As a GM and as a tabletop player, I find myself falling into this sort of thought process where I think: “golly, I wish people would change up the kind of characters they play more often.”
You know the type. The guy or gal who plays the same character in every single tabletop campaign. I mean, they try to say it’s different, and they cover it up with a fresh aesthetic or maybe a different ability or two. But ultimately, they never really change their style. And you look at that person and you just want to tell them to do something different for once.
It’s weird, isn’t it? This sort of strange elitism where there’s a “right way” to play a tabletop game. It goes beyond the type of character you play to the level of roleplaying you’re willing to engage in. First you’re lame if you’re not saying lines as if you’re your character, then you’re lame if you aren’t doing a voice – eventually you’re gonna be lame for not LARPing, and after that you’ll be lame for not literally being another person. Where does it end?
Here’s the thing. I think the tabletop RPG experience is not the place for the Fun Police. And I’m looking at myself as much as I am looking at anyone else when I type this. There’s no place at the gaming table for telling someone else how they have to play in order to enjoy the roleplaying experience. Because when we boil right down to it, everybody has a style that they are drawn to and boundaries that define how they behave during the game.
Let’s take a look at Skyrim. I enjoy a good Elder Scrolls game as much as the next gamer. And just like with tabletops, when I first started playing Skyrim I had this idea that I always needed to try to do different playthroughs. “This is a mage build, this is a warrior build, now time to be a thief.” I felt like to get the full Skyrim experience that I had to try out all these different paths that the game offered.
It didn’t take long for me to realize that this approach wasn’t working for me. I LOVE playing the thief archetype in Skyrim, specifically a stealth-archer. I have such a blast sneaking up on enemies and carefully placing shots so that they never have a chance to get near me. But when I try to play Skyrim as another archetype, like a warrior or a mage, I don’t have that same sort of fun. The game feels repetitive, the skills I’m developing don’t feel like they have value, and I end up wishing I had the abilities of my typical thief character.
For me, when I play Skyrim in a way where the mechanics don’t appeal to my interests, the game isn’t fun. It makes me want to stop playing Skyrim. And tabletops are the same way.
Here’s an example from an actual tabletop game. I’ve only ever played Dungeons and Dragons once in my tabletop experience. As much as I love tabletop gaming and as many different ones as I have tried (and still want to try), D&D has been a very small part of my experience. When I played, I decided to try out a class that’s pretty different from my usual sensibilities: the wizard. I had a strong vision for the wizard character that I wanted to play. He was old, very old, but charismatic and incredibly intelligent. His years of wisdom made him very knowledgeable and he’d have lots of useful skills to provide to the party in addition to his suite of spells.
Then I actually started to create my character, and problems immediately started to pop up. The wizard really doesn’t have access to a good number of skills. And some of the skills I wanted weren’t class skills, so it would be impossible for me to do them as well as other characters in the party. The one that really sticks out in my mind was Persuasion. Who has the right to tell me that my wizard can’t be both bookish AND charismatic? And yet here I was, already having to sacrifice elements of my character to the rules of the game.
Then there was the actual spellcasting. I hated it. Vancian spells are a pretty unpopular mechanic these days (that could be a whole post on its own), and this game taught me why. I hated the feeling of having ONE OPPORTUNITY to unleash something really devastating and game-changing, and then watching that spell miss or rolling straight 1’s on my damage dice. Once I burned through my spells, my character became effectively useless, but the spells themselves ALSO felt useless. I hated playing the wizard, and honestly I think that experience kind of unfairly colored my perception of D&D.
But here’s the thing: knowing my own negative experience playing a class I really hated, I still have this underlying expectation for other people to play classes outside of their style. “Gosh, I can’t believe Reginald always plays a fighter character. Yeesh, expand your horizons, Reggie.” But it’s not a fair expectation. Reginald knows what appeals to him, and he knows that if he plays something that has a different style than the fighter, that he won’t get as much out of the experience. We all have roles we fall in to, so wouldn’t it be better to embrace those roles? Isn’t that how an adventuring party is formed in the first place? When it comes to this issue, I think I’m speaking as much to myself as I am to any readers. If you’re like me and expect everyone to never do the same thing twice, maybe stop and consider where those thoughts are coming from. Is your concern coming out of a genuine desire for that player to have more fun? Or are you maybe letting something trivial impact your own ability to enjoy the experience?
For those of you who happily understand that you embrace one style, and you stick to your guns no matter what, I salute you. I hope that grumpy guys like me don’t stop you from playing that character again and again. We could learn something from your self-awareness and your ability to just have fun playing the game.
So what about you, adventurers? Do you have a specific character type or style that you tend to stick to? And do you think that’s good or bad? Let me know your thoughts in the comments, and thanks so much for taking the time to read!