rules, as to when a moment is appropriate, but that depends on the players.

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Do you have any advice for the Flail Snail Guy? That's not weirdness that can be turned off and saved for occasional 30-minute indulgences. (Unless it's a Were-Flail Snail, I guess.) –  SevenSidedDie Jun 10 at 14:26
    
I thought about him ( it is a tricky one...). How does the world itself react to him? If it is an uncommon sight, it would be reasonable to assume he has to use some sort of disguise most of the time, for example a hat of diguise to look like another more common animal/ magical beast, depending on the setting. That wouldn't break character ingame, since his character would have a good incentive not to be mobbed to death in every minor city. Edit: Indulgence would be to drop the disguise, which actually sounds like a fun way to get a surprise round :D. –  Andy Jun 11 at 6:14

These aren't necessarily problem players, people just have different views of what is interesting fantasy.

Most answers I heard so far are about the two players not playing the same way as the rest. You could see it the other way round, too. There seem to be reasons why you don't part ways, otherwise you'd have done so by now. Try a compromise: every third game is played their way, the others like the rest of the group wants to. Maybe you'll get to like the way of this playing. Try a round of Paranoia.

The most important part in the end is your social contract how to play, defined before the play. Seems you have to do it explicitly.

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-1: The question is quite clear that a problem exists, saying "nah, there's no problem" is not really an answer, not even with a "so grin and bear it, this is fantasy." added for good measure. You seem to be talking about platonic ideas of RPG players when the question is instead very specific. The asker states "We have asked them as a group to play more normal characters and there have been mixed responses from the two. One will keep asking whoever is the DM until they break down and allow something." and you talk about defining the social contract. –  Adriano Varoli Piazza Jun 10 at 19:15

Different Aesthetics of Play

The trick here is to understand that these are not necessarily "problem players" (the one who badgers GMs until they cave is definitely exhibiting problematic behavior though); the problem is that are looking for different things from your games than the rest of the group is trying to get. Refer to The Eight Kinds of Fun where the Aesthetics of Play are discussed as they relate to Tabletop Roleplaying. The article even points out the exact problem you describe; Expression-seeking oddballs upsetting the ability of Fantasy-seekers to get what they want out of the campaign.

The great thing about the article is that it provides a framework for discussing styles of gaming and playing that gives inherent value to everyone's preferred method of "fun." As a primarily Expression-seeking player myself, I've played a few oddball characters in my time, and I'd take exception to being accused of not caring about "immersion". I'm as immersed in my off-the-wall characters as I am with my serious ones. I would have an easier time conceding that some of those characters wouldn't fit in every campaign I've ever played, and that if I tried to play my sorcerer-cursed-with-the-body-of-a-gnat in a serious intrigue campaign I'd probably be spoiling the suspension of disbelief some of my Fantasy-seeking companions crave from that particular campaign.

You mention in the comments of another answer that you have a group of roughly 17 people as potential players for any given campaign. In a group that large you're bound to have conflicting Aesthetics of Play among the many players. Rather than forcing everyone to conform to the same Fantasy-heavy style that seems to be the majority Aesthetic, you have an opportunity to branch out and experiment with different modes of role-playing.

The best solution; especially with what appears to be a massive stable of players, is to create a separate campaign tailored to your group's Expression-seekers. Draft a GM and some additional players who seem the most game and oddball the hell out of it. Try to run a system involving collaborative storytelling's and shared world building and your Expression-seekers will be even more satisfied.

Treat the situation less like it's a problem with the way they play and more like the campaigns were some kind of Reese's experiment that doesn't work for everyone. Keep your Fantasy-chocolate and Expression-peanut-butter separate and everyone should be happy.

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My experience resolving this is probably going to be unsatisfactory, because there was no happy ending. Sadly, it was the only solution that turned out to work.

When we had a player that played "weird" characters that strained or broke the suspension of disbelief or immersion of the other players, I didn't invite that player again.

I hesitate to give this answer, because I don't feel like it was that great an outcome. Unfortunately, it sounds like there is no way for you to have an outcome that is happy for everyone involved, since you describe them as being palpably unhappy or belligerent when asked to meet your own minimum requirement for having an enjoyable game.

Your situation is rough, and I don't envy you. Unfortunately, the only solution I have ever seen work when there are diametrically opposed objectives, like there are in your situation, is for one side or the other to exit the situation.

Unhappy people exiting the situation can be done in two ways. If your GM has the time and is happy running two separate games and is happy running the type of game that these two players like, then that's a possible solution. I don't think it's actually a solution though, since it sounds distinctly like the GM is also unhappy with the lack of immersion and is one of the people who need to not be in this situation.

The second way is to very apologetically address the elephant in the room as a group: nobody is happy, and there is no way for everyone to be happy, so the group should split up. That sucks at the time, but in the end is always for the best: people staying in the group get a game that they can enjoy again, and people leaving the group can find another group where they can enjoy the game again.

