Recently 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.
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.
Alignments 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!