There are some natural tensions built into fantasy games. The sword-jocks of the world like to pick on the nerdy, know-it-all wizards. Elves and dwarves have a long tradition of quarreling. And anyone who’s ever written Size: Small on a character sheet has heard their fair share of short jokes. Trading in-character barbs can be a lot of fun. Conflict is the foundation of good story after all. But the longer I play the more I realize that a little bickering goes a long way.

When we’re talking about dungeon-delving games like Pathfinder or Dungeons & Dragons, the basic shape of the game dictates that you’re a group of diverse weirdos who work together to overcome obstacles. Sure you can have hidden agendas, simmering resentments, or even work in secret for the BBEG. But in the broadest sense these games are based on the concept of teamwork. The challenge rating system is designed around the idea of cooperative parties fighting against monsters. And as much as I might like to deny it, listening to another character constantly insult my own stops being “interesting RP” in a hurry. After a while, it gets to be downright annoying.

I know: shame on me for not being able to separate character from player. But I remember a simple role-play exercise I did back in high school. It was a psychology class, and I got volunteered to participate opposite another kid. We were told to simply repeat this phrase to one another: “You’re wrong.” It was silly and awkward, and I remember that we both laughed at the absurdity of the situation. Then we started. Our voices steadily rose. I felt myself getting inexplicably angry, and by the end we wound up shouting, “No, you’re wrong,” at one another. We became IRL enemies after that, and only reconciled a few weeks later thanks to a healthy dose of talking to each other like adults.

My point is this: Even if you know intellectually that you’re playing a make-believe game, it’s easy to let the appearance of negativity metamorphose into the real thing. So by all means, mock the druid for his Birkenstocks and overwhelming scent of patchouli, but consider doing so in moderation.

How about the rest of you guys? Have you ever let your ego creep into your character? Did it turn ugly, or did you manage to check yourself? Let’s hear it in the comments!