Common Problems In Roleplaying Characters
This article is a relatively in-depth look at some of the common problems that I and people I've known have encountered with peoples' RP characters, both in original characters and canon characters.
Table of Contents
- They behave in ways that would be considered off-putting, creepy, or suspicious in real life, yet the other characters are just supposed to go along with it.
- They're mean and/or abusive to the characters they're supposed to be close to or become close to.
- They're the kind of people that nobody would ever want to interact with or hire, yet we're supposed to interact with them/go along with it.
- They rely on off-page events as a substitute for actual in-character bonding experiences.
- The players make no real effort to get their characters to interact with anyone or do anything that would drive the story.
- They're irrelevant to the other characters.
- They have "Somehow" stories.
- Their in-game behaviors don't match up with their description.
They behave in ways that would be considered off-putting, creepy, or suspicious in real life, yet the other characters are just supposed to go along with it.
Okay, I'm going to make no bones about it - a woman in a strange place inviting a man she's never met before to stay at her home is just a bit... off. It's not because women on the whole are especially dangerous as far as humans go - it's because the opposite is generally true. Most women with even a modicum of sense aren't going to invite a complete stranger to stay in their houses with no-one else present because they'd essentially be playing Russian roulette. So if this does happen, the woman in question is probably either terminally out of touch with reality... or something underhanded is going on.
Then there are the characters who act like fangirls, and the other player is supposed to perceive them as a potential friend/sidekick/romantic interest option. I suspect more of you have been fangirls than have actually had fangirls - so here's a summation of the problem with characters who are clearly the embodiment of their players' fangirlism: Fangirls aren't in love with you. They are in love with an idealized image of you that exists only in their own minds. Once they meet the real you, that image typically shatters and disillusionment sets in. They realize that the god-like being they were in love with, that pinnacle of perfection, does not exist - and often as not anger, bitterness, and resentment results. These types of people also have the potential to become stalkers whose behavior can range from irritating and inconvenient to... well, deadly. Rebecca Schaeffer and John Lennon were both murdered by disgruntled fans. Obviously, not all fangirls are going to become psychotic murderers, but the simple fact remains that obsessive personalities are the most potentially dangerous.
Take a look at this page and compare to how your character feels about xir love interest. If this (or even just Phase One) more or less fits your character, then your character's intended love interest has every reason to be concerned and even creeped out by your character's behavior. Phase One definitely fits an extremely large portion of love interest OCs I've looked at. So long story short, if your character acts like a fangirl, then yeah - it's pretty reasonable for the other character to hold xir at a distance for awhile and not go rushing headlong into anything.
They're mean and/or abusive to the characters they're supposed to be close to or become close to.
They stalk, harass, insult, belittle, berate, if not outright beat up the characters they're supposed to be friends with or are romantically interested with. Another character - I'll call her Pamela - was supposed to be best friends with a character who relied on a technological doohickey to stay alive. When the character came home tired and cranky and wanting nothing more than a coffee, Pamela's friendly demeanor turned cold and... well, cruel. She decided to use her power of generating EMPs to get her alleged best friend's attention.
EMP, electrical doohickey, see a problem? If you answered "HOLY MOTHER OF PEARL, SHE MIGHT SEVERELY HURT OR EVEN KILL HER 'FRIEND' WITH HER TANTRUM THERE!", you'd be right!
Another character who was supposed to be in love with a canon character behaved like some kind of stalker/bully. Upon her first meeting with the canon character, she insinuated violence upon his person - "I'm not afraid to punch a prince," she said sweetly was exactly how it went. She followed the character around even though he showed next to no interest in her - and in fact, gave off several "leave me alone" signals before explicitly telling her that he wanted left alone.
Here's a sample from part of the roleplay:
OC: "'Face of Evil' is what my mother calls you. I think you're just misunderstood... you won't let people in because the last time you did, you got hurt," she said, reading her book."
CC: He smiled. "I think I like your mother already."
OC: She smirked. "We don't get along. I thought you would understand what that's like," she said, not taking her eyes off her book.
CC: He looked at her again. "So you think that because you have parental problems, we will bond if you harass me long enough?"
OC: She smirked. "It's not harassing... I'm trying to get you to let me in... it is rather hard," she said, rubbing her temples while reading.
After awhile of this kind of nonsense, the male character was so fed up that he left the library. The other character followed him home and literally waited outside his home, convinced that all she had to do was "be persistent to get the prince's heart." After he reported her as a stalker... well, the other player wrote that when the guards came and took her to the king, he let her go after she explained his intentions to him.
Because there are no purer and sweeter intentions than stalking your would-be love interest and bullying him into submission, apparently.
