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I have just started GMing a homebrew campaign with a group of relatively inexperienced players. I have only played with one of them before (I have GMed for him as well as been a fellow player with him), and he is notorious for being a problem player. In fact, I know of at least one group who refuses to play with him anymore.

Problems in the past have included dice fudging, not taking full amounts of damage in combat, stealing the spotlight from other players, and a number of other annoying things. All that said, I have known this guy for a while and consider him a friend.

The setting I am running is a generic fantasy world, loosely based on the Forgotten Realms, using the same gods and lore. I typically allow my players to take part in the world-building process, so they feel like their characters belong. However, this problem player is obsessed with Celtic and Viking mythology and has been attempting to insert them into the world, even giving his half-elf barbarian a very long and hard-to-pronounce Gaelic name and saying that he is from a place called "Ironland".

During session zero, I tried politely explaining that there are no Celts in this world, and suggested saving these ideas for a future game. This resulted in him pouting in the corner for 20 minutes.

How can I deal with this player trying to insert real-world mythology into a game? Am I being too overprotective of the world I am creating? Should I just allow him to create his own corner of the world?

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    \$\begingroup\$ For users intending to leave answers to this question, make sure you adhere to the standards of Good Subjective and support your answer with relevant experience with the issue that Ronin624 is having. \$\endgroup\$ – Xirema Jul 10 at 21:47
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    \$\begingroup\$ What potential problems do you foresee resulting from this player wanting to insert Norse mythology for their character? It's easy to imagine an NPC holding a belief that does not fall within the typical "mainstream" religious doctrines. Surely a player could do that, too. \$\endgroup\$ – Rykara Jul 10 at 22:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ This question is very much related. While my answer to that question addresses the problem and some solutions, Novak's answer here covers all that you need. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jul 11 at 14:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ Tell him his character angered Luchtaine who has killed him with a javelin through the heart... \$\endgroup\$ – TripeHound Jul 12 at 7:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ "I typically allow my players to take part in the world-building process [...] there are no Celts in this world" I'm kind of confused by this. It sounds contradictory. Is there a reason you didn't allow this player to make "fantasy celtic half-elves" exist? I'm not trying to say you are in the wrong for not allowing it, but it just sounds like something is missing from the story. \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Jul 12 at 20:20
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Deal With This As You Would Any Player Overstep

As it happens, I have had players try to insert real-world but inappropriate cultural influences into a setting of mine. In my case it was Japanese influences into a very European-themed fantasy world.

But this was not so different from the time someone tried to bring Japanese influences into an actual European-historical setting, long before Europeans had made independent, direct contact with Japan. (Same player.)

And honestly, it was not so different from the time someone tried to bring a Dune Mentat into my utterly, insipidly generic medievaloid fantasy ElfDwarfHuman setting. (Same. Player! I have other examples with different players, but they veer farther and farther from your basic problem.)

These examples are superficially different from each other, even though they get farther away from your exact premise-- from wrong culture in a culture-inspired game, to wrong culture in a historical game, to science fiction characters into fantasy games. They are all cases of the player trying to override the GM's setting and genre judgment.

What I Did Then:

(These were all long ago, but formative experiences that I remember fairly well and don't much want to repeat.)

In the first two cases, I just said no. Especially, "No, there are no secret ninja clans wandering around 10th century Europe. There just aren't. No, you did not inherit any of the exotic Japanese weapons you want. If you want to run a game on these themes, cool, I'll play in it. But this ain't that game."

Twenty minutes of pouting is a good description of the response. Then he got over it and played the game. But as you can see, there can be a serious persistence to this mentality that carries on from game to game. I had to be really clear and not give an inch.

In the third case (the Mentat) since the setting was wide open, I just made him stick to the actual rules of an established class, and let him design his little sect of Fantasy Mentats, with some oversight. It wasn't a complete failure, but it was a mistake because there simply was no opportunity for him to do all the cool stuff he wanted to do; the game world did not, and really could not, engage his character. As time went by he reverted more and more to a generic wizard of that setting.

What I Do Now:

What I do now is much more successful, and seems to head these issues off at the pass.

