Recently I have been running the alpha test version of a Sentinels of the Multiverse Comic RPG. It’s an amazing role playing game based off of an amazing card game based off of a comic book world that is mostly in the creators’ (and now fans’) imagination. You should totally check them out if you are not yet familiar with their work.
The game I ran was a 2-part one shot with pregenerated characters. Or rather, I guess I would call the regenerated characters since they are characters that exist in another game converted into character sheet stats for this game. And that has brought up some interesting issues that I think can be overcome but only if we are aware of them going into such a game.
Playing a Character the Wrong Way
Have you ever played a game and had someone tell you how to play your character? We consider that a Cardinal Sin in our group, just because of the number of times it has driven people to quit games forever. No one wants to spend an hour having someone else run their turns for them, not even someone trying to learn a game.
Now this was fairly easy to overcome in the card game: only give advice when a question is asked. With the RPG, it became a bit more complicated because the characters had cannon established that not everyone has knowledge of. So you get one player wanting to name their character’s secret identity something besides what it is supposed to be, and another wanting their hero to be a reporter in their secret identity when they don’t actually have a secret identity in the comics.
I could see some people cringing when the player for Tachyon ignored science and kept diving into the wormhole to “look for cool stuff to play with.” The Wraith never got out of her party dress and did everything out of costume. And Absolute Zero froze an old woman who was a fan of his after giving her and autograph. Was any of this ‘right’?
Being True to the Character
If you are playing a campaign RPG, or even a 2-part game, character consistency becomes a lot more important. A character that just rolls whatever check is most beneficial for a scene probably lacks some depth. Just like a paladin that murders a village and ignores her alignment, a player can ruin a character (even one of their own invention) by playing them randomly. Or perhaps it would be better to say that it is always better to play what the character would do rather than what the player wants to do.
If a character and their player never agree on what should be done, then there’s a huge problem there that needs to be addressed. Normally it is a small thing that comes up every once and a while. Something like “I know this guy is evil, and I really want to kill him before he betrays us, but I’m an icon for good and justice!” And as painful as it can be sometimes, I have always found it to be more rewarding to play a character as they would behave.
So how do you balance that with giving players the freedom to run their characters the way they want to run them? Is there a balance you can achieve, especially with characters that already exist in the world as a whole?
Never Change the Rules
My solution is simply this: establish the rules at the beginning and never change them. Consistency really makes everyone feel more comfortable in a game, at least where the foundation is concerned. So if you are going to have a game where canon material overrules player decisions, make sure everyone knows and agrees about that at the first session.
This includes exceptions to the rules, such as when you’ve had one name for several adventures and suddenly a different name is published or if something you decided on early is not really working for you. My favorite exceptions rule is to change a rule if EVERYONE agrees to do it. It makes for a good escape clause, and that should definitely be talked about early on so everyone knows it is an option.
GMs, try to make sure that everyone is ok with the rules you establish. There may be times that someone just agrees because everyone else is. If they are not just being a jerk about disagreeing, there’s probably a root issue there that still needs to be addressed and discussed so that it doesn’t explode later.
Players, try to be honest about everything without being selfish. If there’s something you really want, express that. Be willing to compromise, but don’t give in on a reflex. Communication early on will really help a game last.
My experience so far has been that people love to play together when they get to play the character they want to play. Bossy players, overcritical GMs, and nagging rule mongers will not only ruin a game but also driver potential players out of our hobby. Please don’t do that!
If you have a story to share or a method that works well for your group, please share it with us!