PDA

View Full Version : Cultural Idiosyncrasies - and Bullheaded Players



Malruhn
08-07-2011, 08:01 PM
Has anyone set up a nice culture - and had a player roll up a character from that area - and totally ignore the culture?

As an example, how about a nice Norse-like culture (barbarians and going a viking), and the person wants to get decked out in plate armor and a katana...

Or a nice Japanese-like culture (ronin, samurai, etc), and the player wants to be named "Bob Smith" and have blond hair and use nothing but western equipment???

I am putting the final touches on my campaign world - with rich cultures and idiosyncrasies - with stuff like hair styles (colors), dress, arms and armor types, and even naming conventions (some have familial names, others have clan/regional names, etc)... and I had a sudden thought that it may be for naught.

Will I end up with lots of resistance from new players in my group (when I get a new one started?)? Would YOU have problems with stuff like this? If YOU had players that didn't want to "conform", how would you handle them?

Thanks!!

Sascha
08-07-2011, 09:24 PM
Some tips to avoid confusion.
* Prepare a list of sample names, appropriate to the culture/setting.
* Tailor the equipment list to regions. If a culture doesn't have <item x>, take it off the table as starting options.
* Most importantly, make sure these limitations are communicated *before* character generation. (And preferably, also during character generation.)

Some tips to deal with confusion.
* Bring up the mismatched item (name/gear/whatever), in a neutral manner.
* If the player can't think of an appropriate change, suggest one that fits. If it helps, get the rest of the group involved in the process.
* If the player won't think of an appropriate change, politely part ways for the duration of the game.

Seriously, this is not a burden the GM shoulders alone. The player is as responsible for making the game enjoyable for all involved as the GM. When their character detracts from anyone's fun, it's time to reexamine the situation. The way I see it, the game is a social contract and by participating, you're agreeing to abide by its terms (setting conceits, in this case).

Umiushi
08-07-2011, 11:17 PM
(I see that while I was writing this, Sascha has come up with a more concise post containing very good advice. This is advice I generally follow, and much of my post assumes that the GM has taken similar steps.)
Has anyone set up a nice culture - and had a player roll up a character from that area - and totally ignore the culture?I have occasionally created a setting reflective of one or more specific cultures and had one or two would-be players blithely ignore my work. Since I take some trouble to explain the details and restrictions that I care about in advance of play, I assume this is due to my material not being read. That's sort of like raising the death flag for being in a game of mine.

I've also had players who understand the setting politely ask if they can do something different, in which case I have to evaluate whether I can go along with their request, we can find some common ground, or I have to refuse.

The corollary to this is that it's my responsibility to explain what, if any, cultural basis there is to the campaign, especially if it differs from the norm of the system I'm using. Players can't read my mind, after all. Also, players are not necessarily as familiar with the cultures I might wish to use. The flip side is that some players might be more familiar with the cultures, but that's a different matter.

Of course, I'm not perfect: I overlook things; I'm pressed for time; I take things for granted when I shouldn't. When something like this happens, then it's a test of the rapport you have with your players.
Or a nice Japanese-like culture (ronin, samurai, etc), and the player wants to be named "Bob Smith" and have blond hair and use nothing but western equipment???This would be dependent on how much foreigners are tolerated in the setting. I run at least one setting where there are no "strangers from faraway lands" permitted, and it's important to state that at the outset. It's also fair, even if there are such persons, to limit them to NPCs, but again it's important to state that at the outset.

Even in the case where PCs are foreigners, some types of foreigners are simply not acceptable. In a relatively serious game, a poorly-chosen name can grate on other players as well as the GM.
Will I end up with lots of resistance from new players in my group (when I get a new one started?)?It depends, doesn't it?

If I come to a group of players and say, "I'd like to run such-and-such," and they suddenly discover that their favorite reruns are airing during the scheduled game time, that's a good signal that I need to rethink what I'm doing. The best way to avoid situations like this, if you already have an established group, is to poll them about the kind of game they want, decide if that's the kind of game you want to run, and negotiate the details in advance. That's worked reasonably well for me over several years of offline play.

