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Background

I have started playing with a new group in a new D&D campaign.

I have been reading the A Song of Ice and Fire books and really liked the Greyjoy plotlines, so I decided to make my character something of a reference to them, with my character having similar religious beliefs to an Ironborn. They also share some similarities in personality to Theon Greyjoy. Primary similarities include the below:

  • Their religion (they are much more devoted than Theon) involved drowning and being revived stronger as a core tenet;
  • They fought with a bow and had sailing skills;
  • They are decently cocky and sexual (not too much since a player is underage but enough to make dirty jokes);
  • They hail from islands that have a lot of sea raiders;
  • They have insecurity issues relating to a dad.

I told my DM this when making characters, asking if I can add this religion to his world and whatnot. They have also read the books. They said they were hesitant, but agreed.

Problem

Then, on session 5, me and the Cleric got into an argument on religion, both of us drawing heavily from our respective religious upbringing to try to prove the other was wrong. This was both a really funny conversation as well as being super fun. I thought this was going great.

However, after the session, the DM contacted me and told me I needed to either drop the character and make a new one that wasn't "a blatant ripoff that you did so you can pretend to be Theon" or leave the campaign. They told me that if I couldn't make something original, I should stop playing D&D and write fanfiction. I really think this is an unfair thing. What do I do here?

My main goals are to

  • Be able to play my character as it is now or in a similar form.

  • Not have the DM be annoyed at the character.

  • Not have the DM blatantly insult my creativity and ability to play the game.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Did they voice more of their grievances — or tell you about any issues they think your character creates? Is the cleric another player or an npc played by the DM? \$\endgroup\$
    – Akixkisu
    Apr 20, 2023 at 19:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ Did the GM contact you in writing or over the phone? I.e. did you have a chance to reply, and if yes did you do so? \$\endgroup\$
    – Szega
    Apr 20, 2023 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Is your DM new as a DM? \$\endgroup\$
    – Questor
    Apr 20, 2023 at 20:50
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    \$\begingroup\$ Was there a session zero that you were involved in? \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2023 at 4:52
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    \$\begingroup\$ Just be aware that it's possible that while you felt the exchange was "both a really funny conversation as well as being super fun", realize that it's possible that others in the group may not feel this way, and may not be comfortable telling you about it directly. Perhaps the DM is the one in the weird situation here, trying to mediate some inter-personal conflict in the group. Maybe not. But this is something you may want to consider. Or, in other words, perhaps the problem isn't your character, but that's the way it's being presented as it may seem like an easier way to address the issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – Steve
    Apr 23, 2023 at 0:03

6 Answers 6

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Ultimately, the only option anyone has is to play or not play. No one can force anyone to do anything. Your DM can’t force you to play some not-Theon-inspired character, and you can’t force your DM to run a campaign for your Theon-inspired character. You either both agree to play the same game, or you don’t play at all.

Obviously, the DM has potentially-greater leverage here: DMing is a lot of work, so there may not be anyone else interested in picking up the workload, and in any event, the DM’s notes and plans and so on are theirs, so even if someone did decide to take over as DM, they can’t exactly promise the same game. That makes the DM deciding not to play more of a problem for everyone else than a player deciding not to play, so the DM has some more leverage.

You also have less leverage because you are relatively new to the group. You are lacking social ties to your fellow players, and your character is lacking narrative ties to the world and other characters. Your leaving may not affect anyone else too much.

But that doesn’t really change the situation that much—your choice is still, just as it always was and always will be, to play or to not play. The DM likewise is making the same decision. So you need to determine the conditions under which you are willing to play, and determine whether or not that overlaps with the conditions under which the DM is willing to play. This would require compromise from each of you.

The approach that the DM has taken here suggests that they aren’t terribly interested in compromise on any of the relevant points; that they were rude to you suggests, in fact, that they aren’t overly concerned about you possibly deciding to not play. That calculus might change a bit if other players were defending you, but only maybe.

On the other hand, you have to consider the possibility that the DM approached you after another player or players said something to them. After all, it is extremely common in many groups to avoid direct confrontation between players, and instead take disagreements to the DM and have them deal with it. If they’ve been getting complaints about your character, that might be where this is coming from. If it is, you probably have little hope of seeing much in the way of compromise; allowing you to play a new character might, itself, already be a compromise, in lieu of booting you from the game entirely.

