One of my Saturday groups has just started up a Traveller game. Even though we knew we’d be doing a Session 0 to make characters together, we still had an e-mail discussion about what everyone wanted to play. Very quickly had a couple of folks who wanted to go the military route, someone wanted to try for an engineer or a pilot, while I decided I wanted to go for a scientist/medic type. When the remaining two players asked what roles might be left to fill, it was pointed that the group didn’t have a dedicated Face, i.e. someone who could negotiate and be diplomatic. Both remaining players immediately responded that there was no way they could play a charismatic, social character.
While not every game has clearly defined roles for the players to design characters around, there’s still a general inclination to make sure certain niches are covered. Regardless of the genre, most groups in traditional-ish games have the tough one, the sneaky one, the smart one, and so on. One of those useful roles is the social one as every group could use someone who can talk them out of trouble or negotiate better deals for the group. Let’s be honest, though: while there absolutely are exceptions, many gamers claim that charisma is their dump stat and stay away from playing characters that focus on being smooth and charming.
I’ve noticed when I run my Tales from the Loop one-shots at cons, the last character chosen is almost always the Popular Kid. Poor Sean is one of my favorites of the PCs, but most players look at his skills and decide there’s no way they can play a character where the focus is on being the master of social stuff.
In some ways, it’s a bit like that classic gamer trope where the same player always has to play the cleric because no one else wants to. In my groups, I’ve noticed the same players tend to always end up taking on the social responsibilities for the group, even if they didn’t want to be the designated Face. Sometimes, though, even they want to play someone who prefers to punch their problems in the face.
So what’s a table to do when no one wants to play the Face?
- Aw, come on. Take a chance and play something different. Yeah, it might be out of your comfort zone, but you can add other flavor to the character that’s more in your wheelhouse. Just because your D&D group needs a Face doesn’t mean you have to play a Bard. Sorcerer and Warlock also both focus on Charisma and other characters can make it a secondary stat. In whatever system or genre you’re playing, you can give the character skills you know you’ll enjoy while also making them adept at talking to people.
- If the idea of trying to roleplay someone way more charming than you think you are horrifies you, you can always take a moment and let the GM know what you’re hoping to achieve with the scene. The GM probably doesn’t want to turn it into all dice rolls since roleplaying characters is a big part of the fun, but if you set the framework for what you’re going for, your fumbles learning how to roleplay being flirtatious, charming, or manipulative will be taken into account with a bit more grace.
- Following up on what I just said to players, be kind to the player who is obviously out of their comfort zone and struggling to be as smooth or as social as their character is on paper. We don’t demand that our players be as strong or as smart as their PC, so why do we hold it against the player when they can’t be as suave as their character should be? Remember who the character SHOULD be in the narrative and play to that. Have the NPCs react to the PCs based on what their stats and skills are.
- Honestly, if no one at your table is willing to play the Face, limit the number of social encounters your group must work through. This doesn’t mean you eliminate every social interaction, but don’t throw a group with a lack of social skills into a high intrigue social event unless you’re prepared for it to go hilariously south when someone decides to punch the high muckity muck in the face. Sometimes having a brash barbarian at high tea can be fun to play but give your group encounters that fit who they built.
So, that Traveller campaign? In the end, the character creation dice rolls decided it for us and my doctor apparently has a really good bedside manner. I have a feeling she’s going to have to the voice of reason before the shooting starts. At least I’ll be able to lecture the two Vargr ex-marines as I patch them up.
Good advice. Character choice can also come from what people are having fun playing. While I enjoy being the Face, a lot of other players do not. Most of us Role Play to have fun, and if someone isn’t having fun being the Face, then that is something they shouldn’t have to play.
I agree that sometimes you have to limit certain types of encounters based on both party make-up and what the party enjoys doing.
Unfortunately, the Face is one of the few roles that is more difficult to replace in teh party with an NPC.
Hmmm…this topic has some teeth… 🙂
I’ve found that one of the difficulties with players playing the “face” is the unrealistic expectation that they must roleplay the face’s dialogue, verbatim. We don’t insist the person playing a fighter tell us many strides they’re going to take for a running jump or a rogue which muscle groups they’re using to balance on a 6 inch ledge. At the same time, as you point out, “face” roleplaying challenges are no fun if we reduce them to simple dice rolls. As a GM I like take a middle-ground approach of discussing goals and methods with the players.
As an example, the goal could be finding out from an arms dealer in town who fenced, or tried to fence, a weapon the party knows was stolen. We align on that first: 2 people in the party are going to talk to the dealer and try to figure out what he knows.
“How are you going to approach the dealer?” I’ll ask next.
“Well, I’m going to start by saying ‘Hello’, then I’m going to say–” a lot of players begin.
“No, I mean what communication approach are you going to use. You could try charming him, begging him, browbeating him, bribing him, etc.”
If you have an especially glib player playing the face, this won’t be necessary. S/he will effortlessly switch between charm, wit, threats, etc. and usually be fairly canny with it, too. This method of meta-communication, where the GM steps the players through creating a storytelling narrative, is for everyone else.