There is an odd predicament in the Player’s Handbook concerning personality traits. In a game of decision, cooperation, and camaraderie, there exist traits that go against all ideals in the game. “I trust no one” or “I don’t follow plans” give off the wrong idea to players, creating a sense of discord where opportunity should be made. Here we are going to talk about building a character that loves their friends, not one who has none.
A scenario came up recently that caused a lot of infighting in one of the games I participated in. In short, the players had little motivation towards the main goal and decided to fight each other, which would be more fun in their mind. Although playful fighting is alright, this escalated into hurt feelings and a rules discussion outside of the game.
I think the core issue was not the character choices but a respect issue. Characters that disrespect other characters will inevitably disrespect other players. And, in a game where death is not too big of a consequence, many a player result to violence in order to solve disputes, which may possibly in turn cause character death or hatred towards their aggressor. Altogether, it’s just an ugly mess.
Let’s clear the confusion of the “lone wolf” traits that one could role play. Character flaws are things that show themselves in the scenarios of a game, not against specific people. Truly, no one likes playing as a paladin and having the rogue disrespect everything you do. I can compare this to literature, speaking on character development. A static character is one that does not change and is normally either a background character or a consistent element in a story, the latter giving a constant theme in the work. This would be the death of a stubborn, disrespectful wizard that does not listen to the party. A dynamic character, in contrast, is a character who changes from where they started. This involves worldviews, personal bonds, scarred flaws – sound familiar?
Sure, you can be the ranger that has no parents, her brother was murdered, her town burned down, she killed her own child, etc. But that character becomes dull and uninteresting, and sometimes antagonized as the story progresses until something changes. In my own characters, I expect my ideal, bond, and flaw to change in the campaign according to what I have done as a character. I keep my personality traits the same, as that is the natural tendencies and defining characteristics of the person.
So that is where I think players in D&D have it all wrong: “my character’s flaw is this” should not be forever true. There should be a scenario that defines that flaw, and the character should either overcome it or come to terms with it. Heck, I’d say there should be tiers of personality that override others. “I hate snakes” is a level 2 flaw, but I love treasure is a level 1 bond, so treasure overrules it. And these tiers should be in constant change based on what has happened in the world. A Frightful Presence of a dragon could potentially cause long-term fear for dragons and their kin, adding it to your tier list or advancing it higher. It is almost a game in itself to figure out what your characters strengths and weaknesses are. That is a super in-depth character, but I enjoy the logical approach to it (if anyone comes up with a system like that, shoot me a message- I’d love to try it out).
Here is the resolution to disrespect in a session: make characters that care. Make a person that brings out the best in another or every party member. You don’t have to be a cleric to achieve this, simply listening and caring about other party members creates bonds and story builds that last much further than the table. This also does not mean you can’t have the flaws “I trust no one”, it simply means you need to talk to your DM about conveying your struggle between caring for these people and putting faith in them. Again, you don’t have to trust someone to care for them.
All in all, it is important for players to communicate their strengths and weaknesses for the best scenario in a session. A lack of communication causes a lack of respect, and eventually a lack of interest in playing the game.