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Brief description of my campaign:

  • Takes place ~1000 years after creation
  • Bronze Age for most of the world, some parts are beginning the Iron Age
  • Dinosaurs and Fae are still relatively common in the material plane.
  • The most advanced city-states are magically advanced instead of technologically advanced.

I am a new DM just starting on worldbuilding for this campaign. So that's already a relatively big spike in difficulty for me. I've been a player on and off for a couple years now so I'm not completely new to DnD. My friend has been my only DM during that time and he'll be a player in my campaign. I've told him what I listed above with a bit more detail for feedback so he knows the type of setting I'm going for.

He wants to play an artificial human who uses swords and guns via Mercer's Gunslinger class, and he wants his backstory tied to some kind of mafia he's tried to cut ties with.

It seems like he's been wanting to play a shadowrun styled campaign for a long time and the character he wants to play just feels completely out of place in my campaign.

The gun is the main problem. Balance for a gun isn't an issue; I'm confident we could figure that part out, but thematically it just feels wrong the more I flesh out this world. I honestly don't think even crossbows would be a thing let alone flintlock. We've been working out some kind of arcane pistol that shoots aetherial crystalline projectiles that dissipate after a time, but at that point it's essentially a wand with gunslinger mechanics. Besides that it feels a bit Star Wars-ish to me and that's not the theme I'm going for.

An artificial human brings to mind an android which is off the table, but I could work out some sort of magical origin, but most likely he'd just be created from some sort of god because to create new complex life at this stage would require godlike abilities and knowledge.

And then the mafia thing is when I realized that perhaps my campaign just wasn't what he's looking for. There will be occasional bandits here and there but organized crime isn't really a thing yet. If anything it'd be a cult in his backstory rather than bandits or crime syndicates.

I've told him we should be able to figure it out, because I really do want him to have fun playing whatever he wants, but he's told me he's been wanting to play this character for awhile which makes me think he's really just wanting to play in a completely different setting. The more I work on my world the more it just seems completely out of place to have a character like that in it.

I'm tempted to say he needs to come up with something else entirely. What should I do?

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12 Answers 12

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You are the DM, you are allowed to say no, though "no, but ..." also works

You are not required to change your world to accommodate a single player. What are the other players creating, as characters?

Saying yes to the android theme is workable

For the "android" theme, consider making the PC a construct; it is a creature type in D&D 5e. While it's a matter of homebrew, you can work on this together with your player using the Warforged1 from the Eberron UA as a starting point. This homebrew needs to be a collaborative effort; you get the final say since it needs to fit into your campaign world. (Perhaps a permanent curse/magical effect happened around the time of the character's birth?)

  • Your player is an experienced DM; the work on this homebrew won't be a burden on you; that said, you need to do the final check on the homebrew to make it fit into your world so that it's not overpowered, nor unbalanced, compared to other PCs.

    You two can have some fun creating this homebrew race. If you don't want to do the gunslinger class, then suggest to the player (perhaps) a hand-crossbow using character who takes the crossbow expert feat as your world's version of handguns.

    CROSSBOW EXPERT
    Thanks to extensive practice with the crossbow, you gain the following benefits:

    1. You ignore the loading quality of crossbows with which you are proficient.
    2. Being within 5 feet of a hostile creature doesn’t impose disadvantage on your ranged attack rolls.
    3. When you use the Attack action and attack with a one handed weapon, you can use a bonus action to attack with a hand crossbow you are holding. (PHB p. 165, w/errata correction).

The "mafia" connection can be a trade guild, merchants' syndicate, a thieves' guild, a druid conclave working to roll back the overbuilding in certain areas, or a cult run by a Trickery cleric (or a Warlock) who is trying to slowly wrest power from a wizard's conclave. They sky is the limit regarding secretive and criminal organizations.

If you say "no guns" stick to your (no) guns ... :)

Your player appears to want to play in a different campaign than you are running. That happens sometimes. Ask him to create a character that fits your campaign. Your player's character needs to fit in with all of the other characters in the campaign that are being played by the other players. Making this a joint homebrew project can be rewarding for you both, and fun, as long as the party fits together well enough.

