As I stated in “Why second edition Dungeons & Dragons dropped thieves and assassins,” I no longer see “I’m just playing my character” as an excuse for disruptive play.
As a player, your first role-playing obligation is to imagine a character who can cooperate with rest of the party to achieve the common goals of the game.
Your rogue can be the king of thieves, but you must find a reason not to pick the rest of the party’s pockets. Your assassin can be the prince of murder, but you bear responsibility to find a motivation that enables him to cooperate with the do-gooders in the party. And if you maintain a darker nature, please be discrete enough to avoid forcing the paladin into the uncomfortable position of playing dumb and oblivious. Finally, if you do find your agent of chaos confronted by the party’s do-gooders, find a way out—withdraw your character for the good of the game rather than bringing the game down for the sake of playing your character. If cannot meet this role-playing challenge, then you must create a different character.
In the Dungeoncraft column in Dungeon issue 132, Monte Cook supported my perspective. “It’s a player’s responsibility to bring to the first session (or create in the first session) a character that fits into the DM’s world. The character has to be one that could conceivably work with the other PCs. The player should no more create a character that doesn’t want to work with the other PCs than the DM should force the PCs to fight a dragon with a CR of 15 higher than their average level in the first session. Neither would be fair, and either lends itself to a good roleplaying game experience.”
Your obligation as a player does not limit you to playing paladins and other milquetoasts, but it does challenge you to imagine and role play a character who can work with the party. If you need help imagining why your werecat might cooperate with the other players’ weremice, you can draw inspiration from this list of motivations:
- A common enemy, cause, or goal
- Loyalty to family, friends, or an organization
- Fear of retribution from a greater force such as a powerful patron or a dangerous organization
- An unbreakable oath
- A magical compulsion
The Book of Vile Darkness offers more advice on finding ways for an evil characters to play nice.
Whatever your motivation to cooperate, you may not reveal your true nature at some climactic moment and deny the other players and dungeon master a satisfying conclusion. However, you can plan for a change of heart or a tragic end at that climatic moment. Such finales show the kind of hard-core role playing that enables you to win at D&D!
Gary Gygax may have had an impish streak, but he (mostly) met the challenge of taking a difficult character and contributing to the party. On EN World, Gary wrote, “When I played a barbarian, I would indeed attempt to get at the newly discovered magic items and rid the world their bane, and if some mage was foolish enough to flaunt such an object before the character, and he could lay hands on it then… Because the Barbarian was otherwise cooperative and put the overall interest of the party first he survived quite a few adventures and his demise was not at the hands of a fellow PC. Some monster got him, which I don’t recall but it seems to me it was a basilisk. No cleric or mage in the group was much interested in helping the poor chap return to life.”