I'll get about halfway through my conceptualization process and run something similar to but not quite, a Session Zero. At this point, I have my general premise and concept, I have a very rough draft of how I'd expect a campaign to go, I have some definite ideas about what the world contains and how it works, but nothing set in stone.

Then I canvass the players and see if they're interested in that, and what types of players they might want to play. In a generic fantasy game, this is when I can more easily move things around to accommodate player background preferences. And in general, if I can, I usually do because I want the players to be playing characters they enjoy.

But sometimes I just can't (i.e., some alien influence from some completely mismatched background or genre) and in those cases, I can at least give the player a lot more time to get over it.

This has worked very well for me. There will always be problem children who require kid gloves or refusals, but getting that done early makes it much easier.

To Summarize Your Options:

  1. Just Say No: You're allowed to do this. Yes, you run the risk of the player pouting, or quitting, or continuing to try to subvert the game. But you can do it, and sometimes it is the right choice.
  2. Acquiesce: This is always, inherently, a judgment call on your part. Sometimes it works, but I historically don't have much luck with it because I run games with high levels of GM design and specificity. But if someone wants to bring a Slavic warrior into your Germanic themed campaign, that's maybe not a huge stretch.
  3. Early Feedback Cycles: Get feedback from your players early, before slight to moderate changes feel like backbreaking effort that scraps half your work. It may be too late for this game for you, but it is the best tool in my toolbox for this very common problem.
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    \$\begingroup\$ +many for your "What I Do Now" section. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jul 11 at 0:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Early feedback cycles work both ways too - asking for tweaks (or just saying no) to a concept early in the process is a lot easier and less painful than asking a player to rip up a concept while they're figuring out how they're best buds with the party cleric. Comparatively minor changes (or even things the player would ordinarily delight in) can turn into deal-breakers if they're introduced too late in the process \$\endgroup\$ – Pingcode Jul 11 at 10:27
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Three Options

Yes, And...

Embracing player ideas can build their enthusiasm, and is there much to complain about if you put Thor or Odin next to the Raven Queen?

A Comedy Improv skill that is often talked about in D&D is the princible of "Yes, And..." In Improv it means that if a scene mate walks in and says "Look how nice it is outside in this park." You adopt the premises the lay down, and add to it, rather than breaking scene by saying, "No, we're inside because it is raining out." Instead you say, "Yes, it is nice out here. (And...) The bugs are enjoying it, too..."

In D&D its application would be similar. "Sure, you can be from Ironland. Ironland is currently at war with the kingdom and people for Ironland are looked down in the border cities...." Or "Worshipers of X God are prohibited from practice, so they meet in secret..."

No.

You just say no, and if they aren't alright with that they are free to leave the game. Given the other issues that have happened with this player, I would be tempted to break up with him, "I don't think this is the group for you."

The Multiverse

Gary Gygax conceived of the concept that all D&D games happen in the same multiverse. With time the idea expanded and became proper. Jeremy Crawford has a great Dragon+ video about the Great Wheel and how every game happens in material plane on different worlds, most with glass spheres with stars painted on them.

So, "Ironland, sure... You were from there, but something happened and you woke up here. No one has a clue where this strange island nation Ironland is, and some think you are making it up." OR maybe even, "Your character is convinced he's from Ironland. No else seems to know or believe in this strange place you keep talking about."

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Addition: every NPC considers the stories about "Ironland" evidence that the character is a madman. Watch "Braveheart" again: the scene where they introduce the character of Stephen the Irishman is perfect inspiration for this. \$\endgroup\$ – jamesb Jul 12 at 16:37
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If it doesn't break the game, let players write their own stories.

When you establish a regional setting for your campaign, players have two options for creating their character's origins. First, they can create a character from within the setting, and adhere to the themes, rules, and available lore that you have provided them. This requires that you do specify this information clearly, as terms like "generic fantasy" or "sword and sorcery" could hold various meanings to different audiences. If the campaign's geography is that important, then it may help to write a primer with the relevant information and rules. Is the region inspired by any real-world settings (e.g. medieval western Europe) or known fictional settings (e.g. Middle Earth)? Are there important locations, pantheons, technologies, or other factors to consider? All this should be described explicitly to the players.

