Thursday, April 3, 2008

See Peas?

Us D&D folks bandy around the term Player Character (PC) on a regular basis, a term meaning those individual characters within a campaign that are controlled by a player. The rest of the characters in a campaign are Non-Player Characters (NPC’s), meaning they are, for the most part, left to fend for themselves in a world of deadly traps and ferocious monsters. Aside from having a very unwieldy title (I mean come on, couldn’t Gygax have done better than NPC?), NPC’s must compete with one another for attention from the default ‘player’ or controller of this multitude of thousands, the Dungeon Master. Most DM’s, at least the ones I am most able to identify with, are busy making the world turn on it’s axis, and consider NPC’s to be just another game facet, a demanding lot who need d20’s rolled for them, Morale checks made, and have funny, unique voices which need to be mimicked.

It’s no wonder, then, that PC’s get to hog the limelight in most campaigns. A PC boasts his very own individual player, a player who is able to carefully craft that character’s personality. These Character Players (CP’s), normally referred to as simply ‘players’, as opposed to the overtaxed god of the campaign, the DM himself, are able to spend countless amounts of creative effort on such tasks as sketching their PC, doodling fanciful weapons and filigree along the margins of their over-sized character record sheets, and rolling dice for the character in a thoughtful, meaningful manner. These PC’s clomp around in the vast, dark pits of the deep down, claiming the hoards of gold and gems hidden carefully there by the DM, and boast about their hard-earned artifacts, stolen from the clutches of the very guardians whom the DM awarded these priceless items to in the first place.

It’s time we take these blue bloods down a peg.

Perhaps the worst nightmare for any CP is the dreaded NPC Party, NPCP for short. These blokes are the anti-thesis of the PC. NPCP’s are not burdened by inter party bickering, they boast character record sheets, which aside from sketches and margin filigree, are as detailed as any PC sheet, and they have a knack for turning up at just the right time during a dungeon crawl. It’s as if they are DM-blessed. These NPCP’s possess an almost mystical single-mindedness, working flawlessly as a team, like a well-oiled machine they spring into action, unleashing their most potent abilities as if their resources were unlimited. Luckily for the CP’s, these NPC’s don’t normally seem too concerned with the trappings and treasure within the very halls of mystery in which they are encountered, their sole purpose, apparently, is to take the PC’s down a peg. In this regard, they are unparalleled. Exactly how they perform their goal is never known by the PC’s upon first encountering such a devilish collection of walking, breathing anti-PC’s.

Perhaps the NPCP will appear to be helpful, their presence alone in the campaign will unsettle the CP’s, who for so long have thought themselves to be the Heroes of the campaign. Perhaps the NPCP will be in friendly competition with the PC’s, this alone has been known to drive CP’s to irrational decision making, daring them to push the borders of safety and threatening to force them to hand their carefully crafted, doodle covered character record sheets to the DM after an untimely death. Perhaps the NPCP is truly helpful, in which case such a scenario will nearly always end up in fisticuffs as the CP’s know that, ultimately, all NPCP’s are evil incarnate. Worst of all, perhaps these NPCP’s are actually pursuing the PC’s, or preparing a devious ambush in some illogical spot in the deep down, surrounded by traps and monsters from within and without. Such tactics truly confound the CP’s, as they try to piece together exactly how such a band of DM controlled NPC’s wound up there in the first place. But aha! Only such DM-blessed characters are able to understand the unnatural laws of the campaign world.

Not that I would ever stoop to such measures in any of my campaigns. This is, after all, a post made with tongue firmly planted in cheek.

Despite all of their uniqueness, sprung from the fact that are born with CP’s to guide them, all PC’s have a fatal flaw. They do inherit much of the traits of their own CP. No amount of role playing will ever mask the fact that they are only as capable as their CP. Thus, we, the DM’s , get to play on these traits and exploit them. We challenge them endlessly, with static obstacles in the form of tricks and traps to befuddle them, with carefully planned encounters set forth to test their mettle, with random wandering monster encounters to keep them on their toes, and with the very lay-out of the dungeons they are so eager to record on maps. Somehow, in the end, they persevere. It might not be on their first attempt, but CP’s are a staunch lot, and unerringly return, often with new PC’s, to conquer such challenges. Through all of this, the PC is still bound by the laws of CP capability. As the CP’s work together and progress through the campaign, we, the DM’s, see these traits. They are unmistakable.

Over the years I have been able to witness and identify some of these CP traits. As such, I want to share some CP personalities that I have been lucky enough to witness in their natural habitat, hunkered down in dim basements, slurping Mountain Dew or more potent libations, with rat like paws caked in Dorito dust. Bright lights often make them freeze in their tracks, and they can become panic-stricken when deprived of their need for constant grazing.

The Rules Lawyer: These guys think memorizing and quoting rules will always save their bacon. Using the rules as such a crutch always ends badly for this player.

The Paranoid Player: Everything and everyone in the campaign is a threat, often including the other PC’s. As likely to save the party from deception as he is to cause a total party kill.

The Anti-DM: “The DM is the opponent, I will defeat him and his cronies. The game and dungeon is a competition, I will overcome every obstacle and claim victory for myself.”

The Jerk: Always knows of other, much better DMs and campaigns. He himself would have handled rulings in a more logical manner. All of your ideas are hackneyed.

The Cut-Up: Nearly everything he focuses his energies on is designed to be funny. Creates many memorable moments, but his pranks often rile the other players.

The Punster: Makes incessant, often hilarious puns. Also known as the Horse-Flogger. Has an almost magical power to make everyone at the table *sigh*, seemingly at will.

Spock: Logical, cautious, thoughtful. More apt to panic when things get really bad. Able to think out tricks and traps, and often likes to slow the game down to his own, methodical pace.

Lazy Larry: Won’t map, won’t be the caller, won’t remember important things. Normally has one go to tactic that he uses to no end.

The Freeloader: Never brings snacks or drinks, is always first in line when magic items are distributed. Whines the loudest when he thinks he is being treated unfairly.

The Lemming: The ‘happy to be here’ guy, always follows and can bring a dungeon crawl to a halt if forced to make a decision. Stops for constant ‘team meetings’ if he ever winds up as the party Caller.

The Devious Note Passer: The progenitor of inter party disputes. I wish I had had the foresight to save such notes from campaigns past. Things like “No Anchovies for me.”

The Yawner: Always has something better to do. Unless the attention is upon his PC, he quickly loses interest. Able to derail party cohesiveness with his idle chat about Battlestar Galactica.

Pig Pen: Messy, disorganized character sheets, messy disheveled dude. Always leaves a mess post session for the DM to clean up. Has never invested in men’s toiletries.

The Dice Hurler: Very enthusiastic about rolling dice. Known to break light bulbs and scamper after dice that miss the table. Progenitor of the house rule that if the die didn’t land on the table, it doesn’t count. Most of his rolls that end up out on the patio are natural 20’s.

The Hermit: D&D is the only reason he leaves his cave. Bright light downright frightens this player, nearly as much as soap or the notion of exercise.

I’m probably forgetting some of the rarer forms of CP’s. I hope to be able to identify further types in the future.

I must say that I know many of the above CP’s have a similar list of DM types. Monty Hall, Doctor Death-Ray, Mr. Monotone, The Lecturer, etc.

And the worst one of all, the smart ass poking fun at players DM with far too much time on his hands…Sham.


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