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Related: What is "my guy syndrome" and how do I handle it?

A while ago, I ran into an interesting conflict in a game that got me thinking.

I was playing in a party with a Knight/Paladin and three other characters. The Paladin was playing what essentially amounted to a wandering freelance cop, bringing justice wherever they found injustice, while the rest of the party was following along for the promise of gold rewards. Everyone, players and DM, was happy with this arrangement, as it brought regular sandbox style quests and good money.

The problem began when we ran into a deliberately grey moral situation presented by the DM. A drow entered a human village and was immediately captured and thrown in holding before public execution. The party discovered the drow was a thief, and the Paladin wished for the drow to be brought to proper justice for this, without the extreme of hanging "because drow". The paladin makes a deal with the drow: they'll free him from execution if he surrenders to whatever local laws did to thieves. Drow agrees, paladin convinces local law, drow pleads innocent of all charges, local law lets him go due to lack of evidence. Paladin is upset.

Up until now, the rest of the party has been with the Paladin, helping in endeavors and generally agreeing with the course of action. This changes when the Paladin decides to go after the drow, talking about capturing him and hauling him off to the "Drow Town he came from" for whatever justice they choose (Paladin is in character not knowing how drow or their cities work). The rest of the party protests, saying it's probably several weeks' journey, but the Paladin is dead set and will not be convinced. Eventually the party begrudgingly agrees to follow, they catch up to the drow who resists arrest, and they mostly-accidentally kill him. It's bittersweet, but everyone is more or less okay with this resolution.

After the session, the player of the paladin explained the behavior sort of like this:

My character's major arc and theme is that he believes justice is a black and white, simple thing that he can recognise and deal with. In reality, justice rarely is, and I appreciate being given a situation that allowed us to explore that. My plan for the character is for him to slowly realise this complexity, and rely more and more on the wisdom of Bahamut to tell him what to do. I'll figure out how to take his development from there when we get there.

Where is the line between roleplaying a naive, stubborn character undergoing development and being a problem player? How can we portray internal character conflict and personal flaws without ending up in "My Guy"?

Clearly there are instances in which playing a flaw or ignorance like this is acceptable, otherwise we would all be playing Mary-Sue characters.

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closed as primarily opinion-based by Miniman, KorvinStarmast, Thomas Jacobs, Oblivious Sage, Mindwin Aug 13 '17 at 9:56

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • \$\begingroup\$ @KRyan I'm familiar with the "My guy" question and answer, it was partial inspiration for the question. I'm mostly asking about the line between roleplaying a character flaw and when it becomes a problem. I know the policy on opinion based questions, however I have seen other well received questions that seemed advice based to me. Sorry if it wasn't clear, I'm mulling over how to improve it now. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 11 '17 at 3:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I love how well you presented this, but regret to report that @KRyan is right, this is leaning toward "opinion based" so it will probably get closed. Since neither you nor your Paladin player got to explore this further, any speculation on the "my guyness" of this interaction is, at best, guesswork. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 11 '17 at 3:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast That's about the kindest close notice I've ever read on this site, thanks for that. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 11 '17 at 3:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @AlexF the distinction with this and the other advice-y question you linked (which is teetering on getting closed as well, you should note), is that the other question can be answered with good subjective answers; answers backed up by experience and examples of actual play. \$\endgroup\$ – daze413 Aug 11 '17 at 4:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would like to see a good answer to this question as one who might find himself in the paladin's shoes fairly soon. Knowing a good reference point on where to put the line would be helpful. \$\endgroup\$ – Clarus_Nox Aug 11 '17 at 4:15
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Where is the line? In agreement with this answer, there is no bright line between "My Guy" and "Non My Guy."

I use a handful of mutually supporting tests or questions, either as a GM, as a player to judge my own actions, or a player to judge someone else's actions, but the questions themselves are somewhat subjective and it's not like there's a formula that falls out of it to determine someone's status, Yes or No.

  • Does the possible My Guy status cover up basically anti-social behavior? I think easily half or more of the cases of MGS fall into this category: My Guy hates Orcs because reasons-- of course he slaughters the Orc children! My Guy is a thief-- of course he steals the treasure! My Guy was insulted by a town guardsman once-- of course he picks a bar fight with a platoon of them! Some people (sometimes or always) just want to play a consequence-free game, design a character to do it, and then pretend they had no other option.

