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This is a question about something I've noticed in my own play style, asked because I want to make sure that I and those I play with enjoy the game as much as possible.

I played AD&D and 2e ten thousand years ago, and have been back, with 5e, for about six months. This time around I've played a bunch of one-shots and two- or three-session campaigns, and I'm also playing in two long-term campaigns. The characters I've played in these games have been mechanically somewhat varied—I've been a half-elven [EDIT: actually he was human] Wild Magic sorcerer, an elven Arcane Trickster, and a half-elven College of Eloquence bard.

I can't help noticing, however, that, though my characters' mechanics are different, I keep playing the same personality over and over again (a grumpy gay slut with anger management issues). I've read a lot here and elsewhere about people bringing the same class/race over and over again, but I haven't seen much, if anything, about characters with the same personalities.

I get it; I'm obviously working something out. I myself have anger management issues, and in the opposite direction from my characters; it's really hard for me to show my anger, and it's really hard for them not to—meaning that when I'm pretending to be them I have a kind of freedom I long for in real life, where I spend all my time pretending not to be grumpy. And given that my husband and I celebrated my eleventh wedding anniversary yesterday, my slut years are at this point a distant memory, so playing characters for whom they are a present reality allows me, again, a kind of freedom I don't have in real life (though, to be clear, I much prefer my current married life to my old slutty life).

So I understand why I enjoy playing characters with these particular personality traits. I just don't know whether I'll start to get annoying to the people and groups I play with for more than a one-shot, whether I'm short-changing myself on what could be a more fulfilling experience of the game, and/or whether there's another drawback I haven't thought of.

(For what it's worth, I have yet to finish a long campaign, so while I've played the same personality with some of the same people a few times, it's not like my grumpy gay slut with anger management issues has now been plopped down three times in the valley of Barovia wearing a different hat each time. So who knows? Once one of these campaigns ends maybe I'll want to play a different kind of person.)

Anyway, I have to assume that I'm not the only player to have this tendency, so I'm interested in hearing from others who either have had it or have played with those who had. If I try to branch out character-trait-wise, will I and others have a more fulfilling experience? If so, do you have any suggestions for how to start doing so?

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Is this a problem?

Only if you think so. I suppose other players might get a little bored of it, but that deserves at most an eyeroll and nothing more—it really isn’t any of their business what you’re playing so long as it’s not disruptive. If it was OK once, it’s OK a hundred times.

(Unless you stick to a given concept in a new campaign with a different setting where that concept doesn’t work—yours is fairly unlikely to run into that, at least in any campaign I’d care to join, but other concepts easily could.)

Otherwise, though, if you’re happy to be playing a similar character, then everything’s good! It’s a game, it’s played for fun—you should do what you consider the most fun. If this is still what’s most fun for you, then everything’s great.

If, on the other hand, you wanted to try something different, and meant to go in a different direction, but somehow converged on a similar concept nonetheless, and that is a problem for you, then you might consider it a “problem.” That’s wholly up to you and your judgment and preference.

How do you fix it?

If, per the above, you consider this a problem, the question becomes, how do you avoid falling into the same trap?

Observation: Your description of the similar characters is not that narrow

What you’ve told us about your characters doesn’t necessarily tell us all that much about them—those descriptions could very easily apply to a whole lot of otherwise very different people.

So one thing you could very easily consider is that perhaps, your characters are more different than you realize, or, if they’re not, maybe the real issue is that you haven’t fleshed them out enough, that they’re “just” grumpy gay sluts with anger management issues. By focusing—even if it’s just in your own headcanon, not every campaign is going to devote a lot of time to individual characters’ character development—on what else is going on with them, you may find them to be rather different.

Or if not, maybe you can decide on new characters to split the difference, keep the traits you keep coming back to, but then also devote some thought to what more they have to them. There are lots and lots of pieces to people’s identity; sexuality and emotional tendencies are just two. (Important two, but still.)

Observation: Your characters aren’t that mechanically dissimilar

Elves and half-elves are, kinda obviously, related, and though they can be quite different, they don’t have to be. Likewise, the bard class’s historical origins in D&D are very much “rogue with magic,” so an arcane trickster is pretty similar. Bard and sorcerer have considerable overlap, too, being Charisma-based non-preparing arcane spellcasters. To be clear, you certainly could differentiate these characters, but it’s also pretty easy for them to be pretty similar.

So greater mechanical diversity might push you in new directions. Barbarian, maybe not, considering anger issues are already a theme, but any of the other classes might prompt new behavior.

On the other hand, maybe they wouldn’t—after all, anyone can be angry, or gay, or slutty, as discussed above. The mechanical differences will only help if you lean into them—maybe a cleric is very chaste, or a monk is very zen and chill, or whatever. The cleric class doesn’t mandate chastity (some faiths even disdain it), the monk class doesn’t mandate calmness (though the descriptions tend to suggest strongly), but you can choose to emphasize those things as part of how what being a cleric or monk means to them. Maybe a wizard who is so socially-inept that he wouldn’t know how to flirt if you held a gun to his head, and wouldn’t recognize someone flirting with him if they held up a neon sign. Wizards don’t have to be that hopeless, but if you lean into that particular conception of what it means to be a wizard, then it might help lean away from repeating a similar character.

