Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I Do Not Like "Crazy" PCs


My congratulations to any and all RPG campaigns where someone is playing a wacky “crazy” character or deliberate comic relief and all the players are having a good time. I salute you because my experience is that those types of characters don’t work, and I’ll tell you why.

First, though, let’s set some parameters. When I talk about “crazy” characters, I don’t mean characters with bizarre back stories or weird combinations of classes, races, and skills. I don’t have any problem with half-drow, half-dragon sorcerers from alternate futures who love to play the oboe. I don’t have any problem with steam-powered masseur-bots who know karate and practice ikebana. I don’t have any problem with wererat Halfling mushroom farmers. What I do have a problem with is grinning, giggling wannabe Jokers who try to turn every roleplaying encounter into a chance to freak out the NPCs.

Likewise, when I talk about comedy relief characters, I’m not urging players to stop cracking wise and dropping Monty Python references. I’m talking about characters who are built around being goofy and players who think they get to be the class clown. There’s nothing wrong with being funny, but there’s everything wrong with trying to define yourself as “the funny one.”

The thing is, “crazy” characters and comic relief both do two things I hate in RPGs: they break immersion and they deny interaction.

These characters break immersion by forcing NPCs to behave in either unbelievable ways or by forcing the GM and/or other players to censor those characters. I say “unbelievable” because everything a beholder or orc war chief does is unrealistic; it is, however, obviously unbelievable for a beholder to continue negotiating with a party of adventurers when one of those adventurers is a gibbering madman who keeps trying to get the beholder to kiss his magic squirrel. There’s no way a tense scene like that doesn’t end in bloody combat unless the NPC (and the GM) completely ignores the doofus, or unless one of the other party members has to use her turn to silence her companion. Some character is either not behaving in a way that fits the setting or is spending their time babysitting the wacky character; in either case, one or more players are not getting the chance to immerse themselves in the scene.

The babysitting example also gets into “denying interaction.” A crazy or comic relief character restricts other players’ ability to interact by constantly stealing the spotlight. I loved Robin Williams, but did you ever watch him onstage with other comedians, such as his appearance on “Whose Line Is It Anyway?” Everybody tried to share the stage and do their own funny thing, but Williams just kept getting louder and louder and crazier and crazier, and pretty soon everybody else was just standing there while Williams ran around like a crazy person. It was not fun for the regular cast and you could see that on their faces.

Everybody playing an RPG wants a chance to shine. Heck, most of them want a chance to be funny. Even if the dude playing the paladin wants to play his character as noble and pure, he still wants to be able to get an awesome action hero one-liner every once in a while. Comic relief characters step on other people’s lines and “crazy” characters wreck the mood of scenes. 

It’s not like silliness and wackiness aren’t going to happen in RPGs – they’re going to happen constantly – but when someone plays a character built around those concepts, they steal the chance for everyone else to contribute some humor. They steal the spontaneity and joy out of games. They’re thieves and we hates them! We hates them forever!

8 comments:

  1. Agreed, humor has its place but not at the expense of everything else.

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  2. I agree with this 100 percent. Having come of age in the 90s, aka the Decade of "Crazy" Characters, I've had my fill of Malkavians and Rifts Crazies and so forth. Hell, I even tried my had at playing some back in the day, and it just left me feeling kind of dirty.

    In addition to the points you make, I'd also add that it's incredibly insensitive to portray some sort of equivalency between mental illness and wacky shenanigans. Even Call of Cthulhu can be guilty of this, although the new edition goes a long way towards addressing that.

    I'm actually enjoying a brief little foray back into classic Vampire: The Masquerade and I've been mulling over the best way to re-brand Malkavians. The whole "prank" thing has to go. I kind of like the idea of them being the Cassandras, the addled seers, of the vampire world. I'll probably focus heavily on that.

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    1. I second the point about mental illness being played for laughs, that is a thing I'd like to burn with fire. By all means include mental illnesses in your game, but if it's only for acting out and/or for points during character creation, you need to stop what you're doing. Malkavians can be amazing characters, if they are played the way David describes. As pranksters, not so much.

      I also have another kind of 'crazy' character that I hate with the fire of a thousand suns. The 'crazy' that is not being played for being funny, but because the player just wants to kick the story/setting to see what they can break. Again, this is being done with no regards for the story and for the other characters, as long as the player can be destructive in creative ways. This kind is usually short-lived in my experience because the other players get fed up much faster than with the comic relief.

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  3. The Only "crazy" I ever saw done well, was by the stand-down GM (round robin GMs), who knew that timing was everything, and his 'crazy' happened at exactly the right moment to have some fun, get some laughs, but matched the character [Hodor] and happened when it made perfect sense that it should have. Once/Twice a session was the limit.

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    1. Sounds reasonable to me. "Moderation in all things" and all that.

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