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My situation:

I've been worldbuilding for a while and more so since it looked likely I'd get to DM for the first time. I provided a pre-session zero PDF to my players, containing 6 truths as well as both some details about common folk creatures and some blurbs about the more obscure races that the players decided to play as. (I've linked an edited version of that document here as a .PNG image.)

The world I have planned is a whimsical high fantasy, and I haven't said 'no' to anything so far. Players have thus proposed characters and we have a really bizarre roster as a result.

I'm planning to use 5E mechanics with custom races and mostly standard classes, spells, etc.

I'm going to run a session zero tomorrow and I just got a backstory from a player.

The character is a sentient animal who was made sentient by an elven sorcerer from another world/plane. That sorcerer forced them to watch and re-watch all of the real-world movies of a particular '80s action hero actor (Steven Seagal). The character, this sentient animal, now believes themselves to be this '80s action hero and that they did, in fact, experience the entire plot of each of these movies, including the ones where they died (but somehow survived).

Question:

If I wanted to meet-in-the-middle (whatever that ends up looking like), how would I approach the creative-differences topic?

I'd be singling them out, for sure. The other ideas for characters are nuts too. These things would seem whacky in wonderland; out of place in an OTT JRPG. But none of them insist on a multiverse. Much less one that involves the real world Hollywood action scene...

I'm tempted to just roll with it and see what happens, or see how the other players react to the ideas. Maybe it'll be fun and I'll stop caring about the details. If not (and presumably better to address it sooner rather than later), how do I change the player's mind without it sounding like "No. I don't like your idea."?

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  • \$\begingroup\$ How much do your players currently know about the the setting? Also, I get that it's probably appropriate to keep the details vague, but I'm dying to know which action hero :) \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Mar 1 at 23:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @CabinetCat Segal. And I provided a pre-session zero pdf with 6 truths and some details about both common folk creatures and some blurb about the more obscure races that the players decided to play as. I'd provide it if I knew the most appt. way to do so? \$\endgroup\$ Mar 1 at 23:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ Added the campaign summary as a png with some 'borrowed' graphics removed. I wish I'd also edited out some of the cringeworthy mistakes I'd noticed after sharing this with them... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 0:02
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not sure if it's a duplicate question, but my answer to it is directly applicable. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Mar 2 at 3:22
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Novak, I'm on board with that. Between the answers here and reading that linked question and ITS linked question (i could t find them when asking but I had read one of them before so no excuses), I'd call mine a duplicate. The system works. I am helped. Fine with any votes to close. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 7:56

4 Answers 4

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I've said no to characters before. Here's how it goes;

  • Me: "Mate can you change your character, the tone I'm going for is grounded low fantasy with a light tone, so I don't think your Sasuke cosplay char is going to be the best fit. Think of Princess Bride, try make a character that could fit into that world"
  • Them: "I don't see why Sasuke can't fit in, what's the problem?"
  • Me: "Mainly I don't want pop culture references in the game, but I'm worried about the level of mystical abilities he has, it's a bit excessive for the setting. Also having this Japanese guy running around in a setting that is essentially European is jarring"

Once we get to this point generally either the player remakes a new character, or we work shop the specifics (the character gets renamed Riley and loses magic but still retains Sasuke's edgelord personality).

I definitely recommend talking to the player directly and being specific about the issues, I have found players generally understand the concerns or at least understand that you have the authority to say no. In your case I find it hard to believe that the player hasn't already anticipated that you will say no to their action hero critter.

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    \$\begingroup\$ This helps. Thanks. I'm usually Frank about my thoughts on pretty much everything but this is a new playing field for me. Anyway, I will try it and see. I've no problem with a character being played with a particular personality borrowed from a movie star anyway so if he's OK handwaving any reason for a segal-frog, so am I. I've never seen the movies anyway so it'd just be a quirky pc to me... \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 0:52
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Be open about your concerns

You have a vision for the style of game that you want to run. Your handout does a pretty good job of conveying it but it's still only a small sliver of what the world is in your head. Now the player has read your handout and interpreted their own version of the world and created a character for that.

Human imagination and communication are imperfect, therefore there will always be a disconnect between the world you are trying to run and the one that your players envisage.

