Two Players Switched Characters Mid-Campaign

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I’m having a problem with some of my players’ motivations. This is my first time DMing a campaign, and I had all the players give me their characters’ backstories and I put them together to make a world- I started the first session with them meeting in a town and giving each of their characters a reason to team up to get to the bottom of whatever brought their characters there. The more info they gave before the first session, the more I worked their character into the world, etc. Everything seemed to be going well, ignoring the hiccups of me being new to DMing.


I might have made a mistake at this point: two of my players wanted to change characters after the party reached level 3. I said it was okay, not really thinking about it. They introduced their new players at the most recent session, and I realized I should have pushed for more details before we all got to the table. Essentially now they have two characters that do not fit into the world – they came to the table with an elven prince (and his buddy) from an ancient kingdom that was destroyed by a drow invasion and as a last-ditch effort they opened a portal to the future and jumped through it. I just…don’t know what to do with that. I continued running the adventure, but I couldn’t think of a reason for them to be there at all. They also keep making stuff up about the past that I’ve never okayed, and therefore make no sense with the current timeline, and then telling the other players. I want them to be able to play the characters, but when I was composing the campaign time travel wasn’t something I thought about, and it’s really messing up continuity (and confusing the hell out of me). Problem is they’ve already played a session with the new characters, and can’t really retcon a whole gaming session. Their characters are running around searching for clues about a fallen elven empire and how to time travel back there, while everyone else is trying to pursue the current enemy and figure out his evil plans (and don’t care about the elven empire that no one remembers).


I also realized that two of the mini bosses don’t make sense anymore – one was the old mentor of player A and the other was the thought-to-be-dead son of player B.


I want my players to play he characters they want, but I also want them to feel like their characters actually have a stake in what’s happening, and they seem to want to pursue a plotline that I made no plans for and I see no way of meshing the two together.


I've been putting off meeting fo the next game because I just don't know where to go from here. Any advice?

I would suggest sitting down and talking to the players, and telling them the problems you're having. Ask if they can help you find a way to work their characters into the campaign in a way that both makes sense with your ideas, and incorporates the parts of the characters they want. Ask them for a reason they would travel and adventure with the other main characters, and ask the other players for reasons why they would accept these two new characters. 

Don't just tell them that the in-character information they make up is wrong, but run with it, and use it as ideas for future plots/characters/encounters. If something they say is completely unacceptable for some reason, then just correct them when they say it, as if the character mis-remembered a fact. Remember that until the party knows something about the history of your world, you can just change it, and they'll never know! 

As for the 'mini-bosses' - Have the party encountered them yet, and know the connections? If not, just change it! Make them connected to another party member, or somehow connected to the new characters.

One last thought - I agree with the often suggested idea on this forum that you should incorporate ideas from players into the campaign as much as possible, but I personally struggle with improvisation. I do 'shut down' player ideas when the occur, purely because I don't have time to think through the consequences. However, I try to note the goals or ideas for what could happen from PCs, so that a few weeks later I can bring it back in a way that I'm comfortable with running. If you can get the players of the new characters to 'play along' with the existing characters' goals for now, then it gives you more time to think about the plotline they want to pursue later.
You are 100% right that you shouldn't have allowed them to switch before looking at their background. In fact, you should never allow anyone to introduce background elements without giving you time to think about it.

Take these players aside and explain them what you perceive as the problem with their new characters.
Ask them if they might switch back to their old characters. This seems to be the easiest solution.
If they don't want to, ask them to help you come up with reasons for them to be there that you can integrate in the existing campaign. 
In general time travel is a bad idea, it messes things up.

But if you do allow it, rememberthat if they can time travel, so can others. It means that history might not be as they remember it. The elven kingdom might have never existed.

5e should strongly stay away from "I don't like it, so you can't have it either."

 

I once asked the question (in D&D 3.5) "Does a Druid4/Wizard3/ArcaneHierophant1 have Wildshape?". Jesse Decker and Andy Collins: Yes and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Rich Redman and Ed Stark: No and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Skip Williams: Lol, it's worded ambiguously and entirely not how I intended it. (Cust. Serv. Reference# 050815-000323)

This is one of the issues with games that have plotlines. If a character dies or changes, it can disrupt your well-meaning plans.

