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I have this player, he's a great friend of mine and a psychology student. His goal in life has always been helping others out, and is very enthusiastic when talking about RPG games, however he has some sort of complex where he always tries to be a savior.

He's always having ideas for his player and the campaign, ALWAYS. Though he doesn't really aim actively to be a protagonist, he is always wanting to be the one who brings justice to the bad guys, lecturing them, trying to convert NPCs to our side, solving the problems of the allied NPCs, being the moral beacon and example, ALWAYS happens.

Whenever he can't save someone because it's "scripted" or an NPC won't change its habits, he immediately starts losing enthusiasm. I tried talking to him, this isn't helping.

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    \$\begingroup\$ So.... he's a paladin then \$\endgroup\$ – BBlake Oct 29 '14 at 16:06
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    \$\begingroup\$ I would be really happy to have a player like that. And I would just get up and leave if something is just "scripted", without really good reasons, But that's just me! Maybe he likes a different type of game, in the end! \$\endgroup\$ – T. Sar Oct 29 '14 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ by scripted do you mean that the NPC can't or has no interest in changing? I can think of several NPC's in mine that couldn't/wouldn't change. They'd probably eat him. \$\endgroup\$ – xenoterracide Oct 30 '14 at 4:26
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    \$\begingroup\$ We're playing a Plot Point Campaign. The "freedom" point is on side quests, the consequences are the branching major quests. \$\endgroup\$ – Aldath Le'Carde Oct 30 '14 at 13:28
  • \$\begingroup\$ @TSar - A scripted death could be something as innocuous as somebody being executed for crimes, or dying from poison, or being killed by the villain before you can do anything to stop them. This is realistic. No matter how skilled or persuasive you think you can be, the villain might be waiting for you to show up specifically to cause you pain by executing his victim. That's a scripted death, and there's nothing you can really do to prevent it without knowing the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Lino Frank Ciaralli Feb 23 '17 at 16:18
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You simply might have creative differences

Your player seems to enjoy idealized stories, where the only thing necessary to make a things right is effort by a willful, and well-meaning individual. There's nothing inherently wrong with wanting to tell, hear, and be a part of stories like this for a campaign.You on the other hand seem to be interested in a more realistic portrayal within your fictional world of the state of being; that you can't always save everyone, that there are people who are not redeemable. There's nothing wrong with either approach, its just they are rather exclusive of one another. Ultimately you might not be able to reconcile what this player wants with the type of campaign you (and possibly the other players) want to run.

Options:

  1. Always leave it to chance: that is don't have scripted deaths or enemies that will forever be evil because the plot requires it. make it so that it is possible, if the PCs find the right leverage, to win over the villain and have a backup waiting in the wings.

  2. Change the tone of the game to fit the playr: if everyone else is okay with the type of game this player wants to play maybe run it the way they would like it to be.

  3. Ask the player to get in-step with your campaign: Tell the player you won't be compromising on your story, either because you like it or the rest of the players prefer it, and that they will have to adapt or leave the table (in a friendly way).

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    \$\begingroup\$ 'if the PCs find the right leverage' is really important here. It is very easy to let this kind of play dominate a story, turning every problem faced into one with a solution where the PCs manage to talk then NPCs around, no matter what the situation. You have to keep in mind at all times that the PCs must have appropriate leverage in order to persuade/intimidate/taunt the NPCs into changing their mind about whatever. Without that leverage though, it is simply not possible \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Oct 29 '14 at 13:28
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    \$\begingroup\$ An additional comment - another thing to be aware of is that this type of play tends to favour players who are naturally good with words. You need to be careful in these situations that players are roleplaying the (lack of) social skills of their characters appropriately. \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Oct 29 '14 at 13:36
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    \$\begingroup\$ "don't have [...] enemies that will forever be evil", now I'm imagining a paladin try to get the god of evil to rethink his moral values. \$\endgroup\$ – overactor Oct 30 '14 at 8:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ A god of evil is not an enemy it is a plot device. \$\endgroup\$ – kleineg Oct 31 '14 at 12:43
  • \$\begingroup\$ 4. Have (some) encounters as so obviously unredeemable that the character doesn't even try. I've had players try to diplomacise with cutthroats, goblins, vampires and dragons, but never with a gelatinous cube or a tidal wave that is about to sweep over a village. \$\endgroup\$ – Scott Jun 11 '15 at 6:47
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Nitpick

Try not to script things as immutable. That may be one thing that is frustrating your player. It is in general advisable to avoid making immutable plot points.

