I remember the first time I saw it. The movie had been out for years but they had finally gotten around to the television series and after the first couple of seasons, the show was gaining a bit of a following. I’d seen the movie, but I hadn’t cared for the series. At the time, we were playing the White Wolf system with Vampire the Masquerade and Werewolf. We had been talking about the other books as well, Mage and Changeling. But for some reason, this television series was taking hold of my group and warping the game. Our GM tried to deal with it, to temper it, to work it into his game world. But let’s be honest, a vampire who carries a freaking sword around and is looking to chop heads off because he thinks he’s an immortal human in a never-ending fight against evil is going to be difficult to work into the Camarilla. Maybe the Sabbat would be better! The GM finally had to step in and tell people that this game world doesn’t have The Highlander in it and they needed to stop with all the sword fights in the streets or he would kill their characters off.
While I understand his frustrations, I think he was overreacting to the situation. There are *dozens* of ways to accommodate the various trends and passions of your players, it’s just a matter of finding that elusive middle ground. The thing that you have to do is understand that you can’t stop them from being excited about a popular movie, game, book, or series. No matter how you slice it, they are going to warp some aspect of your game into their idea of what they think the game should look like. That’s part of what gaming is, the players are making their contributions to the game and making it a better story. The problems arise when things simply can’t work the way that they want and they must work the way that you need them to. However, with a few tips, you can get your players into the game and playing the character that they want without it disrupting your game world too much. Let me show you how!
Tip: Let Them Eat Cake
In the situation I just described, it didn’t take long for the two in the group who had been watching the television series to infect everyone else with their excitement for the show. (Just not me!) Before you knew it, the GM was frustrated and suddenly we weren’t getting together as often as before because his schedule suddenly changed. (Yeah, right.) Meanwhile, I had been looking for solutions to this division in our group and I had an answer. In this context, there were a lot of similarities between the two genres. We’re talking about immortality, the ability to take gifts/powers from others, and a secret society that lived behind the veil of humanity. When I looked at the situation, it seemed very simple to me actually. And with a bit of work, I manipulated the White Wolf system in order to create a new character class, The Highlander!
Everything was already there for me to use. The system lent itself quite well to the changes, the only thing I really had to do was change some labels. Blood became Quickening, I had to change the rules for what happens when your power levels are too low, and I had to change the supernatural abilities to better reflect the things I’d seen in the movie and heard about from the show. By the time I was done, I had a relatively decent manipulation in place that only required a bit of tweaking from time to time as we played the game. These characters could stand in the White Wolf universe next to any of the other fantasy creations of that game as an equal. And their powers and abilities were in line with the movie and the television series. (Note, everyone agreed to ignore the second movie as the terrible idea that it was!)
In this situation, I ended up running a game of just these immortals, separate from the Vampire game. The GM refused to have this manipulation in his game and the players wanted to be Highlanders going around and chopping off people’s heads! In my mind, having one or two players in a group who are doing something different wasn’t that difficult to deal with. It’s a simple matter of accommodation and compromise. The Highlander story could easily fit in the World of Darkness as another layer to add drama. They just needed to figure out reasons why they would be working with vampires and werewolves. So, think about it. Letting them eat cake is a viable solution if you can get it to fit in your game world!
Tip: Lost Races and Mutation
I once had a new player come to me wanting to play a completely different kind of elf in my D&D campaign. At the time, my game world was a relatively new creation and I was looking for ways to flesh it out even more. The elf that this person wanted to play was from an anime series that they loved. I sat down with them and had a conversation about what the elves in this anime were like and what abilities they had. After hearing about what this anime was doing, I had some serious doubts! There was no way that I could allow this kind of thing into my game world, they were just too powerful! It would upset the balance and throw the group into chaos to have that kind of thing going on! As I was explaining this to them, it suddenly occurred to me that they weren’t looking for the power aspects of this race. They liked the way that they looked and some minor glamour type magic that surrounded them for dramatic effect.
Well, that was a completely different situation! And not only that, I even managed to work this new race of elves in AS IS, straight from the anime eventually! I made these elves a Lost/Legendary race of elves who had long ago migrated to the Celestial Realms in search of a safer place. There they made a home among the powers in those realms, eventually becoming the servants and warriors in service to powerful Archangels or even the Gods themselves! And in their society, the worst crimes were punished with banishment back to the world they had fled along with the stripping of most of their powers they had acquired through living in the Celestial Realm. By making this compromise with this player, I was able to give them the ability to play the character they wanted while also expanding and fleshing out my game world.
The other aspect of this is mutation. Genetic variation happens all the time in small ways every day. Humans who existed two thousand years ago don’t look like we do now, nor did they have the same degree of variety seen in the humans today. Exposure to radiation(magic?) causes radical variations from one generation to the next. So, why couldn’t a player be able to play a character that looks different than the rest of their kind? Maybe they could even lose a racial ability in exchange for a different ability of equal worth? You don’t need to create something completely from scratch, this character can be a one-off creation for this one campaign alone. But, do you know how excited your player would be if they knew that they spawned an entirely new race in your game world? Food for thought on this! I’ve done this kind of thing in the past, and even though I decided that I didn’t like the race enough to let them continue, it is a brief chapter of my D&D world’s history! Yet another layer to a game world that has lasted over two decades!