That said, a solution is to ask them framed, leading questions that point back to your plot and integrate them accordingly. It sounds to me, based on their sudden interest in establishing events and history in the world, that they are craving some level of narrative control, which is understandable. So start off with something like, "Yes, the eladrin chronomancers said they detected a time device in this era, and the [current enemy the party is currently pursuing] has some clues that can help you find it. What minor role does this [current enemy] have with regard to the drow invasion in the past?"

See what they say, accept it, and add onto it to make it fit. Ask additional follow-up questions (remember, frame them to refer to your plot) to flesh it out and make it cool. Then use it for the gift that it is.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

I would suggest sitting down and talking to the players, and telling them the problems you're having. Ask if they can help you find a way to work their characters into the campaign in a way that both makes sense with your ideas, and incorporates the parts of the characters they want. Ask them for a reason they would travel and adventure with the other main characters, and ask the other players for reasons why they would accept these two new characters. 

Don't just tell them that the in-character information they make up is wrong, but run with it, and use it as ideas for future plots/characters/encounters. If something they say is completely unacceptable for some reason, then just correct them when they say it, as if the character mis-remembered a fact. Remember that until the party knows something about the history of your world, you can just change it, and they'll never know! 

As for the 'mini-bosses' - Have the party encountered them yet, and know the connections? If not, just change it! Make them connected to another party member, or somehow connected to the new characters.

One last thought - I agree with the often suggested idea on this forum that you should incorporate ideas from players into the campaign as much as possible, but I personally struggle with improvisation. I do 'shut down' player ideas when the occur, purely because I don't have time to think through the consequences. However, I try to note the goals or ideas for what could happen from PCs, so that a few weeks later I can bring it back in a way that I'm comfortable with running. If you can get the players of the new characters to 'play along' with the existing characters' goals for now, then it gives you more time to think about the plotline they want to pursue later.



This is really good advice. Your two players that have created new characters might actually be the ones that can suggest solutions to your problems of character and story fit. I realize you feel they created the problem for you, but they do sound like they have the imagination to fix it. You don't always have to be the one that figures everything out, and it doesn't have to be straight away.

Iserith is very good at getting players motivations and buy-in, I would pick his brain if you need too.

they came to the table with an elven prince (and his buddy) from an ancient kingdom that was destroyed by a drow invasion and as a last-ditch effort they opened a portal to the future and jumped through it. I just…don’t know what to do with that.


Sounds like there's not much you need to do at this point of time.  They gave you a plothook(drow following the time travelers), and it should be fine.

but I couldn’t think of a reason for them to be there at all


Let the players decide that.  It's their characters.  So far it seems like it's to avoid the drow, and get back home.  Leave it alone for an adventure hook later.  Tell them they need a couple reasons to go off and have adventures that don't relate to getting their way back.

They also keep making stuff up about the past that I’ve never okayed, and therefore make no sense with the current timeline, and then telling the other players.


Ask them to write it down instead, and give it to you.  Tell them that since you made the world, you need to make sure the info will fit.  After all, you are aware of things they are not.  Don't forget that you have veto powers if it starts getting out of control. 

I also realized that two of the mini bosses don’t make sense anymore – one was the old mentor of player A and the other was the thought-to-be-dead son of player B.


Keep em in there.  Not every adventure needs a personal connection to a current character.  Everybody has family and friends.  These enemies just have a more detailed backstory is all.
If they are basically trying to introduce stuff for their own power gain, then you do need to get them to stop via player to DM reasoning.

As for 'fixing' the derailments in game - that is easy.  The pair of them are either crazy delusional, or outright conniving liars.  So let them spin what ever tales they like, and when their lies produce no fruit, the rest of the party can do a collective eyebrow raise and say 'uhh huh - prince, was it?'

So there are two issues, one is players exerting disruptive narative influence, which you fix in the real world, and the other is the narative disruption that they've already caused, which can be either ignored through effective counter-narative, or you can run with it and make it work - or somthing in between.

