There is one thing I can say on the internet in game spaces that I know will garner immediate eye rolls and groans of “oh, you’re one of those players.” All I have to say is, “I play kender.” Visions of spotlight hogging, thieving, obnoxious, self absorbed players dance into everyone’s minds like sugar plums the night before Christmas. Yet, when I take the way that I play a kender at the table and apply it to a different character trope, like a magical girl who’s a little hyper, or a hengeyokai rogue, folks have fun and no one bats an eye. There are lots of tropes that fall into this category – the lawful stupid paladin, the lone badass, a Gungan. Sure, they can be tricky to work with, but they’re just as likely to be a fantastic rainmaker style character. So why do we assume that a particular race or class is at fault for bad play experiences when we are all at the table to play together?
You want to play a what now?
There are several assumptions people make when you say you want to play an “annoying” character:
- You will not share the spotlight with everyone else at the table.
- You will take actions without consideration for what the rest of the party would like to do.
- You will steal from your party members/specifically work against your party in some way.
- You will use this character as an excuse to be a jerk.
Unfortunately there are people who play like this anyway, without regard for their friends at the table, and they are disproportionately drawn to the kind of races/characters who will give them the excuse to do so. If that has lead you to ban kender from your games, more power to you; I understand.
I’m Shellzy Oakjumper, Very Pleased to Meet You!
- No stealing from party members (learned that the hard way…I was young!)
- Letting other people take the lead whenever it made sense
- Letting my party stop me if they ever didn’t agree with my actions…or begging them to if I hadn’t expected them to let me go through with something
- Talking like a kender – a lot, in a rush – but only when it was my turn (and never ever expecting to finish a story about my Uncle Trapspringer, which only got me in trouble when they actually did want me to finish the story)
You Must Have Dropped It! Can I play It?
As with any edgier gaming idea, playing with a crazy race/class/persona requires the whole table to be onboard, and for the players and GM to trust each other enough to create the sense and feeling of a character without it taking over the entire game.
Although I lucked out the first time I played, you will have a much better experience if you plan it from the start. Communication, as always, is the key for being successful at the table. With good communication, those races that everyone loves to hate can add depth and forward momentum to a game. Here are some things to sort out before your game starts:
- Make it known that when you do stupid things, you are okay with and expect to be stopped. This is the RPG equivalent of being an actor who is planning to be interrupted but will keep the sentence going until their partner jumps in.
- Make it known that as a player you are happy to work with the group to make decisions. If your Gungan curiously starts wandering off down a side path, use the same expectation as above that if the party has decided on a different direction, you expect to be dragged back by the back of your shirt.
- Create clear expectations about what is acceptable in your party. Can your kender “borrow” things from other party members, or just NPCs? Can your lawful stupid paladin take physical action against a party member they think is being evil or are they limited to vocalizing their displeasure? Sorting this stuff out before the game starts means you can find in-game reasons for the boundaries if necessary.
- Have a reason to be in the group. If you are the kind of character who is just going to brood and wants to do something totally different, make sure you have a reason to play the same game as everyone else, even if in character it’s reluctantly. Don’t make your party talk you into every single action they want to take as a group. Express your reluctance in ways that don’t slow down the game, like muttering to yourself.
As a player, there are some things you also need to be okay with going in that won’t really effect anyone else at the table.
- Be okay with taking the consequences for your actions in game if you aren’t stopped from doing something stupid or self harmful. They may see you walking towards that trap and decide they don’t feel like babysitting that day. That doesn’t mean in character you should not take that action, but be cheerful about taking your lumps.
- Share the spotlight. Just because your character is always talking doesn’t mean that you should always be talking, player. When it’s your turn, give the feeling and impression of not stopping, but always stop when it’s time for someone else to talk. Don’t linger on your brooding ways at the expense of everyone else having a moment to take action, or, paladin, even if something is evil, sometimes let someone else react first.
- You may have to jump out of character to differentiate that you, the player, are onboard with group actions or do not have a strong opinion. This is part of clarifying that you will not be offended or hurt as a player if your lone wolf gets plunked on a horse sitting backwards glowering while you all go off to do a thing.
- Don’t slow down the game. Pick your moments to express the character and give that flavor to your play, but don’t make it every single minute and every single decision. If no one is jumping in, ask another player if they would be comfortable doing x to stop you (“would it be okay if you snagged my topknot and dragged me away from the display of shiny rings before I get there?” or “I’m going to do this! Please stop me…”). Don’t interfere with the game running smoothly.
So…Can I Play a Kender At Your Table?
The thing that makes character types that people despise work in games is a player who is extra careful not to be a jerk and very attuned to the table around them. Playing this kind of character requires better than your average dungeon crawl communication, but when done properly they can be a memorable addition to any campaign. Do you have any experience playing the characters everyone loves to hate? Have they been in your game? Did it buck the trend or were they just as bad as you expected?
