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I am currently running a campaign that is coming to a close. This is fine, and as planned. However I would like to start another campaign after. I mentioned this to (some of) the players, who seemed happy(ish) to switch over when the conclusion was reached, including that I was considering a vaguely Gothic-horror theme. I also specifically stated that there would be a session 0 to discuss things like setting and appropriate characters.

Having heard this a couple of players have, I discovered, started creating characters, of varying levels of appropriateness. I have tried subtly suggesting that those may require revision but at least one player seems attached already.

(The character is a pacifist illusion wizard, and I am trying for a setting with unavoidable violence (mostly against monsters) and extremely rare and distrusted magic (so wizard would be exceptional enough to be disruptive). 5th Edition D&D, but I don't think that's relevant.)

My question is:
At Session 0 how can I persuade players to be more willing to abandon (potentially campaign inappropriate) character concepts, especially ones they already seem somewhat attached to?

Ideally without causing offence. If it would be better for me to change my plans, I might accept that as an answer.

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    \$\begingroup\$ I should mention also that you said you don't think the system is relevant, but this is an example of when the system obviously is relevant because the system implies a style of play very different to the campaign you have pitched. \$\endgroup\$ – Turksarama Sep 16 at 5:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Please don't answer in comments everyone. I see a lot of suggestions/concerns that aren't clarifications but would be ways of answering the question. Instead, please submit a fully thought out and supported answer. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Sep 16 at 19:19
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You missed a step ...

Session 0 comes after the pitch.

The pitch is the sales pitch the gamemaster puts out to see if anyone (other than them) is interested in playing. Now, you did put that out there but not in sufficient detail.

If your new campaign was going to be just like your old campaign but with giants instead of dragons (like Wizards of the Coast do it) then your pitch was fine. Similarly, if you are pitching a Munchkin-esque dungeon-of-the-week campaign to strangers, you don’t need much detail. However, if you a creating a massive change of tone then you need more.

The various Adventurer’s League Player’s Guides are examples of a pitch (and a Session 0 rolled into one). I used this as my model for my pitch of Tyranny of Dragons which was the first online game I ever ran - it has too much detail.

What I do now is:

  • 2 paragraphs of sales pitch, 1 showing off what’s special about the world and the second being the first adventure hook. You’re writing for players: the minority that can read don’t like to.

  • The Rules:

    • allowed books
    • allowed playable (sub)-races
    • allowed playable classes/archetypes
    • disallowed spells

Then you throw out the bait and see who bites. Not all sections are required.

For your gothic low-magic campaign.

1,000 years ago all wizards and sorcerers went mad (those that weren’t already) unleashing monsters onto the world. Eventually their evil power was defeated by the mysterious Shadow Lords whose tendrils of influence and power still permeate the land.

Save for vague rumours of secret wizarding cults, no wizards exist while heartbroken parents sacrifice any children tainted by sorcery to the Shadow Lords. However, in the village of Splat, more children than normal have been showing the “taint”. Is this just chance or is there some malign influence or is someone making false accusations for their own purposes?

Rules

Books: Players' Handbook + 1 (not that I think it’s a good rule but it’s fun to watch players agonise over their choice - but then, I’m a bad, bad person)

Races: Humans, Dwarfs, Halflings only. (Just an example)

Classes: No Sorcerers or Wizards.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did that pitch come straight out of your hoohoo? That is a great start. I've seen something very similar, but can't remember where. The game Divinity Original Sin comes to mind, but maybe there's something else. \$\endgroup\$ – Behacad Sep 16 at 1:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Behacad IFAIK. I was thinking about this question in the shower and I've been DMing Curse of Strahd so Gothic horror has been lurking in my head for a while. There's some Robert Jordan in the "all wizards are mad" idea. \$\endgroup\$ – Dale M Sep 16 at 1:18
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    \$\begingroup\$ Regarding the 'pitch', you all might want to have a look at the document Matt Colville of MCDM fame sent to his players before any real campaign planning. It outlined a few possible campaign ideas, from which the players chose what they were most interested in. squaremans.com/Campaigns.pdf \$\endgroup\$ – Mark Sep 16 at 6:17
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    \$\begingroup\$ Accepted this answer because it has been the most helpful. I posted a couple of pitches and the most popular one was for the campaign described. I took strong inspiration from your example. It was useful because it allowed me to show what I would not allow, what was similar and that it was not personal. \$\endgroup\$ – MegaCrow Sep 17 at 8:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ For what it matters he abandoned the idea entirely rather than make alterations. He is now favouring an orc fighter. \$\endgroup\$ – MegaCrow Sep 17 at 8:36
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It is totally legitimate for a GM to accept/reject characters/rules/etc in his game.

Some players might argue/question the decision but in the end, this should not cause offense unless you are very clumsy in how you announce and/or explain it.

