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I'm a helper DM for a West Marches style of game, using a heavily homebrewed setting and mechanic set.

One of our prospective players has a character concept that simply cannot work with the setting at all, mostly due to being from other settings (and thus implying dimensional travel and setting crossovers that we're not comfortable with, even without knowing what those other settings are).

  • Trying to talk them into adapting the character to this setting without the external attachments and backgrounds was rejected because the character 'wouldn't be worth playing without them'.
  • Naturally, I suggested they try a different character concept, but their response was that they only have any interest in playing this one character and do not want to play what they call "a throwaway character".
  • I suggested that they find a different game in which they could play this character, but their response is that they want to play in this game.

I am at a loss here. I won't be budging and allowing the original concept, but they're also not budging on any of these three points. I could ultimately tell them to get lost until they have another concept, but that's a last resort, as I'd rather convince them to try a new concept here.

Those of you who have dealt with this particular type of player, how did you get them to try a new concept?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Does "helper DM" imply there is also another person DMing, or considered as a "main DM"? Their stance on the situation might be useful information. The stance of the other players, if they're aware of the issue or involved, could also be useful. \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jan 23, 2023 at 7:54
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    \$\begingroup\$ @From I offered such re-styling. They refused to budge. According to them, a "local" adaptation of the character made zero sense and wasn't worth playing. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2023 at 8:25
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think I'd like a little bit more information on the setting and the character concept, so I can better understand where the specific conflict lies \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Jan 23, 2023 at 9:09
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is this a random stranger applying to your game or someone who you are already friends with and want to play with specifically? \$\endgroup\$
    – AnnaAG
    Jan 23, 2023 at 16:39
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    \$\begingroup\$ What is this player's plan if their character dies in the middle of the campaign? \$\endgroup\$
    – Anketam
    Jan 23, 2023 at 17:46

6 Answers 6

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Understand their underlying motivation

Like in every negotiation, often one of the most powerful things you can do is to understand the real, underlying needs of the other party. It is not uncommon that the demand differs from the actual need, and if you can figure out a way to satisfy the real need, you can find a solution that works, even without fulfilling the original demand.

That said, my read on the situation here is that this player is way too invested into their character, and primarily cares about playing that exact character to make them more powerful (this is based on the comment of not wanting to play a "throwaway character"); they seem to have no interest in your actual world, and I suspect the reason they want to play in your "West Marches" style game is just that: because it is an open format they can run their PC in and gather more XP and power for them. And maybe you are a bit too eager to have someone, anyone, join your game.

So I would ask them why they are so interested in playing in this campaign? If they are not caring about the world and how their PC fits, why do they want to play there in the first place? And, probably, count my blessings to say "Sorry, this does not work", if it turns out they really are not interested in the game at all, and will turn out to be a problem player all about their character.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Yes. Without understanding, you cannot find an equitable resolution. Open dialogue opens doors and builds bridges. \$\endgroup\$
    – From
    Jan 23, 2023 at 10:07
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    \$\begingroup\$ This was the big help, to ask them why it was so important for them to play at this table. That led to the question of what about the setting was so engaging, and now they've come up with one that works with it. Thank you. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2023 at 4:13
  • \$\begingroup\$ I looked for this kind of response really and I just wanted to add that maybe there is an opportunity to incorporate some game logic where allowing their character would make it hilariously unfit for the scenario while all other characters would be "ready for the task". Let you imagine something like a knight time travelling to our times en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Les_Visiteurs and feed the rest of the party with the "common knowledge" about the world. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 26, 2023 at 13:14
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“I’m here for the basketball tournament” ... “Sir, this is the table tennis club.”

This is basically the conversation I’m hearing. You and the rest of the group have showed up to play one sort of game, and this person is here to play a different game. And just as it would be incredibly rude for me to bring a basketball to the table tennis club meeting and expect everyone to play basketball instead of table tennis, it is incredibly rude to try to force one sort of character into a roleplaying game where it doesn’t belong.