So what you need is a frank discussion, ideally with the entire group, about what is, and is not, working vis à vis your character and the game as a whole. Find out what people do and don’t like, and lean into the things they like while dropping things they don’t like, to find that compromise. Getting that frank discussion is the hard part: most of the group may not want to sacrifice game time for it, and the DM may see it as an attempt to browbeat them into allowing the character they don’t want to allow.

The best approach, in my opinion, is to start with the DM: ask what specifically they want you to avoid. Ask what interactions in the past 5 sessions have been problematic, that led them to change their mind about the character. You might even ask if anyone else has said anything.

You could also try to talk to the other players outside the game. This is inefficient and more work for you, since you’d be having the conversations separately, but it might be important. You thoroughly enjoyed the religious debate: did your debate partner? Did the other people at the table (who may have been sidelined and forced to just watch)? And so on.

But it is entirely possible that the DM simply isn’t interested in discussing this anymore, that they have told you what they’ll accept and that’s all they’ll accept, and at that point, again, your only choice is to walk or to stay.

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    \$\begingroup\$ The cleric also really enjoyed the debate and was laughing a lot. As for the rest, I’ll ask some people \$\endgroup\$
    – NielIGuess
    Apr 20, 2023 at 20:58
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    \$\begingroup\$ UPDATE: I contacted a few players: Cleric: Read the books, didn't care, and liked the conversation. Thinks DM is being harsh and mean. Ranger: Hasn't read the books, and told me that DM is always really harsh, but it's cool. Paladin: Read the books, didn't realize that I was Theon, didn't care too much. Thinks I should just listen to DM. Wizard: Hasn't answered yet. \$\endgroup\$
    – NielIGuess
    Apr 20, 2023 at 21:22
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    \$\begingroup\$ @LieRyan As a matter of general principles, Stack Exchange sites are not mutually exclusive. Being potentially on-topic at another one does not make a question off-topic here. Interpersonal relationship questions at the RPG table are explicitly on-topic here; we have fielded hundreds, if not thousands, of such questions here. (Interpersonal has also fielded some, but it requires explaining at least a little bit about the RPG context there, which isn’t required here, and consequently it seems most users prefer to ask such questions here.) \$\endgroup\$
    – KRyan
    Apr 21, 2023 at 14:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ I do have to wonder whether what the DM is really upset about is the monopolization of playing time by a religious debate between PC's which may have, as you say, sidelined the other players. Such a debate is inherently unresolved, which means it could easily come up again and take further table time. The DM might not be comfortable saying 'no in-character debates' when it is easier to say 'your character is a knockoff' (or might not even be self-aware about what is really bothering them). \$\endgroup\$
    – Kirt
    Apr 22, 2023 at 15:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I suggest that you pay attention to what the Paladin player told you, and take a look at this Q&A for some perspective. The basic unit of a D&D adventure game is a Party, not a player, unless one is playing a solo D&D game: rare, but they are out there. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2023 at 19:51
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I see a lot of what is in common with Theon, but I'm not seeing anything that sets him apart from the established character. And I want state up front, that it's fine if that's the case, but this may not be the GM or group to play with.

A few questions to ask yourself when thinking about this character is: Where does his thoughts lead when his mind roams? What kind of hobbies does he have? What does he do when he's bored? (Answer can be different from the previous question.) Does he have a keepsake, and why does he keep it? What kind of personal experience does he have that can help him in a difficult situation?

If you're answer to these questions is "What would Theon do?" Then your GM's grievances may be valid, and you may need to leave the group. Not because he says so, but because playing with a GM that has animosity towards what you want to do is never fun. There are tons of groups out there that might enjoy having such a character, and you deserve to play what you want, how you want to.

If you can think of answers to those questions in a way that adds a bit of a personal touch to the character, then you can try to approach your GM for a compromise. If they are still adamant that you reroll an entirely new character, then you might want to leave the group. DnD has improv at its core, and a core tenet is "Yes, and..." If a GM can't at least compromise when a player is willing to change or improve, then I wouldn't stick it out. Playing DnD but not having the fun you want, is not time well spent.