Now I understand that, if you don't have a group of players lined up, but you've spent a significant amount of personal time working on your campaign, the situation is different. In that case, it's just a matter of how well you promote your setting. That's where you find the balance between how much you want to run a game in general vs. how much you want to run your specific game.

If both of these are really important, rather than compromise, the best approach might be to save your labor of love for some future gaming group, and start afresh by asking what the players want to play.
Would YOU have problems with stuff like this?I've had situations reminiscent of this, both on a group level and on an individual level, as described above.
If YOU had players that didn't want to "conform", how would you handle them?In either case, once the setting is established, on those points where it is necessary to conform, the players either conform or they are not my players. Where it is not necessary to conform, then it's in the realm of the players' choice, and becomes a matter of how well I "sell" the setting to the players. The more time and care I take to describe the setting, and the further in advance that I spell it out, the better it goes. What's "necessary?" I would say it's the minimum of what has to happen to keep me personally invested in running the game I'm proposing. In other words, the flip side of a GM keeping players is the players keeping the GM. A GM who is browbeaten into running a game that isn't interesting to him or her is a GM who's probably going to walk one day and leave the players hanging.

A lot of this is dependent on how much I want to run games. I like running games, so I'm willing to give leeway to players, especially the ones who have the potential to be a great benefit to the game. However, there might be a point where the game I have to be running in order to keep any players at all is some steps past the point of being a game I want to be running. That's when it's time to explore a different hobby for a while, and come back when either my preferences have changed, or the pool of available players has changed.

Spiralbound
08-08-2011, 10:39 AM
One approach I've used in my campaign setting which also has distinctive cultures, is to take a two pronged approach.

1) The idea of foreigners being in a given region isn't unheard of. Sure in some regions or smaller villages, you'll get stared at for being different, but nowhere is it going to be a case of the whole society grinding to a halt because no one knows what kind of person you are.

2) I talk to the player about what kind of character they want to have and then make suggestions of where that sort of person would be from. So, when I ask the player to tell me about his character and the first thing he mentions is that he wants laminate armor and a katana, then I would tell him that if he wants those things, then his character has to be from Japan, look like so, and have a name similar to this list, and so on... Any additional character concepts the player wants which don't fit the suggested culture, ("but I want him to be 6'8" and blonde") would then be negotiated and either the ill-fitting traits would be modified, or the character's back story expanded to fit. (He's the son of a northern ambassador who grew up in Japan, adopting their culture despite his Norse heritage.)

This approach allows the player to maintain control over the type of character they play, while allowing me the control over ensuring that the character fits into the campaign setting.

Malruhn
08-08-2011, 09:21 PM
And this is the stuff I wanted.

THANK YOU!

Again, after much work, I am second-and third-and fourth-guessing myself... wondering if I'm just wasting my time with mental masturbation that will be lost on players.

I appreciate the input.

Sascha
08-08-2011, 09:50 PM
Glad to help ^_^


Again, after much work, I am second-and third-and fourth-guessing myself... wondering if I'm just wasting my time with mental masturbation that will be lost on players.
If you enjoy worldbuilding, it's really not wasted effort ;) But its appreciation is very much dependent on the specific players, rather than a generalizable rule.

nijineko
08-08-2011, 09:56 PM
the act of creation is never a waste. there are appropriate times and places for acts of creation, however. the corollary is also true.

i happen to be in just such a situation right now. an old friend and dm has decided to return after a long gaming hiatus. i tend to be greyhawk setting, however he really likes forgotten realms. knowing his play style, i decide it wise to be a utility character which can make access to gear and such-like more likely. an artificer is a natural choice for that. and a warforged is a natural fit for an artificer. and then i saw the cataclysm mage and went ooooh...

