When we gather around the RPG table to tell some stories, throw some dice, cheer at our successes, and jeer our failures we do so with certain expectations. These expectations are built upon what we know from our experience and the assumptions about the game we’re about to play. If I announce that I’m running a Pathfinder game in Golarion, a Star Wars RPG, Dungeons and Dragons in Forgotten Realms, or any other game setting you can think of it would be reasonable to assume that there will be exploration, lightsabers and the Force, dragons and or dungeons, or anything else that might be setting appropriate. What about my expectations, though, or yours if you’re the person offering to run the game?
We, the GMs (storytellers, DMs, narrators, or what have you) have expectations for our players, too. When we choose a setting we expect the characters our players make to fit. Maybe the setting is something you cobbled together at home or just something the player’s haven’t heard of before, but we can reasonably expect players to let us help them hammer out some details that fit into the setting.
What do we do, though, when that one player really wants to play Rick Hunter, ace Veritech pilot in a Shadowrun campaign? Personally, I would fly into an apoplectic rage and incinerate the Earth with fires stoked from the fury in my chest. However, I’m told that’s impolitic so I, and by extension “we” the GMs, need a better solution. Fortunately, there are avenues aplenty and I’ll be focusing on the more positive methods rather than simply crumpling up the character sheet and laughing at them.
First, we can simply explain that the player is a little off the mark and work with them to bring the character more in line with the setting. Using the Rick Hunter in Shadowrun premise, maybe the character used to be an ace military pilot before their life fell apart. They are now eking out a living doing small time work in the shadows trying to break into the big time. It’s not a bad back story as far a shadow runner goes. Of course, this Rick Hunter is a rigger with an obscene collection of piloting and gunnery skills. We can then help that player develop their character further and direct them to some of the mechanical choices that could really fill out the concept.
What if that’s not good enough for Rick? What if the key point the player honed in on was the Veritech fighter? Sorry, Shadowrun doesn’t have any multi-mode, transforming F-14s. Or does it? It’s your game! Why the hell not? There’s a few fighter jet cognates zipping around in source books and even one in the core rulebook. We can just go the extra mile and come up with some rules for the GERWALK and battroid modes. Then we make up some background about a corporation developing the VF-1 for military action. Boom! Done. Granted, handing a starting character a Veritech fighter may be a little over the top. I’d, instead, utilize the “fallen hard times” suggestion above, but now our player knows that the VF-1 is “real” and available in the game. The player may even come up with a character goal to get back into the cockpit.
No! Our Rick Hunter player is not satisfied and will not be satiated with your concessions. The player doesn’t just want to be an ace Veritech pilot, they want to play Robotech. Now we’ve got to look this player in the eyes and tell them no. Or do we? Why Shadowrun and why not Robotech? “I’ve got all these game notes for Shadowrun,” you croak. “The other players have all finished they’re characters,” you mutter. Bah! Are your notes and your story so setting specific that it can ONLY exist in Shadowrun? Could it fit into the Robotech world with just some cosmetic changes? Maybe yes, maybe no, but it’s an avenue worth exploring. Maybe the other players are completely OK with a setting change. It opens up some new options for them too if they want to tweak or retool their characters to better fit the new setting.
Perhaps, instead of you and your players putting everything on hold as you all scour the internet trying to find out of print books for the Robotech RPG, the answer is just reskin the Shadowrun rules in a new setting. It might play a little bit like Frankenstein’s monster, but then again it might not. You’ll never know until you try it.
While none of these solutions are perfect, some requiring more work from us and some requiring a bit more concession from the players, they all offer something to keep the game going. After all, isn’t that what it’s all about? We’re just people gathering around a table to throw some dice, tell a story, and have fun. The rest is just mechanics.
Those are just a few ideas about how to get around a potential problem at the table. I’d love to read any experience you’ve had with problems like this and how you’ve handled it. Anything that keeps me from breaking down into incoherent fits of rage helps.
Next time, I’ll take a more in-depth look at that last solution and reskinning in general.
Written by Shane Gilman