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As a player myself, I would like to encourage another player to add a little nuance to his dark and cringey character. The player in question is young and quite enthusiastic, didn't derail anything in-game, and I don't want to impose anything on him.

How can a player motivate another player to develop their character's personality without being pushy ?

For context, we are playing Curse of Strahd as a group of mostly new players. During session 0, we agreed to run a "good" campaign and to each write a couple paragraphs long backstory.

This player's character is the daughter of a pirate, who taught her to fight. His description of her early life mentioned that "everyone on the ship wanted to {have sex with} her, but she defended herself" and that her father was often angry at her for "damaging" members of his crew. Later, she left her father's boat as an act of teenage rebellion.

Since the start of the campaign, he has taken "trophies" (teeth and tongues) from everything we kill to wear as a necklace. A few sessions in, he started to play his character as increasingly pointlessly mean and confrontational to every NPC we meet. A couple times per session, he separates from the group to do things like steal alcohol from a friendly NPC, or bash in the door of a depressed widow without in-game justification.

At the end of the last session, I talked a bit with him to understand his character's behavior. He described, with details, how actually his character was treated like "less than an object" by her father and how he and his crew raped and tortured her all her life "with nails pulled and stuff", and this why she acts like that.

I'm not against a tragic backstory but this maxing-out darkness, rape and drama to end up with a character that is just plain mean, seems a bit pointless.

He seems eager to play a character with a strong personality and backstory but his efforts are clumsy, and sometimes met with awkwardness at the table. The other players mostly let him do his thing on his own. One tried to stop him in-character a couple of times during the last session.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Related : inconsistent player, player motivation, GM pov. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueBass Dec 12 '19 at 13:00
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    \$\begingroup\$ Before anyone tries to answer, please clarify and explain if anyone else at the table (DM and or player) expressed concern or that they are disturbed with this players decisions? (See also the Q&A on My Guy Syndrome as something related to what you are seeing). \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 12 '19 at 13:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ Does everyone else at the table already have 'more developed' characters or are you really asking how you can 'encourage them to develop their character a bit differently' (not necessarily a bad thing to ask). \$\endgroup\$ – Tiggerous Dec 12 '19 at 13:35
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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for the further details, I edited in the comments you made to me and to tiggerous. Please make sure that I got that summary right, and edit again if I missed a trick. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 12 '19 at 19:43
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    \$\begingroup\$ @aherocalledFrog Sorry, I suck at guessing people ages, I's say early 20s. He's maybe the youngest one, with the others' ages being between 25 and 35 (I think??), I'm one of the oldest. We aren't close outside of the game. He's especially young in mentality and behavior, but not an actual teenager. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueBass Dec 12 '19 at 21:37
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To solve an interpersonal issue at the table, I would use a strategy that effective mediators use to solve disputes between conflicted parties (even though you're one of the parties).

  1. Identify the issue
  2. Frame it as a shared conflict
  3. Then propose a solution.

This strategy helps solve co-worker conflicts, relationship disputes, and even tabletop issues!

First, identify exactly what it is that you find problematic

Is it how the player is acting? Is it the characters backstory? Is it both? If you find both problematic, you'll want to address them separately.

To me, having a tragic backstory is not problematic in and of itself, but using surviving rape as justification to now having no respect for personal or property boundaries, being affronting to friendly NPCs, and mutilating corpses to collect trophies is downright insensitive. After identifying what you find problematic ...

Frame the issue in a way that you and the player share the problem

Since you both have a shared problem, you are both stakeholders in the solution. This is a tactical way of framing an issue so that you don't push the entire solution onto your player, and you don't take ownership of the entire issue either. You want to identify that you desire to work together to rectify the problem.

An example of framing the player's actions as the issue is something like "The party tends to have goals X, Y, and Z. Your recent actions of stealing from the NPCs and breaking into another NPC's house haven't helped reach that goal. Let's come together to find in-character methods you can act like a sneaky thief that also further's the party towards their goals." After framing the issue...

Propose a solution

The player wants to sneak around, break and enter, and be ghoulish. Your two most apparent options are to give them the appropriate playground to act this way, or to realign the character's actions into a different outlet.