  • Does the possible My Guy status seem bound to cause problems for one or a few of the other characters in particular? These often come in pairs: The thief and the paladin, the paladin and the assassin, the cleric and the worshipper of the cleric's god's rival, etc. Those are obvious. Sometimes it is subtler and it takes longer to come out in play.

  • Does the player of the possible My Guy leave himself and/or exercise any flexibility? In other words (say) does the player always agitate for killing the Orcs, say his piece, and usually back down? Does it always grind the game to a halt with the same argument over and over again? Or does the character just unilaterally spit on his hands, hoist the black flag, and start slitting throats?

  • Is the possible My Guy dominating the direction of the game due to My Guy? I'll discuss this more below, but this is meant in the larger sense of the overall game, not just isolated moments of it.

  • Is the possible My Guy sucking the fun out of the game? This doesn't just mean making the other players unhappy (although it does certainly include that.) It also means, for instance, is the game dragging or bogging down and preventing other fun activities because the same issues keep coming up? Are other players preventing from getting their rightful spotlight time?

Once I answer these questions to my own satisfaction, I usually have my overall answer to whether or not the My Guy really is a My Guy. Yes, Yes, No, Yes and Yes (in that order) are the troubling answers.


How do we do conflict without My Guy Syndrome?

Ultimately, not all of this is on the player; some of the responsibility lies with the GM.

  • Well, as a player, the first thing to do is look over those questions and ask them for your own character, in the eyes of the other players. If you come up with bad answers, well, think about backing off and doing something else.

  • A theme running through several of those questions is flexibility vs absolutism, which can express itself over time through unfair domination of game play, or excessive time spent dealing with it. It's okay to have things your character cares about, in disagreement with some or even all of the other characters. It's not okay, generally, for the same player to use his character as a whip driving all the actions. It's not terribly unlike real world social dynamics-- healthy groups exchange social capital back and forth all the time, first one person then another person having a say. Having your say once, unless it's a really obnoxious say, is probably not My Guy syndrome in itself, at least in my book.

  • On the GM side, there is some responsibility to vet the characters as they come in (and at game start) to make sure obvious clashes are manageable, or removed.

  • Similarly, the GM bears some responsibility for setting the tone as far as conflicting character arcs are concerned. Not every game is designed with that in mind-- some are designed as extended dungeon crawls, while some are designed with weightier (or murkier) themes and potential disagreement in mind. It's not much fun if you've misunderstood the scope of the game while you designed your character. (This goes both ways, by the way-- once it's clear you're in a morally grey game and/or a game with character growth arcs, the players need to be talking to the GM about this once in a while. GMs are not mind-readers, and I've been hit more than once with, "Why aren't you supporting the arc I want to portray?" "Uhm, because I had no idea you wanted to do that.")

  • Finally, there is also a subtler GM responsibility that is analogous to, or flows from, the responsibility to try to get all the players some spotlight time: In a game where character disagreement is a feature, then letting one or a subset of characters dominate it from the outset just because their characters are inflexible creates a two-tier system of play.


What About This Situation?

This is necessary opinion-based, but it serves as a concrete example of how I use the tests above, and how I would approach it as a GM:

  • Is the Paladin basically anti-social? Doesn't seem to be to me.
  • Is the Paladin "aimed at" another character? Doesn't seem so.
  • Is the Paladin flexible? Hard to say, seems to be yes and no. He worked out a creative compromise for the Drow, but when it didn't go his way, then he refused to honor the deal and forced the issue.
  • Is the Paladin dominating the game? The superficial answer is yes, but I think the real answer, as described, is no, because this is either a one-time thing or a first-time thing and that isn't enough in my book.
  • Did this suck the fun out of the game? Answer seems to be no, in part because of the guidance of the GM.

This seems borderline to me. If this had been presented as a typical scenario-- Paladin does this, Paladin does that, group disagrees, group protests, Paladin shoves it down their throat, GM rescues situation-- it would be different.

But here's the thing: This campaign, as described, is structured to allow the Paladin to do this. This campaign is not described as an ensemble, it is described as a bunch of sidekicks following the Paladin. If this description is accurate, the structure of the campaign makes these conflicts much more likely than they otherwise might be.

