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Archlyte

Overloaded Background & Expectations

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Problem: Players will sometimes build a character that is overloaded with expectations from the concept or background. The character is essentially built with "plot armor" in the background story, or is given anecdotal supreme expertise in some field or activity that makes their starting character stats a lie. 

Example: I recently had a player build a character who was a royal princess on her home planet but who left that behind to become a smuggler and then a slicer and then a spy. The character had a financial empire that she had walked away from (but that the player said was still out there), as well as a vast spy network and information brokerage that would put the Bothans to shame. The character also had a list of 25+ contacts who could be called upon to perform various services and functions. The player built in associations with most of the known crime organizations, and had apparently had been neutral, then joined the Empire, and then joined the Rebellion but didn't really consider herself a part of the Rebellion and the player told me "The Rebellion doesn't really trust my character." The character also could build any modification or technical device, and had planted data collection devices like Johnny Appleseed. There was a sister of the character that was the only person who knew where the character had gone but was basically holding the assets of the corporation and smuggling operations for the character. The character was equal parts celebrity and secret person as they had numerous fake identities. 

The character basically was Jabba the Hutt, Princess Vespa, James Bond, and Q all rolled into one starting xp character. 

This to me is an extension of the Dark Elf Assassin problem in D&D. Inevitably this character crops up, he is essentially the Cyberdyne Systems Model 101 series 800 with magic knives or swords (sometimes a whip) who has left the dark realm he was born to because killing has become too routine and boring there. He now wishes to travel to new places, meet exotic people and kill them. 

The character is constructed to be a power fantasy of some kind, but has no room to really grow, and he player isn't interested in role-playing any kind of story about the character being at the top but finding something missing (rich but no friends, war but no victory, etc.). This to me always feel like the player is looking for manual stimulation of a kind I can't really describe here over several hours each session. 

This is also combined with a sense that the character has already climbed his mountain, that the character will likely be in situations in the course of the game that are boring in comparison to the exploits they had off-screen in their background story. If the game is starting from humble beginnings this is that much more pronounced. And can you imagine the injustice of such an iconic character being defeated at the hands of anything less than Vader or the Emperor? 

There are some times when a character like this is appropriate, and even desirable. But I feel like loading up a character with a big history of things just designed by the player to be used as a credit card is troublesome. It would be nice for some of the great things in the character's life to actually happen on screen, but this requires that the character actually do something great in the game, which I find rarely happens. 

The character is pre-loaded with cool, yet so often they are the most boring character in the group. You know what they are going to do in situations, and you know the player is going to hit you up for constant goodies and recognition from their past. They are so established that they bow to no man, fear no enemy, and basically have seen it all before. 

What, if anything, do you do as a GM when you are presented with a Mary Sue or Conan as King of Aquilonia but somehow at level 1? A character that is narratively greater than Luke Skywalker, but has the stats of a starting character is hard to represent. Do you just kind of ignore it and use the crazy person toolkit, or do you tell them to chuck that backstory and start over?  I normally make the player rework these things but recently in the name of player agency I decided to let the princess have her backstory and just tried to roll with it, but it was very annoying. The other players complained about the character because they felt her character was ridiculous and because the player made his character like his personality instead of the character from the backstory.

Discussion: How do you handle this?

PS: I'm not asking for advice, I just want to discuss this. I just want to explore the topic. Thanks

 

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3 minutes ago, 2P51 said:

I tell them they're a starting character.  They can keep their background, but while they were away their evil cousin seized control of the financial empire and had assassins cross off all of their contacts.  

Do you ever try to prevent this from happening? If so how do you preempt such a crazy background from showing up? 

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I would never prevent anyone from dreaming anything up they like in regards to backgrounds.  It's a bad idea to tell any PC that because just getting them to invest in one is important.  The basic guidance would be though they aren't getting any sort of mechanical benefit.  They can't narrate big bank accounts and vast resources at session 0 and expect that to be there for them, that simply isn't reasonable.

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7 minutes ago, 2P51 said:

The basic guidance would be though they aren't getting any sort of mechanical benefit.

