Dungeons & Dragons

Dear RPG players: It’s all right for your characters to change

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Convention Goers Save the World - A Dungeons & Dragons 5th Edition Modern One-Shot
Conflict and Argument Resolution at your Roleplaying Table

rpg players Dungeons & DragonRecently I’ve run across two situations as a Dungeon Master which I believe are worth sharing with a wider audience. First, one of my players came to me concerned he had not played his character’s personality correctly during a recent Dungeons & Dragons gaming session. Second, a player in a different campaign (one in which I play and am not game master) came to me worried his character had done something out of character.

Obviously, these are similar situations. Also, I’ll add that both these players are relatively new to tabletop role-playing games, each having been gaming for less than a year, though both are experienced enough to know the rules quite well.

My responses in both situations were pretty much the same: Don’t worry about it. It’s your character and they can act however you want them to. Besides, I as a player or DM didn’t notice any wide variations from character type. Nobody suddenly turned into a murder hobo or started acting like a lunatic, nothing like that.

However, upon thinking further about these recent happenings, it occurred to me maybe other players need to hear the same thing, especially newer players.

Here it is: You don’t always have to play your character the same way. Don’t allow alignments or backgrounds or personality listings limit your characters’ responses, capabilities, their reactions, etc.

rpg players Dungeons & Dragon

We have moods, and characters could, too. Maybe your Fighter isn’t a morning person and grumbles through his day until about noon. Or maybe your Monk is grumpy between meals. Or your Sorcerer hates cats and becomes nasty at the sight of them. Anything is possible.

Sure, you generally don’t want a character to have wild mood swings all the time, but under the right circumstances they might very well do so for a short period. Or they might act differently at a given time simply because they are having an off day. It happens.

Events change people. Other people change people. Alcohol and medicine can definitely change a person. Heck, sometimes something as seemingly innocuous as the weather or time of day can change a person. More than once I’ve woken up feeling like a grizzly bear because my sinuses are seriously bothering me and causing pain.

Change can create drama. Change can create conflict. It can be fun.

If a character never changes, they can become quite boring.

I’m not necessarily talking about a story arc, a long term mental or emotional development in a character, though that can be part of it. I’m talking about day-to-day change, or session to session, sometimes even within a single session.

rpg players Dungeons & DragonAlignments and other background material shouldn’t be used to limit a character, but should be used as a guide to help them grow. For example, if a Good character is suddenly put in a situation in which he or she is somehow forced to act in a non-Good manner, that should change the character, possibly short term but maybe longer, though it doesn’t mean they are no longer a Good character. It simply means they had a tough choice to make and whatever they decided, it can bring about emotional, mental and possibly spiritual adjustment.

Another example would be an Evil character acting Good. Just because a being happens to be Evil, that doesn’t mean they don’t have friends or that they don’t have a soft spot or two. James Bond’s nemesis Blofeld had a cat, for instance. Dexter had a son and a sister whom he loved. Even an Evil person can act Good under the right circumstances.

Lawful characters might act silly from time to time, and maybe Chaotic characters will sometimes act more dignified. Neutral characters could possibly swing all over the board emotionally.

A character’s background information should affect the character, but it should not control them. It’s really up to the player how far these boundaries can be pushed, though the DM can offer some words of advice.

On the flip side of this, players should not use the possibility of change to allow their characters to do absolutely anything at any time, to act completely against type. Alignments and such should still be a guide, though a broad guide.

A slip here and there is no big deal. As I’ve said, everyone has an off day from time to time. If a player has a character who looks inward and finds he or she is not living up to their own ideals, then it is up to that player to guide the character in making changes. The game master should only become involved if their advice is sought or if a player is acting disruptively at the gaming table.

Now get out there and game, and Stay Nerdy!

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A former newspaper editor for two decades in Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky, Ty now earns his lunch money as a fiction writer, mostly in the fantasy and horror genres. He is vice president of Rogue Blades Foundation, a non-profit focused upon publishing heroic literature. In his free time he enjoys tabletop and video gaming, long swording, target shooting, reading, and bourbon. Find City of Rogues and other books and e-books by Ty Johnston at Amazon.

  1. Eric W.
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    This is an overlong tale about how playing ‘out of type’ can influence — when handled in a good way– the path of a campaign: A player that I knew from high school went gaming with a friend that required a boring two hour drive from where they lived (but the sessions were so awesome, they kept going). Scott was forced to play the cleric for awhile. He admitted that he was usually so tired after work and the drive that he would just ‘dial it in’ when it came to playing the cleric, and did very little outside of combat. One night after a bad day at work and at home and on the drive, he felt like smashing something, but due to bad dice rolls, his cleric *didn’t* *hit* *anything*. Out of frustration, when the fighter said (not asked) “Heal me,” the cleric responded with a ’cause moderate wound’ instead of ‘cure moderate wound’. Before an actual fight broke out between the players, the DM declared a break and stepped out with Scott to talk about what had happened in and out of game. Being the supercool DM that he was, they came up with the on-the-fly plan that cleric was under mind control, and it would be up to the party to figure out how to stop it. Eventually the party figured out that there was another personality that would occasionally take control of the cleric, and only through role-play could they figure out who was in control at that time. It wasn’t a curse. They decided the cleric had multiple personality disorder. Scott and the DM decided in a later session that if characters were to actively participate in prayers to the cleric’s deity (especially when they ASKED for healing), it would aid the cleric’s good side in maintaining control over who was the dominate personality. This eventually led to the group role-playing their characters fulfilling tenets of their ‘new’ faith. Imagine the barbarian and fighter shouting in unison “For Tymora! For the King! And for the realm!” as they charged into battle. (When asked “Which King?” the thief would respond, “Whichever is paying us this week.”) After reaching the epic campaign conclusion, Scott left the group but would occasionally check in with the other players. The role-playing had such a lasting impact on the other players that in the next campaign, one of the players ran a dwarf paladin and another ran a cleric and the DM had no problems with getting the players to accept a ‘holy quest’. So, I guess it all worked out… How Scott convinced the DM to let his half-orc barbarian ‘multi-class’ into bard is another story.

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