Because I am one of the game masters in our local circle of role-playing friends, my players regularly confront me with a bevy of frustrating questions during character generation. They run the gamut from, “Is it cool that I carry this katana around in public?” to, “I know your game is set in Stalinist Russia, but can I please play the illegitimate son of the Aztec god Quetzalcoatl?” It’s enough to make any sane GM cry. Even though you want to say no, to grab the player by the lapels and scream at him until he understands how little sense it makes for the spawn of a South American god to be fighting evil in the Soviet Union, there’s a part of you that wants to give in, hoping that in doing so, it will curry favor for your scenario.
Don’t listen to it. Of all the devious voices whispering inside your head, this one is certainly the dumbest.
(More after the break.)
Those of you who have listened to Episodes 007 and 012 might recognize the scenario I have outlined above; if you go back to our interview with Chuck in particular, you’ll hear some great advice on how best to handle it. You should feel comfortable saying no during character creation, before the players’ actions have consequences that can unintentionally influence your plot. At that point, you can guide your players toward a character that can flourish and grow during your game, rather than one who’ll stick out like a tattooed Hell’s Angel at a church ice cream social. If you can get the stories that your players want to tell to dovetail with your own overarching plot, I promise you that magic will happen.
On the other hand, if you feel like torturing yourself and giving your players a hard time, you could always see how well Quetzalcoatl Jr. would fare against the NKVD. I don’t think that’d end too well, do you?
To be honest, I occasionally experience this conundrum from the other side. I’ll see something amazing — like Tom Knapp, the Benelli shotgun guy — and I’ll think, “That’s a character I want to play!” Granted, I’ve yet to bust out my professional shotgun trick shooter at a game, but I can understand the impulse of someone who would. If I ever did ask to play a character whose only defining characteristic is that he’s the Michelangelo of the pump-action twelve gauge, I would hope that my game master would at least encourage me to give him a little more depth, because no matter how cool it’d be to hit a moving target with a shotgun blast at fifteen yards while firing over my shoulder with my eyes closed, I’d get awfully bored without an honest-to-Jesus motivation.
That said, I’d like you all to check out this awesome video of a “modern samurai” slicing things in half with unbelievable precision. As you watch, feel free to speculate about how cool it’d be to play a character with that kind of skill; after all, if he can chop a raw egg in half, imagine what he could do to in a street fight! But remember this: even though you might be a surgeon during combat, your modern samurai will probably fall short of your expectations unless you know more about him than his proficiency with a sword — plus, you’ll probably be arrested for carrying around that katana, unless your GM is unnecessarily generous.