D&D 5e's basic model is that of a team of adventurers. Does this player want to be part of the team or not? You both need to clear that up before the adventures start. Likewise, he needs to discuss that with the other players.

"No, but..." becomes "no to the guns but yes to the android theme"


1 From the UA Eberron

Warforged
Although they are constructs, they have much in common with living creatures, including emotions and social bonds, and perhaps even souls.

Ability Score Increase. Your Strength and Constitution scores increase by 1.
Size. Medium.
Speed. Your base walking speed is 30 feet.
Composite Plating. Your construction incorporates wood and metal, granting you a +1 bonus to Armor Class.
Living Construct. Even though you were constructed, you are a living creature. You are immune to disease. You do not need to eat or breathe, but you can ingest food and drink if you wish. Instead of sleeping, you enter an inactive state for 4 hours each day. You do not dream in this state.

It's a good place to start.

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There's nothing inherently "bad" or "unreasonable" about limiting your players' character creation.

You as the DM have the responsibility to create and populate your world. It's not unreasonable to limit your players' choices to fit in your world.

I can't even tell you the number of games I've played in or ran where "no evil characters" was just a given. I'm currently planning a campaign where I told my players they could only play ranged classes. We make choices every game that impose limits on our players.

Part of the social contract of D&D is that both the DM and players agree to respect each others desires during the campaign; you want x, he wants y, and while I'm not saying the DM should automatically win in all scenarios (far from it)...

The friction here isn't inherently your fault, but it won't stop at character creation.

I think you're right in your assessment that your player seems to want to play in a different style/setting of campaign. From experience, bending over backwards to make him fit now won't be the end of your problems. He's interested in a play style that doesn't mesh with yours; you'll likely be fighting with him for the duration of the campaign as he continues to push for features and abilities you're uncomfortable accommodating.

The easiest way to win is not to play...that character.

In your shoes I would simply suggest that while that character sounds awesome and you'd love to see him play it at some point, he's not going to fit in your campaign. Depending on what you want to do here, there's two main options.

  1. Drop your campaign idea and build something better suited to his character.

  2. Make him create a different character for your campaign and set aside his gunslinger for a different game, possibly even one you run down the line.

Ultimately this decision comes down to what's most important to you; telling the story you want to tell, or making sure your friend has as much fun as possible. It's not a decision anyone else can make for you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Setting limit for the players can actually make out to be a really fun experience. You can end up with very creative ways to work around the limits. \$\endgroup\$ – everyone Mar 27 '18 at 15:37
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Don't let him play that character in this game

Your player has made a character they want to play and is used to being the only DM so they haven't got a chance to play it. That's pretty usual, but you definitely shouldn't let them play that character in a campaign that isn't focused around the PCs and developed after character creation.

There's essentially three ways to do worldbuilding in an RPG where the GM gets to do all of that and you aren't using first party material. Either you make the world and then the group makes characters, or the group makes characters and then you make the world, or the group makes characters and then you just wing it with no consistent world concept.

Your friend's character belongs in the second category of game. You are trying to run the first category of game. Have them make a character for your campaign, rather than using a character they've already essentially made. Also, consider running a game where players make characters and then you make the world at some point in the future.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is what I'm thinking might be best. He seems to have spent a long time building this character, so I think changing any of the aspects of that character will just make him feel unsatisfied. It'd be best to think up a brand new character. \$\endgroup\$ – MageGuy Mar 26 '18 at 18:32
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This is a social problem between you and this player.

Any new GM who is world building with the intent of then running a campaign in that world will be presenting the available options to the players, and the thematic feel of the campaign world.

If you have players who suddenly come to you with a wildly crazy character concept for that campaign, you don't necessarily tell them "NO" immediately. Talk to them and figure out what they're aiming for and maybe you can come to a compromise/solution.

That being said, don't just compromise the internal consistency of your world/campaign because a player "really wants to play this character". If it doesn't fit or doesn't make sense, then tell them NO.

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Here's what I would do

This is 100% just a suggestion and if it doesn't mold well with your ideas for your campaign you can ignore it. Before I get into it, I want to state that my philosophy for DM'ing is to let the players do just about anything if they are willing to deal with the consequences.