The Savior

You have a player with a very specific thing they have in mind for what they want in a game. My advice is to use this to your advantage, and create plots where saving the day, converting the bad guy, being a paladin are the intended solution.

Also, mix this with a long conversation with your friend. Find out why they play like this. Ask them if they trust you to tell the story. Ask them what they really want.

The solution to your problem is really treating your player like an individual. There is no flat solution that will result in the behavior changing and everyone still having fun without having that long, polite, conversation with your friend, with whom you share a hobby.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Trusting the story and the storyteller is also key. I suspect the player would have trouble letting things (even fictional situations) degrade. \$\endgroup\$ – schroeder Oct 29 '14 at 19:09
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Put him outside of his comfort zone

Disclaimer: I don't know your friend at all, so take what I am writing here with a grain of salt. I know it worked on myself and on friends of mine, but take a moment first and try to imagine how your friend might take this. It might be fun and challenging for him, broadening his personal horizons. Or it might make him really uncomfortable in which case this is not something you want to try. If you are not sure how your friend might react, ask him if he is up for an experiment and discuss the idea. By no means should you force upon him a play style or session he is not ok with.

I'd suggest putting your friend outside of his comfort zone by placing him in characters and situations in which his messiah complex will either be of zero help or even better, not applicable at all.

Play evil or morally dubious characters for once
Your friend doesn't seem the type to go for this usually, maybe none of your group is. But -- just for a change, maybe a session or two -- consider running as the 'bad guys'. This doesn't just mean that you have to play orcs burning and pillaging villages and slaughtering everybody. You could play mobsters enforcing family business, con men on their latest coup (think Oceans Eleven), a revenge driven vigilante, or maybe just characters with a dark past in difficult situations. It is a lot more difficult to act the messiah if your character does not himself have the moral high ground.

Have him make hard decisions
Create stories in which your friends character is forced to take morally difficult decisions. There are plenty of moral gray areas where there is no clear right or wrong, black and white. Force him to choose between several choices of which all seem to be morally questionable. After making such a decision, who is the good guy now, who the bad? Am I really such a role model for the rest of the world?

Reverse roles
From my experience it can be very beneficial for your understanding of your favorite RPG characters, traits and tropes -- but also your personal self --, when switching sides and looking at the situation from a different angle. How about for once your friend plays an 'evil' role, and is then in turn turned by a 'messiah' from the 'good' side -- either an NPC or an other player. The different viewpoint might give you insight into how such a change of heart might actually come to be, or even just what is that makes your friend so attracted to this idea.

Personally I enjoyed the times when our GM mixed things up and 'forced' upon us a role that was unfamiliar to us, maybe a bit uncomfortable, but all the more interesting and challenging. When we played in such a setting it was mostly one shots with pre-made characters of which we picked one at the beginning of the session, thus preventing us from creating the 'same old character' again...

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    \$\begingroup\$ These are some cool suggestions if you first have a friendly conversation with the player about the whole situation, why he plays, what he likes, etc. Thus I think the most important part of your post is actually the disclaimer. \$\endgroup\$ – Bradd Szonye Oct 29 '14 at 23:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ We're currently playing a setting based on No More Heroes, Akame Ga Kill and Skullgirls, where they're a team that kills people to make of this a better place. In the end the moral should be "killing is bad nonethlass" but he's pushing that moral way too fast. \$\endgroup\$ – Aldath Le'Carde Oct 30 '14 at 13:30
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    \$\begingroup\$ As an add-on to this great answer, I suggest going the Evil-GM route (aka, The GM Route) and using this player's predictable behavior against them (with fgysin's caveat in mind): set up a scenario where the "right" decision ultimately turns out to be the wrong one...it may make this player take a more wary and nuanced approach in the future. \$\endgroup\$ – Liesmith Nov 7 '14 at 19:30
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I greatly agree with Joshua's answer, but I feel he's taking some shortcuts in his understanding of the player you have a problem with. It is not so much that he likes idealized stories, whilst you like realistic stories. For one, people do change, and with effort a lot of people can be convinced, so from that perspective scripted stories are the unrealistic ones, whereas his best effort attempts are the realistic ones.