If this is really a problem, then candidate solutions to this problem include:

  • The GM kicking the player (metaphorically) to accelerate that growth arc past the point where it's causing problems
  • The group making it clear that they're no longer willing to cash the Paladin's checks, so to speak-- you want to hie off for three months, you're on your own.
  • Changing the power dynamic in the group, possibly by virtue of the GM putting some constraints on the Paladin from his superiors, or empowering other characters, or introducing longer running plot concerns that the Paladin can't just dictate terms against.
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    \$\begingroup\$ While many other answers to this question were great and useful, I feel this is the real answer because it provides what I was searching for: things to look out for when considering your actions as a player, both in a general and specific sense. Amusingly, many other questions seem to answer the pre-edit "unanswerable" question of "was this "My Guy" syndrome?" \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 12 '17 at 4:04
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My Guy Syndrome is determined by players' feelings, not objective measures

My Guy Syndrome, like any social aspect of tabletop RPGs, is determined by how the other players at the table felt about it. Let's look at an excerpt of the ur-example of My Guy Syndrome:

Good roleplaying?? Damn, if good roleplaying means "everyone is miserable and thinks it's stupid", let me go find another hobby like getting beaten with sticks.

That's the thing: the negative impact of My Guy Syndrome is "people at the table are miserable". Peoples' tolerance for My Guy-ness varies from group to group, and what's intolerable affectation for one person might be enjoyable roleplaying for another group.

As a personal example, one group I play in routinely wastes high level spells and abilities on ridiculous gags or character compulsions. For a while, we had a character who would use every spell slot 3rd level or higher on casting Daylight. I can easily imagine such antics qualifying as My Guy Syndrome for others, but for us, it's just good fun, even though it sometimes severely hampers our combat ability.

Therefore, as others have pointed out, the direct answer to your question is totally opinion-based. However, I think it's important to point out that it's based on your opinion. You have to determine for yourself where the line is, and to hash that out with the people you're playing with.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This really sums it up imho. It's My Guy Syndrone when you think your character's arc is more important than the other PLAYER'S fun. Which means the real question is: did the other CHARACTERS protest the journey, or did the PLAYERS? The former is fine, the latter is clearly My Guy Syndrome. \$\endgroup\$ – Erik Aug 11 '17 at 6:01
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Its "My Guy Syndrome" when it crosses the line between "fun" and "not fun"

Just that.

Oh, and everyone at the table has a responsibility to put up their hand and say "This isn't fun for me".

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    \$\begingroup\$ I appreciate the last point you make there. Too many people at my tables are willing to sit in misery and not raise complaints, leading to a worse game for everyone. \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 11 '17 at 14:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ Do we have a badge for pithy answer? Perfect pith. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Aug 11 '17 at 15:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ Its its always fun it stops being fun because it is normal. Part of RPG's is experiencing vicariously through our characters all those emotions from fun and exciting to blue and boring. If you want to play a board game that is about the combat and goals play a boardgame not an RPG \$\endgroup\$ – user2015 Aug 11 '17 at 17:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Chad I have no problem with feeling the vicarious emotions of my PC, both positive and negative - so long as it's fun \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Aug 11 '17 at 21:04
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Avoid it by getting everyone, especially the DM, on the same page as the Paladin

The Paladin seems to be playing a different game

The rest of the party protests, saying it's probably several weeks' journey, but the Paladin is dead set and will not be convinced.

This above gives me the impression that the Paladin is playing his own game, separate from his friends. Everyone wants to avoid the week-long journey of tracking the Drow down, but the Paladin wants his way to be the way of the party. This is a problem.

At the end of the session, the Paladin's player explained what he was going for, indicating that he was actively going against the wishes of the party so that his character could experience "internal character conflict." This is another problem.

Internal conflict is still ultimately driven by the DM

The Paladin thinks justice is black and white, so he will need a lot of helpings of grey morality situations and blessings from Bahamut to change his ways. This is not something a player can do alone in a satisfactory way. He needs the support of the DM to engineer the scenarios that will lead to the best alignment change the Paladin can experience.

In your example, it was a Drow thief whom the party has never met before that presented the Paladin with a moral quandary. But that third party character is wholly external to the Paladin. These "little" grey areas could eventually add up to an alignment change, but the actual moment the Paladin changes his stance on morality will not be so spectacular. The journey will not have been worth it.

Imagine the grey morality situation he finds himself in if he had to murder an innocent to save five lives (akin to the Trolley problem); or if he found out his own mother/lover/child had become a lich's phylactery and had to die or else a terrible lich would be released.