Why I like your player's backstory

It is often very rare that player's will have backstories that allow you to integrate them into the world (see the various Reddit posts about orphan characters). Having the mafia after you is certainly a way to introduce new NPC's that are clearly enemies of the party and could be unique to your setting (it is sometimes good to spice up your setting with unexpected scenarios to keep things interesting).

How to run it?

While time travel is not well established in D&D 5e, there is one easy way to do it: A Sphinx. A sphinx has a lair action:

The flow of time within the lair is altered such that everything moves up to 10 year forward or backward (sphinx's choice).

This means that a mafia member allied to a sphinx (or one that answers a difficult puzzle; likely a Gynosphinx for your purposes) could avoid being chased back in time by using this feature. Then having the mafia show up could involve some high order time magic from the future which may be of interest to the casters in the party (along with the weapons and armor they could be wearing for your other party members).

Will he fit in?

I would discuss with the player how long the character has had to get used to this new time (does he have a backstory here or only from the future). It would certainly be a fun roleplay opportunity if he had to get his feet under him the first few sessions in an unfamiliar world. This would also mean he would have much less background knowledge making the other characters have something to motivate his character to stick with them (party cohesion in game is important too).

If the player has already integrated into prehistoric society, what occupation befalls a gunslinger? Has his background changed since he's arrived in this time (from Criminal to Outlander for example). These are all things I would discuss with the player.

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Your Setting, your world.

As you've said, you have a vision for your setting. The player's character vision doesn't align. Discuss with the player if they're okay with not bringing in that character until the next campaign where such a concept does make sense. Otherwise, you need to ask yourself how much you're tied to your current vision and if you can adjust your vision to accommodate your player's character design desires.

Potentially avoid conflict by limiting decisions to official material

While you don't want to upset a player's character design, not wanting to allow use of playtest/homebrew material isn't something that's necessarily unfair.

Playtest/homebrew material is not yet ready for primetime. If you, as GM, don't want to worry about potential balance issues, then it's perfectly fine to disallow Unearthed Arcana/playtest/homebrew content from your game. While you aren't citing balance as the main problem, not allowing this type of material does reduce the risk of unbalancing and/or exposure and use of materials that could impact how your world works.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that Mercer's Gunslinger subclass isn't "playtest material"; it's totally homebrew and not official. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Mar 26 '18 at 22:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Note that balance concerns are completely irrelevant here. \$\endgroup\$ – Please stop being evil Mar 27 '18 at 6:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ @thedarkwanderer Changed how I put together the answer, should resolve your concern. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 27 '18 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Updated to recognize that Gunslinger is homebrew. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Mar 27 '18 at 13:30
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The easy solution is no. Restrictions on character building are completely reasonable.

A question is, how can you say yes to as much as possible?

First, andriods are not around. Nobody has the magical or technological base to build new life this early since the creation of the world. We could go "android but not really", but how can we say yes?

Second, guns are not around. People are working out longbow technology, let alone crossbows or guns. You can create magitek guns, or tools that mimic the effect of guns, but that both bends your setting background and probably won't satisfy the player. So, how can we say yes?

Third, the gunslinger class is a fighter, not an inventor. They are mainly experts with using guns, not creating arbitrary inventions.

Fourth, the mafia. You don't want a complex criminal syndicate to exist at this point in time.

We need a way for an android or robot who is mainly about shooting things, who is indebted to a shadowy criminal organization, show up in a situation far before guns or androids exist?

How about we steal a plot line.


This is 1000 years since reality is created.

The Dawn War is about to break out, and everything is about to go horribly wrong.

Far in the future, near the end of time, a faction has decided that everything went wrong from the start. They have put together an artificial life form -- an android -- equipped it with advanced non-magical weapons (to avoid being detected), and sent it back to the dawn of time.

Its mission -- and it cannot choose to refuse, it is a robot, right? -- is nothing less than to change what happens in the Dawn War. Reshape reality from its root, and prevent the calamity (from the perspective of the conspiracy) to come.

The android isn't the only thing they have done. They have sent messages to a collection of trickster gods and spirits to get them to act in certain ways to derail the Dawn War from its trajectory. These trickster gods are powerful beings, but they are not in the "inside" of the established celestial heirarchy; neither are they on the opposite side of the Dawn War.