Personally, I recommend that you discuss why you do not want to allow it and your players should respect that. As the GM you have the final say in everything but, in my experience, a GM that simply puts his foot down without any explanation has a good chance of simply antagonizing his player(s) who might leave to find another table.

If your player(s) argue it might make your job more difficult, but you should arm yourself with patience, at least until the point where your player ends up being stubborn and unable to compromise.


Since your goal is to make sure you don't antagonize your player(s), I feel like you will have to explain the how and why you do not want to accept that character in particular.

It is difficult to give you examples/arguments to answer this question, since you do not expose any of the reasons why you do not want to accept this character in your game.

Is it because of the style of the game, you feel like one of those characters do not fit in a Gothic Horror kind of game ?

Is it because it is not appropriate, being a homebrew class that you do not like ?

It is because the theme of the character does not fit in your game ? As an example of this, I once wanted to play a cleric with a GM I had never played with, not knowing until session 0 that his homebrew world did not have any sort of divine magic in it, the Gods having left this world a long time ago ... the GM and I had to have that discussion where he explained this to me, where I tried to have see if he would allow a 'different kind' of divine spellcaster that would get his spells from a different source in this homebrew world. In the end I was not allowed to do it, but since the explanations given made sense about the kind of game the GM wanted to run, I had no issues with making another character more fitting for the game. Even more than that, my character was later allowed to multiclass up to level 3 in a divine spellcasting class because of what he did during the game ... since it ended up being revealed that the background story of the campaign was exactly about the Gods trying to make a comeback to this world, so it turns out I just could not start as a divine spellcaster (and, in the end, I did not multiclass into cleric since what the Gods did to return to this world kinda 'turned me off' both OOC and IC, lol).

The question has been edited to specify that magic will be rare and violence will be commonplace, while the player wants to play a pacifist illusionist.

Now I see that you are in an extreme situation. Not only the concept behind the character does not fit at first glance but also the class chosen is one you wanted to restrain somewhat in this setting.

I don't know if you were ok with a wizard in your group or if the game only allows for wizard NPCs and I'm really on the fence with my answer on this one. I'd personally be willing to go both ways, both as a GM and a player.

There's no good answer and in my opinion it will come down to a compromise.

On your part as a GM are you willing to still allow a character that could be 'contrary' to your setting ? Either allowing a pacifist in a violent world or a wizard in a world where magic is stygmatized both can be very fun and rewarding if done correctly and that depends both on the player, GM and the rest of the group. Or maybe you have something else in mind and would rather not bother dealing with that ?

On the player's part once he realizes this about your setting, does he still want to play that character concept ? Is he comfortable with the consequences of using magic publicly in this world ? Is he comfortable seeing his pacifist character getting abused by violent thugs ? Or would he rather play a simpler character ?

Check if compromise is possible for either of you two, then once you have a better idea of each other's point of view, the matter might be settled or you might need to talk about it with your group ... for example, if you decide to allow such a disruptive character, you might want to discuss this with the rest of the group since they will also have to deal with the impacts of this character !

Good luck with your group !

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    \$\begingroup\$ The Q has been edited to describe the problem with the character concept. (In general, such requests should use comments on the question, since questions about the question are not answers, and since that’s what the comment feature exists for.) \$\endgroup\$ – SevenSidedDie Sep 15 at 16:48
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"Guys? I want to do character creation during or after the Session Zero."

"...So let's hold off on character creation for now. No, seriously, I mean it."

It's really that simple. I, too, have had players that want to go off and create characters before they have any idea what sort of world they're creating and without knowing what everyone else is doing.

There is obviously no way to stop players from thinking up new characters, and there is no way to force them to abandon whatever concept strikes their fancy. It just can't be done.

But you can throw a bucket of cold water on them, at least, by telling them all, politely but firmly:

  1. You have some specific things in mind for the next game
  2. You want to bring these up to everyone at the same time in a Session Zero made for character creation
  3. You reserve the right to reject characters that don't fit (and this includes characters you think will just not be fun in this game world.)
  4. You strongly encourage people to stop making characters before that happens to avoid wasting their time. (And, frankly, yours, but you don't have to include that part....)

I will point out that this is absolutely not infallible, unless you are truly draconian about it-- I've had players end up rejecting all of my GM advice during that session zero and play characters that were doomed to misery and suffering. Not entirely unlike your pacifist, which is a type of character I think of as challenging the entire game world with his existence. (And I do not run games where starting out characters survive that. Each and every one of them should have been rejected.)