Now he is forced to consider actively breaking his moral code for the greater good, or turning a blind eye to evil because he cannot do what needs to be done.

These are quests that have the following properties:

  1. They enable the character to actively explore internal character conflict to their heart's desire

  2. They are engaging enough that the rest of the party, though not the main characters of this arc, will enjoy watching the story unfold

  3. They cannot be done if the DM does not orchestrate it

If the DM pursues this story, the rest of the party should know

Again, while some players want RP, some might want combat. Some might want combat and RP in equal parts, while others want exploration. If the DM runs a story focusing on one character's RP needs, the rest of the players should know. Otherwise, the hack-and-slashers will be unhappy.

How to avoid My Guy syndrome? By enlisting the DM's help to avoid it

The DM controls the world and controls which quests the players can have. RP is a shared storytelling experience: no story can be told by any one player alone.

Any player that wants a specific story arc needs to get their DM on the same page so that everyone can go through the experience of this story together and as a party. Needless to say, they also need to get everyone else on the same page, but I'm highlighting the DM as their role is key to building up to a satisfying narraitve. The benefits of this approach are many, including evading "My Guy" syndrome altogether.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Good answer. At the risk of being a "my guy" enabler, I'd also point out that the DM might need to come up with something more believable than "that could take weeks!" to discourage a paladin from doing something ;) \$\endgroup\$ – JollyJoker Aug 11 '17 at 13:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ I find myself disagreeing with this answer. Characters are allowed to be stubborn and disagree with one another. The party is not and cannot be an always-on-the-same-page hivemind. We don't even know whether the protest was in- or out of character \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Aug 11 '17 at 13:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ @WeckarE. Sure, but are characters allowed to disagree with each other to the detriment of everyone's enjoyment? Because that's what My Guy syndrome is in a nutshell. \$\endgroup\$ – user27327 Aug 11 '17 at 14:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain Enjoyment of the characters or the players? Could you be clearer? \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Aug 12 '17 at 2:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @markovchain "to the detriment of everyone's enjoyment" Do you refer to everyone as the players or the characters? \$\endgroup\$ – Weckar E. Aug 12 '17 at 11:32
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Don't make your characters one dimensional. One dimensional characters are always set up to run into dumb situations. Give your characters an out.

Some of my examples. A duchess that is secretly an assassin bent on bringing down all monarchies and create democracy. Most of the time she is a crazy murder machine, but when game fun needs it she is actually obsessed with her title, and loves being a noble.

A barbarian that will never avoid a fight. He is all tough and sometimes plays the classic babaian being all "i am the strongest ever", but he is also obsessed with the story of his life. When a situation calls for it he will act differently because he sometimes tries to imagine what would make the best story when the bards tells it later.

The story with the paladin is no different. HE could have for a moment embraced his lawful side and decided that he respects the decision of the local law more than his pride. I think in this case the player's pride is really what drove the situation

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I'm not sure I understand your point. Are you saying that roleplaying an emotionally charged, unwise decision is, in itself, one dimensional and poor play? \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 11 '17 at 16:03
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexF I am trying to say, and please tell me if i should reword my answer, that characters should have multiple, even opposing, motivations, and you can sometimes out of game pick the motivation that is the most fun for the group without breaking character \$\endgroup\$ – Andrey Aug 11 '17 at 16:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ All of the characters in this group had pretty well fleshed out characters. I didn't go over the entirety of the Paladin's motivations for sake of the focus of the question. For example, the Paladin established he had a greedy streak, and had high ambitions to become a landed knight. Being a naive idealist on the law was just one of a few character traits. It's not that he was one-dimensional, I just only felt the one dimension was relevant to the question \$\endgroup\$ – Alex F Aug 11 '17 at 16:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @AlexF Then the player CHOSE the dimension of the character to explore that did not go well with the story, it was not "his guy" \$\endgroup\$ – Andrey Aug 11 '17 at 18:52
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The line is a refusal to lose the character. If they want to remain true to the character, good for them. That's the name of the game... genre. The problem only lies in their being unwilling to let go of the character when the character would leave the party.
i.e. If the player will not let that character ride off into the sunset on their quest and roll up a new character who actually has a reason to be with the rest of the group, they are both going against character, and ruining the game for everyone else. At that point, they've stopped playing the game and have no place in it.

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