now i get all hung up on a character concept and the idea of a warforged who is trying to unravel the mysteries of how life so often ends up in a cataclysmic self-destruction appealed. however, i don't want to mess up the flavor of the setting nor of the dm's specific campaign.

so a little research into the history of faerun, and i am able to identify a number of cataclysmic events which match up fairly nicely with the eberron specific cataclysms named in the prestige class. there was even a dragon and giant war it turns out. i didn't know about that tidbit of faerun history.

furthermore, it turns out that in faerun there was a techno-magic ancient human empire that were even called the "artificers" due to their strange magics and science. a quick phone call to the dm and some discussion and we now have a faerun reflavored artificer warforged who will be able to qualify for cataclysm mage in due time. he was happy to work with me, since i made efforts to research and find suitable match-ups for what i wanted while also keeping in mind what he wanted.

tesral
08-10-2011, 01:38 AM
Purple shirts as one friend calls them. Yes i have encountered these on a fairly frequent basis. Sacha's advice works.

Purple Shirt? If you tell a bunch of people to come wearing anything but purple, these people will wear purple, and complain that you are stifling their creativity with your color restrictions.

Malruhn
08-10-2011, 08:06 AM
"Purple shirts" - I like that... and it describes them perfectly. "I wanna play a Hasidic Jew, but I wanna be a female Rabbi, blond, wear my hair in a huge Afro, drink alcohol like a fish, and flaunt my large bust with risque clothing!"

tesral
08-10-2011, 01:45 PM
"Purple shirts" - I like that... and it describes them perfectly. "I wanna play a Hasidic Jew, but I wanna be a female Rabbi, blond, wear my hair in a huge Afro, drink alcohol like a fish, and flaunt my large bust with risqué clothing!"

On the money.

kirksmithicus
08-10-2011, 04:01 PM
LOL. I just don't understand the "purple shirt" thing. When I started running Dark Sun, we went over the list of campaign conventions. Chief among them was, NO DIVINE characters. I then had three players want to play either a paladin or cleric.

Now if any of them had bothered to do some work to explain how their character had gained access to such powers and a little back story, I probably would have said okay.

I also know players who won't play anything outside of what they already know. I don't have any other advice than ask them to give the game "as is" a chance.

or maybe you could put your foot in their .............yeah never mind that probably wouldn't help:P

tesral
08-10-2011, 06:00 PM
or maybe you could put your foot in their .............yeah never mind that probably wouldn't help:P

It would never fit with their head in the way.

Malruhn
08-11-2011, 08:10 AM
HAH! Very nice!

As a recently retired Master Chief, I'm used to close podi-rectal relationships, and I agree with Tesral about the lack of room with the rectal-cranial inversion reducing room.

Kirk, I had a similar situation about... well, a LONG time ago. No clerics was the rule for a new campaign arc (I was experimenting with no deities), and a player created this HUGE backstory with a family tragedy that seemed to indicate some sort of divine intervention. While ALL of the other characters played Atheists (since there were no deities, there was no belief system), this guy played a closeted Agnostic that thought there was a possibility that there was something out there. As the experiment played out and I realized that no deities wasn't working for me, the character began to discover little "abilities" that were clerical orisons (2nd edition minor divine spells - like cantrips - for those that don't know), before discovering a long lost, holy tome that helped this player become the first cleric in my newly revamped world.

THAT I have no problem with... it's the uneducated barbarian chieftain that has a full appreciation of classical literature and music and the arts and...

Why is it that we don't have problems with the RULES stuff - I've never had a druid character demand to wear metal... or a halfling demand to be tall. Why do we get people that want the benefits of playing a cultural niche-character that doesn't want to actually fit into that cultural niche? Is it just an attitude that since it isn't written as RAW, it can be ignored?