Either way, to get to the point, the best solution I can think of in your case is to give him what he wants whilst you still have your stories to build the way you want them. How? Simply by presenting characters he can 'save' whilst you still have your 'evil villains' that propel your story forward. The trick is to design characters that 'by the script' all can be 'converted', however where it depends a lot on who they are whether achieving that is realistic. So, lets first examine what factors influence one's ability to convince someone:

  • Age, out of all factors I believe this is the most important one. It's a hard lesson I had to learn in real life as well, but the older someone is, the stronger they stand in their convictions. It's not even because they have the experience to back their positions, it's simply a part of human nature.
  • Psychological state, are they even capable of rational thought. In most cases they should be, but some can be literally crazy, or somehow affected or controlled by other beings.
  • Knowing their Agenda, why is the villain doing what he does? In a well designed campaign they always have their reasons (except in cases where they are unable of rational thought), so without knowing those reasons 'saving' them is impossible.
    • Model of Morality, a common motivator of villains is the well being of the majority. For example "it's fine to run experiments on an entire village that cost their lives if that allows me to save/improve the lives of thousands of others". If the player in question follows a different moral model, then no matter any convincing he will do, the villain in question will never be convinced.
    • Revenge or other similar motivators are closely related to the above, though not always clearly so. If you believe it actually morally right to genocide a certain people, because they killed your parents or your lover, then no matter how much convincing you try to do, you won't succeed. At best you might convince them to kill less people.

Now, based on those kind of things you could model a group where this player has a chance to 'save' a lot of (in the grander scheme of the story) inconsequential people, yet still saves the lives of many. For example, the villain could have a young student (or even his own son) who is also his right hand man. As he's young and doesn't truly share the agenda of his 'master' convincing him should be quite possible, however spending so much time convincing him gave the master enough time to plan for it. Well, that's the cliche version at least, there's a lot of ways you can go with this. One thing to look out for though is that the 'main' villain never can be convinced, instead it could also be that 'main villain' is a young guy that can be convinced, but after convincing him somebody just jumps into his place. Either way, jumping back a bit, teaching the player that spending a lot of time on such actions can come at a cost will allow you some control over how much time the player spends on these kind of things which you should base on how the rest of the group takes it. If they enjoy listening to him solving their problems in creative ways: Good, and otherwise just put some healthy indirect time pressure on him.

Oh well, as a final conclusion I can just say that I do not think it's hard to give such a player enough room without compromising your stories, so I see no reason for some of the drastic measure suggested by Joshua's answer or focused conversations like suggested by Tritium (mind you, such a conversation is great when done naturally, but the way I imagine Tritium's advice being acted out it could backfire by putting too much focus on his play style in a negative light). I mean, that advice would be great if the problem would be huge, but honestly, what you're dealing with shouldn't be that difficult to handle by a bit of creative story planning.

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From reading your description, it sounds to me like your friend likes to play certain types of characters and role-play that type of character. For some people, the RPG is all about the role playing.

I find the key to scripted events is to either put them out of reach, or find a way to make them seem unscripted. A lot of players hate railroading. What makes an RPG different from a story? Your friend doesn't want to participate in your story. He wants to make a difference in your world. Why is that a bad thing? Is it causing unhappiness among other players? If so, that's something entirely different.

I don't think you are going to make your friend like another way to play. As others have suggested, find a way to make his inclinations work for you rather than rub you the wrong way.

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His reaction are perfectly reasonable, and you don't need to do anything.

I wanted this entire answer to just be, "He's a real life Paladin."

What this means is that the player embodies his characters by making them reflections of himself. I can empathize, I'm very similar.

The hit to enthusiasm and the feeling of despair over being unable to convert somebody or save them is, and I can't stress this enough, perfectly natural.