A player's second option is to write a character from outside the game's regional setting, which seems to be what your player wants to do. This has the inherent benefit that the DM doesn't need to flesh out every inch of their world, effectively delegating some of the worldbuilding work to the players. Plus, since the player is already enthusiastic about their character concept, then they're already somewhat invested in the campaign. Unless the DM has strictly defined every NPC, town, country, landmass, and plane in their game universe, it should be relatively easy to insert new lore into their world. So perhaps there are no Celt-inspired NPCs featured in the campaign's specific region, which you created, but the player's character hails from some distant Celt-inspired nation.

Alternatively, if you only want to provide one option - that the character must originate from within your setting - then you need to explicitly say so.

From your player's perspective, your objections to their character may seem contradictory. Most lore of the Forgotten Realms is based on real-world mythology, and generally follow western European naming patterns. So arguing against the player's choice of real-world mythos may be moot.

In my experience, when a player writes their own character lore and backstory, there are two primary concerns to address:

  1. Ensure that their backstory and premise do not violate the game rules. Check for big-picture concepts, like cosmology or technology, that conflict with the campaign world. For example, if my campaign setting's technological level is comparable to medieval Europe, then a character from a futuristic mecha planet would not be appropriate. Or if the intended tone is friendly and non-combat, then a bloodthirsty murderer character could be thematically unfit.

  2. Discuss hooks or other ways to tie in their character into your setting. The game takes place in your setting, not theirs. Even if the character is an outsider, it's vital to invest them in your setting and story, rather than have them focus on their distant homeland. This should be discussed with the player before the campaign proper, such as during a Session Zero.

Unless the player is suggesting ideas that violate the rules of your setting, then they aren't really threatening your campaign by bringing in their own ideas. If there's no harm in allowing a faraway Celt-inspired land as the character's homeland, then there's little reason to forbid it.

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    \$\begingroup\$ "Unless the DM has strictly defined every NPC, town, country, landmass, and planet in their game universe, it should be relatively easy to insert new lore into their world." seems like it should allow for a futuristic mecha planet character in a medieval Europe game. (I mention this because I think the quoted statement is far, far too broad for anyone who isn't intending to run a gonzo, kitchen-sink game, and would encourage you to rewrite it more narrowly, which is supported by your futuristic mecha planet character example.) \$\endgroup\$ – Dave Sherohman Jul 11 at 7:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ @DaveSherohman Whoops, meant "plane". Many D&D settings are written to be roughly medieval in appearance, but include multiple planes of existence. \$\endgroup\$ – MikeQ Jul 11 at 13:01
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This is largely a matter of playstyle.

There are many playstyles which work well, as long as everyone is using at least roughly the same playstyle.

He seems to assume that you will allow the players to have a say in creating events beyond simply describing what they do. This is fairly common during character creation. At many tables, it is expected that the players will create fairly elaborate backstories for their characters. The backstories may include references to distant lands and earlier events created by the players with final approval of the GM, but perhaps little to no input from the GM while creating the backstory.

Having players directly dictate parts of the world outside of their characters action after character creation is, in my experience at least, less common in DnD. However, it is more common in some other roleplaying games and even in DnD it is common for the GM to take the player's desires heavily into account. I personally fall into that category. (Disclaimer, I have not been a GM in a 5E game, but I have been a DM in several earlier editions and other RPGs) I won't let a player just dictate something past character creation, but if a player hopes that there is a handy chandelier and asks the question, then the answer will almost always be yes unless I have a very good reason. Similarly, if the player expresses an interest in fighting a certain monster, it will likely appear in the near future. If a player says they want their character to follow a certain deity with a decent write-up, that deity will most likely be available unless I have a good reason to say no. When I do say no, I will explain the reason if it won't give away too much of the plot.

All of that is a long way to say that what your player is doing is not necessarily wrong, would be accepted at many tables including mine, and is a valid playstyle as long as it meshes with the rest of the table.

However, it is not the only playstyle. Other GMs want to keep a tight reign on the setting. This is also inherently valid. It is particularly justified when it is a homebrew setting that the GM has put a lot of time into building. I have played with others who GM that way, and it can work perfectly well. Also, even someone who tends to give the players a lot of freedom, like me, will occasionally say no if I foresee the request causing problems down the road.