A few Avengers roleplayers I know of have reported that Pepper Potts is often played in a manner that objectively borders on if not crosses right over to emotional abuse. The players will frequently try to herd Tony into a position of having done something to wrong Pepper, no matter how good of reasons Tony gives. A time-sensitive project that has to be completed or the planet blows up? Tony's a heel for ignoring Pepper. Tony's late because he broke his leg and had to go to the ER to have it set and put in a cast? How DARE he not be home on time! We've occasionally joked that if Tony Stark was lying on the floor bleeding to death after getting shot by a hitman, these Peppers would still point fingers at and blame Tony, because that's how self-centered and heartless they are.
They're the kind of people that nobody would ever want to interact with or hire, yet we're supposed to interact with them/go along with it.
One character I had the misfortune of encountering - I'll call her Jennie - exemplifies this problem in spades. Jennie was supposed to be a biomechanical engineer - a job that would easily lend the character to any number of plots and setups in-universe. However, each and every attempt to get Jennie into a plot was met by extreme hostility on her part, even when it made no sense. In one instance, Jennie was essentially bemoaning how she had nothing to do at her job. When I introduced my character as walking into the office, the first thing Jennie did was hope that the character wasn't bringing any more work. Huh?
In another instance with Jennie, who was still experiencing boredom, I had a supervisor assign her to a task, thereby creating a plot device to introduce Jennie to the character I'd planned to play. Jennie was immediately rude to the supervisor and accused him of illegal activities. When the supervisor informed Jennie that she could speak to one of the people requesting this particular service and thereby verify that it was legal, Jennie informed the supervisor that last time, she had "almost killed" one of those people. Then when her professionalism was called into question, she flippantly remarked that she set things on fire when bored; how professional could she be?
In-character, Jennie's combative nature makes her impossible to deal with. Out-of-character, she makes no sense. With an attitude like that, she should have been fired. Actually, it's questionable whether she could have even gotten the degrees necessary to become a biomechanical engineer in the first place. In reality Jennie probably would have been the kid who'd have quit school to run away with the rockstar-wannabe addict just to spite her mother.
No, your characters do not have to be perfect, cooperative angels all of the time - but when they're so combative that there's just no interacting with them at all, or when there's no possible way they could hold their current jobs (let alone have reached them in the first place), you've got a problem.
They rely on off-page events as a substitute for actual in-character bonding experiences.
In order to create a reason for their character to interact with another character, some people will create their characters as having a past with the character they want their character to interact with - eg, their character will be created as a childhood friend or former lover of the target character. Trouble is, when the players are strangers or don't know each other very well, it's next to impossible to pull this one off.
It can be tricky enough for two strangers to play two canon characters as if they've known each other a long time - even though they both have the same canon material to reference from, no two peoples' portrayals of a canon character will be exactly the same. Even if they aren't explicitly out-of-character, there will still be differences - some subtle, some not-so-subtle. And while Bob's Jane and Alice's Jim may be compatible, Bob's Jane and Rebecca's Jim may just get on each others' nerves.
Put two strangers together where one or more of the players has no common reference material to draw from, and it's next to impossible to pull off a pre-existing relationship convincingly because at least one player will have next to nothing to draw from. Sure, you can write out a character profile, but that profile isn't going to convey the subtle nuances and quirks that can only be picked up on through actual gameplay, and Person A's idea's of how the characters bonded may not mesh with Person B's portrayal of the character at all. At best, you have two characters who behave very awkwardly around each other despite supposedly knowing each other very well; at worst you end up with two characters who are supposed to like each other being unable to tolerate each other.
The players make no real effort to get their characters to interact with anyone or do anything that would drive the story.
Here's the thing about roleplaying: it's a social activity. Even if your character is supposed to be a loner/introvert, it's still your responsibility to come up with some reason for your character to interact with the other players' characters. If your character does nothing but put off classic "leave me alone" signals or slink off to some solitary place, it's pretty hard to interact with your character without the other player making their character look like a social oaf - or worse, a stalker.
In one notable Omegle case, I ran into a character whom I'll call Ruth. Ruth's starter set us up in a school library with Ruth in a bit of a cranky mood ignoring her cellphone. I threw hook after hook at Ruth, trying to give the character something to be interested in. Ruth brushed each and every one of them off, up to and including an invisible magic bookcase. Finally having enough, I decided to put the ball in Ruth's player's court and put her into the position of proactive player for a turn or so, see if she'd come up with anything.
Another character, as soon as nobody was directly interacting with her, just laid herself out on the floor and did nothing... except smirk and roll her eyes at what the character the player wanted her to interact with was doing. Potential conversation hooks were ignored, and she made no effort to start a conversation herself. Blatant displays of contempt may work for Kate in Kate & Leopold and sitting around like a useless lump may work for Bella Swan in Twilight, but in any reasonable situation it's going to have exactly the opposite effect.
