Working Around “What Am I Doing Here?”

One of the perennial problems of playing in an RPG is the risk that you’re going to end up with That Character. The one who was a really cool concept originally, or who fits your style perfectly, or what have you—only then you get to the actual game and they end up completely unsuited to whatever’s going on. Good in their specialty, sure, but behind the party in some ability or set of abilities that always seems to come up. Particularly if it seems like it’s all the situations that seem to come up. Yes, one can get around some of this by retiring the character and bringing in another, more suited one, but sometimes that’s just not feasible, or not desirable.

So what can you do instead?

  1. Talk to the GM. Unless you know for sure the GM is the problem, there is no in-game issue that should not at some point be addressed by a chat with the GM. If you’re not having fun, she’s probably not having fun either. And if the GM thinks there’s absolutely no problem even after a good explanation with clear examples, then that might tell you a thing or two about whether the game is really something you want to be in.
  2. Talk to the other players. They might have ideas that you can run by the GM—or if nothing else, if they’re more experienced than you are with the system or with how the GM works (at the very least, they have to be doing something right if they’re doing better in the predominant situation than you are), they might be able to help you with some of the other possible ways of addressing the problem.
  3. Find an aspect of the problem you can apply your skills to. With a lenient GM, this can lead to things like trying to get around battles by force of intimidation or rhetoric rather than arms, or getting around social situations by knowledge of the situation and a knack for picking out every logical fallacy they use; even sticklers for the rules, though, might let you roll “I know things about this!”–and even D&D has uses for lying on the battlefield. (Seriously, social monsters—feinting rules can be your friend.)
  4. Make your buddies better. Easy though this is to forget in many circumstances (particularly when one has gotten used to an offense-heavy strategy in video games), sometimes the key to a problem isn’t so much attacking it as setting someone else up to attack it, or making sure it doesn’t attack someone else. And yes, this does work in social situations; a combat-pro can be the bad cop/worse option her more social teammate puts on the table in a debate, and a knowledge specialist can quietly fact-check for her more silver-tongued buddy.
  5. Adjust stats accordingly. This is, admittedly, more of a long-term solution, but sometimes it’s necessary; if you’re rapidly discovering that you’re a combat monster with a GM who equates rolling initiative to dental work, or you’re a social monster and you can’t remember the last time you weren’t fighting for your life sometime in a session, shoving your mechanics more in line with the overall theme is at the very least necessary.

It’s rough being The One Who Doesn’t Fit the Usual Situations, but it’s not completely impossible to work around—you just can’t limit yourself to “keep attacking the problem the same way you’ve been attacking it and hope the dice take care of it.”

3 comments

  1. Due to a little experiment with the way I’m running my current game, about 2 sessions in, I thought I had an entire party of ‘that guy’. Nobody seemed sure how their skill sets would fit the adventure, and how they could compliment each other. I think I’m damned lucky indeed that the players seemed to realise that this could carry on unless they did something about it. Since then, they’ve totally embraced the sandbox play I’ve been trying out, and have started plots based on what they can do, and have an interest in, instead of waiting to become useful.

  2. UZ says:

    Take refuge in your weaknesses and embrace them! Nearly all GMs will allow a “good idea” past even if your character is technically not an idea person or doesn’t have the skills to make *some stat-based equivalent* work.

    Consider, for example, if you have created a D&D fighter with the standard fighter Charisma of 8. Unskilled negotiator! So, when negotiating time arrives, what do you do?

    1) Bad Cop – create tension with threats of violence
    2) Stonewall – dismiss offers unreasonably
    3) Obnoxify – generate an atmosphere of difficulty and annoyance that the other party will do anything to defuse or escape

    None of these require a “roll” to determine your success via Charisma because all of them are being a jerk, something which requires little or no social skills. The trouble is, to use this technique honestly you have to establish this as your character rather than a metagaming strategy.

    Now, if you’re really playing a *role*, you might decide that your character really is a poor negotiator and that you’re comfortable with the consequences of that, but many of the challenges in a normal RPG are lethal and you may get tired of playing your role to the bitter end when that end is horrible and quick.

    So, use your weaknesses as weapons! It is more fun to play an audacious failure than a dead body.


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