So just tell them:

This is the table tennis club, please leave your basketball at home.

This is the game and setting we are playing, these are the sorts of characters that are allowed, please leave characters that are not appropriate for the game and setting at home.

I don't think anyone reading your question can tell you how to convince them to budge. You can't make people do things they don't want to do, so offer them the alternatives that you find agreeable, and let them make the decision to either play or walk away.

As a final note, it was pointed out in comments that we might be able to refine the analogy further. Enkorvaks offered the example of bringing a bowling ball to a basketball game and insisting everyone else play basketball with the bowling ball. Or, to continue with the disruption of the table tennis club, imagine bringing a basketball and expecting everyone else to play table tennis with the basketball. We cannot bring inappropriate equipment or materials to a game and expect others to allow us to play with them using that equipment. You bring appropriate equipment or you don't play.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Spot on. I think a better comparison would be bringing a bowling ball to a basketball court. "No, that's not an appropriate tool/character for this game/world" is the appropriate response lol. \$\endgroup\$
    – WernerCD
    Jan 23, 2023 at 22:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think that this answer covers the reasoning I would give (so this is a comment, not an answer), but would like to offer some words which might make it clear to your player: "Your character does not fit this game. You will either need to find a new character, or find a new game." I admit that this is fairly blunt, and should probably be used as a last resort, but is fundamentally accurate. \$\endgroup\$
    – enkorvaks
    Jan 24, 2023 at 0:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Once again the day is saved thanks to basic social skills. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2023 at 18:30
  • \$\begingroup\$ Spot on. Reminds me of one of my problem players. I started a game with a group of friends once with another system and world and told the from the start. "Make your characters fun, there won't be much room for heroism in my campaign" and the exakt player I told this multiple times came with an incredibly minmaxed character that could do nothing but fighting. I ended up letting him play the character and after 3 sessions suggested that he remade the character keeping his background as is, but he ended up leaving the party instead. \$\endgroup\$
    – Chund
    Jan 25, 2023 at 14:09
  • \$\begingroup\$ I think a better analogy would be trying to play checkers at a chess tournament. The environment is same/similar, but the acceptable play is difference and there are ways to sorta make it work. But the rules are different and the pieces are not completely compatible. \$\endgroup\$
    – MivaScott
    Jan 25, 2023 at 22:19
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"I'm afraid this is not a good fit and I wish you luck finding a game that suits you better."

I would strongly advise you to let the player go. Be polite but tell them firmly that they will not be playing in your game. They are being problematic even before the game starts, I can guarantee that if you yield here and let them play the character, they will find more things once the game starts that they will refuse to budge over.

About the only job players have is making a character that works within the setting that the DM wants to run and this player flat out refuses to do this and rejects any solution you suggest without suggesting any of their own. People like that who refuse to compromise are not good players. Kick them from the game and be glad you dodged a bullet.

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“I’m sorry it didn’t work out”

This player has trouble written all over them. Tell them to move along and consider yourself fortunate to have avoided them. Write their name in your little black book so you remember to keep avoiding them.

Your table, your rules - a player who can’t understand that isn’t welcome.

Whenever I start a new table, I always have bans precisely so I can screen for this type of player. “No gnomes, no artificers, no crossbows” - a player that says “why” instead of “ok” can move along. Ok, to be fair, a player that persists in saying “why” after I explain “because I’m the DM and they don’t fit my world concept” is out.

