Players come to the table with a lot of different desired levels of roleplay for outside of sword and board combat. Today, we try to help a character keep their individuality without becoming a liability to the rest of the party.
Dear DovahQueen: What do I do if a player’s intentional lack of optimization for roleplay reasons is causing difficulties in combat? My player nerfed herself on purpose and now everyone always dies!—Not Trying To TPK
Dear TPK: I’ve seen (and been guilty of) this before, and I’d be willing to bet that it’s not as uncommon a problem as it may seem at surface level. One of the most common player types is the power gamer; these folks aren’t exactly known for making the most conceptually well-developed personalities a character can have. That’s not to say that a character that performs well in the system can’t also make sense in concept and in roleplay, but every one of us has seen a celestial half-vampire, half-dragon, prince with 4 different classes and enough rule-technicalities to make your head spin. So, it makes a lot of sense when a whole other caste of players develop–the roleplay purists. I personally fall into this camp more than I do any other, and it makes a whole lot of sense to me when other people do as well. These players might feel like the story, mood, and tone of the game is diminished by characters that don’t have the “feel” of real people. They want to see characters with hopes, dreams, weaknesses, failures, flaws, and generally well-developed psyches. Again, that’s not to say that a character can’t perform well in both system and roleplay, but it sounds to me like your player might be struggling to find the balance here.
First and foremost, I would trying to approach this situation with as much understanding of their intention as possible. It’s hard to be upset with someone who’s just trying to make a damn-good character, but you are pretty justified in wishing that they were a bit better able to keep up with the others. I would do two things: ask them as much about their character as you can and brainstorm ideas to improve their efficiency in the system without altering their concept. Sometimes a player likes to pick a feat that doesn’t necessarily help them accomplish much but just helps describe or codify a feature of their character. For example, a fighter that takes Skill Focus: Craft (Glassblowing) isn’t likely to get a whole lot of mileage out of this feat, but it’s fair that the player wants the character’s love of making tiny glass sculptures to be represented. In this example, I would recommend to the player that they keep max ranks in Craft (Glassblowing) as a skill, but maybe allocate that feat choice to something more useful and still describes their character. Perhaps Iron Will, Great Fortitude, or Toughness could represent countless hours in front of a hot furnace. Maybe they could run with Weapon Focus (Spears) because they have many years of experience holding material in the kiln. This is going to be what you need to do; find the areas where they’re sacrificing value in favor of RP and work with them to find a better balance while you have a clear understanding of how they’re trying to build this character.
If their intention really is to just be real bad and generally exist as a liability, then you have another whole issue on your hands altogether. That’s the behavior of someone who is exceptionally dissatisfied with the game for whatever reason. Your best bet then is just to talk to them; figure out what’s going on. Maybe they’re bothered that the game is headed in one direction and not in another. They could just be upset that every time they come up with a super cool plan to infiltrate the raider’s base and rescue the hostages, the robot and the gunslinger start randomly murdering everyone in the area because they thought that guy gave them a funny look, and now we have to fight our way in through a hail of gunfire instead of doing this the smarter and easier way that didn’t involve getting me shot with a nat 20 in the gut! *cough* John *cough*
So yeah, try talking to them. A lot of problems can be solved by simply asking the player what you can do to help them, listening, and trying to approach the situation from their point of view.
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