June 12, 2014
Some characters are, by their very nature, silly. In Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder, as well as other Tolkien-based fantasy games, this is a trope often displayed by some of the smaller races. Typically halflings and — even more commonly so — gnomes. Silly characters often seem to take nothing seriously, they do not always think before they act, they say wonky things just for the sake of saying them, and have a tendency to get on the nerves of players who chose to take the game a bit too seriously. Silly characters are fun, but like most things in a tabletop role-playing game, there are ways to do them right and there are ways to misuse them. Everyone you talk to on the matter might have a different opinion, but as for me, these are my thoughts on the matter.
Silly characters can greatly enhance a game by reminding players not to take things so seriously. They are an embodiment of the reminder that what you are doing is, at its very nature, just a game. However, there is a limit to that, and someone who is playing a silly character well can recognize that and knows when to turn down the silly. Remember Merry and Pippin from The Lord of the Rings? They were silly characters, yet when the story called for it they became pretty heroic. There is a time for silly and there is a time for serious, and when playing a silly character it is important to recognize that. When fellow players are trying to have moments with there character of in depth, dramatic role-playing, that is not the time for silly. When everyone is hanging around the tavern, looking for the next old man sitting in a shady corner who will give them a quest, that is the time for silly.
A problem I have found with many silly characters is that they are occasionally played as an excuse by the player to not take the game seriously at all, and in doing so they tend to spoil some of the fun for everyone else. This is not always done intentionally, but it does happen. The silly character is used simply to state “I am bored” by the player in question without them having to come forward and say it. It is an avoidance tactic used when they are afraid of confronting their Gamemaster or fellow players to admit that they would likely rather be doing or playing something else. This sort of character is very destructive to a game. If you find yourself having to deal with this sort of player character, talk to the player, but do so kindly and respectfully. They might not even realize they are doing this, so you do not need to go in accusing them of trying to wreck your game. Communication. Communication is a key factor in this hobby, both between players and Gamemaster as well as between the players themselves. Do not let things get out of hand. Talk about them as soon as you realize that there may be a problem.
Now, I know some might think that I just do not care for silly characters. Partially, they are right. Silly is not something I gravitate towards typically. What can I say? I have never been all that big a fan of comedy. Though when it comes to silly characters, personally I am a fan of the scoundrel, the swashbuckling rogue (be it an actual Rogue-class or not) and these are often somewhat silly characters. They find a good balance, I think, between being silly and serious and are able to make that jump between the two as the story needs.
Silly characters can bring some much needed levity to the game, after all. When done well, the whole group will benefit. When played for the wrong reasons, the game will suffer. Just make sure if you are going to play silly that you are playing it for the right reasons.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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