This is a healthy response that a normal person has to loss and failure. And it's a realistic representation of the world that your characters are in. Scripted deaths are part of a plot. There will be people you can not save. Certain NPC's will have unshakable convictions. That is entirely expected.

The fact is that he's always striving to make the world a better place, and when he fails, he's going to suffer the sting of defeat.

That's ok.

He'll take that sting, and then carry on with his work.

Eventually, it might be too much and he might swing to the other side of the fence. But that's up to him.

Ultimately, you don't need to actually do anything with this. This player is roleplaying so hard he doesn't even know he's roleplaying. That's how into his character he is. He is his character.

Embrace that.

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It seems to me that your player prefers a black-white morality spectrum where he's the white guy and the white guys win. You, on the other hand, seem to be more of a gray-gray morality spectrum and now you two have the problem of getting on the same page.

In this situation I would recommend to change your game to a blue and orange morality spectrum.

The reason is that paladin-style players tend to be very strict about the correctness of their approach and if you argue with them it quickly becomes a yes/no argument. You can break out of this if you allow your NPCs to contain individuals that are so foreign that the course of their actions is incomprehensible to mere mortals.

Depending on the scenario you play this can be:

  • a time traveler (that seems to be seriously obsessed with his "club" with the hole in the hilt that he keeps holding upside down. Also he points the hilt towards his enemies and thinks thats intimidating.)
  • an alien (What do you mean it doesn't breathe?)
  • an elder abomination (that eats some people but blesses some others by metrics that do not seem to make any sense)
  • an insane magi (Who seems "odd" but friendly until he pulls out that roasted featherball and eats it just to grow wings and fly away mid-conversation).
  • a person with a strange sense of humor (Did you ever read "Illuminatus!"? Great for blue-orange morality)
  • fairies (Fun and personal enjoyment are relevant, food is optional, everyone is a mage. BloomingFairies is a webcomic that portrays them well NSFW!)

Imagine a being that can eat only once every hundred years and doesn't consider the daily nutritional intake to be relevant, but on that one day where he can eat he will ignore all other events no matter how relevant.

Or beings that use ways of communication that are foreign to humans ("How could you not notice he was angry, his angry-pheromone levels doubled!")

What I want to say is: leave the Good - Neutral - Evil ground and have him decide on whether or not the encounters he has are close enough to him that he considers them "good" or not. Either he will enjoy the broadening of his reality or you will come to an easier understanding of what you two want from each other.

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I was like that friend of yours for a long time.
You can call it white knight complex but it is not an unconscious driven "problematic" one imho - actually your friend possibly could classify that mind state perfectly.
It can be a defense reflex to counter the extreme grey-scaled multilateral responsibility reality we live in.
This is compensation roleplaying and quite understandable. So far so good.
Your trouble starts because you forgot to do something.
As intro: you're the campaign creator and moderator.
Talk to him about how difficult it is to keep people and story in an interesting balance and then - but only if he understands your point of view properly - you have to draw an extremely, extremely important line. It should actually be a standing rule. No actively participating player of your game round is allowed to influence the contents of your campaign while it is ongoing. If there is an urge to do this design another campaign and moderate it together - for a different group of players.
Creation AND participation is a big no-no. Friendship means in this case your players have to respect you and your efforts, not discuss possible content in advance. This is actually a form of cheated fate.

As an argument for your side to him: losing interest, becoming bored also comes from that influence the moment he can remove obstacles that way too easily by changing or adding things to a campaign. How can he possibly explain that in-character? One thing is trying to get a happy ending for everyone - another is playing god along the story. And in the end that is what happens when you let him in on the plot he is involved in as a player.

As a lesson you could construct a situation where those best intentions lead to the things they would in a complex real world situation - chaos or catastrophy. Because I doubt his character acts very carefully with any given information. One good liar feeding his character with the right words and he is off on a crusade, isn't he? Slaying good people for the right reasons. That's what really can happen when you're white-knighting too much. Executed properly it will stagger his good/evil approach.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to the RPG Stack Exchange. Take a moment to go through the tour and the help center. This very much looks like a forum post, can you edit it to be less of a conversation, and more of an answer? \$\endgroup\$ – Tritium21 Oct 30 '14 at 9:07

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