The path of least resistance is to give them encounters that allow them to act this way without it being a detriment, and allow in-game information to broadcast that they're the best character for the job. Tweaking a premade campaign to highlight a specific character type is encounter-specific and hard to generalize, so if you want to go down this avenue and need help, that'd be best for a new question. This approach allows the player's character to at how they want, identifies the GM's environment in which they're acting as an issue, and could give them positive feedback from the party for playing their role effectively. This method puts the solution squarely on the GM's shoulders. As another player, you should communicate your issue with the problem PC to the GM and see if they're willing to adapt the campaign in this manner. Alternatively, you can also communicate in-game when you're wanting the player to sneak around and gather something. Including them in the goal-making process and having them give feedback in the strategy helps them become included and offer their skillset in a productive fashion.

The path of more resistance is to reel the character back in to act more in line with the party's current expectations. You can do this directly by telling the player that what they're doing is problematic and antithetical to the campaign, or you can do this indirectly by having in-game consequences to their actions, such as guards showing up to detain the PC, NPCs visibly disturbed with the party for consorting with the problem PC, or, since you're running Curse of Strahd, having the town liken the PC with Strahd and his legion because of their actions. Either direct or indirectly identifying this, this method puts the solution squarely on the player's shoulders. As another player, you can privately reprimand the player's actions in-character or try to buddy them up with someone that can help monitor and assist the character to accomplish their personal goals without necessarily breaking in-game law.

In reality, the solution is likely somewhere between those two ends of the spectrum, and getting the player on board without feeling personally attacked is the way to move forward without hurt feelings. You know your player more than we do, and you know what communication may or may not be effective.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This is a really good answer, the only that could be added is the idea of the world reacting appropriately to their shenanigans. I think your recommendations are the priority in terms of out of game, but in-game having a reactive world can also apply reasonable consequences to their actions. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 12 '19 at 15:45
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    \$\begingroup\$ I've also just noticed that OP is not the DM, but another player. Not sure if that changes any of your suggestions. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Dec 12 '19 at 16:00
  • \$\begingroup\$ @JRodge01 Thank you for your excelent answer, I'm not the GM (just clarified it in the question), but it brings good pointers. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueBass Dec 12 '19 at 16:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NautArch I added a few sentences to my last few paragraphs to address how the player can implement these solutions. Let me know if you feel those're appropriate. \$\endgroup\$ – JRodge01 Dec 12 '19 at 16:20
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that those need to be placed before the GM/DM portion. I see no reason not to keep that part, but separate it out from the elements of your answer that are action items for the OP who is a player. My recommendation is thus, organizationally, Part 1 is "what player can do" and then Part 2 is what a GM can do and what you can ask the GM for this game to do. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 12 '19 at 19:54
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To me the character seems developped enough and your problem lies elsewhere

It seems to me that your player, no matter the number of words in his background, has a very precise idea of where his character comes from and how it influenced her development.

The problem seems to be that the resulting character results in a very "edgy" character that does not mesh well (or at all) with the rest of the group, the NPCs of Barovia, etc.

It's that kind of character, that I personally saw too often, which kind of makes no sense in the world. How would have such a character survived, after basically being (and pardon the language) an asshole all of her life, to everyone around her ?

The fact she had a hard life does not excuse her behaviour, especially considering how those she abuse might have just as hard a life ... sometimes probably even a lot harder, it being Barovia. How come they don't just organize a mob to hang the abusing thief ??? That is what I would expect to happen, both IRL and as the DM in this instance.

In fact, when my players do such careless stuff that ends up 'hurting' a lot of NPCs I will always have at least a couple of those NPC victims become vindictive towards the PC and/or the whole group. When organized well and in a way that makes the reasons clear to the PCs, this often leads to epiphanies/change in behaviours from the PCs.

But that's not even the real problem. We can and do often suspend disbelief on such characters to allow a player to have his/her fun.

No, to me the real problem is that the way this character is played is not engaging to the rest of the group. In fact, quite the contrary, since it does seem the rest of the group is put off by those actions.

I wouldn't ask this player to refine the character's background, since my experience with this solution is to find that my player has in fact 'doubled down' on the character's edginess. More often than not, asking the player of a 'difficult character' to refine its background in the hopes that it will solve such problem only gives the player more arguments to respond to any of their fellow players' concern with 'that is what my character would do', aka the 'my character syndrome'.

Instead, what you need to have your problem player realize is that D&D is a collaborative story telling experience ... and that his character's behaviour is problematic simply because it repels the other players. Plus, it probably wastes a lot of everyone's time for events that lead to (in my own opinion) bad story telling.

As a player, spectating while a comrade is being abusive to widows or stealing ale makes for a very boring chapter in our common story.

