Traditionally, gamemasters try to sell their groups on what to play. Maybe you picked up the latest copy of The Morrow Project, or have been dying to bust into that copy of Nobilis you’ve had for almost a decade without playing, but often I see posts (and have written one, myself) on selling your group on the latest game obsession of the GM. It’s not surprising: GMs have the bulk of the work to do in creating a game world, setting scenarios in motion and telling the main structure of the story. New, more collaborative games work differently from this set-up, but this post is to suggest that the decision of what to play should be more of a group effort.

As a player, part of your responsibility to let people know what you want to play. If you join a group that plays only fantasy, but you really wanted to play science fiction or maybe some kind of horror-suspense game…well, if you didn’t let them know this, you might find yourself feeling less than interested in playing with the group. This is okay. If you’re not having fun, find another group…

…or you could suggest another game. I wound up running a Supernatural game for a bit because I had folks that were into the supernatural horror/conspiracy genre. I’m really not. But the players wanted to do it, so I boned up on the supernatural, and put my all into running a good campaign. We all had fun.

Players can really help their GM, and each other, by figuring out what people want to play. Maybe you’re lucky and you all want to play Dungeons & Dragons. Well, what kind of campaign do you want? Dungeon crawls? The usual Tolkein-rip off “great quest:”? Something a bit more barbarian and violent?  Court intrigue and story-driven drama? Serious or comedic? Immersive role playing, or something a bit more beer & pretzels? The trick to this is finding out what everyone wants and compromising to give everybody as close to their desired play experience as possible.

Recently, I reconstituted my Hollow Earth Expedition game to bring in new players. One of the players was keeping his archeologist/adventurer. His action sidekick was being replaced by a new gonzo stuntman/gunman/wheelman who had very little restraint — to the point he was instantly bringing them up on the local police and military’s radar. The other player chose the phenomenal big game hunter, but that meant he was often outside the main action. He was supporting them, but there was no opportunity for real interaction in action scene. Outside them, he was bland as a character.

One of the reasons the hunter didn’t snag the player, and that the game ultimately stumbled through 2/3rds of an adventure was the characters didn’t mesh. The archeologist was professional, careful, and politic; the stuntman destroyed any chance of his character pursuing his goals stealthily; the hunter had no real reason to be there than curiosity. The players didn’t mesh, which meant the plot couldn’t work because the characters didn’t have a connection or shared goal

Once you have an idea of what game and style you want to play, now what character do you want to play? Here are a few tips:

You all have to work together, at some level. Even if you are at cross-purposes, you don’t have to start off that way. Recently, I was watching Hannibal, where the eponymous character works with the FBI investigator Will Graham to catch killers, while trying to manipulate the latter into madness. Why? Because he’s realized the guy is capable of discovering who Hannibal is, but also because he likes the guy, and he wants his “friend” to be just like him (i.e. a murderer.) Think of Londo Mollari and G’Kar from Babylon 5 — they hate each other, but ultimately, they keep having to work together.

Setting yourself up as the one guy that is the outsider sounds “cool” — mostly because it places you in the position that gains the most attention. “I’m a super-super-smart engineer, but I’m really an individualist that doesn’t like Starfleet…working for Starfleet.” Sounds great, except a) Starfleet is a paramilitary force with rules of conduct, b) it’s full of a lot of super-super-smart folks. You’re not rare. c) This character is designed to create big drama and conflict, not to help the group succeed in their efforts.

You don’t have to be the biggest, baddest person in the game. In fact, it’s the weaknesses of a character that make them interesting, not how hard they hit. Some players like the mathematics (in a point buy character generation system) of maximizing their character in a speciality — what older gamers call min/maxing. It can be annoying to players and GMs when their characters are fairly balanced and you have the galaxy’s best [insert skill/ability]. It’s okay to do this, but honestly, check with the GM first. If you are too whoppin’ powerful at an important skill or ability, you can force the GM to give the group higher/stronger opposition than their characters are prepared for. No if Nobrains the Barbarian can pretty much take on a platton of guys on his own, but the rest of the players would have a rough time with one guy…well, read The Iliad and see how Achilles’ Myrmydons do while he’s slaughtering everything in a straight line.

Lastly, If you are a man playing a female character just a suggestion: about 5-10% of the female population are lesbians. So if you play ten women…only one should like chicks. I’ve played female characters, and a few have been lesbians. But not all. Not even most. “But I’m playing an Amazon warrior!” Read the myth — Amazons took men as breeding stock, they just didn’t marry them or take long walks on the beach.

Ultimately, you should get an idea of what everyone wants to play and all tweak your characters a bit to make them work well together. Sometimes this is easier than it sounds. The above example of the pulp game is an example. We’ve been tweaking the characters to rescue the game. The stuntman remains, but he’s been toned down a bit, at least in personality. The archeologist and hunter are gone, replaced by a manservant working for the other character, a gentleman spy/adventurer. The characters hopefully well mesh better because at least two of them have a connection that requires or makes adventuring together make sense.

You can do something as simple as put together your group based on what you need: a fighter, magician, cleric, thief — the case of a fantasy setting. Everyone has their schtick to do. The GM now knows the kind of encounters and obstacles to throw at them so everyone has their moment in the spotlight. Let’s talk the Supernatural campaign from above: we had the priest/exorcist to handle the bad guys spiritually, the FBI guy that provided some legal coverage and had physical combat experience (as well as a connection to the “bad guy”), and the super-geeky computer expert/conspiracy theory nut that found them their targets, but was otherwise useless. Everyone has their thing, everything is designed to push a story. Skill and purpose overlap will occur from time to time, and this is okay, as well — if you have two fighter pilots in your Star Wars game, or two “faces” (infiltration specialists) in your spy game, that doesn’t mean you won’t have challenges that play to your other strengths and skills.

Even if you have cross-purposes, there should be enough things driving them to work together. Players want their characters to be unique, but you can do that and still have similar goals.