Maybe you don't want to start your character off as really liking the other character all that much - and that's fine - but! You still need to make an effort at giving the characters reasonable circumstances to interact under.
They're irrelevant to the other characters.
A common trope people employ to set up an interaction is the Crash Into Hello, where their character clumsily runs into the other person's character. This is certainly an effective method of getting the characters to make contact, but when you consider that realistically they're just a random face in the crowd to each other, it's difficult to really justify anything beyond a simple apology and getting back to whatever their business was before. After all, people don't generally wander aimlessly down the street; they usually have some destination in mind.
Similarly, some people set their characters up as baristas - people with whom you don't usually interact with for more than a few seconds. Of course there's nothing wrong with a character being a barista, but that barista should be worked into a decent plot hook.
They have "Somehow" stories.
In essence, backstories, bios, or even prompts that handwave away huge chunks of important backstory and plot with the word "somehow." "Somehow" stories often look like this:
- "Somehow, Lynda snuck past the guards and into the throne room..."
- "Elizabeth was somehow picked above thousands of other contestants..."
- "Matthew somehow made it into the senator's favor..."
Every "somehow" in your story is an admittal that you don't know what you're talking about, and/or you're too lazy to figure out something that makes sense. And not only do you not know, you also just don't even care. And that's one of the worst possible positions to be in as a writer/character developer.
The only point when it's acceptable to have "somehow" in your character's backstory or bio is when your character is still under construction. Otherwise, if you have any "somehows" sticking on or around your character, get rid of 'em and fill them in with real information.
- "With careful planning, an inside ally, and a stolen uniform, Lynda snuck into the throne room..."
- "Elizabeth's hard work payed off when her cupcakes were selected from among thousands as the winner..."
- "With a lot of diligence and brownnosing, Matthew made it into senator's favor..."
Their in-game behavior doesn't match up with their descriptions.
Just a few examples of things I've seen:
- A character is described as a clever and witty leader of the rebellion... but once the gameplay starts, the character can barely hold a conversation and basically petrifies under the slightest amount of pressure.
- A character described as snarky and sassy just ends up being vaguely sullen.
- A character described as loyal and caring turns into a first-class snipeviper when another character doesn't pander to xir whims, or does something even minorly annoying or inconveniencing.
- A character described as difficult to anger gets angry extraordinarily easily.
- A character described as "very smart" is... heh... not. Ditto for characters described as sly and sneaky - most of them couldn't sneak their way out of a paper bag.
There's a curious thing about developing characters and actually playing them - you can write out a lot of traits for them on paper, but when it comes time to actually play the character, you may find that they don't actually pan out. Sometimes it's just that the character gets away from you and handles/develops differently than you'd intended. Maybe it's that you don't have the experience or knowledge to pull this kind of thing off. Either way, it's important to take an honest, objective look at the way your character actually plays out compared to how you describe xir - does your character really exhibit the traits you claim xe has, or is xir actual behavior actually quite a bit different from what you've written down?
One way to avoid this problem is to take your character out for a few one-shot roleplay test runs, then base your profile on how your character behaved in your one-shots. Then, rather than writing out abstract descriptions like "my character has a temper," write practical descriptions, which describe how your character relates to the world xe lives in - eg, "my character is quickly frustrated when others have difficulty understanding what xe is trying to communicate." For more on writing practical descriptions, see Common, Yet Terrible Character Descriptors - And How To Fix Them (And Write Better Descriptions In General).
Also, pay heed to which traits and characteristics you can actually play out, and which ones you can't. For example, if it turns out that you're not actually so great at playing leaders, then don't try to play characters who are supposed to be great leaders. This isn't to say you should never try to play a character who might be a good leader - but rather than trying your hand at a character who is already a leader, try to play a character who exhibits the qualities of a leader. Then when you get the hang of playing these qualities out, move on to playing a character who is actually a leader. Same goes for any trait - rather than saying that your character is attractive and alluring right off the bat and expecting other peoples' characters to start swooning because of your say-so, just try to play a character who acts attractive until you get it right.
Also, you might want to take a look at:
The RP Character Playability Test
Basic Tips To Improve Your OCs & Fan Characters
Tips For Writing & Roleplaying Canon Characters Better
Exercises To Improve Your Character Writing & Roleplaying Skills
Core Drives: What They Are, And Why Your Characters Need Them
General Roleplaying Tips & Advice
Tips To Avoid Killing Your RP Character's Conversations
Building Better Backstories - Tips & Ideas
Starting & Running Roleplays & Bringing In New Players Tips To Write Better Roleplay Prompts