Tip: Culture Shock and Racial Characteristics
When two different cultures meet, there are often different behaviors or customs that seem out of place or strange between the two. Societies are constantly changing and evolving with the mindset of people toward any number of different influences. Often it becomes a point of pride and something to celebrate because you grow up in your culture and naturally, you think it’s the best. But culture is a tricky thing. You can have a different culture in different towns, you can have a different culture in different neighborhoods, and even in different households! The further you get away from your area, the more likely the culture is to change into something that you don’t recognize anymore. I moved from North Carolina to Colorado and it was culture shock, no doubt about it!
So, when someone is playing their character outside the lines a little bit, culture is an easy explanation for the twist! I like to use Gimley from The Lord of the Rings movies as my example for this, so keep that character in mind. In the movies, the character is somewhat of a classic example of a Dwarf, at least in the context of my game world. But I have a group of Dwarves in my world who are scholars and eschew battle or physical conflicts. Definitely not your typical Dwarves! And the reason that I have that group of Dwarves is because of one player in my game world who wanted to play something very different, they wanted to play a Dwarven Priest who was a follower of a pacifist deity. This priest spent all of their spare time in the libraries of the oldest human cities, learning how to be a better healer and a better diplomat. Their goal was to end all conflict in the world, to bring peace to the entire planet.
This gave me the idea of putting an entire troupe of Dwarves in charge of the oldest library in my game world. So, imagine a culture of Dwarves who find battle distasteful and prefer to read a book as opposed to chopping up orcs! Now, my point here is simply this. If someone is playing a character and they are doing so in a manner that is emphatically NOT how the race should be played, why not say it’s a cultural difference and that they come from some out of the way place? It’s not so difficult to imagine! It wasn’t that long ago that people were trying to start their own communes and in doing so, attempting to create a different culture within the culture of the greater community! Maybe Dwarves have their own share of hippies and some of them got together to create a commune? This same principle can be applied to a lot of other situations as well!
The other thing that I’d like to address is the differences between races. In the games we play, we get the different racial characteristics from the books for a reason. The authors of these books are painstakingly evaluating each racial characteristic to ensure that no one race is better than any of the others. Different but equal are the keywords to use here. When a player wants to add a twist from something they’ve picked up somewhere else, it can sometimes seem innocent enough, but in the end, it could completely skew the game. Take the interaction between Legolas and Gimley in the Lord of the Rings movies. Gimley challenges Legolas to a drinking contest and it turns out that Legolas is immune to the effects of alcohol. Seems innocent enough to allow one of your players to have that ability?
What if Legolas wasn’t a nice guy? How many people could he scam by challenging them to drinking contests for coin? Do you see the potential for abuse here? You have to think about things from the other side and take it to the worst place. It doesn’t matter how nice the person in front of you is, the next person may not be so nice and now you’ve set a precedent. So, if you are going to let someone have little changes that don’t really seem to matter, even if you can’t see the potential for manipulation, you need to take something or somehow do something to balance it. In the example, if I decided that Elves in my game world would have an immunity to alcohol, I would make it so that they get drunk on the smell of tulips or something! It’s only fair! And to be honest, it would be hilarious to have the Elf in the group suddenly three sheets to the wind in the middle of a battle because the wind blew and they got a whiff of some tulips!
Tip: Injury, Illness, and Insanity
I once read a story about several people all over the world who, after suffering traumatic head injuries, suddenly developed a foreign accent. Imagine waking up in a hospital bed and you’re speaking with a Russian accent and you can’t stop! When I was growing up, a guy from my neighborhood got into a really bad car accident and was in a coma for four days. Afterward, people said that he just wasn’t the same person anymore, he didn’t act the same way he used to. The physical body is an amazing thing, able to stand up to some really serious punishment. But that doesn’t mean that you can always walk away completely unscathed! In our game worlds, we play the heroes. We can battle monsters and evil overlords and all manner of things that go bump in the night. But the truth is, it’s all fantasy, it’s all a fiction. Because in reality, NOBODY can survive the things our characters survive with barely a scratch!
So, why not use a bit more reality in your game? If someone wants to play a character outside the lines, it’s really easy to say that they suffered a head injury and that’s why their Elf speaks with a Scottish accent! And the super smart, urban kid who grew up in the ghetto who speaks the Queen’s English? They got mugged and took a shot to the head. See how easy that is? Same goes for someone who plays a character outside the norms of that culture. Maybe they fell out of a window as a child, maybe they were hit by a car. When it comes to accidents that can change people, it’s really just a matter of a bit of creativity and a plausible storyline! This works for illness as well! The character could have been deathly ill as a child and when they recovered they were never the same and nobody can explain it! A death’s door encounter, while a bit trite, is a great way to explain away some pretty strange behavior!
Another aspect that you can use in this manner is the insanity factor. You could even use it together with illness or injury. One of my favorite kinds of character’s to play are those who are slightly off in the head. Little things like this can actually help to flesh out your character, but in this case, it helps to integrate someone’s character concept. So, when someone in your game claims something off and a bit odd like all Dwarves are allergic to strawberries or something, you can just treat them like the slightly mad individual that they are! In the end, everyone still gets what they want and the game still moves forward with everyone having fun!
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