One of my group’s inside jokes comes from the ex-husband of a former player, who (I’m told) always played the gimpiest, most oddball characters he could come up with.
GM: This campaign is set in 1960s Europe, at the height of the Cold War.
Player: Can I play a cheetah? Like a cat-man, you know — but I only want him to have one leg.
What’s the deal with players like this?
The most common response I’ve heard to the question of why some players like playing weird and useless characters is, wait for it, “roleplaying.”
Character flaws are good. Unusual characters are good. But when you wind up with a one-legged cheetah, that’s not roleplaying — that’s creating a pointless character that will drag down the rest of the group.
And, in my experience, a character who will demand a disproportiniate amount of “onscreen” time, at the center of attention.
Is there a deeper social issue at work here? A common (and unfortunate) personality trait common to some gamers, along the lines of cat-piss man? Or is there a purely gaming-related reason behind this behavior?
I think it comes from the misconception that only “unusual” or “weird” characters can be unique and exciting to roleplay. Because we have all seen the generic fighter and wizard a million times, so there is no way they could ever be interesting, right? After all, a unique personality well played just is not enough . . .
That is like saying that just because Shakespeare wrote so well, no one else should ever try to tell a story. However, some people cannot grasp that and continue to equate weird with unique while the two are not synonymous.
I have seen this type in both forms, good and bad. I use to game with a guy who would always take his character description out to the edge, but he roleplayed it well, and it never was a drag on the group. He once played a Metis in Werewolf, and asked if he had to only take one defect. He wound up taking 2 or 3, but he played them well, and never took away from the rest of the group. In fact made several games more enjoyable with his somewhat offbeat characters.
On the flip side of that, I use to game with a person who always pushed character concepts over the edge, often choosing concepts that wound up hindering the party. In some cases the campaign was able to support that kind of concept, such as my Vampire Campaign, which had a great deal of latitude on how much of a freak you could be before disturbing the Vampire underworld. It was a very dark game.
In several other games, I was too lax about rejecting or re-directing concepts, and his characters did drag down the party. But in those cases, that player was not really trying to disrupt the game, but rather had a strong need to push the envelope, but often pushed it too far.
But as a glimmer of hope, in the last game I played with him, the group had a good social contract and he developed a great character which was one of the corner stones of a long running campaign.
I’d peg this phenomenon as a simple case of mistaking the novel for the interesting. The same mistake is made all the time in the world of comics: look at our new character, kids! He has a shiny costume and weird awesome powers! And no personality or motivation!
I like my one-legged cheetah man for a couple reasons.
1) There’s a certain zen in creating the most powerful character you can. There’s also a certain zen in creating the most unprobable hero. In a lot of fiction, the hero is the unprobable hero. The person who, because they’re not so good at everything, or they’ve got a problem, or whatever, isn’t likely to suceed but does anyway is more hero in some respects than the hero everyone KNEW was going to be a hero.
2) While unique doesn’t always equal interesting, it DOES provide a new toy to play with for a while. After all, it’s YOUR effort that makes any character interesting. Starting them out weird is just a way to be lazy, and I like lazy.
3) Sometime I really DO want to screw with the rest of the party. You can find elsewhere me ranting about how I can’t roll dice worth a crap. It doesn’t really matter WHAT I play, SOMEONE will belly up to the table next to me with a charaacter with all 18s, and someone ALWAYS has the “The spolight’s not on me! I’m going to wander away from the group or cause trouble for everyone else until it is!” attitude. (In my current group, I can point to them, too. it’s always the same person) Faced with these two inevitabilities, it really doesn’t matter a damn bit WHAT I bring to the table, so sometimes I’m in the mood to bring something to the table to return the favor. Yeah, it’s not nice. Yeah, if you see it at your table you should fix it, but sometimes I’m disgruntled.
4) Sometimes you’ve got something else in mind. I’ve wanted to play in a merchant/finace based campaign for a while and no one will run one for me. Was it any suprise that my characters are sometimes land prospectors or investment bankers? Usually I TRY to make them adventurers too, but one time I noticeably didn’t and my DM was NOT pleased.
I’ve found that the most frequent cause for one-legged cheetahs is player (non)enthusiasm. If a player wants to play a character type who is disruptively inappropriate, it may very well be that he simply isn’t interested in the setting.
In a way, the “roleplaying” justification is quite correct, but it’s concealing something. The answer isn’t just, “A cheetah-man would be a great character to roleplay,” but rather, “A cheetah-man would be a great character to roleplay in the game I want to play.”
Another possibility is that the player simply can’t find room in the setting to have the kind of character he’d like.
My pseudo bi-weekly D&D game is set in the Arcane Congress, a school for arcane magic users, and all of the players are required to have some strong affinity with magic or the supernatural. One player was stuck on the idea of playing a blind archer.
Why? He isn’t one to disrupt for the sake of disruption. It was easy enough to figure out that he didn’t specifically want to be a blind archer; he wanted to be someone with a cool gimmick in battle. Now he plays an outsider-binding sage who allows otherworldly beings to possess him and give him combat prowess.
