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No PC is an Island, Entire of Himself

Last night, one of my fellow RPG players delighted to announce that this was the first time that her character had been allowed to operate independently, to which she hastily added “with the sanction of the rest of the group,” because her character is a sneaky little bastard, a liar and thief with no regard for societal norms and little regard for his adoptive group, and has operated independently several times already—without supervision, and to everyone’s general regret. I say “little” and “adoptive” because he’s also about ten years old. In modern Providence, Rhode Island, where he should be going to school and handed to state child support services, because none of us is a proper surrogate parent. Is it any wonder he hasn’t been trusted with a whole lot of freedom?

The implied criticism that we aren’t allowing her to play the way she wants rubs me the wrong way because the rest of us were forced to perform some contortions simply to accommodate little Michael Valdez at all. Creating a sympathetic character who wouldn’t turn a ten-year-old over to the authorities for his own good, but would instead bring him into a deadly secret magical war is mighty difficult, and sharply reduces the other players’ options for fun character concepts. Creating a character so callous to a child’s needs as to let him run free in a secret war, but not so callous as to object when he screws up our corner of the story while “just staying in character” and also naïve enough not to recognize that a kid channeling the avatar of the Artful Dodger might not be entirely trustworthy is both difficult and full of potential for not having fun. Expecting four players to do so at once is grossly intrusive upon other players’ prerogatives. That in itself can be fine, depending on the players in question; some groups accept a lot of cross-player influence on character concept. But anyone willing to push that hard has no complaint when the rest of the group pushes back by, say, refusing her character freedom to operate on his own.

And now, after four players and a novice GM bent over backwards to accommodate little Michael Valdez, halfway into the action, including prophecies that he’s going to be part of the climax, Michael has announced that he’s had enough of this whole supernatural-threat-to-the-world thing and is just going to strike off on his own to find his parents. It’s essentially a player announcement that her role in the campaign isn’t really as fun as she’d imagined, and she’s prepared to quit, or at least shoe-horn in a new character. The potential disruption is great enough to take on overtones of threat: start playing the game I want, or I’ll wreck the campaign.

If you want to be part of the campaign, it’s up to you to create a compatible character. When you create a character without reference to the campaign’s setting or theme, the action moves on without you. When you create a character without reference to your fellow PCs’ goals, they quickly discover they have no connection to yours. And when you create a character without concern for your PCs’ concept, you quickly find they have problems with your behavior, and may even seek stymie you. If that perpetual status of contemptible outsider isn’t fun, don’t force your fellow players to deliver it to you. Or at the very least, suffer in patient silence when they do.

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