Friday, June 10, 2011

And While We Are on the Subject of Asshole Characters....

Since I'm in "judgmental rant" mode, (Hellllll yeah, Internet!) let's talk about two other recurring character types I've seen in my 19 years of gaming. (...and yes, I know that makes me a whipper-snapper to many of you in this corner of the Stygian Blog-a-combs)I refer to the Lone Wolf and the Ostrich.

The Lone Wolf refuses to associate with the party. He sits by himself in the Inn. If the party wants to go down the left tunnel, he goes down the right. If they want to investigate the crime scene at the Skyrise Apartment building before heading to the University Library, then by god, he is going to the goddamn library himself. (Or, often, some third place that may or may not even have relevance to the current scenario.) This strains the artificial nature of the role-playing game, wherein our characters are at least somewhat bound together by the fact that they are being controlled by a group of real life people who are sitting around the same table together, playing said game together. I know most GMs are not really down with running a campaign for the group, while simultaneously running a private campaign for Johnny Too-Cool-For-The-Group.

On a side note, I have noticed that players who bring Lone Wolf characters to the table also have an irritating habit of refusing to reveal any information about their character to the other players, usually in game, but often in and out of game. They won't tell you what Clan or class they are, or what skills they have, or how they can actually contribute to play of the game. In one particularly charming example, a player who was playing a succubus in a D&D 3.0 game (and thanks, former DM, for allowing really added a lot to your game.) and continued to taunt us, the players, with his special abilities while stridently accusing any attempt to discern anything about his character in-game as metagaming.

I really don't understand the mentality behind this character concept. It's a goddamn chore for the GM to split time between your Precious Snowflake and the rest of the party. It's a chore for the party to have a non-contributing member who they must constantly coax into deigning to be within 50 feet of them. It's irritating for the people who are sitting at the table and trying to have fun. What, I implore you, Lone Wolf players, do you actually get out of an experience where you intentionally ostracize yourself?

I have seen two satisfactory conclusions to having a Lone Wolf in the party: his Lone Wolfishness gets him killed (Hey, the GM put six wererats in that room, expecting the whole party to fight them... but you insisted on going in alone while the party was regrouping in town), or the GM accommodates the Lone Wolf's wishes to be left alone and focuses on the people who are actually playing the goddamn game.

These two solutions preclude, of course, players who wise up and start playing the game as the social, group-oriented activity that it is generally accepted to be, or they make a new character that can actually tolerate social interaction with others.

One final note on this type of character... if the game has an alignment system, they are almost always Neutral, or the closest approximation thereof. To join the Forces of Evil would be to have an association with the Forces of Evil, and that's usually a little closer than the Lone Wolf wants to get to anyone.

Okay, judgmental rant PART TWO: the Ostrich.

This character does nothing. Actually, it's worse than that. I originally wanted to call this character the Girlfriend in a Coma, but their offense isn't that they do nothing, it's that they are determined to do nothing. An Ostrich doesn't just ignore the adventure at hand, he digs his heels into the sand and refuses to participate. Again, I have no idea why you would want to play a character like this. This is the kind of character who will not investigate anything strange, will turn down offers of a reward from NPCs, will ignore NPCs screaming for help (or trying to seduce him), and, in the case of one game I played in, refuse to leave their front porch for any reason at all.
This lovely style of character may seem similar to the Lone Wolf, but the Ostrich doesn't actively avoid the other characters. Rather, the Ostrich doesn't want to get involved with anything. Think Bilbo Baggins when he says "no adventures here, thanks." The Ostrich is just like this, except that when he woke up and found the note from Gandalf and friends, he'd have just shrugged and gone back to bed.
Make me care, sayeth the Ostrich, I dare you.

Meanwhile, the Lone Wolf might dive headfirst into the adventure, but he sure as fuck doesn't need anyone's help, thank you very much...and stop looking at my goddamn character sheet, you metagamer.

Obviously, I am in full soapbox mode today, because I am an immaculate player and GM with absolutely no faults or quibbles whatsoever, in or out of game.

I do post this, in all seriousness, because I do run across both of these types of characters from time to time. Usually, players who play characters like this play all their characters like this, but I've met enough anomalies who sometimes make shitty character concepts like this, but other times make characters who aren't so onerous.

My question is this, and it was inspired by all this late talk of heroes and non-heroes and play style and default assumptions and blah blah blah...

Your "brilliant" character concept aside, at what point does a player have to realize that gaming is in most circles, both social and cooperative, and that if you make a character who is neither, you are getting on everyone's fucking nerves? What is the overlap between being free to play what you want and not being a drag on what is supposed to be a game that is fun for everyone at the table? When I used to fetter away evenings on the old White Wolf forums, the page used to display the quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes about how the right to swing your fist ends where the other guy's nose begins. Is that so in gaming? If it isn't, should it be? If it is, should it not be?

...I know that I've never been in a non-cooperative gaming situation where it was fun for anybody but the lone asshole, but as the Internet has recently taught me (in all of its wisdom), my own personal experiences are an invalid base from which to form an opinion. ;)


  1. I think I might have had worse experiences... when half the players were lone wolves or ostriches - or when the lone wolf-ostrich was the only Time Lord in the TARDIS, leading to the other characters testing out weapons and gadgets on each other for the sake of actually being able to roll some dice. And defeating the obvious fix (making the TARDIS break down so the characters would have to go outside): the Time Lord character had the highest skill rating possible in TARDIS repair. *sigh-grrrr*

  2. A lamentable situation, to be sure. So far, when I have had to deal with these types of characters, there has thankfully been one per party. there actually a Doctor Who RPG? If not, what system were you using? Just curious.

  3. There are actually three official Doctor Who RPGs that I know of:

    FASA's Doctor Who RPG, boxed set with three books and 2 dice, classic series up to 1985, game system is apparently derived from FASA's Star Trek RPG with the skill system from someone's OD&D house rules, player-characters are assumed to be free-roaming agents of the Celestial Intervention Agency, my preferred setup for a DW game

    Virgin's Time Lord, written by novelists of the Doctor Who New Adventures line, post-cancellation, assumes you want to play the Doctor and his companions and re-enact your favourite episodes, does what it sets out to do but sadly you can't do much else with it

    Another boxed set, based around the new series, haven't seen it so can't comment

    Seriously, whenever the TARDIS landed, the Time Lord did a full environment scan before opening the doors, took off again immediately if they didn't like what they saw, and spent more time keeping the scanners in full perfect working order than going outside - and, the sad irony is, the player was a bigger DW fan than I, so really should have known better

  4. Sounds like an Ostrich par excellence.
    I hope you quickly moved on to greener pastures.

    Really, I don't get it... why even bother playing the game if you aren't going to get involved in it?

  5. Unfortunately not: the whole "high school friends still get together for gaming and video nights" thing dragged on for quite a while... in hindsight, maybe we should have spent more time watching Red Dwarf together instead - but then I wouldn't have gotten any gaming at all *shrug*

  6. I think no gaming is better than bad gaming, but I know plenty of folks who disagree.