The robot was sent back as part of this influence attempt. It was used to boost the power of this 3rd faction to the point where it could change the balance of power.

Now, the robot was a trojan horse gift to the trickster gods. It was intended to be used, trusted, and then as the Dawn War kicks off, it would act independently to tweak history in the way the end of time wants. These instructions where embedded deep into the robot's memory so the trickster gods couldn't find it.

But no plan survives contact with reality. Between the influence of the chaos gods and the fact that a useful android has free will, the android got tired of having its chain pulled. It has gone rogue. It doesn't understand its full destiny -- it just wants out from under the thumb of coyote, raven and the shadow council.

As the Dawn War approaches, hidden subroutines will activate and new instructions will deploy; but those instructions where intended for a far more subsurviant robot as originally designed, not the chaos-corrupted android that the player is. The messages and instructions will arrive, but it will be up to the PC to determine if they are acted upon.


Result: Character is an android (check) gunslinger (check) in the ancient past (check). The character has a connection to not one, but two different illicit "criminal" organizations (the chaos gods and the conspiracy from the end of time). They are given an ignorable unreliable connection to plot hooks (unlocked programmed messages from the conspiracy at the end of time).

Who is the conspiracy? What is their goals?

What is the calamity in the Dawn War? What causes it? Who fights in it?

The information provided -- what are the results of acting upon it?

How much has reality already been changed by the intervention of the End Time Conspiracy?

What is Coyote, Raven and the Shadow Council up to? Do they know they are puppets? If they do, what do they think of that?

How much free will does this robot have?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ @Harper Please see what comments are for. (Note that chit-chat with a post author isn't on the list, and non-constructive criticism is explicitly on the Do No list.) If your comment was meant to suggest an constructive change (one of the few things comments are for), please literally say your suggested changes when commenting next time, instead of snarking/implying/whatever it was. Thanks! If you have further responses, please use Role-playing Games Meta rather than continue to comment here. \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Mar 29 '18 at 19:44
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Give him the gun.

Perhaps his character is an alchemist type who managed to figure out the workings of a primitive firearm and even managed to construct one a la Kirk against the Gorn.

Now, firearms can be balanced, as you say, but a single primitive firearm, in the hands of someone who has taught themselves to use it recently, can be a terrible weapon. Guns in the past, before about 200 years ago, were naturally more balanced against other weapons of their day to begin with, but consider firearm tactics from those days that allowed them to be balanced. Your average musket of the 16th century did have long-range firing capacity, but its accuracy at medium to long range was bad if not terrible, and it was slow to reload. Tactically, it was used as part of massed volleys from entire platoons of troops who all fired in the general direction of the enemy, hoping that a few of them would actually hit someone. By massing together, soldiers also protected each other, as a lone musketeer or rifleman scrambling to reload his primitive matchlock or flintlock firearm is extremely vulnerable. A band of 20 barbarians with clubs will probably make quick mincemeat of your primitive gunner PC, perhaps after taking a few fatalities.

Possible roles:

Perhaps your gun-toting PC can come up with some sort of strategy for using their gun effectively. Perhaps they could specialize in quick assassinations at point-blank range (a la John Wilkes Booth) or perhaps use fear and awe to make others believe that they are a powerful wizard. A fire support role could be possible, with your gunner trying to stay just out of range of melee weapons, firing shots while remaining protected by (or cowering behind, as your preferred terminology may be) his fellow adventurers.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Keep in mind that the gun itself is not the issue. The player wants to play the Gunslinger class. This already has built in mechanics for building and maintaining and using firearms. Bringing in the efficiency of real-world firearms doesn't address this. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Mar 28 '18 at 5:23
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    \$\begingroup\$ I was thinking the same thing re: Kirk and the episode "Arena" - if he wants a gun, he can have it but he will have to scrounge the matierals and upgrade it over time perhaps \$\endgroup\$ – NKCampbell Mar 28 '18 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Also, naturally found raw materials can bring in surprising impurities and surprising side effects - eg make the powder unreliable, or unstable, or unpredictable in power (which might make a shot fall short of the target, or damage the gun, or deafen or injure the shooter, or cause so much overkill that undesirable consequences ensue...) or causing intoxication or sickness to the shooter from the fumes). \$\endgroup\$ – rackandboneman Mar 28 '18 at 15:24
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In terms of the gun, I'd personally be tempted to allow it, with the stipulation that the player starts with a finite (and small) amount of ammunition. Perhaps a mad Wizard's summoning spell went awry and brought a very confused Union Cavalryman though instead of a demon, and somehow his pistol made its way into the character's hands.