Anyway - it is a good opportunity for everyone to understand that they all have a stake in each other's enjoyment, and thus a responsibility for not being a donkey-like critter.     
I think I'd agree with Iserith - frame some questions to 'force' them back into your plot, but without shutting them down. If they wanted to change character, then chances are it was because these new ones were cooler (more thematic / better optimised / intriguing story / partnership now) than their previous ones.

I'd say roll with the punches rather than say no to them.


  • If the details they are suggesting don't particularly matter to the plot ("Oh hey, back in my day this church used to a brothel!") let it slide, or maybe reward them for being interested in roleplaying.

  • If the details are making a major problem, maybe correct them? Don't phrase it as "this is my story - back off!" but as "Ah, Bob must have heard a tall tale about that!"

  • If the details are cooler than what you had planned - run with it!


In general I think it's good DM advice not to set up to much detailed encounters in advance. Unless you do a lot of railroading the players will often not do things as you planned them.The story you're telling is a cooperative effort between the players and the DM, where the DM makes the world and the players are the main actors.

Now it does sound like these players are also trying to make the world. That's your territory. The line between player background and inventing new parts of the world can get blurry if you're not playing in an established enironment like Forgotten Realms or Eberron so give them some space as well.

I don't think they can be outright lairs as someone suggested, in a game like this you actually need the stats and skills for that. But given that their background involves time travel, things probably didn't happen as they remembered them. They might remember King Alfred III, but he never existed as his parents were murdered as infants in the Great Regicide. Make stuff up. It can lead to some interesting role playing if non-timetravelling characters in the world remember things differently, say for example a really old elf or dragon you encounter.

5e should strongly stay away from "I don't like it, so you can't have it either."

 

I once asked the question (in D&D 3.5) "Does a Druid4/Wizard3/ArcaneHierophant1 have Wildshape?". Jesse Decker and Andy Collins: Yes and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Rich Redman and Ed Stark: No and the text is clear and can't be interpreted differently. Skip Williams: Lol, it's worded ambiguously and entirely not how I intended it. (Cust. Serv. Reference# 050815-000323)

The story you're telling is a cooperative effort between the players and the DM, where the DM makes the world and the players are the main actors.

Now it does sound like these players are also trying to make the world. That's your territory. The line between player background and inventing new parts of the world can get blurry if you're not playing in an established enironment like Forgotten Realms or Eberron so give them some space as well.



I agree - draw maps, but leave blanks for the players to fill in. While the control over the setting has traditionally fallen to the DM, there's very little reason not to include the players in the process of creating and expanding it. The things they create through this collaboration are things they are ostensibly interested in, which means you have instant player buy-in on using that material in your continuing adventures. If your table uses (or will consider using) the "Yes, and..." principles, you can do this collaboration all the time with the understanding that all of it must not contradict existing fiction. This will help you maintain consistency, while including things that everyone had a hand in creating.

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

My thought, following the rule of "Yes, and..." would be to say that this is what the new PCs believe to be true, but the reality of the situation would be that instead of travelling through time, they actually crossed dimensions to another world. 

- This way, they can make up whatever they want about the "past," and it doesn't matter if it conflicts with your ideas.  Barring this, they perhaps travelled so much farther into the future than they conceived by so many millenia that there is no direct meaningful connection to their past beyond what suits you/your story.

- This would allow for new plot elements to unfold as they come to realize that not everything actually happened as they thought/planned.

- It would still allow for you to use elements that they introduce, such as the drow trying to follow them, if it suits your purposes.  Perhaps the drow even caused the planar shift/error in time jump.

- As far as the "mini bosses" go, is there maybe a way to tie their machinations in to whatever caused the new PCs to show up at this particular time/location/plane?  Dealing with dark magicks/powers that caused the elves travelling magicks to materialize them in the here & now?

Anyway, these are a few thougths on taking what you've been given & moving forward to bring things a bit more back to your own direction.  It's basically saying "YES, that's what you think/believed happened, AND you are not all-knowing."

-Dan'L
I just…don’t know what to do with that.



Say "no."