Key point.  None of their backstory helps with their Streetwise, Negotiation, Knowledge, etc., nor does it confer resources or benefits of any other kind.  In fact, some of it might be a liability.

I wish my players were a little more inventive about their backstories, but I'm blessed not to have to deal with that level of silliness.  I suppose if I had to deal with it, I'd start by saying "This story is about your future, not your past" and make clear that while you might try to weave in some aspects of it, you're under no obligation to do so.

I'd also the player to consider:  "Why, after such an amazing life, am I stuck here in this lowlife bar looking for a few credits so I can put food in my belly?"  There has to be enough in the shadows to contrast with all that tinsel.  So maybe the PC is old, gone soft, and lost their edge, but something has pulled them out of "retirement"; or maybe that evil cousin did take everything and is still hunting them down; or maybe they have injuries, or amnesia, or a drug addiction...anything that effectively explains their "level 1" status and how XP will allow them to recover.  That could make a pretty good story...

TL;DR:  before you let such a player in the game, make sure they can explain their current situation.  If they can't, don't let them in.

 

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I had a similar situation. The player was an Alderaanian noble (with early childhood ties to a certain princess) that left it all to be a blockade runner, he also had a heavily modified YT-1300 with rotating transponder codes among other niceties but it was left on Kashyykk due to a blockade. All by the age of 25 and during the Galactic Civil War.

I thanked him for the details and informed him that since Alderaan was destroyed so were the bulk of his credits and contacts. His YT-1300 wasn't just left on Kashykk, it was impounded at an imperial facility and is now either owned by an imperial moff that loves custom vehicles such as this, or it was scrubbed for data and information that would lead him to be a wanted criminal. 

We talked and he really wants to get his ship, so that is going to be an awesome infiltration mission to Kashyykk with a heist of some sort. 

I think 2P has it right. There is a reason that you're on the Edge of the Empire. When they realize that contacts aren't showing up, or their credits are getting declined they can start to investigate as to what is happening. Turn it into a plot/obligation hook and let the adventures begin!

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That character has way too much going on. The star wars is a pretty massive universe and there isn't any way that any single organisation has a finger in every single pie. Every good storyteller knows to prioritise the background, so that when they enter the game they have a clearly defined backstory, yet for whatever reason they are dipping into the underworld and thus do not have access for the majority of their funds while preforming their underworld face for sake of "remaining more clean". For a more focused background I would ask 10 questions or alternatively offer up to 3 strengths that can be contrasted by up to 3 significant weaknesses. I find that usually provides focus.

To be fair an extensive contact list could be interestingly played out as being the person who knows someone in every starport. However, it's worth knowing that a contact is just that, just because the family has 25+ contacts across a wide range of space doesn't mean that every one of them is necessarily loyal; indeed some contacts might actually turn out to be turn coats or under someone else's payroll, a contact is only as loyal as their most influence backer. Thus drawing on that contact list could be a bit of a lucky dip; sometimes the contact goes at or beyond the call of duty; other times that mechanic who offered to fix your ship for cheap actually disabled the hyperdrive, making it impossible to leave the planet without identifying the correct parts. Of course, narratively that could be the result, more practically the player would be rolling a streetwise check with success/failure and the like determining the effectiveness of the contact, with boosts/setbacks assigned for being with a realistic sphere of influence.

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Question: Did they take on any starting obligation to back up any of this story?  The greater the backstory (aka contacts/goodies) the greater the obligation.

Also such an elaborate backstory and collaborating with all these organisations; sure sounds like they would have made some enemies along the way. 

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Honestly, it would depend a lot on how I felt about the player in general. 

If it was a friend of mind, I'd sit down with them and try to get down to the heart of what they wanted to accomplish with the character; then see if we could pare things down to something more in sync with their stat line.  

If it was someone I was less attached to, they'd find their Gary Stu background catching up with them and biting them in the behind very soon (Oh, you worked for the Empire and the Rebellion?  You worked for multiple competing crime syndicates?  Sure would be a bummer if the wrong person figured that out.)

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First: Mazal Tov! You have a player who came up with a background.

I would simply say: "All of this is good, but I can't work all of it into the game, so let's dicker."

Find out what they want to accomplish, what elements are key, and then suggest some edits / redaction.

