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I'm planning to start a game of Rogue Trader with a number of new players that are new to RPGs. I've helped the players generate their characters and have given them a very very basic backstory to serve as a scaffolding for them to build.

One of my players is extremely enthusasitic and has come back with quite a lot of backstory — unfortunately, it seems like a lot of it will not fit the setting. For example, his character required a vendetta of some sort, so he wants his vendetta to be against the Emperor of Mankind himself. (I have yet to tell him that the Emperor is back on Holy Terra, ensconced on the Golden Throne, protected by thousands of psykers and that he will lead a very short life should he be found out...)

How do I go about making the appropriate changes without actually discouraging him from coming up with further ideas and feeling that he has lost control of his character's history?

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Don't! He can have a vendetta against whom ever he wants. Maybe just tell him that his character will have a hard time if the wrong people find out about it, and let him change it if he wishes. Through history we have had small groups with vendettas against kings/presidents/countries :-) and most of them never did anything about it, ended up in jail or died trying. His choice through role-playing to show how he will measure up. (Remember Remember the 5th of November) – AquaAlex Jul 16 '14 at 13:57
I've always thought of a vendetta as somewhat reciprocal. Can you have a vendetta against someone who have no idea you even exist? – Cristol.GdM Jul 16 '14 at 14:30
@Cristol.GdM "For you, the day Bison graced your village was the most important day of your life. But for me, it was Tuesday." – Adriano Varoli Piazza Jul 16 '14 at 16:12
FWIW, I think there's an important distinction between backstory and character motivation. "Vendetta against X" seems like it's just character motivation, and might not be an issue. What you might need to control is backstory, such as "The Emperor and I are old friends"; this might very well interfere with the world itself. – EnvisionAndDevelop Jul 17 '14 at 13:44

10 Answers 10

up vote 26 down vote accepted

Short answer; don't.

Based on what you've said it's not that his character is a problem, just that his theoretical goal is untenable. Make it clear to him exactly what sort of trouble he'd be in for if he decides to have his character pursue that vendetta. Let him know it would be impossible (or almost impossible, depending on your GM style) to fulfill and what sorts of challenges he might face keeping that secret. Then ask him one simple question.

Do you still want to have a vendetta against the Emperor?

If he says yes, great - problem solved. He knows what he's in for and he's decided that that'll be fun. Heck, it will probably be more fun for both of you. Cr0m makes the suggestion below that if you're looking for goals from players that you have him set a more immediate "first step". If he says no, suggest some more campaign-appropriate people to have a vendetta against or help him think of another character concept if he needs it.

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+1 for explaining why the goal is a Bad Idea in-setting. Having a vendetta against the Emperor is like having a Vendetta against Apollo: You're unlikely to have any opportunity to do anything about it in the course of the game, and if the object of your vendetta were to actually notice you, you would immediately suffer any fate he chooses for you. It's worth mentioning that every surviving entity who has a vendetta against the God-Emperor is a xeno race with vast numbers and significant advantages over humans, backed by one or more gods, and/or so insignificant as to escape notice. – GMJoe Jul 16 '14 at 4:16
I'm not sure that's strictly true (there are the various heresies and such, after all). But that was pretty much the point, yeah. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 16 '14 at 5:49
Good answer, but how about suggesting to the player that he pick out a "first step" in reaching his goal? That gives the GM something to work with right now. – cr0m Jul 16 '14 at 12:41
+1 good on topic answer – AquaAlex Jul 16 '14 at 13:57
@cr0m I think in general that's probably a good idea. I'm not certain the OP was actually looking for "goals" from the players, though; it sounded like that was incidental. – Wesley Obenshain Jul 16 '14 at 17:20

"Hey, that sounds like a great idea for an epic game. We're actually going to be playing something more low key in this campaign, though. How about if you have a vendetta against (lower powered authority, but still powerful relative to the character and more fitting with the situation)? That would fit in really well this this other situation/other player's backstory, and then you're both connected..."

Scope of play is useful to talk about for sure! A key part of media and stories is playing up the difference between a large scale goal that is the center of play vs. one that is a character's "pipe dream" (or perhaps, a goal that is going to be much further down the line in the book series, tv show, etc.)

If it was a war story, it's two very different stories about the guy who "just wants to go home to his family" in the kind of story where that CAN happen, and be the center conflict of play, vs. an ongoing story about another conflict, where his desire to go home is more of a character trait than something he will make happen in the events.

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Holy cannelloni! You're Bankuei. The Bankuei. Have my +1, sir! – Gustav Bertram Jul 17 '14 at 11:35
@GustavBertram I'm just a gamer like anyone else :P Thanks! – user9935 Jul 17 '14 at 16:11
Unfortunatey I didn't recognise @Bankuei but after a quick google and read through your blog, it is now bookmarked! Cheers for the answer! – link64 Jul 22 '14 at 4:11

There are only two situations in which it is ever appropriate to restrict a player's creativity (especially new players who might get discouraged) when constructing an origin story for their character in an RPG:

  1. The origin story gives a player a mechanical advantage over the other players. Example: My noble family is old, influential, and extremely wealthy. Oh, and did I mention I have a trust fund and a personal army of mercenaries?
  2. The origin story is outrageously inappropriate for the setting. Example: I was an astronaut for NASA in the year 2035 testing a new spacecraft designed for deep space travel when I got caught in a wormhole and ended up in a corn field outside the city of Neverwinter.

