Not so long ago we were wondering why Lumberjack Explosion still hangs out with Fighter. Now we know. Theirs is a relationship based in good brosmanship. I guess it’s only fair.

But you know why I like about Fighter in today’s comic? He’s managed to stay true to his character (a self-absorbed jerk) while still being a good gamer (helping a partymate with a personal quest). Chances are I’m giving Fighter too much credit here. He is famously self-absorbed after all. For the rest of us though, I think that the distinction between in-character and out-of-character dickishness is key when you’re playing an unpleasant character.

The phrase “it’s what my character would do” is so maligned because it’s used to justify all manner of bad out-of-character behavior. Just think of the thief that steals from the party; the lawful stupid paladin that ruins every plan; the suddenly-traitorous wizard deserting the group for power. While it’s possible to justify these behaviors in terms of the game world (I steal from everyone! I’m obligated to turn you in to the constabulary! What self-respecting arcanist wouldn’t jump at the chance to become a lich?), they’re obnoxious because of their real-world effects. The cooperative game becomes antagonistic. Arguments springs up between players instead of characters. In a novel, these might be fully-realized three-dimensional characters with interesting flaws. On the tabletop however, there’s a subtle difference. These hypothetical players are prioritizing their personal narrative goals over everyone else’s.

Think about that for a second. Stealing from the party sets you up as the sole hero of the story (everyone else is just a dumb mark). Turning your buddies over to the cops means that your version of right and wrong is the only one worth considering (play my way or go to jail). Embracing lichdom means that your quest for arcane power is more important than the party (those fools were just pawns in your master plan). Sure it’s a valid thing for a character to do in those situations. But as a good gamer, it’s your job to look beyond your own character. You’ve got to remember the other players at the table, and that you’re all IRL people trying to tell an ensemble story together.

If your character is actually a jerk, you can make that plain without foiling the storytelling ambitions of your buddies back in the real world. Try stealing from NPCs rather than the huge guy with the battleaxe that’s supposed to be your flanking partner. Look the other way when your morally-gray partymates are plotting to rob the almost-definitely-a-succubus-in-disguise Grand Duchess. Try lich-lite alternatives that don’t require you to betray the party. In every case, it’s possibly to justify antisocial behavior in terms of character. But at the end of the day, it’s you the player that’s deciding to act that way. It’s in your power to act differently.

Question of the day then! And what do you say we frame this one in positive terms? When have you gone out of your way to help another player complete their quest? I’m sure your PC had their own personal goals competing for attention, so how did you find a way to justify it in-character? Let’s hear your tales of selflessness and good intraparty brosmanship down in the comments!


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