I'm sorry to work myself up into a lather here - it just bothers me. Perhaps it's just immature players that cause the problems. I remember doing much the same when I first started playing, and since I "grew up" since then, I think it could be that I just expect everyone else to have done the same. (insert pouty face here)

Sascha
08-11-2011, 09:57 AM
Why is it that we don't have problems with the RULES stuff - I've never had a druid character demand to wear metal... or a halfling demand to be tall. Why do we get people that want the benefits of playing a cultural niche-character that doesn't want to actually fit into that cultural niche? Is it just an attitude that since it isn't written as RAW, it can be ignored?
No real simple answers ('cause, y'know, when is there :P). Some folks are just drawn to the outsider concept. Some folks have a character type they want to play, and in this case happen to be an outsider. Some folks are just not interested in the nuances of exploring the setting, rather than the adventure. None of these folks are objectively wrong, but they are ill fits for specific game contexts.


I'm sorry to work myself up into a lather here - it just bothers me. Perhaps it's just immature players that cause the problems. I remember doing much the same when I first started playing, and since I "grew up" since then, I think it could be that I just expect everyone else to have done the same. (insert pouty face here)
Expectations are the root of these issues, yep. And not everyone shares the same expectations, which is why clear and open communication is key to heading off potential problems and solving ones that emerge. It won't guarantee an issues-free experience, but it'll make dealing with them less taxing.

(Also social contract theory, but I'd have called you crazy six months ago if you told me I'd be using Locke and Kant in an RPG context :P)

tesral
08-11-2011, 11:23 AM
Some people will kick against any perceived limit, even if it exists for a good reason. My late wife was bad for that. If you erected a limit she had to push it. I am very familiar with the type.

What I have come to learn is that limits are your fiends in a creative setting. The scariest thing on Earth is a bank piece of paper or canvas and no limit (or idea) of what to do with it. Boundries help set the creative process in motion. However it takes a certain level of maturity to understand this. As I'm fond of saying; "Growing old is mandatory, growing up is optional." Some people never reach that point of maturity.

I'm trying a new class to me in Pathfinder. (Magus for this that need to know.) I'm being dumped in at 10th level so I'm juggling stuff I've not used before. I have a simple dicipline. Never try two unusual things at once. So while I like to play unusual races I put down Human male. I have enough on my plate with the class mechanics this time around.

Sascha
08-11-2011, 12:06 PM
Rather partial to maturity being a process, rather than a product, myself. "Grown up" sounds so ... final.

And definitely, having some sort of boundaries is helpful for focusing creative energies. Giving a campaign a clear focus is a good start. "Set in the Western Dragon Isles" can be punched up to, say, "political intrigue and cats-paws: cloak-and-dagger power plays in Western Dragon Isles high society" or "part archaeological expedition, part fantasy special ops team: exploring ruins behind enemy lines in the Western Dragon Isles." Course, this doesn't work as well for more sandboxy, proactive-player/reactive-GM styles :P

tesral
08-12-2011, 03:37 AM
Because you start in a given place does not mean you will end there.

Malruhn
08-12-2011, 07:41 AM
I guess one of the reasons I like doing stuff like establishing strong cultural traditions is from the plethora (oooh, a plethora!!) of books and movies where culture has played a big roll in the plot development. Remember that crazy Irish guy from Braveheart? How about the Spaniard playing the Arab in The 13th Warrior? Then we have all of the cheesy WWI/II and action movies where culture was evident - from The Sergeant York Story to The Magnificent Seven.

I like the idea of Tim joining the gaming and when the rest of the group meets his character, they can say, "Oh, he's from Seaview... hold on to your coin purses!" Likewise, after reading short entries on the other areas, Tim can say, "Oh Bob's character is from Bloodpool - Hey, how many farmers from Bloodpool does it take to change the candles in a candelabra? None - they haven't mastered the use of fire yet!" Sure, it can be cheesy - and stereotypical - just like the real-life generalizations of Asians being "inscrutable"... (and most don't even know what the word means!!) Yes, some can be hurtful and can exclude and marginalize characters - just like they do in real life. But it's been a driving plot device for centuries - from Pliny the Elder to Gene Roddenberry.

