Being a better player is about a lot more than figuring out the best build for your character. Everyone loves a good dice roll with lots of damage, but there is so much more to the game. Being a better player isn’t something you do just for yourself; it benefits the entire group. The goal is for everyone to have fun, right?
Role playing games are a group activity. You’re all making a shared story using some dice. While part of that story should be enjoyable and unequivocally yours, the same is true for the rest of the group. The game is about everyone’s characters and even the GM in a way. You all get to take part in this really special thing, which entails a certain amount of responsibility. Have fun, but make sure you’re a good neighbor.
It’s an easy task, really. Just don’t crap all over the neighborhood. If you want to crap, do it in your own yard. Common sense, right? We all have to live there together; lets not make that harder than it has to be.
Strange metaphors aside, consider strongly how your character’s actions effect everyone else at the table. Are they serving to push the story along in a way that is interesting and enjoyable for others? Or are they selfish? How would you feel if another character did what you are doing? Do you have to justify it by say, “But its what my character would do?” If so, chances are you’re not being a great player.
Flawed characters can be extremely fun to play. Not every character can be Ned Stark and nor should they be. Instead of a shining paragon of uncompromising virtue, characters can be cowardly, greedy, or even down right evil. Not only that, it is possible to play those characters and not disrupt the entire game. It’s a little more challenging, but its worth it in terms of story and the fun of your fellow players.
Before you start playing one of those characters, ask yourself some really important questions. What reason does my character have to work with the other PCs? How can I work with these flaws and not have them be to the detriment of other players? Does my character have a path to redemption? These answers can provide extremely rich and rewarding story points.
For instance, I once played a gnome thief who was the classic loner type. Middledink Thislefuzz was the type of character most GMs hate. He didn’t trust anyone and certainly didn’t want anyone’s help. To top it off, he was cowardly and preferred to stay well away from danger. If the PC stalks off alone every scene or encounter, its bound to create all sorts of problems. I didn’t want Middledink to go down that road, if only for my responsibility to the other players at the table.
At first, Middledink stayed distant from the party. He wasn’t interested in talking. There was nothing the Gnome did that was out right harmful toward others; he just wasn’t interested in being part of the team.
If I left it at that, the character would have been boring and one dimensional. It also would have only been a matter of time before the other players were fed up with it. Saying, “I’m just playing my character” is a sad excuse. If my character was that irritating, it means I made a bad character.
This is where the “path to redemption” comes in. Middledink was a loner, sure. I decided that the party would be where he finds family, however. It was his way to over come that particular problem. Sure, he’d loudly protest most decisions, but he’d always go along with them. He was never outwardly nice to the other characters in voice, but often was in deed. He’d simply explain it away.
“Yeah, I gave you my last healing potion. I need you alive so I have someone to hide behind.”
“Well, yes, I’ going into the dungeon with you. If I let you all go alone, you’ll end up dead.”
His jerkiness was presented in such a way that the other characters could view it just for what it was: a tough outer facade which housed a lot of vulnerability. It helps that he found a platypus to cuddle up to at night.
His path to redemption was the manner in which he overcame his flaw. He was a loner, but he’d find family in the party members. He was cowardly, but he would reluctantly put himself on the line for the group again and again. He was greedy, but by begrudgingly sharing, he showed others how he truly felt.
This is why I love playing flawed characters. Its not because it gives them carte blanche to be horrible to everyone else; it is because it gives them a great story to write. How do they over come those faults to be awesome? It would be boring if their short comings didn’t ever manifest. Just refer back to the cardinal rule: only crap on your own lawn. If the flaws are going to create a detriment, make sure they do so to you and not the other players. This includes the GM. Don’t derail a game just to derail a game.
If we all only crapped on our own metaphysical lawns, the world might be a better place.