Confessions of a DM: Player vs. Character

"Epic Swamp" | Art by jjpeabody. Used with permission.
The thing that sets Role-Playing Games apart from other games is—surprise, surprise—the focus on role-playing! Role-play happens when a player assumes the attitudes, actions, and discourse of another person. Instead of moving a pawn across a board to accumulate points and win the game, the player creates a character, steps into their shoes, and interacts with an imagined world. A player does not lose the game if her character dies; she can create a new character and continue contributing to the shared story. There are quests and goals to achieve, but completing them does not automatically end the game, it propels the story forward.

Creating a believable, life-like character can be one of the most delightful parts of RPGs like Dungeons and Dragons. Aside from optimizing stats and customizing a build, the player also gets to create a personality and back story. Often, a player will begin with a set of ideals and traits in mind for his character that will evolve as the game progresses. Being true to your character and role-playing is one of the rewarding challenges in D&D. Players are encouraged to make decisions through their character’s eyes and can be called out for using information that they possess but their character does not.

Just like their players, characters have diverse personalities and goals that don’t always match up with the rest of the party. The Chaotic Druid will call down lightning on anyone who threatens his way of life while the Lawful Fighter is reluctant to kill anyone who is not first proven guilty. The Sneaky Rogue wants to hoard all the treasure for herself while the Compassionate Cleric wants to give it all away to orphans. And the Neutral Bard just wants everyone to sing a song and get along (but nobody likes his music). This wonderful diversity will inevitably lead to conflict between characters. Character conflict can be a good source for development and, when handled respectfully, will add flavour and depth to the story.

At some point character conflicts need to be resolved or the group will fall apart.

A little fighting between player characters is not in itself a bad thing and can often be very fun to play out. But sometimes it can be taken too far and end up ruining everyone’s enjoyment of the game. It’s amusing when the Rogue and the Cleric bicker about what to do with the treasure, and everyone tells the Bard to shut up. However, if these differences are never resolved, they can eventually become a source of irritation for one or more of the players. The Bard’s player starts to feel ganged up on and unappreciated. The Rogue and Cleric start plotting to kill each other and become liabilities rather than assets to the rest of the annoyed party. The point of D&D is for everyone to have fun. It is a game and not real life. At some point character conflicts need to be resolved or the group will fall apart. When in-character arguments turn into player vs. player matches, the game turns personal and is no longer fun for everyone involved.

Occasionally, players have to sacrifice character accuracy for the good of the group. It is okay for a character to do something uncharacteristic in order to reconcile differences. The Druid makes an exception for the Fighter when she gets in his way and instead of killing her, he ties her up and asks for her help. The Rogue pays for the Bard to have singing lessons and everyone is appreciative. Small compromises can make the difference between player enjoyment and hurt feelings.

This strategy can save friendships between in-game characters as well as relationships between players outside of the game. Each character comes with a unique personality, background, and set of skills, just like real people in real life.

This act of compromising is something I’ve realized can translate into my life, as well. I can learn to acknowledge and celebrate differences when interacting with others. When a conflict emerges, I can choose to let the small things go and come to an acceptable compromise for the sake of the friendship, instead of stubbornly holding to what I want. I think a fellow player is worth more than our differences and a human relationship is worth more than a fight.

Sheela Cox

Sheela Cox

Guest Writer at Area of Effect
Sheela talks to horses, loves to dance, and adores making fancy outfits. She lives with a handsome young man in her cozy home filled with books and the smell of fresh-baked cookies. (Photo by Don Nowicki)
Sheela Cox

Latest posts by Sheela Cox (see all)