I just want to know that the guy playing the Klingon will be abrasive and militant and aggressive... and the ballet and literature will be left for some OTHER character.

Sascha
08-12-2011, 10:37 AM
I just want to know that the guy playing the Klingon will be abrasive and militant and aggressive... and the ballet and literature will be left for some OTHER character.
Worf sings Gilbert & Sullivan. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DyyjCn1ML3k)

tesral
08-12-2011, 11:34 AM
I just want to know that the guy playing the Klingon will be abrasive and militant and aggressive... and the ballet and literature will be left for some OTHER character.

Opera, light and otherwise. Every ready for a knock down blow.

wizarddog
08-13-2011, 02:28 PM
All I could think of when you brought up "purple shirts" is the one crewman serving on the Enterprise A or D that knows he is going to live through the episode.

Sascha
08-13-2011, 02:33 PM
(Warning, contains link to tvtropes!)

The Mauve Shirt (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/MauveShirt)

tesral
08-13-2011, 10:00 PM
TV tropes is a evil time suck it is.

Sascha
08-14-2011, 12:12 AM
Hence the warning.

nijineko
08-14-2011, 05:27 PM
Hamlet (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=1&ved=0CBoQFjAA&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.amazon.com%2FKlingon-Hamlet-William-Shakespeare%2Fdp%2F0671035789&rct=j&q=classical%20literature%20in%20klingon&ei=h0ZITqm1DKLKiAL5-uXkAQ&usg=AFQjCNFwZjgNG03oLt0JyNg00fdfBx-vSQ&cad=rja)

Much Ado About Nothing (http://www.google.com/url?sa=t&source=web&cd=2&ved=0CCYQFjAB&url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.metrotimes.com%2Farts%2Frevie w.asp%3Frid%3D19077&rct=j&q=classical%20literature%20in%20klingon&ei=h0ZITqm1DKLKiAL5-uXkAQ&usg=AFQjCNGeh56CFSSAHKWu8rbfhN2vArviQA&cad=rja)

The Christmas Carol (http://thelede.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/23/having-a-klingon-christmas/?partner=rss&emc=rss)

continuing the trend of finding klingon translations of classical literature. now, admittedly, there is a lot more abrasiveness and aggression in these versions. ^^

as a player, i like simple and easy to represent cultural traditions. say, always dividing one's food into twelve equal portions before eating. (star trek reference) or group singing poetry at one you like. (real life culture)

jwpacker
01-15-2012, 08:03 PM
You know, I have played an iconoclastic character or three, but tend to try to fit into the culture just fine.

But I'm old enough a player to have dealt with "I want to be a ninja" since before the advent of Oriental Adventures, and let me tell you, the mainstreaming of anime and manga has not helped the situation. It breaks my grognard heart every time I read a thread that starts "I'm trying to make a character like <insert character from some anime>..." - mostly because I know I'll be totally useless in that particular conversation...

Malruhn
01-15-2012, 08:15 PM
Very well put - and thank you for your insight!

Oh, and WELCOME ABOARD!!

tesral
01-16-2012, 02:21 AM
.." - mostly because I know I'll be totally useless in that particular conversation...

Recall what Abe Lincoln said: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." I think that should be etched in glowing letters across the top of every monitor. If the advice was taken it would cut internet forum traffic by 60% I keep it firmly in mind. It lowers my blood pressure better than any pill.

jwpacker
01-16-2012, 10:03 AM
Recall what Abe Lincoln said: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig." I think that should be etched in glowing letters across the top of every monitor. If the advice was taken it would cut internet forum traffic by 60% I keep it firmly in mind. It lowers my blood pressure better than any pill.

I hear that! I just click on to the next subject in those cases. Far be it from me to declare anyone to be having the wrong kind of fun. I'll just go play elsewhere and we'll all be happier.