I had a player once come to me with a background in which he was on the run from the Yakuza.  In a D&D 4th Edition game.  There are no Yakuza.  So I told him "no."  Then, I said, "let's come up with a way that you can have the same sort of back story, but with elements of this world."  If your players argue, remind them gently that you're a god and they serve at your pleasure.
I just…don’t know what to do with that.



Say "no."

I had a player once come to me with a background in which he was on the run from the Yakuza.  In a D&D 4th Edition game.  There are no Yakuza.  So I told him "no."  Then, I said, "let's come up with a way that you can have the same sort of back story, but with elements of this world."  If your players argue, remind them gently that you're a god and they serve at your pleasure.



Or you could have reflavored and renamed the theme and let him have it.  Any large criminal organization could have replaced 'yakuza'.
Another day, another three or four entries to my Ignore List.
Or you could have reflavored and renamed the theme and let him have it.  Any large criminal organization could have replaced 'yakuza'.



Yes, but then how could the DM properly demonstrate his godliness? The goal is to lord your power over the players, not to collaborate with them on making something fun for everyone. Right?

No amount of tips, tricks, or gimmicks will ever be better than simply talking directly to your fellow players to resolve your issues.
DMs: Don't Prep the Plot | Structure First, Story Last | Prep Tips | Spoilers Don't Spoil Anything | No Myth Roleplaying
Players: 11 Ways to Be a Better Roleplayer | You Are Not Your Character     Hilarious D&D Actual Play Podcast: Crit Juice!

FREE CONTENT: Encounters With Alternate Goals  |  Dark Sun Full-Contact Futbol   |   Pre-Generated D&D 5e PCs  |  Re-Imagining Phandelver

Follow me on Twitter: @is3rith

they came to the table with an elven prince (and his buddy) from an ancient kingdom that was destroyed by a drow invasion and as a last-ditch effort they opened a portal to the future and jumped through it. I just…don’t know what to do with that.

- It's neat that your players are getting into the game and exercising their own imagination.
- It's not so neat if they're not working with you on it.

They may not know though that this is creating hardship for you, so just explain the situation (not putting fault on them so much as yourself).

Retconning can be done by saying that they are actually from a different (parallel) prime material plane (or are under a curse to merely think they are).


I just…don’t know what to do with that.



Say "no."

I had a player once come to me with a background in which he was on the run from the Yakuza.  In a D&D 4th Edition game.  There are no Yakuza.  So I told him "no."  Then, I said, "let's come up with a way that you can have the same sort of back story, but with elements of this world."  If your players argue, remind them gently that you're a god and they serve at your pleasure.



Or you could have reflavored and renamed the theme and let him have it.  Any large criminal organization could have replaced 'yakuza'.

Isn't that what he was already saying?
come up with a way that you can have the same sort of back story, but with elements of this world

Odds are, if 4-6 people can't figure out an answer you thought was obvious, you screwed up, not them. - JeffGroves
Which is why a DM should present problems to solve, not solutions to find. -FlatFoot
Best defense that I've read in favor of having alignment systems as an option
Show
If some people are heavily benefiting from the inclusion of alignment, then it would behoove those that AREN'T to listen up and pay attention to how those benefits are being created and enjoyed, no? -YagamiFire
But equally important would be for those who do enjoy those benefits to entertain the possibility that other people do not value those benefits equally or, possibly, do not see them as benefits in the first place. -wrecan (RIP)
That makes sense. However, it is not fair to continually attack those that benefit for being, somehow, deviant for deriving enjoyment from something that you cannot. Instead, alignment is continually attacked...it is demonized...and those that use it are lumped in with it.

 

I think there is more merit in a situation where someone says "This doesn't work! It's broken!" and the reply is "Actually it works fine for me. Have you considered your approach might be causing it?"

 

than a situation where someone says "I use this system and the way I use it works really well!" and the back and forth is "No! It is a broken bad system!" -YagamiFire

Well, here's part of the problem with incorporating their backstory heavily into the plot: they seem to want to go on a quest to find out what happened, but the other players don't care about the ancient elven city. I don't want to force the other players go on their special adventure, but I don't want to take away their special adventure.

Maybe I can take another look at the backstory and put together a timeline that'll make everyone happy. The main villain is a dragon, so I may even be able to work him into the drow invasion thing somehow.