Abrasive But Not Intolerable

I got a lot more of a response than I expected from my riff on people with hostile or abrasive character concepts, so I think it’s important to clarify; a little conflict isn’t too bad a thing. It’s just how the conflict’s played out that can make a lot of difference when the player with a teamwork playstyle and the one who finds characters’ annoyance with each other interesting get into the same group.

One is planning ahead—fair warning, if you will. I’ve found that in a lot of cases, people will have a great deal more tolerance for things that they themselves have chosen to get into. A warning, though—this isn’t going to be perfect. Particularly when most of the group is all for something, and the player who needs to agree can’t quite articulate why it might be a problem, and just agrees so the pressure goes away. Personal example: in one play by post I almost got into that never really started, one of the other players decided it would be a bucket of laughs to be engaging with my character in what he saw as harmless banter but from the sample looked more to me like sexual harassment. At the time, I didn’t quite have the concepts to explain my problem with this and didn’t want to deal with the pressure… so instead I just started preemptively plotting vengeance. Keep an eye out for that.

Another is finding points in common to balance out the points of conflict. This one might also take a little planning ahead, but it’s good for making it clear that you’re not just doing it to be annoying, and for group unity in general. Sometimes it’s done deliberately, by seeking out things that can be shared; other times it just happens that two characters with disparate goals, modus operandi or similar issues getting along are still fond of the same legends, share an enmity with the same things… or heck, can just carry on an hourlong conversation about tea. Displaying a trait the other character admires can also be a good impression-countering factor, though it’s one I hardly ever see used. If you can’t get common, complementary will do; imagine

Yet another is having a character who’s pretty much explicitly (at least, explicitly OOC) asking to be given a reason to lose the abrasiveness. Of course, with planned arcs like this there are a number of catches. One is that if you mess up your signals, it’s likely to backfire and just make the character look completely antisocial—yeah, been there, done that. Another is that you can’t tag it on just one person. Okay, technically you can, but if someone else wants to get in on the interesting character development, they’re going to be a little frosted that there’s no room for them.

Then there’s one I’m rather fond of, which is keeping the antipathy a bit more subtle. Sure, this might be the Loner What Trusts Nothing And No One, but who says all such have to make such a big fuss over keeping people at arm’s length? It doesn’t need to be an overstated trait, just a present one, and the real acerbic tendencies can be kept to a minimum against the party and come out in force against the opposition. (You never know; your teammates might even like the way you insult the foes.)

Another thing to note: when it’s a first game with someone, particularly when you’re at a distance and/or have never communicated with them before, make sure they get a first impression of you around the same time that they get a first impression of your character, and play up the contrast. It’s one time when OOC knowledge really is as important as IC knowledge.

I’ve seen most of these put to good use in the games I’ve been in; have you seen them at work, or come across other mitigation tricks?

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