Sascha
01-16-2012, 11:06 PM
But I'm old enough a player to have dealt with "I want to be a ninja" since before the advent of Oriental Adventures, and let me tell you, the mainstreaming of anime and manga has not helped the situation. It breaks my grognard heart every time I read a thread that starts "I'm trying to make a character like <insert character from some anime>..." - mostly because I know I'll be totally useless in that particular conversation...
Or maybe look on it as an opportunity to learn about another's preferences, rather than a barrier to communication. Tired as the phrase is, context really is king, and the cultural context of the mid- to late-70s isn't the same as the 80s, the 90s, the 00s or where we are now. Batman was a campy romp in the 60s; by the 80s, a dark, brooding antihero type; by the 90s/00s, he was the (Link Warning: TVTropes!) Crazy Prepared (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/CrazyPrepared) genius who held his own against Supes and Darkseid. (Who then morphed sorta back into the 80s aesthetic with the Nolan films, but that's beside the point :p). Same with Lord of the Rings: to some, it's the Tolkien prose ... to others, the Rankin-Bass animated film ... or even the Jackson trilogy. Doesn't mean one take is better than the others, or that is a value statement on a person.

You may not have anything to 'add' to the conversation, in the "here's what you do" sense, but it could very well be a case of "what makes this character/series/whatever appealing" query. Understanding someone else's styles might actually facilitate communication, instead of being another divisive wedge between players. This doesn't mean you have to like the material in question, or agree with a premise; only that the exchange of ideas is what keeps minds fresh.


Recall what Abe Lincoln said: "Never try to teach a pig to sing. It wastes your time and annoys the pig."
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. [...] As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." - Same feller.

tesral
01-16-2012, 11:41 PM
"The dogmas of the quiet past are inadequate to the stormy present. [...] As our case is new, so we must think anew, and act anew." - Same feller.

And your point? One does not disagree with the other. Some people are not of the listening kind.

I've often said that Science Fiction and/or Fantasy tells you more about the time it was written than the subject it was written about. I've never been one to hold to dogmas.

Sascha
01-17-2012, 10:48 AM
And your point? One does not disagree with the other. Some people are not of the listening kind.
Let's assume all pronouns are general.

Sometimes, you're Abe Lincoln. Sometimes, you're the pig. In either case, you find yourself unable to contribute.

As Abe Lincoln, trying to teach the pig isn't productive. Reverse the roles - stop trying to teach, and *listen* to the other person. Ask questions in good faith. You just might find yourself able to contribute, after all.

As the pig, having things about which you will not learn isn't productive. Turtling up and avoiding anything with cultural contexts with which you are unfamiliar only serves to keep you insular, isolated and unable to contribute to further discussions. You have the ability to change this, even if you don't like or agree with what's being asked. You just might find yourself able to contribute, after all.

Framing the situation as unresolvable (ie. Lincoln and the pig) does nothing to change this. It only serves to reinforce the fragmentation of the hobby, as a whole.


I've often said that Science Fiction and/or Fantasy tells you more about the time it was written than the subject it was written about.
That was metaphor for this hobby we all share.

nijineko
01-19-2012, 01:07 AM
hmmmm. points taken, various and sundry.

personally, i've often taken the proposed question of how can i make "x" character from "y" source in d&d as a potential rules challenge. it can be a fun thought exercise to figure out just how it can be done, much like i once figured out how to qualify for druid-only prestige classes without ever once taking a level in druid. (3e)

of course, unless i happen to have seen the comic, or manga, animation, anime, tv show, movie, book, or whatever the character is from i'm likely to have to ask a bunch of questions just to even have a thought on what might be done. more often than do all that research, i just wait till a few other people post, and get an idea of what they are trying to accomplish and make suggestions from that.

be it ninja, pirates, catgirls, amazons, space explorers, or an unholy amalgamation of them all (i refuse to be the one to post that link...), it can be a trifle tiresome to hear the same basic theme repeated over and over again with little variation.

Mfrankly
01-23-2012, 08:57 PM
There's no such thing as wasted mental masturbation.

It might not hurt to leave a little room in the setting for the players to contribute material.