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    \$\begingroup\$ -1, because this answer claims that there is something wrong with playing a character based closely on an established fictional character without providing any basis for that claim. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 20, 2023 at 21:02
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    \$\begingroup\$ @GMJoe I think you're judging a bit harshly there: the answer opens with "it's fine if that's the case, but this may not be the GM or group to play with". Seems to me that the argument here is the same one that would apply to "I want to play an elf but my DM hates elves" or "I want to play Shadowrun but my DM only likes fantasy". No-one's saying elves or Shadowrun are 'bad', but "that's not gonna work at this table, you probably need to find a new group" is still legitimate advice in those cases. \$\endgroup\$
    – Toby Y.
    Apr 21, 2023 at 2:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ @TobyY. Indeed, the answer is otherwise good. If it fixed or justified that one assertion, I'd gladly upvote it. \$\endgroup\$
    – GMJoe
    Apr 21, 2023 at 14:23
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It is unclear what specific problem your GM has

They say that the character is not original enough but from your account of events it seems like there could be other problems as well. Maybe they changed their mind about your character concept in general and took the religious discussion incident as occasion to enforce their change of ideas (you said they were hesitant from the beginning). Or maybe they were annoyed by the religious discussion incident and saw the fault with your character concept. Or maybe it is a specific part of the character concept that is different from what they expected. Either way it is unclear how the discussion incident relates to the problem at large. Was it a the last thing that pushed the concept over the edge for the GM, was it an excuse they took even if something else is wrong?

Talk to the GM

Talking is pretty much always the right solution for problems of this kind. Maybe you can resolve this by changing your character concept a bit but you can only do this if you know what specifically has to be resolved. The first goal here is therefore to find the real problem. Maybe it's really the media inspired character in general that rubs them the wrong way but this is not really clear; maybe they said that but really have some other problem. You could investigate this if you want to continue to play. If you do:

  • Be nice even if they were rude to you. Being rude back won't make it better.
  • Don't make them feel accused. Ask open and constructive questions like "What could I change to make this character work?". Don't ask questions that start with why or that are emotionally loaded. Example to avoid: "Why do you hate my character?"

With the information you can gather this way you can then decide if you can and want compromise. Whether this will work out depends on how far apart your ideas of the game you want to play really are.

Consider leaving the group

If there are hard feelings involved and issues unresolved it can be the right move to find another group and make sure they are on board with what you want to do (there are many ways to play and not all are well compatible). The way they talked to you is a bit rude but it is possible they just had a bit day or something. Your issue seems like it could be resolved by a discussion. So you try this and then decide if it's worth staying or if you prefer leaving.

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The fundamental problem is you don't know why the DM feels this way.

UPDATE: I contacted a few players: Cleric: Read the books, didn't care, and liked the conversation. Thinks DM is being harsh and mean. Ranger: Hasn't read the books, and told me that DM is always really harsh, but it's cool. Paladin: Read the books, didn't realize that I was Theon, didn't care too much. Thinks I should just listen to DM. Wizard: Hasn't answered yet NielIGuess

There are two concepts that have been developed on this site that would serve you both well:

Player Autonomy - the DM shouldn't dictate your players actions. They should dictate their consequences.

My guy syndrome - your players actions shouldn't ruin the fun.

Something going on here is bothering the DM. From your comment it doesn't seem to be bothering the other players. But an unhappy DM runs an unhappy game. That eventually bothers everyone. The DM has asked for a more original PC but you don't seem to understand what's behind that request and frankly neither do I. That's the real problem. You could roll up an entirely new and original character only to find it reminds the DM of a different book, or that this wasn't really the problem anyway.

You need to learn what it is about how you play this PC that is ruining the fun. I could speculate:

PC's with strong developed backstories can:

  • Pull focus from the plot
  • Intimidate DM's that have to fit the backstory into the world
  • Become a vehicle for self-indulgence rather than teamwork

If any of those are the real problem then making you come up with something original only helps if you don't also give this original PC a strong developed backstory.

The things you do affect people. Pay attention to that. If you're making someone unhappy, care about it. Do what you need to do to find out why. You've been told you need an original PC, but you don't know why that's important to the DM. There's a root cause here. If it isn't uncovered you could trip over it again.

"I want to understand the problem I'm causing. That will help me find the right fix. Is the only issue that my PC isn't 100% original? Would you be happy if I played exactly the same way with my own creation?"

Something like that might start a useful conversation. Shows you're open to change and just trying to make it the right change.

Some advice that may help:

Let's say you are roleplaying a scene where your character is upset and you're really getting into your character, take a moment and look around the room. Ask yourself, who's having fun? This tantrum, that my character is having, that I'm depicting, is it putting smiles on faces or am I just being a jerk and using my PC as an excuse to do it?