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    \$\begingroup\$ @DKNguyen steal your underpants \$\endgroup\$
    – Jamie M
    Jan 23, 2023 at 16:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ To be honest, "why?" would be first question I would ask. Because "no crossbows, because they are considered evil by your society and culture" might not clash with my "throwing dagger is reflavored as catapulting it from spring-loaded clockwork device on my forearm" character idea. "crossbows are banned because world technology is not advanced enough to invent them" certainly would. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2023 at 21:12
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM Earnest suggestion: you might want to make sure you are not screening also the players who are trying to understand your game. If you describe a setting/game that has no apparent (to the player) reason for crossbows to not exist/not be in the possession of PCs, then the question "why?" might mean: "I am confused, please provide some more detail on this setting/game so I can better fit into it." Replying with just "because I said so" is gonna scare away what might have been your most invested player. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 24, 2023 at 10:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM As a casual reader it's not clear that this is exaggeration, and possibly future readers may treat this as a serious answer and then try to implement it, which seems not good. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2023 at 21:27
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    \$\begingroup\$ @DaleM It's not clear to a long time, every day reader, that this is exaggeration, either. \$\endgroup\$
    – Novak
    Jan 25, 2023 at 21:54
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Is the problem some backstory or theme of the character that does transfer well? or just the knowledge that they "exist" somewhere else?

The former you'd just have to say no. That's like rocking up with a Jedi to a star trek game. Unless it was some casual, mad, fun game it would ruin the theme for the rest.

But the later case, are they able to be an identical clone and their backstory exists in this universe not the other? No dimension hopping required. Just like you can have humans exist in two different settings, no issue you can have a character exist in two. That's kind of how alt-history settings work as well same person different world. Does the other worlds exist as far as this world is concerned? Who knows? who cares, if there is no travel?

End of the day if they aren't flexible at even minor backstory changes then that shows they care nothing for your world's setting, so suggest they go join their old game or solo DM in their own world.

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    \$\begingroup\$ “Does the other worlds exist as far as this world is concerned? Who knows? who cares, if there is no travel?” — OP cares; they covered that the group cares and isn't comfortable with this in their second paragraph. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2023 at 11:49
  • \$\begingroup\$ This... is exactly what I offered, yes. They declined it because the enforced locality was a dealbreaker. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 25, 2023 at 13:31
  • \$\begingroup\$ To clarify who knows and who cares? I was speaking in as in world perspective. A parallel universe with no way of connecting to it is one of those things impossible to prove or disprove at which point becomes a philosophical question along the lines of "how many angels can dance on a pin-head?". Sorry to hear you couldn't come to an agreement, maybe the player will come round to sanity once they realise they've trapped themselves into playing only a single instance of one game. \$\endgroup\$
    – Alex Dawn
    Jan 25, 2023 at 15:17
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Have them be a reincarnated isekai

Their character's real soul has been reincarnated in a local version. There's no way to travel back and forth, and no access to the other plane or any magic from it. They can play their original character, and when they die, can return to their original setting.

If any other DMs in other games wish, they might carry back with them loot or magical powers.

Tell them that delusions of there being other worlds are punished harshly

If they talk about their old setting they'll be seen as mentally ill by NPCs, so they need to pretend to be a native of the world while around NPCs, and perhaps around players.

This means they can feel like the same person without any actual need to act like such a person in public. I've found this has helped people who aren't that creative and want to play the same person everywhere.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Interesting idea, but I feel like it wouldn't help. If the player refused reflavoring, then they'll definitely refuse the reincarnation idea, especially since that'd be the same as what they refer to as a "throwaway character". \$\endgroup\$
    – Matthieu
    Jan 23, 2023 at 11:01
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    \$\begingroup\$ This seems like an in-game bandaid for an out-of-game issue that at most will keep the peace for a couple sessions. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2023 at 12:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ The player unfortunately rejected this as making the character not worth playing. \$\endgroup\$ Jan 23, 2023 at 14:57
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    \$\begingroup\$ @StopBeingEvil Kudos to you for actually presenting this idea as a possibility and attempting to negotiate a solution. At this point it does seem not like they are saying 'I want to play my character concept' but 'I want us all to play in a world where my character concept makes sense'. \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Jan 23, 2023 at 15:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ Well, now you know they're not in favor of even you bending over backwards to accommodate them. That should make it easier to say no to them. \$\endgroup\$
    – Nepene Nep
    Jan 24, 2023 at 13:59

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