Of course, sometimes a cheetah is just a cheetah.
I do have players occaisionally who try and play the most off the wall thing they can lay their hands on. I’m getting better at saying no. In my Arcana Evolved campaign, one guy tried to bring in an angel or something, wanting all sorts of alignment based abilities, justified by the fact that they were encountering some alignment based creatures in the module in play (Judge’s Guild’s Dark Tower). What was lost on him was the difference between having such things be a special feature, and alignment becoming the norm in the game. Not to mention problems with something with an ECL much higher than the current party level, so we were going to have to figure out how to tone it down and dish out the powers slowly.
I’ve also occaisionally encountered players of the “role playing is making your 18 STR 9 INT character a wizard” school of thought. I say bull pucky. People may not be perfect in doing the things they are best at, but they don’t do things they’re losers at (well mostly – of course losers do try and do things they can’t really do, but losers aren’t heroes).
I’ve had players in Traveller campaigns, where the group already had more characters with Pilot 6 than they had ships to pilot, and the new player wants to create yet another pilot, with Pilot 5 as his best skill. I say bull pucky, the existing group isn’t going to take on another man they don’t need. They’re going to hire on that scientist or that marine that responded to their help wanted add, not another pilot.
Much of this is a refusal to be a team player. Which of course is a good indication the player is going to demand more than his fair share of attention.
So when these things come up, the GM should put his foot down and not allow more out of place characters than the game already has (unless options were presented originally and no one took them – even then, one should look at that and question whether the earlier players were desiring a less weird game than the GM was proposing).
Not sure how much a part it plays when players make characters who exhibit this quality, but part of if could simply be an attempt to break perceptions. If the system supports standard stereotypes of the roles (tank, damage dealer, damage mitigation, etc) an attempt to play something that breaks those stereotypes may be accompanied by an extreme interpretation so that the other players at the table can’t shoehorn the character into the convienent stereotype.
It may depend on how well the system supports variatons of who can perform the roles.
I think, plain and simple, it’s about garnering some attention within the game. By making their characters unique and different NPCs will have to respond to them, the PCs will have to take notice, etc. It’s a poor-man’s substitute for getting involved in the game: they view it as providing hooks and such to tie adventures to them, involving them and making them the center of attention. In reality it just frustrates the GM and the other players. (“There he goes again.”)
These players need to see that playing a male human fighter can still be interesting and contribute to the story/adventure without having to be a distraction. Once they see that you can be involved without being a one-legged stuttering cheetah they may be more prone to create traditional, “more believable,” characters.
I’ve heard this called the “gay dwarf” elsewhere.
A pretty close friend that had played this type of really difficult to incorporate character for years admitted to a girlfriend of another player that he actually didn’t like player RPGs anymore, but it was what the guys did, so he was just going along. It really sucked to hear, since it had ruined more than one campaign, and scores of game sessions for everybody else. Make sure that your “cheetah” is still a gamer. Chances are, he stopped being one. Sometimes there’s a solution for this. Other times, that’s the guy you play basketball with, not RPGs.
*I* am the one-legged cheetah. I’m here to defend the practice, to a certain extent.
Such a character only has to “drag down the game” if the group is trying for non-stop action, or if–*if*, I say–the group lacks the desire or imagination to accommodate a particular player style.
In two mostly-female groups, I am the weakling. In one, I’m playing a jester who has no weapon or magical skills whatsoever, and is quite frail. However, I have stolen the spotlight long enough to manipulate our way out of trouble a couple of times, and I add style that was sorely lacking, IMO. The group is enjoying my participation, and I haven’t kept them from having their violent fun. I admit that this style of play demands the occasional concession from the other players, and my character is quite frankly dicing with death, entering combat to throw rocks or insults.
I just started playing a six-year-old girl in another game, again with no weapon skills. She’s a rather powerful psychic, but will still need some care and feeding; there were many “awwww” moments in the last game, though, so I think the rest of the gang are enjoying her.
In the other gaming group, I’m a more conventional character, in a game that is nearly all cinematic action. I’m still pushing the envelope a bit, though, as I’m a Horatio Hornblower Royal Navy type who is actually a martial artist following time spent marooned in the Far East. I *like* odd characters. I don’t demand that they “fit in,” as that connotes conformity. I would only ask that a player not spoil anyone else’s good time when bringing something new to the table.
How many legs the cheetah should have, then, is a function of a given gaming group’s makeup.
Someone who always wants to play a quirky character may just be looking for a convenient jumping-off point for good roleplaying. I won’t defend disrupting a gaming group that is trying to have a different kind of fun, but I will always encourage anyone to adopt odd character traits and limitations. How odd? As odd as you think might be fun to play, but not so odd as to rob others of their fun.
Play your gay dwarf if you like, then, unless you’re going for laughs in a game whose tone is much more serious. Try not to assume that anyone else is merely being an attention whore or deliberately disruptive.
As always, I’m fascinated by the cross-section of experiences on this one. Thanks for giving my brain something to chew on. 🙂