Make sure you are on the same page

Everyone at the table needs to be at least roughly on the same page as to the style of game being played. If he expects player input into the state of the world to be used heavily and you don't, it will cause issues. If he expects a freeform sandbox and you plan for heavy railroading (or vice versa!), it will cause issues.

You should discuss with the entire group what type of game you plan and what your expectations are. As part of this, I would remind them that this is a homebrew setting that you have spent a lot of time on and have strong feelings about. Try to come to a consensus for the entire group. This may involve you adjusting your expectations some as well, but should not involve you simply giving the player everything he thinks he wants.

I know you said you had a session 0, which is a great idea, but it doesn't sound like that specifically included a discussion of the playstyle in use.

You may not be compatible.

It sounds from your description like you and this particular player both have strong feelings and heavily divergent playstyles. In that case, this may not be the right group for one of you. Often no roleplaying is better than bad roleplaying and finding a different group for one of you is always an option.

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I personally wouldn't care much. Celtic gods are an established setting element in Forgotten Realms. If they want to worship another Celtic God, whatever?

The two major Celtic deities in Forgotten Realms are Silvanus and Oghma but is it a major issue if they want a cult to another one?

This isn't a hill I would care to die on, denying them the right to worship. D&D was designed with lots of mythological gods looted, including Norse and Celtic ones. It's meant to be a fun game where people get to meet and worship the deities of mythology they love and revere. It is a game where in the original setting there was even a celtic analogue tribe, the Ffolk.

You mention past offenses. Sure, they may have caused problems in the past, but it's best not to take it out on them. Let them have their Celtic themed location and use deities from the existing list of Norse and Celtic deities that, as you mentioned, you included in your homebrew setting.

This isn't just him trying to establish his own corner of the world. This is a well established part of Forgotten Realms, in terms of location, people, and deities. There is no special need to deny them what you allow other players to use simply because in the past they caused problems.

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If you want to stop things like this happening, make sure the players know and understand the setting before they start creating their characters. If they already spent a decent while on creating the character and are already quite invested in what they made, it is understandable that they are disappointed when you reject their work and investment.

So first make sure that the players know the setting and know the constraints of the game.

Same as you would tell the players what kind of starting budget they have (money and skills), you can also tell them what kinds of characters are allowed.

When a player asks you if he can play a certain kind of character that you don't want, maybe try to find a middle ground. Telling them a straight "no" means "Throw away all you did in preparation to the game and start over".

In one game of Dread that I hosted, one of the players accidentally chose a profession that would render most of the planned story trivial for this player. So I told the player that this profession would not work with the planned setting and I suggested a different profession for the character that is similar to the original profession that does not involve the skills that would break the game. The player was still able to keep the rest of his character.

Another way to handle this is that the player plays a rather eccentric person. Basically all characters are weird or eccentric in one way or another anyways. So the character has a weird, long name, wears strange clothing and claims to come from a far-off land. That does not mean that a place like that needs to exist in your world. When the character interacts with NPCs they might find him strange, might have trouble pronouncing his name and will not know where his homeland is. They might not believe him about his homeland, not care or admit that they have never heard of it.

A character like that might be still equally as fun to play as what the player intended.

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"You begin speaking of odd gods to the peasant who's eyes go wide with fear. He stumbles backward, falling, regaining his feet and fleeing in the direction of the church shrieking 'HERETIC!!! HEEEERETIC!!!' "

aka, Natural Consequence...and possible hilarity ensues....clerical spells, if they have them, are not granted...and so-forth...such as when he tries to return 'home' he finds it is simply not there...just as he was told when creating the character.

I once had a character pickpocket a fighter and stole a sword(long ago 2nd edition campaign). Thinking I could assess the value of items far better than actually allowed by RAW, I was told it was a +2 sword!!....in fact it was a normal long sword but I did not find out for a very long time. I was warned that I was not versed in appraising weapons. We all had a good time. The game is more than accommodating negative attitudes...it is about turning those attitudes into an engaging story telling environment.

