There have been a series of videos on youtube lately about characters created in such a way that they encounter a situation, and the group or GM decides that the PCs would react in a certain way, but one character says “But my character wouldn’t do that.” Now, if you’ve been playing for any length of time at all, and your game has more roleplaying and background development than the sorts of games the Munchkin card games are based on, everyone has faced a situation like that.
However, subordinating the character in favor of the group is sometimes bad roleplaying.
The main point of the videos seems to be that no matter what, having a character that decides that the general actions of the group in a given situation not be something his character would do is a very bad thing. That the character should subordinate their personality, goals, whatever to the group as a whole. However, in my view, if you happen to have a good group, this severely reduces the possible drama and fun available in the game.
The actual issues that seem to be at stake are as follows:
- Knocking the game off the rails. I’m not implying that the GM in question is railroading the group, but just that any GM prefer, to paraphrase Mal Reynolds from Firefly, when things go smooth. This type of character action makes things not go smooth. It adds more work to the GMs plate. At the same time, it can cause the rest of the group to stumble to a halt while they try to react to this sudden disruption.However, this strikes me as an issue that only really effects a group that does not communicate well.
- Splitting the group. I understand that this is something that is generally preferred to be avoided. However, sometimes this is unavoidable. And it’s not always a bad thing, especially if, as a GM, you are experienced enough with the system being used, and the players and their play style. If you have never done this before the main thing to remember when this happened is not to focus too much on one sub group. Try to spot a good point to shift over to the other players and advance their portion of the game. Generally, try to keep this to no more than 10 to 15 minutes at a time before switching back. An example would be after the group splits, one sub group proceeds for a while, facing a couple of simple challenges, and then encounters a, usually non combat, situation that would take a certain amount of time. Have them start work on this, and then switch to the other group. It is a logical point to place a scene break.
- Creating potential bad blood. Either between the players (hopefully not, and if it happens is very rare and is amicably resolved quickly), or between the characters. If between the players, this needs to be resolved quickly. If it is bad enough, it is OK to stop the game and resolve the situation. If it is minor, talk about it immediately after the game ends. This is not something you want to let sit too long even if minor. Between characters, this also needs to be discussed. This time between the players of the characters in question, and also with the GM. This can be turned into a wonderful roleplaying opportunity. This is why this sort of thing is used a lot in other storytelling mediums. TV, Movies, Books, etc. These are full of examples where one character may wander off at an inopportune time to deal with a personal matter. Instead of providing long range sniper support, he spots an old enemy and decides this is the perfect time to confront and beat the tar out of them, at the expense of the group as a whole. This category seems to be the primary focus of this subject elsewhere. Yes, you need the whole group of players on the same page and accepting of the situation. But you don’t need to automatically reject the very concept of a character behaving in this way because, as one personality puts it “Group game, group game, group game. It’s a group game, and you’re turning it into Your game.”
End result is, this situation will vary by group. Groups of new players, in my experience, rarely have this issue because they haven’t fully digested the full potential of what can be done. By the time they get to the point of having character motivations beyond violence and greed (If they get to that point, I know some gamers who still have not progressed past kicking down the door, killing the monster, and stealing their stuff, with roleplaying among these players being defined as using class abilities when appropriate.) hopefully they will have progressed to the point where they can not only deal with the situation if it comes up, but also enjoy the plot complications it may provide.
In summation, if my rambling didn’t make much sense, I don’t think this is always a bad thing, and in fact, actively trying to force players to have their characters conform in ways they wouldn’t is a bad thing. Yes, you want everyone on the same page at the start, so that this doesn’t happen in such a major way that the first session half the characters refuse to associate with the rest fo the characters. But the occasional situation where a character who, to use a GURPS term, fails their self control roll abandons the group for personal reasons is perfectly fine, and a potentially wonderful gaming situation.
And that’s that for the moment.