What makes a character easy or hard to play? 

Hello there, welcome.  Today’s post is a guest post from a friend of mine named Pete.  Pete makes a regular appearance on this website, or at least his characters do, as he is the same Pete who plays Vuldin the Dwarf, and before that Nanoc the Barbarian, in the D&D 5e game I play in and write about from the perspective of my character Rhyll’Zt.  We often chat about roleplay, and he kindly offered to guest write a post sharing his perspective on what makes characters easy or hard to play.  After the line, the effort is his, not mine though I will write my own response to this subject in the near future addressing some points and sharing my view.  Enjoy!

Hello there, I’m going to discuss some things from my own experience and I’m sure John would appreciate any comments you might have from your own.

First, let me introduce myself. I am Pete.  That Pete.  The one who made Nanoc, and Vuldin, and a variety of others you’re yet to be introduced to.  At some point John may upload the Story of Torg, who is the most sensible character I have made in years.  Considering that Torg is a 7’4” 500lb construct of metal and stone with a grudge against the people who made him a slave for an indeterminate period of time, that should tell you something about my less sensible characters.

I grew up thinking of pen and paper role playing games as something done by the extreme fringe nerds.  I like my Sci-fi and Fantasy, I liked playing Baldurs Gate etc. on the computer, but I drew the line at sitting down and rolling dice.  That was just weird.

Some years later, I was at Uni and a good friend of mine (shout out to Mike McCabe if you ever see this!) started talking about going to a DnD group in his home town of Perth, so during one of our breaks, I went up to stay with him and we went along.  His DM had given permission for me to make a one-off character for dropping in purposes, with some kind of unique quirk and a single magical item.  The party was level 6 at this point, so I set about using the WotC Character builder that came with 4th ed.

I was fairly familiar with character generation via the video games, but without exception they had been AD&D or 3/3.5ed, so I got a little confused, especially at the part where I was asked “so what his personality like?”

“Ummm… he’s a dwarf paladin, I guess he likes law, order and dwarf things”.
“But what does he do in his daily life? Is he a happy guy? Sad?”
“Umm…. let me think about it”

I came back to him a few minutes later, with this idea for not just a role to fill in a party, but a character in a story.

“His name is Targe, he’s a Lawyer.  He functions like a Paladin, but he’s a lawyer.”  I had some ideas for character quirks, including a mechanical right arm inscribed with the runes of dwarven law which meant that any item picked up in it became classed as a +1 weapon.  In hindsight,  I think the DM allowed it because I was only there for one night.  Which was good because the first two things I did were make another player storm off in a huff because he was taking things way too seriously, and then punch the lord of the castle in the face with a baked potato.  Which had become a +1 magic baked potato.  Turns out he was a werewolf all along and I triggered the conclusion of his story, but it was funny.

The guy who stomped off had me wondering.  I didn’t know him from Adam, I’d never met anyone there other than Mike before, I had no idea what I was doing and kept checking with the DM and others “so I say what I want to do, and you tell me what I roll if I can, right?”.  So why had he stormed off?

His character.  His character was too real to him.  He was playing a dwarven cleric, so I figured he and Targe would hang out and tell dwarf jokes like “What did the gnome say to the boar? He didn’t say anything, he was too busy being not a dwarf!” then going and getting merry on dwarven holy water.  It’s made with hops, according to R.A Salvatore.

Instead he chose to go to a library, and study books looking for information on where the party was.  “Couldn’t you just ask?” I asked, genuinely curious “You’re a cleric so your charisma is probably pretty good, you should be able to use diplomacy to get some info, right?” The DM confirmed this, but the guy wanted to go to the library.  So Targe went with him and found some interesting books that had some nice pictures in them but not much else.  The cleric kept on rolling and asking “do I find anything?”  The DM said no. Over and over again.  The guy rolled a natural 20.  “There’s nothing in here of interest, it’s lots of generic tomes, nothing specific”  He gets really angry at that. “THIS IS A KEEP LIBRARY, THERE WILL BE SOMETHING!”

Ok… so at this point I, as myself, had a choice to make.  I don’t know these people, but I know that writing stories takes work and also that you don’t argue with God.  I expected the DM to say “and your character, he dies”. But he said “I told you there was nothing there, it’s a dusty, unused library.”  So -in character- I wander over to this apparently stressed Cleric and offer some sage wisdom “what could there be of interest in this human library, unless you’re interested in human anatomy?” and waggled my eyebrows suggestively while presenting a book with detailed diagrams of male human genitalia.