Look at it as a teachable moment. Explain to the player that narrative choices can have significant consequences. If he still wants to launch a doomed assault on an impenetrable fortress in a futile attempt to kill a God-King, let him. The worst case scenario is he dies, rolls a new character, and learns a valuable lesson. However there is the possibility that his character realizes his hubris the night before the raid and calls it off, deciding instead it is better to let go of his hatred. Despite his inevitable failure, maybe his combat prowess impresses the emperor enough that he spares the character's life in exchange for military service. Maybe the character's friends fear that they will be killed as well for associating with him, and turn him in to the local authorities. There are lots of cool possibilities that don't involve a meaningless death on his part and you're doing both the player and yourself a disservice by not allowing them to at least be explored.

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I think you just gave me an idea for my next character... – Wesley Obenshain Jul 16 '14 at 5:50
+1 completely agree only if a player is trying to give his character an in game advantage or he will destroy game balance should the DM curtail his creativity. and there are many ways to do this without just saying NO. – AquaAlex Jul 16 '14 at 14:02

Tell him where the problema lies. "Man, your character knows that the target of your revenge is maybe the most well protected guy ever. Do you really want to have such a target, that it might be justification for your partecipation to the story but can't be reached (at least not soon) or would you rather like to choose one of his menas your target?"

Build the backstory with him. Compliment his idea and tell him it's good but not appropriate for the game (or, to better say, it's not solvable during the game - and if this isn't a problem, I'll say it again, the background is ok.)

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I don't know RT and only roughly WH40k. That said I still want to propose the following: Talk to your player about how all-mighty the God-Emporer is. Talk about a common definition of "vendetta". Maybe you'll find that the player wants a target that will keep his character running forever.

In this case "vendetta" may mean "my character blames the emporer for some dreadful event in his life. But the emporer had no clue about the mere existance of my character and even less considers the possibility that one of his many choices has made an unknown man his enemy. Being fully aware of the difference in power my character will secretly pursue vengence through small stings, which will be covered up in ways to stay alive and add further stings to the score."

This provides nice story hooks, since the player will happily accept everything that leads to any "discomfort" for the emperor, even if it's so minor that someone a level lower than the emporer will be merely told "production in place X lacks behind the expected". Obviously something this unimportant won't go directly to the emporer. But the other guy may break into a sweat or even lie about the results, if asked by the emperor.

It's like spitting into someone's boiling hot coffee. It has no effect but may make you feel like you had your revenge for today.

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Definitely DO encourage the creativity and imagination of your players. Meanwhile, what to do about his character that doesn't fit your setting? Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Tell him you love his character, and want to have it as an NPC. Then inform him on the limitations of your setting, and work with him to try again.

  2. Be more flexible in your setting. Build your setting around the characters. Have your story revolve around their backgrounds.

  3. If you have strict limitations to your setting, share this with your players up front and explain why.

  4. Or if this is the case of "my father is a wealthy dragon and my mom is a magical unicorn, so I'm filthy rich, and have numerous super powers" ... Remember you are the GM and can just say "No".

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Having a rich back story from a player is a bonus, really (just so long as it's not ridiculous); it can play right into your hands as a GM. For instance, this can allow you to give yourself a breather at times when you have no plan/plot laid out - pull the back story of one of the PC's into play. Isn't that just standard practice?...

With the character you mentioned above you could actually make it 'look' like it's the Emperor when actually it's some kind of diverse plot that could keep the players going for a long while. All you'd have to do is introduce the odd NPC or clue to thicken the plot. Eventually they discover it's some alien plan to assassinate the Emperor, they warn him in time (or whatever), save all of mankind and get rewarded greatly! Classic RPG plot.

Isn't that what role playing's about? Escaping reality and all?

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Find out why he has this vendetta, then through the course of the game have him uncover new information about what REALLY turns out is is not the Emperor that was behind the evil machinations that befell his family, it was the emperor's hated cousin/general/butler/some toady. Build the actual nemesis up with some nice backstory the players discover along the way and you should be able to turn this into a nice plot-twist for the players. Win-win!

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Well I would say it depends on the circumstances. The Emperor has been ensconced on the golden throne for so long anyone alive will not have been around to have seen him DO anything. So why does he have a vendetta.

Ultimately I think the difference comes from if he gets anything from it on the character sheet or is expected to do anything with it? If it's just pure fluff then explain that certain elements will want him dead if it's found out and let him decide if he wants to keep it or nor (vendetta's also don't have to have a logical, sensible reason. People make a lot of decisions based on emotion after all). If there is a game mechanic involved though I would insist that the target of the vendetta be someone they actually have a hope of encountering let alone being dealt with.

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I believe the most logical answer is that it doesn't make sense for his starting character to have a vendetta with someone so far out of his league. Most people tend to forget that even though RPGs do feature heroes, those heroes start off from somewhere really low (level 1).

I'm going to look at this from a dnd-perspective, where your character would be considered 'heroic' tier. That means he is a bit known in the immediate surroundings but all in all has no name at all in the world. As far as vendettas go, he maybe has personal vendettas with some locals or a feud with a nearby family at best, but it doesn't make sense for him to have a real vendetta with his emperor. Pauper heroes simply don't hate that much up the chain. He can easily grow a vendetta as he levels up due to events.

Even if he insists on starting off with such a vendetta at low level, the emperor doesn't care. So what if some of the lowly common folk hate the emperor? He couldn't care less until they actually start making a name or cause trouble (like paragon tier). So essentially, your player's character is not in any real danger until he reaches a level where he can probably take the emperor on.

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+/-0 I do not agree, in history many people had vendettas against their lords/kings/leaders, because of how they or their family was treated. Does not mean they could ever do anything about it, but does not stop you from hating that person and obsessing about destroying them. Your last paragraph makes for a much better answer :-) So no up-vote, and no down vote :-) – AquaAlex Jul 16 '14 at 14:00

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