But it does get through to most players.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Whilst this is useful advice going forward, they have already done it, so this is not really what I was looking for. \$\endgroup\$ – MegaCrow Sep 15 at 18:38
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MegaCrow: I can edit this into the answer if necessary, but, you say this before Session 0 in order to prepare them for the Session 0 during which you throw out their characters. It's less of a shock that way. I've actually had to do this when I saw players getting ahead of me. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Sep 15 at 18:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ I get that but I can't ask them not to do something they have already done. At least not reasonably. \$\endgroup\$ – MegaCrow Sep 15 at 19:10
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    \$\begingroup\$ @MegaCrow but you can manage their expectations. And they haven't created a character for this game. \$\endgroup\$ – Caleth Sep 16 at 9:53
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    \$\begingroup\$ Exactly. I don't want to be too argumentative pushing my own answer, but character creation ends when you say it ends, not when the player does. It's a bit of a useful fiction, but the social management aspects of GMing are filled with these little velvet-glove/face saving motions, masking the iron hand within them. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Sep 16 at 10:59
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Try explaining practical impacts of forging ahead with a campaign-inappropriate character.

The other answers are excellent, but if players remain attached to their inappropriate choices even after Session 0 discussion, the following may be of use.

In my experience, tabletop players tend to primarily focus on one of two areas with regard to their characters: how awesome they are, or how they'll deal with challenges and limitations. Both are fine, but in this case it seems that you might want to emphasize the latter while your players are thinking of the former.

I ran a long-term game of Vampire: The Masquerade for a while and one of my players was interested in a character that would have been an odd fit for the setting. We talked about it and I explained that, while it was a cool character, there would be a lot of obstacles and limitations to their activities in-game as a result. This included an overview as well as specific examples.

In the end, the player was excited by the limitations. They wanted to move forward with the character because they thought those constraints sounded like interesting challenges to deal with, and that dynamic ended up letting me really emphasize the themes and tone of the setting. The character's poor fit to the setting ended up producing some really interesting plot developments, and because the player went into the situation with open eyes it never felt unfair when they encountered those extra obstacles.

Something similar might be useful in a case like yours. It's definitely within your purview as DM to simply forbid Wizard as a class your PCs can take. If a player is especially attached to the idea of a Wizard for their character, you can express what your setting means for them:

  • A secret which will cause massive (perhaps insurmountable, in some dimensions) difficulties if anyone learns of it. That involves plot hooks, like blackmail, but also day-to-day constraints, like having to be very selective of when they cast spells or taking extra pains to hide a spellbook.
  • A poverty of available spells. If wizardry is so rare and forbidden, a Wizard character is going to be very limited in their ability to expand their spellbook.
  • Less utility overall. The obstacles to spellcasting will, in themselves, really limit a Wizard from getting what the rules intend out of their class. Some other skills, like Arcana, might also be all but useless.

Those factors might also produce some opportunities in which a pacifist Wizard might be extra effective, if living dangerously:

  • Magic being extremely rare may also mean that everyday people are far less able to recognize it than is typical for D&D. While it's a risk to ever cast a spell in the setting, it may be less noticeable than would be typical.
  • With any kind of magic being rare, people might be far more ready to accept an illusion as real. A clever illusionist might confuse and distract enemies to the extent that a fight is totally avoided without them ever being the wiser.
  • Largely unavoidable violence is a great way to explore pacifism as a theme. Can this character maintain their outlook and succeed? Or will they be forced to compromise their ideals to accomplish their greater aims?

Finally, not every character "wins" every campaign. If the normal end of magic-users in your setting is violent and arbitrary, that can happen to your player too. Not all players are up for that sort of thing, but it can make the story poignant in a way that would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve.

tl;dr:

A character that is fundamentally incompatible with a setting may not be usable (i.e., a setting where Sorcerers inherently don't exist isn't going to work with a Sorcerer PC). But a character that is a poor thematic fit for a setting can offer contrasts and new angles to explore those themes.

It's just that a character focused on features that mesh poorly with a setting will have a game more focused on limitations, struggle, and adversity than is typical. A player can still enjoy their character and the game as long as the player is aware that their character's in-game experience may be particularly challenging or uncomfortable.

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Try telling them they can use it for a different campaign but not this one.

Tell them like "Hey, I understand you like your character(s), I understand you put time and effort into creating it but I don't think that (or those) character(s) would be a good fit for this particular world. Maybe you can use them in another campaign."

This could help by telling them you understand where they're coming from and you're not devaluing their character(s) while making sure they understand where you as the DM are coming from.

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Give 'em enough rope

Tell the players what your campaign is about.
If you see a PC that is a bad fit, let the player know what you see.
If they want to play that one anyway, let them succeed or fail on their own merits.

  1. If they succeed: Great! Your player done good.

  2. If they fail: Great!

    Have them roll up a replacement (or otherwise create a new character) and press on.

This isn't rocket surgery. ;) It's a game. Approach this whole situation with the following attitude: "Let's have fun with this."

If they still take offense, then maybe they are not a good fit for your table. It's good to find that out too, since bad gaming is not better than no gaming.

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