He didn’t find it funny.  The others did.  Shortly after that, there was a dinner, dwarves were disrespected and the lord of the keep got himself +1 Baked Potatoed to the face.  The player in question left at that point.  I never did learn his name.

This experience cemented in me the idea that there has to be something that strikes a chord, be it for good or bad, between a player’s character and themselves.  For me, personally, this comes out in a combination of having generally ‘goodly’ characters combined with some general mildly amusing quirk.  The reason that so many of my characters have giant personalities came a little later.  But starting out, I found it hard to play ‘evil’ characters because I couldn’t really related.  Presented with a situation, if I asked myself “what would an evil person do?” I frequently came up blank, unless there was a kitten I could stamp on or something.  Or randomly do a Tim the Enchanter and explode something.

The problem I had with that is that every evil character I made ended up as pretty much a Murderhobo with a different weapon of choice.  It gets kinda boring.  Interestingly enough, my friends who tend to play evil characters well often find the same when they try to play good characters.  They find them one-dimensional and boring, as they struggle to think about what that person might do unless there’s a peasant to give money to.

I generally struggle to create anything resembling a serious character that isn’t in some way relatable to myself.  I need to be able to put myself in their shoes and make a decision based on what I would do in that situation.  When your character is too far away from who you in yourself are, the net result (for me at least) has been disengagement from firstly the character and secondly from the game.  This can lead to nightmares for DM’s who are trying to get people involved in a story but have to constantly fight to engage players interest, usually without much success beyond the present crisis.

Secondly, most of my characters tend to be quite extravagant, the answer for why is much simpler – after my wonderful introduction to DnD, I found myself in some local groups where nobody did anything and the DM had to spoon feed them the story.  After being a DM a couple of times, I found this incredibly annoying and decided that whenever I am playing, I will actually help out the DM and try to move the story along, this means that my characters tend to loud, talkative and decisive.

Combine the two together and you end up with characters that we hate to love and love to hate, such as Nanoc, stereotypical Barbarian extraordinaire, right down to the chronicler and Austrian accent, or El Fisto (who was honestly intended just to be a dwarven monk) the wrestling Luchadwarf who survived a 60ft leap out of a crumbling tower and has a bright red beard sticking out from under his mask, impeding his speech…. and also a pair of golden gauntlets with permanent Enlarge Person on them.  There’s a 9ft tall, 1000lb dwarf with a flamboyant red cape running around a city somewhere still.  From him came Vuldin, who is a cleric of the same order, who looks essentially like a Mariachi band player meets Gimli.  There’s also Torg, the Warforged former slave, Tierfis – the explosion wizard, Targe – the Mercykiller Paladin (think Vhailor meets Judge Dredd) – he once nailed a Kobold to a shield, alive, and used it to open a door which caused a massive fear effect on all the Kobolds on the other side as their screaming buddy took arrows and spear hits from them every time they attacked and was kept alive by me laying hands on him before being executed at the end of the fight and yes, this still technically counted as being Lawful Good. 

The problem that I now face is that I almost need my characters to be unusual and extravagant.  Before making Torg a Paladin, I was debating with my DM the possible dynamics of making him a druid, a mechanical druid. A Mechanical Shape-shifter. Totally not a Transformer.  It was quite complicated to justify beyond aesthetic, so I agreed to be a Paladin.  I was tempted to dig out one of my other early characters, a standard chaotic good human ranger called Andari, but then I realised that I would be bored playing him because he doesn’t do anything stupid or fun for the rest of the party.

The good part in all this is that, while games I am involved in tend to be slightly… chaotic, the writer never needs to fear that the story will be ignored or the other players disengaged, unless they literally are completely uninterested in the game.

I realise now that I am kinda waffling, which is my prerogative because I have the keyboard, but let me finish up with a couple of questions and a couple of tips

1) Are there character classes or alignments that you just can’t bring yourself to play? Why?
2) Do you prefer a serious or comedic game?
3) Can Tieflings lay eggs? (seriously, not do they, but can they?)

(Note from John – No they can’t.  And if they could, you wouldn’t like their omelettes)

1) Talk with your DM about what he’s looking for from you. It makes the whole game more enjoyable if you’re not sitting there like a lemon until a fight comes along.
2) The characters in our favourite stories, films, books etc. engage us on a personal level.  See if you can’t make your DnD character do that.
3) It’s a game. Games are fun. Fun involves enjoyment. Srsbsnss is not fun.

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this, if you have, I would suggest reading some of my other articles, once I’ve finished thinking of them.

Hi there, John here.  Thanks for sharing, Pete.  If you would like to see my response, you can read it HERE

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