As the DM, you are the referee in such matters. I would do as I so often did, aka start by letting the player know I feel the need to talk to them in my capacity as referee. I'd try to be as diplomatic as can be, but there's no dancing around the fact that these events are boring for everyone except maybe the 'culprit'.

I don't shy away from speaking on behalf of my other (majority of) players ... even if/when they don't complain to me directly. I know that I easily can make the difference when the whole group is having fun VS when most of the group just silently goes through the motions, cultivating their patience.

No, I would be polite but firm, I would go straight to the crux of the point: this behaviour doesn't make for a fun or engaging story, is also not something the rest of the group can or wants to engage in. And also, from an in-game point of view, this could lead to danger for the character in question, once NPCs get fed up with being abused and decide to grow a spine (or a mob).

If the player does not get it or does not want to change his behaviour ... well, to me this is a proof that this player does not want to engage in any kind of cooperative storytelling with his fellow players or even me. Faced with such players, I politely suggest that they might enjoy playing single player video games and/or politely kick them out of my game.

All because I know from experience that it is only a matter of time before the group dissolves when 75-80% of the group is not having fun for long whiles every session.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer! I'm not the DM in this game so I can't take that sort of decisions... We do have fun, his solo bits are short and don't have much of an impact on the rest of the group. I probably worry for nothing, but I also would like to prevent the cringiness from getting worse. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueBass Dec 12 '19 at 21:51
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    \$\begingroup\$ On a related note, two players spectating while a comrade is being abusive to {NPCs} makes for a very boring chapter in our common story and it broke our Tunnels and Troll group so badly that the game is on hold, awaiting new players. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Dec 12 '19 at 21:57
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Acting out in game is a symptom of personal problems.

A character's background is a justification for behavior. 80% of the time for 80% of players this is all it is. It sounds to me like the problem isn't the background, it's the behavior, and fixing the latter will remedy the former.

It sounds like this player is a young adult who is acting out. This is a good thing! It means that they trust everyone else at the player enough to relax and do things they can't do in real life. Unfortunately, it sounds like they haven't yet learned that because they are playing with other players their actions still have consequences. The challenge then is to help the player improve their behavior without breaking the existing trust.

The first place to start is away from game. A quick text message of 'Hey, are you ok?' or 'Are you going through something? Want to talk?', even if they don't engage, can help. Just knowing that someone cares enough to ask can greatly help someone struggling through depression or anxiety. If they do want to talk, listen and be sympathetic. It's possible that this is all that's necessary to shine a light of hope on their life and their behavior will improve.

If you learn that they are struggling but their behavior doesn't change, you can try engaging with the player through their character to guide and mentor their behavior with the goal of providing them catharsis. This will involve at the very least someone choosing to play as teacher or partner, possibly even student, someone who will go with the player when they leave the group to act out with the goal of preventing them from going too far and aim their destructive tendencies to more constructive end. Instead of busting in the door of that widow, target the factory owner that underpays his workers.

The last option is offer them a chance to be the bad guy. This worked well for me in a similar situation. I had a young new player who while getting used to the game was playing a sadistic coward in a good-natured, team-oriented group. The other players, despite being friends with him, were bothered when he didn't have their back. I gave him the chance to accept the blessing of a wannabe evil god, and he relished the feeling of suddenly powering up then going out in a blaze of glory when the rest of the party took him down. His next character was much better behaved, and everyone enjoyed the twist ending to the story arc.


If they aren't just acting out, if they just like playing sadistic and imagining the worst for their character's past and they actually don't care that they are making the rest of the group uncomfortable, then they probably aren't a good fit for the table and the DM should ask them to leave.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thank you for your answer and for a different POV. We don't hang out, so it would be a bit weird to contact him outside of the group chat. He does tend to arrive early before sessions, next time I'll try to chat a bit with him before the game starts. \$\endgroup\$ – BlueBass Dec 12 '19 at 22:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CeriseStHilaire Don't sweat it. Don't be hasty. I do talk about it as a serious issue, but this is in the context od D&D. It's all long term and most players realize there is a lot of give and take. I used to be a forever DM and when I became a player I was one such problem player. I used and still do a lot of "edgy" stuff as a player, often to challenge my DM. I'm always happy with the outcome, even when I'm being told that my move was awkward for everyone. It happens, it is also normal. Remain cordial, remain polite and do not talk in absolutes. Ask him what he thinks of your concerns first \$\endgroup\$ – Catar4 Dec 13 '19 at 2:51

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