I think we can all agree that, if we’re talking about getting a group of players together, the Handbook is on point. Just because your drinking buddies seemed to get along with Stu from work and Bob from softball at last week’s BBQ, it doesn’t mean that they’ll necessarily play nice together at the gaming table. There’s another issue here though, and in my mind it’s got more to do with characters than players.

For some pairings, you know you’re in for trouble from the outset. The paladin and the thief is the classic example. Same deal with the humorless, high fantasy Aragorn archetype trying to game alongside the gonzo, awakened kangaroo gunslinger. Sometimes you can just tell that two characters shouldn’t mix. Sometimes however, you may not know you’re set up for this problem until it smacks you in the face.

Case in point: I once rolled up the Exalted equivalent of a D&D ranger. He was the blond dude in the left-hand corner over here. Did you notice the unicorn in the background though? Her name was Thuna. She was my familiar. And she was far and away the most interesting thing about my PC. It was my own fault, really. I’d given my character a very run of the mill barbarian tribesman backstory, and this lisping magical unicorn was my only unique quirk. People loved her, but not even I loved my Marty Stu of a ranger. I wound up jealous of my own familiar, and I’m still not sure what I should have done to fix the situation. (Probably I should have made a better character.)

I’ve seen it happen with my Pathfinder group too. As the GM I’ll introduce a talking shield as treasure (it’s possessed by the ghost of an elderly knight) and think to myself, Surely the group will love his sage advice! They installed a torch sconce over his mouth. I’ll plan a session around this incredibly fascinating drunkard sorcerer in a pirate bar, and think to myself, He’s such a great source of information about the dungeon, they’ll probably wind up recruiting this guy! I believe they burned down his bar. I even did the classic, “I shall serve you for a year and a day!” when they rescued an under-leveled adventurer from a troll. Great chance for a cohort, right? They made him their cook and promptly forgot about him.

There’s no telling what will work with a party until you test it out in practice. In my experience, the best policy is to remain flexible. Boot an NPC if it’s not fitting in. Retire a PC if it turns out to be a flop. There are only so many hours in a the day when you can game, and it’s no fun spending your leisure time trying to force a round peg into a square hole.

How about the rest of you guys? Have you ever encountered a PC or an NPC that should have meshed with the party on paper, but actually turned out to clash in practice? What was it?