In terms of mechanical benefit I would ask them "how are you going to pay for all of that?"

I would, however, make them an offer: "pick the key things and attach obligation to it."

In terms of contacts, tell them contacts are often a two way street: contacts expect quid-pro quo.

What will you have to do to help them in order for them to help you? Repeat after me: reciprocity. 

On the other hand, 25+ is waaaay too many. Negotiate them down to five that can work for your game.

And again, the contacts may help them, but they also give you leverage and hooks.

Players have to be trained. I would never dissuade them from working up backgrounds. I would, however, set boundaries.

The key to a good game is: communication, communication, communication

A pre-game talk in which you both outline your goals and expectations will solve 99% of run-time problems.

 

 

Edited by Vondy

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Go for it. Massive obligation, Delisional, enemies left and right and Frozen and stolen assets. The world is unfair with the poor character! And now we have a great story. Better center tin one of those story arcs and roll with it. No mechanical advantage, but a lot of plot hooks for you as GM right there. 

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Firstly, I would probably be a bit firmer in guidance given at Session 0 to prevent this kind of power fantasy meta gaming from coming into the character build. But also, if there's no investment in roleplaying, I'd go with a suggestion here - maybe the Empire siezed the assets and rolled up the network?

At the moment, I am playing a smuggler. I started in pilot, and then went straight to thief. My backstory is that I was a well renowned thief who took One Last Score, the Canto Bight casino. With the riches I retired and built an unlikely existence on the outer rim, making exotic furniture from giant shells and selling it to the wealthy of the galaxy. Think like a less bottomed-out Will Munny from Unforgiven - the life of crafting something and building a brand was exciting from the outside, but old instincts die hard and when an old friend/flame comes to call in a favour you accept more readily than someone who's actually retired should.

So, I have a business, money, a ship, and employees and none of them impact the game at all. No starting credits; a minor concession for the TT24 holdout blaster because as a slick professional I'd only have the best of everything is all I got. My explanation to the GM was - I want to be really against their (the party) schemes from the start to eventually instigating them. So the comfort of my other life exists but is arms length in case we get arrested or whatever. There's no bolt-hole in my world for this party. When the job's done, I swear I am retiring back to a peaceful existence. Just you watch.

If you can play it like that - it exists, but has no bearing on the story and can't give you much more than the benefit of a blue die on a roll or, if you get a triumph, an old "customer" lives where you happen to be and can give you information.

You need the player though to be a) mature and b) engaged in making their backstory work for the GM, not the player.

 

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2 hours ago, ThreeAM said:

Question: Did they take on any starting obligation to back up any of this story?  The greater the backstory (aka contacts/goodies) the greater the obligation.

Also such an elaborate backstory and collaborating with all these organisations; sure sounds like they would have made some enemies along the way. 

Yeah they had the normal max amount of Obligation to start and I think it was just under Criminal or something. The player seemed to think that powerful enemies were just a good way to add flavor to the character. I really didn't play up these things much because I was trying to ignore some of it. I had other players to tend to as well, and I didn't want to get diverted too much by what I felt was an overdone past. There was already enough going on in the foreground without gong on the ego cruise :)

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2 hours ago, Vorzakk said:

Honestly, it would depend a lot on how I felt about the player in general. 

If it was a friend of mind, I'd sit down with them and try to get down to the heart of what they wanted to accomplish with the character; then see if we could pare things down to something more in sync with their stat line.  

If it was someone I was less attached to, they'd find their Gary Stu background catching up with them and biting them in the behind very soon (Oh, you worked for the Empire and the Rebellion?  You worked for multiple competing crime syndicates?  Sure would be a bummer if the wrong person figured that out.)

Vorzakk I know you aren't saying what I am about to reference directly, but you jogged my mind: I do believe in the cause and effect thing, but I am loathe to actually kill a character for a player being stupid in a meta way because I feel like that is using the content to address behavior. This is a tricky one because it's not the usual type of meta stuff, and involves creative input into the game so it's harder to come down on as an external subject. I don't want to have to say, "just make a reasonable character," but I guess I am going to have to get in the practice of detailing that out. Thank you for your post, I think that relationship with the player has some juice here too, as if I know the player is solid I tend to put up with more as far as creative license. One friend of mine always makes a very competent character but then has him missing an arm or some big drawback to balance it out. He plays to the defecit as well as the strength so I find his characters to be interesting. 

