Posted by : David Guyll February 08, 2011
I'm going to open with a very simple visual aid.
The mission statement for Dungeons & Dragons characters is very, very straightforward: you're an adventurer/hero/glorified vagrant that kills things and steals their shit (often in that order). The game doesn't even try to hide this fact, and so I find it very odd when a player bellies up to the table and wants to play a commoner or "zero-level" character. That's not what the game is about, or even assumes that you would ever do. If you dont like it, then play something else.
I don't mean for that to sound asinine, but it's really as easy as that. I dont jump into a Shadowrun game and get all butthurt that I have to play a cybernetically and/or supernaturally enhanced criminal, a Dragonball Z game and expect there to be plot, or a Rifts game and expect decent mechanics/anything remotely approaching game balance. Good games are made to cater to a specific play-style or genre, and D&D is not about going through a routine existence farming, or meandering around a village chatting it up with NPCs.
Players wanting to play an adventure game with a character barely suited for exterminating rats isn't the only problem I've run across in my gaming experience. I once had a group that was professed an interest in the game, and decided to run Stick in the Mud because I like the cut of Aeryn Rudel's game. Mostly I wanted to run a short session to get the newbies acclimated to the game and see if the veteran enjoyed my game-style. I told them to roll up a small party (which took awhile since one player kept wanting to fucking play Man-Bear-Pig).
Once we had the party assembled and were ready to go dungeon crawling, I was hit with the following:
"Why are we doing this?"
I hate, hate, haaate this fucking question. (＃ﾟДﾟ)
To me it's valid only insofar as you use it to justify to yourself why you are going to dick around in a dungeon and kill things--especially when put into context of a one-shot session. You're an adventurer. Think up something conducive to acting like one. To make sure that I'm absolutely clear, motivation is fine. It's great. It can help a player become more immersed in their character and get them more emotionally invested in the game. The problem is that no one else is likely to give a fuck about your motivation because they've got their own shit to worry about.
"Oh, you have an estranged brother that you are trying to find? Well fuck you, I'm trying to avenge my father who was murdered by a mysterious figure cloaked in shadows and shit."
Often times the question seems to be directed at me, the DM. Why the hell are you asking me? It's your fucking character, you figure it out. Feel free to bounce reasons off of me to see if its kosher with the plot, but don't ask me to do more than toss a couple tidbits your way, as all too often it's never what you wanted in the first place. Now, the provided hooks for the adventure were good (and generic) enough for me: get mud samples, retrieve an old staff, or just bring back heads for a bounty. It's easy and appeals to multiple player tastes. Dont like 'em, then you give me one that you do like and we'll talk.
Frankly, I prefer it when my players table that shit and work on it off the clock. Don't grind the game to a halt so you can play twenty-questions with yourself, roll with the flow and exchange email messages with your DM between game sessions. It's not a goddamn chicken-egg exercise: you can add to your character retroactively. Dont believe me? In many works of fiction, you start out knowing very little about any given character, and gradually learn more as the story(s) progress. It especially annoys me when I get players that seem to want to psychoanalyze their characters. Like, they can't make a simple decision without pondering for hours if their character would really do that thing, use that item, blah blah fucking blah. The answer is simple: your character does whatever you want it to, because its your character.
I don't recall if they ever picked a motivation, despite it being a one-shot intro game. However, once we'd stumbled through that hurdle, we immediately hit another.
"Do we know each other?"
Fucked if I know, figure it out between yourselves. ┐('～`；)┌
For some reason, players that think that its taboo to start the game already knowing one or more of the other players. Do they think it will give them any sort of advantage over something aside from being able to dodge the awkward, "get to know each other" phase of some games? There's been one campaign that I can recall where this wasn't a torturous trial, but that had two DMs and it still seemed contrived. Personally, I prefer operating under the assumption that the group already knows each other, or at least knows of each other. It makes it much easier to get the game going without having to trudge towards a contrived eventuality.
In closing, I submit the following:
- You're an adventurer, act like it.
- You don't have to have your character fully sorted before the game starts. Flesh it out as needed.
- It's okay to know the party before the dice ever hit the table.