Closing the disconnect

To close the gap between the world you want to run and the one your player sees requires open and honest communication. Talk to them about your concerns with their character, point out the parts of your world that it poses issues with. It is likely that they aren't aware of those part of your world or the story you want to tell.

Be open to questions and don't feel like you need to hide details to maintain the illusion of you world. Work with your player on integrating their character and maybe let them contribute some details to the world. I've found that the best way to get characters that fit into the narrative and players that are deeply invested.

A recent example

In my new campaign the party are travelling on a one-way trip to a newly discovered continent. I've set an expectation with my players that they needed to establish why they were willing to take this one way trip, and needed to play 'traditional' fantasy races. These were the only requirements for characters.

One of my players wanted to play a frail old man that was (his words) 'definitely a wizard'. Basically a very old character who was pretending to be a wizard was was actually a fighter or some other non-spellcasting class. There were a few elements to the character that amounted to me being concerned they were more of a joke character than one the would gel with the rest of the (mostly serious) party.

I spent a couple of hours, over several conversations with this player. We talked about what it was he wanted from that character and why they were excited to play them. I expressed my concerns and suggested some alternative way to get the same effect from a more serious character.

We eventually settled on him playing a Rune Knight with a homebrew rune. He was still a frail old man for RP reasons but could activate the rune to transform into a powerful fighter. The final version of the character is far more interesting than either the initial joke character or any more serious alternative I could have suggested. Together we've created a conspiracy loving nut that can hold his own with the party and has significant narrative potential.

Moral of the story is that working with your player to incorporate their favourite parts of the character into one that will work better with your campaign can lead to better results than if they hadn't had this insane vision in the first place.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ This also helped a lot. Threw him a reply with details of why I didn't partucularly like the parts I didn't like and which parts I did and how I thought they could tie well into the campaign. Seemed to go over well enough so far. \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 13:14
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It's totally fair to talk with players about reshaping their characters to fit the setting better. I don't even think you need to worry about putting the player on the spot or singling them out, since you could say the conversation is a routine check-in about session 0... which isn't even a lie.

Frame your request as an opportunity to engage with the story more

I think the most successful versions of the character fit conversation I've had were about what connections the character has to the world. Having a too out-there backstory makes it harder to find reasons for the character to be involved in the plot, or for their carefully crafted backstory to come up in the game in a meaningful way. Since your player has put a lot of energy into dreaming up their backstory, they're likely very invested in their ideas being relevant to the game. I would remind them that if their concept fits the setting, there will be many more opportunities for engagement.

Encourage focus on the character

I understand and agree with the concerns about the player needing a multiverse for their backstory... that treads pretty close to your domain as the GM. I would try to refocus them on only their character, which they do have control over. Ask open-ended questions about what elements are most important to them. For example, I see a couple well-loved tropes that could work in any setting: an outsider is kidnapped and brainwashed into believing they're someone they're not. When the two of you figure out what core character elements the player wants in their arc, the rest is negotiable.

What is the in-universe Seagal movie equivalent?

You said that you've already re-skinned a lot of the typical D&D species and classes to fit your setting. So what if you and your player thought about this as a re-skinning challenge. How about reskinning the movie hero Steven Seagal, Law Man into Steven Seagal, Law Paladin hero of a thousand ballads? One of the campaigns I was in had a running joke about how Shrek was an epic poem and it's canon (oof, I know). But it worked because we could figure out a medium for the Shrek tale that worked, and because everyone at the table knew Shrek, we had fun dropping in details or arguing with NPC bards about the version we'd heard back home etc.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ no "oof" necessary - everything gets better if it has Shrek! :D One could even say it enhances the experience insofar as making it more complex and multilayered ... just like onions ;) \$\endgroup\$ Mar 2 at 9:49
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    \$\begingroup\$ @PixelMaster: why not parfaits? Everybody likes a parfait! :) \$\endgroup\$
    – minnmass
    Mar 2 at 14:32
  • \$\begingroup\$ Lol you guys :p \$\endgroup\$
    – CabinetCat
    Mar 4 at 20:06
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Have him be Steven if he wants to. But because machine guns and airplanes doesn't exist in a fantasy world the character will need to have those memories with repeater crossbows and airships instead. Make it up to the player to translate all the movie scenes he wishes to use into something that exists in a high fantasy world. Even in a brain washed state, the mind will still alter memories to fit with what is possible, and big flying metal building isn't possible.

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