We have no power over the attitudes of others...that control is illusion. We can help influence others attitudes with kindness, humor and inclusion...while setting a limit to how much destruction of fun is allowed until the player(or GM) is banned by the group.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG.SE! While it sounds like a fun(ny) suggestion, it would be much better as an answer if you included your experience with such methods, including how it was recieved, what kind of players you used it with etc. Take the tour if you haven't already, and check out the help center or ask us here in the comments (use @ to ping someone) if you need more guidance. Good Luck and Happy Gaming! \$\endgroup\$ – Someone_Evil Jul 12 at 18:45
  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the guidance Mark and Someone_Evil \$\endgroup\$ – Somebody Jul 12 at 18:53
  • \$\begingroup\$ This doesn't sound like a great idea. As a potential player, I would be mad if a DM did this to me. It feels more like a prank than a real suggestion. Especially when you consider that a lot of players take a lot of time building their character and backstory. To just act like you're letting them be involved and then reveal you actually weren't is incredibly rude. \$\endgroup\$ – Captain Man Jul 12 at 20:35
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There are a few issues I'd like to call out before getting to my answer proper, as these thoughts might help you solve your issue in their own right...

  • You say you let players help with the worldbuilding but... you have a problem with players helping with worldbuilding?
  • It doesn't matter what the player names their character. I used a name I liked from Tolkien's Middle Earth once, but that doesn't mean I was insisting the game world was Middle Earth.

Now, real answer...

The names and deities that your player mentions actually do exist. Remember that many people, places, and deities have different names in different cultures, or even from one town to the next. This town worships Bob, and the next town over worship the exact same entity but different aspects of it and they call it Jack.

You could say the same for the character's home. Other characters don't know Ironland by that name. Maybe the people of "Ironland" think they are better blacksmiths than everyone else and Ironland is self-styled. Everyone else knows the place by Bogland. Ironically, the same thing nurtured both names (Bogs were a good source of iron in some cultures, and some even called it "bog iron"), but this trivia is unknown to everyone. Some of the people in Ironland might not even use the same names as your character.

Furthermore, who says that what this character believes in even needs to exist? Just because your pantheon exists of Bob (aka Jack), Sue, Jill, and Sam, and nothing else, that doesn't mean that someone can't worship Joe anyway. In fact, to deny that anyone worships any other deities than the ones you acknowledge actually breaks the realism. I seem to even recall some older material from D&D 3ed, Manual of the Planes I think? or maybe Deities & Demigods? where it mentioned various other-planar rulers who were worshipped despite having no "real" divinity (but then, who gets to say what divinity is?). 3ed doesn't apply here, but the mentality of this paragraph does. And don't forget Elan from The Order of the Stick; Elan the bard created a puppet he named Banjo and then worshipped it. So maybe your player's deity is not really a deity, or perhaps doesn't even truly exist at all; whether this is true or not you don't even need to acknowledge - in fact you don't even need to care if it is true or not as that fact is irrelevant.

Games that I've played or DM'ed where localization was allowed like this might have gotten a bit more difficult to keep track of things, but it definitely improved realism and immersion.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Your last line starts to touch on your experience, but I think the answer would be improved if you elaborated on it a little more. How have your different recommendations worked, in your experience? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 11 at 22:18
  • \$\begingroup\$ @V2Blast Instead of treating my answer as though it is some peculiar thing for which experience should be explained, rather I think that it is the normal way of things and OP's insistence on refusing this should be seen as the peculiar thing and we should be asking OP what evidence they have that such a thing should ever work, but instead of answering with a question, I have answered with an answer. D&D rulebooks mention alternate names for places and entities if they are known by many peoples. I could reference that more, but I don't have access to rulebooks now or in the near future. \$\endgroup\$ – Aaron Jul 11 at 22:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'm not treating either as particularly "peculiar". We expect all answers to be supported by citing evidence or experience. For more information about this, see these two metas: What are the citation expectations of answers on RPG Stack Exchange?, How do we ask and answer subjective questions? \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 11 at 23:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ Specifically, you recommend that OP allow the player's desired place of origin to exist and simply have it be officially named something else in the setting, and you also suggest that the PC be allowed to believe in a deity that doesn't exist. Especially if you feel this is the default because it has been your experience, you should be able to explain your experience using these methods and how they solved the problem (or how they didn't cause any problems, as the case may be) - explain how your experience shows that these are good solutions to the issue. \$\endgroup\$ – V2Blast Jul 11 at 23:17

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