The side-quests to get more ammunition could involve finding a scholar capable of reverse engineering the weapon and a bullet (the Archimedes of your world), stealing kobold eggs for sulfur, trekking to the Dwarven enclaves and making peace with them in order to secure Saltpeter, or freeing the only elven artisan capable of making the bullet casings from the Djinn holding her prisoner.

This way your player earns his weapon across many months and levels of campaigning, and you've got a nice array of side quests and character motivations to draw on. Along the way, the character is building his marksmanship skills with a hand crossbow, knowing it will translate later when he's found a way to make more bullets.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I was going to suggest similar, except have the player dice roll for the ammo count, and leave everything else as normal. That way DM's campaign doesn't need modification and the shadowrunner has to decide - at every encounter - whether it's worth using up valuable ammunition. This way, all the extra work needs to be done by the player that wants to change the campaign. \$\endgroup\$ – mcalex Mar 28 '18 at 4:14
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I agree with most people in saying no to players is always a viable option. Another option could be:

Talk to your player and find out why this person wants to have a gun in such a specific campaign. Maybe the gun itself is not even that important, but he just wants something that goes boom? Or does he want to be some kind of inventor, pushing technological advancement in a world? Or something else maybe? In any case, ask yourself:

Which already existing item could fulfil the requested effect with a little tweak in flavour only, so that it fits your setting?

If you find out the underlying intention of the PC, you can find a way by changing a starting weapon of a class into something that does exactly the thing the player wants to do, but you then keep the stats of that starting equipment. For example:

  • Somoene in a one-off of mine wanted a Stick of Glitters, to shoot with. She's a druid, so I just changed her sling (starting equipment) into a magic stick that does exactly what she wants but functions as a sling (for the sake of attack rolls, damage, etc). This way mechanically
    nothing changed at all, but for her narrative and our preferences it made all the difference. I even made a quest out of finding this item, granting everyone a fun evening in the process.
  • So about the gun: Make up a reasonable weapon for your world that functions as a longbow (range, damage, ammunition, etc), but for flavour does boom. Maybe the PC can use ordinary arrows or bolts, but needs to magically prepare them during a short rest. Or a tube that magically shoots bronze scraps from a short cylinder, with the mechanics of a magical wand with charges. After all, in regard to deadliness a gun doesn't necessarily need to deal more damage than the other weapons in your world.
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Give him everything he wants, but only from his point of view. In reality he's just delusional, holding a wooden stick instead of a gun. The other characters don't even know what a "gun" is.

Sometimes you can have things happen that make it seem like he isn't crazy after all, like encountering a member of the maffia, or people being scared of his gun (stick).

Make it about "is he a nut or is he for real?". This way you can talk from his point of view and say "you hear the sound of metal hitting metal when you defend from his sword attack" while the other characters hear the cracking of wood as his stick breaks.

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My opinions...

No Guns, No Andriods, No Mafia.

Gun substitute: How about a David and Goliath style of sling shot, it has projectiles closer to bullets. Doesn't need high tech. Could carry 6 of them on a back of a belt preloaded. Can fire them quickly in succession if needed, but still has a down time in reload each sling. Maybe be allowed to add some explosive chemicals in the mix for more damage at impact - i'm thinking like some kind of upgraded 4th of July Pop it's - just special rocks found around a region that when collide together during an impact explode.

Maffia substitute: For the Maffia issue, how about origin from some really aggressive tribe.

Android substitute: How about, lost an arm... maybe to the really strong Pop its mentioned earlier. has a contraption that replaces the arm that still allows him to use that side of him for using the sling shots. he covers it, so cant really tell his missing the arm. but can obviously take quite some hits with out hurting him because he doesnt really have anything that side - doubles as a kind of shield where bio material would normally be completely destroyed.

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