Real solution: Just make choices consciously

Ultimately, the real answer is, and must be, simply “decide to react differently,” as one excellent article on roleplaying put it (in an entirely different context addressing an entirely separate problem). If you’re aware that you tend to go in one particular direction on characterization, and you want to do something different, just... consciously choose to do something different. Maybe the Wild Magic makes a sorcerer afraid of intimacy, of hurting someone with magic they have limited control over. Maybe the bard is a hippy and has trained themselves to just be accepting of everything. (Or maybe he’s actually just stoned, even.) And so on. And only as much as you actually want to—again, this is only a problem insofar as you’d like to do something else.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so much for this—it's really clear and will help me as I continue to think about this question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11 at 18:41
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    \$\begingroup\$ You could even give a different spin to the same concept. Maybe your character is a gay slut, but is also a cleric of a faith that mandates chastity, and so has to manage his job with his personality. That creates internal conflict, and that is, narratively speaking, interesting, and leads to novelty. \$\endgroup\$
    – theberzi
    Oct 12 at 8:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is one of the best pieces of advice on RP technique I have ever had the pleasure to read. Well done, +1! \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13 at 7:41
  • \$\begingroup\$ Do what actors do - try making a conscious choice that drives you away from your 'comfort zone'. Make you next character a genuine Paladin who thinks any kind of intimacy is a distraction from their holy quest, a quest they are upbeat and enthusiastic about. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 13 at 20:41
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The purpose of roleplaying is to have fun, and if everyone is having fun then everything is fine.

If you felt like you were getting constrained by your character's personality -- if you were saying "well, I decided before sitting down that my character was a grumpy gay slut, so I have to roleplay him as grumpy here even though it would be more fun to not be grumpy" -- then you would have a problem. (Our My Guy Syndrome question has more on this topic.)

My own experience is that I'm happiest when I don't decide my character's personality ahead of time, and I just roleplay however I feel like, and we sort of gradually get a sense for my character's personality based on what they do.

This lets me avoid the feeling of being constrained by the words on my character sheet to do something I didn't want to do.


You've also asked:

I just don't know whether I'll start to get annoying to the people and groups I play with for more than a one-shot

I've seen grumpy characters who were annoying, and grumpy characters who were not annoying. In my experience the secret seems to be to make jokes about it out-of-character even while your character is being grumpy in-character.

And be especially careful about being grumpy at other player characters, because that can easily hurt feelings.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so much for this—it's really clear and will help me as I continue to think about this question. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 11 at 18:41
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Two different issues spring to mind. One is if you want to play differently, it can help to think about how your PC's personality affects adventuring. The other is that role-playing your One True Fantasy personality is fine, but how to do it without annoying the other players?

For the first point, a character can sometimes feel like a generic questing and fighting machine, with the personality just pasted on during the down-time activities. To fix that, think about say, cautious vs. reckless in a situation where you could be either (some people are cartoony about it, like being so bold they're suicidal). Say spells are low and you're not sure whether to push on or try tomorrow -- if you're normally cautious, try a PC who say stuff like "strike while the iron is hot". Or does your PC prefer the direct "kill them and they'll be dead" approach, or do they always want to make a deal? Do they mostly want to find all of the treasure in a dungeon, looting every room, or do they want to kill the evil monster and just get the one amulet you need? Are they a glory-hound, wanting to fight the coolest monster, or do they prefer to stand back, protect and assist, and let someone else take the credit?

For the other point, let's say you enjoy always playing that one type. That's fine. Do that. But think about the spotlight, and also how it affects the gameplay. Spotlight-wise, say everyone gets to do something as you arrive in town. You take 20 real-world seconds to talk the cute stable-boy into bed. Everyone else takes 20 seconds on their things, so no problem. If everyone takes 5 minutes, you can take 5. But if your flirting takes 2 minutes of game time on every single guy the group meets, that's a problem. Likewise with grumpiness -- if every conversation with an NPC wastes an extra minute while you insult them, that's a problem.

Then as far as affecting gameplay, think about when it might add plot hooks and be useful. If a job sounds too good to be true, your grumpy PC should pipe up and demand to know the catch -- that helps the group. But if a nice cleric offers to heal you for free, pare down roleplaying to one exasperated grunt. Having a bartender as your boy-toy might also be a good way to find out useful adventuring rumors; flirting with the tax collectors might save everyone some money; going to the sex-god temple during a big ceremony might make some useful contacts for later on; but roleplaying going to a bar to pick up random guys probably won't help anyone (it could, but the GM would have to work extra hard -- you hook-up with the prince in disguise or something). Going back to the previous point, you can cruise bars, but make it a quick "I go to the Regal Beagle and try to get laid" (and even then, if the next adventure involves nautical stuff, consider a bar down by the docks).

In short, think "how much real-world time is this taking?" and "how does this help the GM introduce or come-up with plot ideas; or does it help the party?"

Then finally, you write you've only played short campaigns. PC's are like characters on TV shows -- for the first few episodes the personalities are rough -- it takes a while to see what's fun and interesting, and some ideas get thrown away or added. Your anger issues may turn into, say, being a cold-blooded psycho who keeps an enemies list (which is at least different).

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    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks so much for this—I can already see how I can implement some of your suggestions. I'm also glad you chose these examples, because earlier today I had this exchange in a game: ME: I pick up the bartender. DM: Roll Persuasion. ME: 18. DM: He can't do anything till after close, but he'll be happy to meet you then. ME: Great. I take him up to my room and we have a great time. While we're lying in post-coital bliss, I ask about the rumors we keep hearing about elves disguising themselves as lepers. DM: He says, Oh, yeah, they.... Which makes me think I'm not too far off track. \$\endgroup\$ Oct 12 at 3:37

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