There's a wide range of what you can depict. Just don't lose the room.

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Consider finding a new group for this character (possibly with minor tweaking)

As an initial matter, I second everything in KRyan's excellent answer, but I do not think he directly addressed what I think may be an answer worth serious consideration for you.

If you are attached to this character, you can likely take a version of it to another table. The items that seem to be at issue for this particular table are no issue at all for most tables.

I will save the details of my speech about how art builds on earlier art and culture builds on earlier culture for more appropriate times, but it is extremely common for someone to want to play a character modelled on a popular fictional character. That is for many (dare I say most?) tables not a problem as long as the character otherwise fits in the campaign.

In fact, as a GM/DM I routinely blatantly rip-off inspiration from other media with barely enough tweaking to make them fit into the world. (Its possible that a character with a name similar to Geralt that is a retired adventurer now selling wine, potions, and ingredients has made an appearance in more than one game I was running...Sometimes his lover with red hair and a name similar to Triss shows up too). I do not think this is uncommon.

In other words, the answer to all of your stated goals may be to take that character to a different game and change the DM. You may of course have to tweak your character slightly, and in particular you may need to reset it to "starting specs" if you gained items or levels during play, but you probably won't have to change it too much.

I hasten to note though that if you have the time to support it, you can do that while also playing in this group with a different character if you have ties to this group other than wanting a game that can accommodate this character.

I also hasten to add that I do not mean to imply that your current DM is doing anything "wrong" per se. It is well within the DM's purview to veto a character that doesn't fit with their world, and you are asking to import a very specific religion. But, while I am not casting aspersions on your current DM, they may not be a good DM for you so changing the DM may be a solution to your problem.

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With that "fan-fiction" remark I feel like I understand your DM. There's a play-style which is basically "player-service". A character writes they want to avenge their sister's killer and that killer becomes the big bad guy. Another says they want to be head of the wizard's guild and the GM ties the two together by having the sister-killer also be the current evil guild-master (in a world that didn't even have a wizards' guild before). Wanting to play Hans Solo (for example) in these games is just great -- the DM will have them save a big hairy thing in one adventure, and later get a magic smuggling wagon with built-in secret bags of holding ... . Games run that way are often called StoryTelling. There are RPG systems which cater to that "writing a story together" play-style, or put another way, writing fan fiction.

But a more traditional D&D style is where the DM makes the world (even if they start with published worlds) and the players adapt to it. Players want to make a character who has ties to the world's religions, events, guilds ... . Often they make a character with no goals -- during game-play they'll get goals and make enemies and all that. Having a pre-set character path, especially one based on a different world, is a big middle finger to the DM. It's saying you don't care about the world they made, and don't care about being influenced by the story or other players.

Obviously, my advice is to try the second style. Drop stuff from the book character that doesn't fit in this game world, and stop trying to act out the book character's story and attitudes. Let the character be its own thing based on what happens in the adventures.

And then one comment. You started out wanting to play an overly sexual character. Then you realized it wouldn't fit with the group, and yet you still did it. You started out on the wrong foot due to wanting to play this book character with as few changes as possible, right? Because paraphrasing to G.I.Joe, "knowing you might be the problem is half the battle".

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I think I get it more. I'm used to the first DM type. However, about the sexual thing, what I meant was that they make dirty jokes and do, in game, maybe have sex. Other character do similar stuff in the party, so that's not the issue. \$\endgroup\$
    – NielIGuess
    Apr 22, 2023 at 14:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ @NielIGuess Sure, but I got the impression you think that even having your character tell dirty jokes is pushing it with that underage player. Like you know other characters do it, and normally you'd be uncomfortable with adding to that. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 22, 2023 at 14:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ The underage player themselves doesn't care. It's more of an agreement between the group to not be too edgy than anything hard written. \$\endgroup\$
    – NielIGuess
    Apr 22, 2023 at 14:26
  • \$\begingroup\$ This is an interesting take on the matter; especially for someone like me who never got to play D&D yet. \$\endgroup\$
    – Clockwork
    Apr 22, 2023 at 23:42
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    \$\begingroup\$ @Clockwork You can often see fan-service vs. enjoy-the-world in fictional "people play D&D" series. For example in "The Party" one joke is how cringe some of the characters epic backstories are. \$\endgroup\$ Apr 25, 2023 at 1:40

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