Journal of the Emerald Specter 65: Playing the “Unique” Characters

I was three or four paragraphs into expounding on a topic I’ve already covered when I decided that I didn’t want to rehash the same information… and realized I didn’t have much more to say than I’ve already said. So, why don’t I just go over that little bit and move on to the topic of this particular column.

When thinking about Discovery versus the Orville, the Orville is the one worth watching. If I want dreary, un-Star Trek like Star Trek, I’ll go watch something other than Star Trek. CBS has not only missed the mark, they’ve actively started driving away long term Star Trek fans, of which I am one. I just don’t care about what Discovery has to say anymore.

Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest again, let’s move to a little RPG topic I decided to come out and talk about… 

Wherever there is a roleplaying game, you can be sure that someone playing in that game wants to play something either completely off the wall or something that has been specifically stated they can’t play it…

In short, if you’re told in a Star Trek game you can’t play a Borg, one of the players will inevitably say they want to play a Borg.

I’ll be honest, I’ve wanted to play some unique characters, too, but I listen to the barriers erected by the person running the game and tried to work within that specific set of parameters. Basically, I’d try to come up with something interesting based on what was available and what kind of mood I was in.

There was a time, though, I actually got into an argument with someone over this very subject. Since the argument was involving Vampire the Masquerade, I’m going to go into depth on that.

I was coming into a group that the game master (GM, storyteller in VtM) had specifically limited the available playable Vampire clans to the Camarilla (meaning Brujah, Gangrel, Ventrue, Toreador, Malkavian, Nosferatu, and Tremere at the time), with no exceptions. So one of the other players, whom I’ll call Steve, wanted to play an Assamite… they are the stereotypical assassins of VtM.

While you’re looking at the list of Camarilla clans, you’ll notice that Assamite is not one of them. The GM didn’t want an Assamite in the game, so the request was understandably denied. Steve fought and fought, basically throwing an adult version of a hissy fit.

I was originally going to play a Brujah gang banger… then Steve and I got into an argument.

What I asked Steve, point blank, was why he couldn’t play an assassin from one of the available clans? His response related directly to the stereotypes of each of the clans (Brujah being gang members and bikers, Gangrel being woodland folk, Venture being uppity socialites, Toreador being airheaded artsy types, Malkavians being “ha ha” crazy, Noserfatu being sewer dwellers, and Tremere being conspiracy magician types). If you wanted to play a Ventrue, by Steve’s understanding, you HAD to play an uppity socialite.

I challenged Steve that you could be anything from any clan, meaning that the stereotype was a broad generality and Steve was not seeing that they could be anything but their most base generic surface features. Steve complained and I replied that I could be something that, in his mind, wasn’t possible.

May I also say that the GM found this argument very entertaining, mainly because Steve was being an inflexible ass and someone else was standing up to him.

Steve challenged me to do exactly what I said I could do… so I chucked out my Brujah gang banger, totally in the stereotype of the clan, and decided instead to play a Toreador assassin.

Yes, a Toreador assassin.

The Toreador, as a stereotype, are into art and music. They make paintings, sculptures, clothing, and all kinds of things that make them the generic airheads Steve thought they were because that’s how he saw “artsy types.” I want to go on record that I do not see artsy people like that, but in order to drive home my points, I’m using the Toreador stereotype in a somewhat derogatory way.

Silas Bancroft was born in the early 60s, grew up and was embraced into the clan in the middle of the “free feeling and loopy” 70s, finally to be trained as the personal assassin of the Prince of Memphis (Tennessee). The game was being played in the early 2000s and that made my Toreador a whopping 40 or so years old.

Steve was beside himself. How could anyone become a quality assassin in such a short period of time? That was along side the fact that if he wasn’t admiring the latest Jackson Pollock painting he couldn’t possibly function.

Well, Steve pointed out that the clan flaw of the Toreador was to be “unable to turn away from a thing of beauty.” That meant I had to play Silas as someone who couldn’t pass a bus stop advertisement because it was a pretty picture. How could an assassin be effective stopping to smell all the roses along the way?

The GM and I both understood that the weakness meant that Silas had his own beautiful thing he couldn’t turn away from… and I decided that Silas really loved the sight of the true dead. The reason he’d been trained as an assassin in the first place is his desire to see things die, in a most permanent fashion.

If you think that Steve lost his mind, you would be correct. He couldn’t tolerate this “complete lack of respect for the rules” and decided he didn’t want to play anymore. Steve then left.

Before I move on, I ended up playing that Toreador assassin until his untimely demise (which came when I botched an assassination attempt and was killed by the bodyguards of the target).

The whole point of this scenario was to show anyone that you can play something “unique” without having to bend the rules to achieve that goal. Steve really wanted to be the unique Assamite in a game that Assamites weren’t allowed in more than he actually wanted to play an assassin.

I’ve played in and run email SIMs that took place in the Star Trek universe. In those games, despite being expressly prohibited from playing “connected Borg,” you’ll get at least one player asking to be a Borg who is still connected to the Collective… why?

Someone reading this is probably one of those people and that person is probably saying they do it because they “want to shake things up.” Why? In a galaxy without Jedi, you want to be the one guy who still uses the Force as a Jedi? You need to absolutely be the one Borg who isn’t disconnected? The thing that makes you complete as a human being means you need to be the only person who is allowed to play a human Cylon when you weren’t allowed to play them?

Take the game that you are going to play in, look at the limitations, and figure out what you want to actually accomplish in the game and then work with what you are allowed to work with from that starting point.

Lately, I’ve been listening to a few actual play podcasts in recent days and I am overjoyed to hear things that I haven’t ever personally experienced: players creating characters within their limitations AND the players not being antagonistic towards the GM.

Yeah, the GM isn’t the enemy! A story is being told, it isn’t a competition!

I’m interested in telling stories with friends in a game where we’re all bound and playing within the same limitations. If I want to play something I can’t play, I will find a way to get as close to that WITHIN THE LIMITATIONS as I can… because I am not a beautiful and unique snowflake like Steve was in my example. He’s a delicate little flower that needed to have his way or he was taking his ball and going home… and he did.

Do what you can with what you have and let’s all start playing better games, shall we?