As a DM of over 35 years, the one character personality type I see more often than any other is the moody loner or outsider. On face value, it is easy to see the appeal of playing a character like this. We have all seen those mysterious loner characters on Television and Film, (like The man with no name in the spaghetti westerns or Wolverine in X men) and they always seem so alluring. This being said they are also probably the character types that I see more commonly fail than any other. I am going to delve into this type of character personality, and explain why it is not necessarily the fun character people think it will be, and how to play it well IF you do decide to go down the road of the introverted loner.
So what do I mean by Loner or outsider character? well I refer to the character that while being in a group, tends to still try to keep themselves to themselves to some degree. They often choose to sit alone, or keep secrets from their other party members. They choose not to trust the rest of the party, and do not open up about their past or back story. Their are several potential issues with playing characters with this kind of personality.
- You are playing an anti social character in a social game.
This can cause issues in a variety of ways. As a player you will often be excluding yourself from good Role Playing opportunities. For example, if you decide that instead of talking to the NPC you sit alone in the corner and let the rest of the group handle the conversation, you will be creating dead game time for yourself. You may be fine with this initially, hell it may even be fun. However time and time again I have seen these characters get retired early when the initial novelty wares off. It causes difficulties for the rest of the group too. The other players will want to try to include you, but if you keep shrugging of their attempts, sooner or later the other players will stop trying, and then the player of the loner character ends up feeling left out or literally an outsider in the group. The whole point of Role Playing Games is to be involved in a social activity, and have fun. If you create a character that is adverse to this idea, then do not be surprised when you spend much of the time at the gaming table sitting in silence.
- Your characters secrets and backstory won’t mean much if they are never revealed.
It may seem fun to have deep secrets about your character. Things that you alone know and the other characters are unaware of. Well the problem with that is that if no one is aware of it, it doesn’t mean much. Unless you either choose to clue in the rest of the characters (so they can enjoy it), or at the very least work with the DM to bring your back story into the forefront and allow it to be explored during the campaign its worthless. The day you get killed by a Storm Giant and then say ” Oh man, my character was actually a prince from a foreign land, trying to hide and flee from his uncle who wanted him dead, so he could take the throne, and one day he would return and slay his evil uncle and become king”. You can expect little more than a few shoulder shrugs from the rest of the players.
- Being an outsider often leads to distention.
The more time your character is alone and the more secretive it is, the less the other characters have a reason to trust you. Keeping yourself to yourself and keeping secrets will eventually lead to distrust. At this point you and the rest of the characters may find yourselves at awkward impasses at best or conflict at worst. Often this happens regardless of the actual honesty or trustworthiness of the character in question. The bottom line is that all that secretiveness leads to distrust. Maybe you want to play a character that is distrusted by the rest of the group. If so that is fine, but as always you reap the consequences of your choices as a player. What amazes me the most is when the loner player then wants to blame the rest of the group for not including them. Remember, if you choose this path it is your responsibility to find ways to be included. You can only expect the rest of the gaming table to try so hard before losing the desire to bother.
- You can be making your Dungeon Masters life difficult.
If you decide to play a character like this, it is imperative that your DM is aware of your intent. It may be far more difficult for him to provide you motivations, and hooks if he is not aware of your characters personality. Remember the players and the DM should be working together to create a story, not be adversarial to each other.
OK so I have given you some reasons why you may not want to play a character like this. I also said above that I was also going to tell you how to play it well IF you still decided you wanted to play a character with this personality type, so here goes.
The first thing is to COMMUNICATE as a player to the DM and the rest of the group. While your character may be a loner, it does not mean you should be. Make sure the other players know that your character is acting this way for a reason, even if you do not want to tell them that reason yet. Yes I said YET because as we said above, its useless to have secrets if they are not ever revealed at some point during the game. Talk with the DM and discuss your backstory, and work with him to give it some relevancy in the campaign. make no mistake it is YOUR responsibility to work with the DM with your character, not his responsibility to drag it out of you. Be proactive in talking to the DM, he is not a mind reader and as you are the one who wants some special concessions or situations injected into the campaign, so it is on you to take the lead to help him make it happen.
