Andy asks – I’m running a campaign for four friends. One of my friends, who I’ll call Lucas, is a good, friendly guy but is playing a character who is condescending and abrasive. Discussions about what to do in a certain situation as dominated by his character, who constantly mocks and belittles everyone else. I’ve talked to him about toning it down but he insists it’s within his character and he’s having fun. What do I do about this? Is he right? Is it just in good fun?
Andy, I think it’s clear that Lucas is having fun. But the big question is whether or not everyone else is.
Adversarial character relationships in gaming can be done well, adding tension to already stressful situations or comic relief to break that very same tension. A whimsical bard disagreeing with his cleric twin sister in the middle of a royal court makes for a great scene. As would a moment when an expert hacker demands the infiltration team hold back until she takes down the firewall while the bloodthirsty heavy insists on kicking the door down right that instant. What about a young squire finally casting off the yoke of his knight’s mentorship in the heat of battle to charge the enemy lines alone? In situations like that, two players are using their characters to contribute to the story. Disagreements are heightening the action and making the scenes more theatrical and engaging.
In other words, the disagreements I suggested above are both additive and agreed upon. The characters are arguing because the players both decided that’s how they want to make the story more gripping. Players can leverage their worldviews and expertise to make characters fall into conflict with each other at exactly the wrong (or right, depending) time and skilled GMs can set the stage for these conflicts. So long as all the players love doing it, healthy conflict can be a gripping part of the game.
That said, I’m not sure if Lucas is engaging in that with his character. His combativeness is not additive. His character is not arguing because of his worldview, but because he (the player) seems to like arguing. And the arguments don’t appear to be fun battles of wits, but insulting, demeaning and meant to pull the spotlight to him. Yes, it may be born of his character, but his character is a big jerk.
Now, a character and a player are two different things. A character may make a silly choice (“I charge headlong at the Tarrasque!”) because the character is living her truth. But when a character is making a choice that is meant to deliberately sabotage the party or diminish the fun everyone else is having, then that character isn’t living a truth. That character is being used by the player to exercise some personal demons or take advantage of the camaraderie of a game to be mean to his or her friends. Author and gamer John Perich, who was on a GMing panel I moderated earlier this year, put it brilliantly: “If you dress as Spider-Man and push me down the stairs, I’m not going to be mad at Spider-Man.”
What it comes down to is that Lucas’s actions, while in the guise of character, are harming the game. At minimum, for you. But most likely for everyone else. Regardless of how friendly he is in real life, he’s making a choice that is making the game less fun. My recommendation therefore is to have a conversation about his behavior at the table. He will insist it’s in character, but you need to insist it is affecting your enjoyment of the game and everyone else’s. It is best to nip this now than have your players start dreading coming to the table.
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