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1 hour ago, Vondy said:

First: Mazal Tov! You have a player who came up with a background.

I would simply say: "All of this is good, but I can't work all of it into the game, so let's dicker."

Find out what they want to accomplish, what elements are key, and then suggest some edits / redaction.

In terms of mechanical benefit I would ask them "how are you going to pay for all of that?"

I would, however, make them an offer: "pick the key things and attach obligation to it."

In terms of contacts, tell them contacts are often a two way street: contacts expect quid-pro quo.

What will you have to do to help them in order for them to help you? Repeat after me: reciprocity. 

On the other hand, 25+ is waaaay too many. Negotiate them down to five that can work for your game.

And again, the contacts may help them, but they also give you leverage and hooks.

Players have to be trained. I would never dissuade them from working up backgrounds. I would, however, set boundaries.

The key to a good game is: communication, communication, communication

A pre-game talk in which you both outline your goals and expectations will solve 99% of run-time problems.

 

 

Yeah and see this is true, a Background Story is better than none, but it's not always a good thing because it can be abused. 

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53 minutes ago, MonCal said:

Go for it. Massive obligation, Delisional, enemies left and right and Frozen and stolen assets. The world is unfair with the poor character! And now we have a great story. Better center tin one of those story arcs and roll with it. No mechanical advantage, but a lot of plot hooks for you as GM right there. 

Yes I agree and this is the right answer if everyone in the party is on board. The other players instantly rebelled against this player's backdrop and wanted nothing to do with it or its consequences. 

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Two letters: NO

How old was this character? It looks like 3 lifetimes worth of backstory.

I would be very up front about the fact that the backstory does not provide assets to the character. You may have had a financial empire, but you dont have the ability to get credits or assets from it just because you have it in your backstory. You may have had contacts, but you cant get classified info just because you had it in your backstory.

On the other hand, if we do an entire campaign of you regaining control of all these things in your backstory, that is fine. If the other players buy in, then I have a campaign pre-setup. 

All this depends on what I was thinking about for the campaign also. If I am setting up a campaign where you are all nerf herders and the Empire just decided to depopulate the planet, then I would say a solid no to the backstory. If I was doing RED: the Star Wars edition, then it would probably be fine.

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1 hour ago, Archlyte said:

Yes I agree and this is the right answer if everyone in the party is on board. The other players instantly rebelled against this player's backdrop and wanted nothing to do with it or its consequences. 

Seems like it fixed itself then

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Also, make it a bit of a burden for the character. You don't rise so highly without making a few waves, and that carries with it enemies and challengers. If they want to be that OP, then they have to eat the desserts that come with it.

 

Sorry for the metaphor, it was rushed.

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9 minutes ago, korjik said:

Also: Where do you find these players! 

I would like to say that everyone in the hobby is a Nobel laureate and a well adjusted person, but the incidence of unusual personalities seems to be to be pretty high just judging from the average person you run into in the stores and at gathering for Tabletop Role-Playing. I'm sure I meet somebody's description of a weirdo though, and so I try to give people the benefit of the doubt until they remove my optimism. Also I feel like very often someone I play with will really be a nice person, but not be up to snuff on RP manners and skills. 

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12 minutes ago, Endersai said:

Also, make it a bit of a burden for the character. You don't rise so highly without making a few waves, and that carries with it enemies and challengers. If they want to be that OP, then they have to eat the desserts that come with it.

 

Sorry for the metaphor, it was rushed.

Yeah and they rarely do. Every once in a while I find someone who wants to just swing for the fences and is actually ok with the stakes of the game. More often I get this sort who want the title of badass but not the responsibility. 

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1 hour ago, Archlyte said:

The other players instantly rebelled against this player's backdrop and wanted nothing to do with it or its consequences. 

Which gives you an instant pretext for a regnant-wave of your negatory hand....

If the other players hate it, he needs to edit or drop it.

Edited by Vondy

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