I intended to write this very post, somewhere, but you beat me to it. And you probably wrote it in a better way than I would have. So, thank you! I will refer to this text any time I need to explain that a ‘disruptive’ character isn’t the same as a disruptive player.
I would like to add two things.
First, I think talking about your PC in third-person is a great option for pulling this off. You touch upon it, but it could be clearer. Have a character that’s constantly talking? Mention that your character is talking, often. Character that whistles or gives evil eyes to everyone? Don’t do it yourself more than occasionally, but describe that your character is doing it. That’s lowers the annoyance level. Playing a hot-headed character who’s instinct is to rush forward and attack, even when it’s not appropriate? Don’t say Â»I run and attack!Â«. Say, Â»I prepare to run and attack. You can see Alix reaching for her sword and recognize that mischievous grin on her faceÂ«. That it’s not only more thematic, it’s a cue for the other players that you, as a player, is giving their characters a chance to stop Alix.
Secondly, it an be worth pointing out that ‘disruptive’ characters are fuel for other characters. I’m not likely to be the one to play a thieving rogue or a hot-headed charger. But I am likely to want to play a priest who believes in redemption or a stern, veteran leader. That priest gets so much better if another player plays a rogue that can be redeemed. And the stern leader-type ain’t worth anything if there’s not at least one hot-headed youngster, eager for combat but in need of some guidance in the party.
Fantastic calling those points out for explicit clarity. I absolutely agree, particularly in describing your character getting ready to do something, instead of just doing it!
Trust is key, and it’s easier to have that trust in an established group of people who know each other than a new group.
I’ve had someone who wanted the group to repeatedly stop his character from being a jerk in a brand new group of strangers (we had all recently moved to the same town). He was probably reprising a character trope that he had fun with in the past. The other players didn’t want to be “his babysitter.” Yuck!
Once the group became established, and people trusted each other, these character tropes were played for comic relief and no one batted an eye. The one member of a group of spies who wanted to put everything they did up on Wikileaks (“Information Wants to be Free!”) brought some chuckles to a dark and grim campaign. Trust can do that.
I’ve often found that annoying players will be annoying players no matter what character they’re given, but sometimes the annoyance is exacerbated by certain character types. I’ve seen players who I was about to murder forced to switch characters and they become… tolerable. They’re still not great players, but you can at least get through the game without wanting to commit homicide.
That said, some of my favorite characters are also those super talkative, hyperactive characters. I’ve never played a Kender, but I’ve definitely had Halflings that were from a distant branch of the family tree. I think we’ve talked about our similarities in character types before… One of my favorite was a character from a sci-fi fantasy game that was modeled on halflings. The main descriptor of the race is that they have no self preservation. I LOVED playing my little bomb specialist tunnel rat. Unfortunately, other players ended up ruining playing her. Every single other player that seemed to pick up that race ended up playing them as morons that would as soon get the party killed as complete a mission.
I got to the point where I would rage at the GM, “Just because they don’t have a sense of self-preservation doesn’t mean they’re IDIOTS!”
You’ve got a lot of great advice in here that I hope the right people read and start following.
I once ran a dwarf who had been raised by kender. He knew he was a dwarf, of course. He just took risks with little fear. In one encounter, our party was in a tavern that was being extorted by a local thieves guild. We were just minding our own business when a number of guild thugs entered and started making demands. Bows quickly came into play and table were flipped over for cover, leading to a stalemate. On my round, I recognized that the fight was going nowhere, so my kender-raised dwarf ran out into the open, grabbed ahold of the table the thugs were hiding behind, and pulled it out of the way to leave the thugs exposed. Quickly, in a hail of arrows and bolts, the fight was over. Guild members wore red bandanas, so my dwarf took one and tied around his knee. Whenever we ran into additional guild members after that, my dwarf would pat his knee to make sure they saw it, taunting them to make a foolish mistake that would lead to their deaths as well. I had a lot of fun playing that dwarf, but we all had fun with that party and its characters. In all the campaigns we played, we never had names for our adventuring parties. But that group was the exception. Everything we did seemed like it was blessed and we almost always easily defeated our opponents, including those that were probably way more powerful than our characters. We were the “Whup-ass Crew”, because we opened up a can almost every encounter. My dwarf’s kender-inspired antics weren’t in the least bit annoying, as far as I knew anyhow. Quite the opposite. It just added more and more to the magic of that party and our overall enjoyment.
Aren’t Kender more or less REQUIRED to steal from their party members? While this article works in general, I feel like the Kender race as written is basically a list of all the things not to do.
I have experienced this as well. I almost always play Bards, with many eye-rolls and groans before the game even begins. But like one commenter said, using the third person to describe my actions before they happen gives other party members a chance to intercede and help things go more smoothly. After an hour or two, anyone I hadn’t played with before realizes that not only am I not the most annoying player or character they’ve ever met but also that a good Bard is a great addition to any party, providing a lot of support and aid. Slowly but surely, changing the public perception of the Bard.