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I would call this a last resort, but if all else fails this is the way to go. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 10 at 16:40
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@TimothyAWiseman Without an indication of what value is supposedly being preserved by keeping a non-functional group together and that value being so great that it overrides the primary goal of enjoying the game, I really don't think it is necessary to relegate this to a last resort. –  SevenSidedDie Jun 10 at 16:43
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You have a point. Perhaps I am biased in that most of my groups were friends before we started roleplaying or became friends not long afterwards. If the RP is the only social interaction with a person then I would be more inclined to suggest someone move on or else move on myself. Though its worth noting that some non-functional groups can be made functional with a bit of work, if that is desired. –  TimothyAWiseman Jun 10 at 18:15

Ok, there's a simple answer here: the game those two players want to play, is not the game everyone else wants to play.

The other issue is that it's clear at least one player is willing to spend hours arguing and even choose things that will impact play in a way that makes things less fun for everyone else.

What's the answer? Those two players should look for a group that is running the kind of game they want to play. The existing group plays the game they want to play, the two players play the kind of game they want to play, and everyone is happy.*

Here's the non-answer. The non-answer is to keep trying to get two clearly mutually exclusive games to fit together that are not working. You've already put in several hours across multiple games trying to make it work. It's not going to work. There's no trying harder, there's no set of rules, no campaign setting, no magical technique that will fix this.

You tried, it didn't work, it's cool. Move on.

*This presumes that their goal is to have fun playing the game, and not to have fun messing up your game by griefing. Much of the time, this kind of behavior comes out of Abused Gamer Syndrome issues and defensive attitudes born of railroad-y/abusive GMs and a lack of trust, but still not your responsibility as a group to put up with or fix.

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It's hard to know how to convince those players if you have already tried talking to them.

I would try to figure out which "normal" characters can fulfill their requirements. I would even try to find human characters just to show how diverse is in reality human race.

For instance, a handicapped boy, a crazy man, a knight that sweared to rigid vows, or a monk with extreme and weird vows form a extrange religion are examples of human characters with self-impossed restriction and that can have unique personalities.

Try to present creating and playing these characters as a challenge to themselves, and tell them that if they don't manage to enjoy them, they can generate new ones in a few sessions.

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Its interesting you mentioned the monk. One of the player's most recent character for the D&D next play test is a monk who has vowed to make as much money as possible in his life time. –  Ryan Raten Kuhar Jun 9 at 23:38
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I agree, there are tons of things you can do to a "normal" race to make them unique. Phobias are good, always funny to watch the assassin who's afraid of the dark. Or maybe a cleric with a fear of public speaking but a divine directive to spread his god's message. I've even seen characters with multiple personality disorder and each personality having different classes. Honestly, the fact that they're making these crazy things might show a LACK of creativity. –  Mitharlic Jun 9 at 23:45
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So, a Yen Buddhist? –  Gustav Bertram Jun 10 at 10:50

When starting a game, ensure the players know your play style, and what your goals related to that play style are. If it is intended to be serious, the players knowing this beforehand is important.

It also sounds like there's a bit of a problem with the DM's. The DM has a right to veto any character that detracts from the game or will likely lower the fun for other players. The standards should be laid out before-hand, but it is the DM that ultimately has to enforce it. If the DM caves and allows these players to play such a distracting character after saying it wasn't allowed, then they should look carefully at why they are allowing that player to continue pushing them.

That said, if you have enough players that seem to be like this, split into two games. One of the games can be lighthearted and filled with the characters of whimsy that these players seem to enjoy, and the other can be more serious. If this ends up creating two completely different groups because the goofier players don't want to play in the serious game and the serious players don't want to play in the goofy game, then the whole situation is still likely better off separated like that. If the goofy players just want to be able to indulge in those quirky and odd characters, but are willing to play normal characters at other times, then you have found a good compromise that works for everyone.

If you are willing to meet them half-way and set up a campaign for each of those play styles, everyone will enjoy the game more as a whole. Sometimes a whimsical, lighthearted romp through a character completely alien to the norms is great, and they're sure to enjoy it if you join them in a game like that every now and then, and it will engender some mutual respect for each-other.

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I can say for myself that I've never caved, my typical response is along the lines of "Go find a DM who will let you play a flail snail and play in his campaign". The problem with splitting the group is that there would be 2 players on the weird side and around 15 on the normal side. The two players have recently been collaborating on a co-DMed campaign where they won't allow anyone to use races from the player's handbook. We will have to see how that goes. –  Ryan Raten Kuhar Jun 9 at 23:44
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And that still falls inline with what I was trying to suggest. As an aside, 17 players is a LOT... –  Aviose Jun 10 at 0:19
    
All 17 don't play all the time, we just have a lot of potential players. –  Ryan Raten Kuhar Jun 10 at 1:09

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