Even if your character says nothing, you can still Role Play his actions. For example. A group of adventurers are standing outside of a castle, talking to the captain of the guards about a recent increase in theft of local cattle. One of the characters is hanging back, standing several feet away from the conversation and for whatever reason, is avoiding the Captain of the guards. Instead of just saying, “I am not going over to the guard captain and staying back”, and then allowing ten of fifteen minutes of Role Play to happen without them being involved, you can Role Play your actions. “I seem noticeably anxious and a little nervous when I see the guard captain, so I loiter back. You see me lean against the wall with one foot pressed against it, and I begin to fidget awkwardly with a piece or string that I pull from my pocket. DM I would like to try to eavesdrop the conversation if possible from here”. As the Role Play continues have your character seemingly react to pieces of information that he over hears, “Hearing the mention of a local thief, My head lifts up and for a second I turn in the groups direction, before quickly averting my gaze once more”, or have him kick a rock with his foot. In short stay involved with the Role Play. One thing that is typically NOT conducive is to try to go off and do things on your own. More often and not you will just be bogging down the game and forcing the DM to divide valuable game time between you and the rest of the party. While you are being the loner, CHOOSE not to do things that will hamper of slow down game play, especially unnecessarily.
Another piece of advise is to take the openings given to you to expand your story. If you bother to Role Play out your actions, when a fellow player bounces of your description allow it to go somewhere. Do not just shut them down. In the above example, if a fellow character asks you “Hey you seemed really nervous to be near the Captain of the Guards, whats the deal”? Do not just say, “oh I wasn’t you were mistaken”. Let it go somewhere. That is one of the ways that great Role Play moments happen. Instead you could tell a brief story about how you have had a run in with him in the past, or how you and he grew up together and he bullied you. you could even use that moment to open up a little to another character, and let a piece of your back story come to the forefront. maybe you are wanted in another city and just want to keep a low profile. Whatever the reason, allow it to be part of the game, and not just some unspoken thing.
This brings me to make a point and one I will address in depth in another blog topic. Always describe your actions. As a long time DM I see this as a mark of a good Role Playing Gamer. Describing your characters physical actions adds so much to the game. From your intent and description of each attack, to how you plan on intimidating the door guard. As a loner you are often not going to speak up or volunteer information. However in real life, many a word goes unspoken, and your actions can tell the tale that your words do not. Describe your characters actions, and moods etc, if your character is not saying anything, instead describe his facial expressions, mannerisms and actions. “I snatch the chair out from under the table and sit down with a slump, exhaling loudly and folding my arms across my chest”, is a great way to let the other players know your character is upset about something without saying a word. Such actions will probably prompt a reaction from the other players and lead to great Role Playing opportunities. You can also use these type of descriptive actions to help hint at back story elements, or prompt other players to ask questions however, be realistic in your expectations of other characters. If you have spent much of the time not communicating, or have not given the party a reason to trust you, do not expect them to suddenly begin to do so when it suits you. Understand the other characters personalities and motivations and use that knowledge to better develop your character with reasonable actions. Here is an example. If your character once was a rich nobles daughter, who was disowned for falling in love with a stable boy, you may think that by saying “As I pass by the stables, you see me pause and look inside longingly. You see a single tear run down my cheek”. Is a great way to invite the other characters to stop and say something like “Oh whatever is the matter Esmeralda”? Well if the other characters are a grumpy Dwarf, a self serving rogue and a brutish barbarian, that is not a realistic expectation. Why WOULD they care, or even notice? However a compassionate bard, or a fellow female character, may be more likely to pick up on it and react. Be sure that the other characters can be realistically expected to pick up what you put down. Otherwise you may just get met with disappointment or discouraged when they do not react when you want them too.
Above all else you need to find ways to INCLUDE the rest of your party in your story, even while being a loner. That way everyone gets to be part of the fun, and I can promise you it will be a far more rewarding feeling. Remember that while you may have chosen to play a character that is a loner, you do not have to be a loner as a player, and you can still be very involved in the game. Everything you do as a player is a choice. If you choose to create scenarios for yourself that exclude you from the action or Role Play, that is on you. The more you are included, the more fun you will have. It can be a challenge to play a loner or outsider and it is not easy to do it well. more often than not, most fail. However I have seen a rare handful of amazing loner characters grace my table, and when done well they can be rewarding. More often however, this is not the case.