Hello fellow DM's. I have lurked around this board for a few months now, mostly indirectly using the problems of other DM's to rate and change my own DM'ing style, but now I have a...unique problem. This requires some background:
The problem player is perhaps the quietest person you'd ever meet. He isn't just quiet in-game or in-character, he's quiet in real life too. Most times, his turns consist of a movement, a mumbled attack, then the roll and damage. He won't converse unless absolutely necessary. Normally, this would be fine; I don't try to take my players (who are all good friends) outside their comfort zone, and he has stuck to playing quiet/sneaky characters (a halfling rogue, a drow ranger/rogue, etc). The problem has risen during the start of a new campaign, which began with a TPK from the last campaign, where we had agreed that rather than "suddenly, a whole new group of heroes appears just after the old one dies!", we'd start a new campaign. In this new campaign, I want to, and the players have agreed to, put more emphasis on roleplaying. The problem has to do with backstories. Everybody's backstory is fairly straightfoward, usually with the characters either on the run from some vengeful entity or on a quest for enlightenment/knowledge. The problem player's background is the former, more specifically he's on the run from an entire village of his Elven kin after he slew his wife's killer. He also contends that he made a deal with Zehir as a part of getting his revenge; the typical "god X please give me power to do act Y, and in return I'll worship you" But here's where the problems begin. Everybody in our party has some kind of "difficulty" or "problem" inherent in our backstories. For example, the warlock is a childhood friend of the ardent, and when the ardent falls in combat the warlock gets very irrational, doing all manner of things foolish and dangerous to himself to revive his friend. The problem player REFUSES to have any kind of shortcoming to his backstory. In fact, when I, as DM, wanted to clarify part of his backstory (initially he said he worshipped Zehir openly in an Elf Clan that would surely have killed him for such an act), he began changing his backstory. This has continued for the entire campaign, now halfway through the 2nd level. When I give the players opportunities to refine their backstory/character, he will oblige with ancedotes that increasingly make me want to force his character to re-name to "Jesus Chuck Norris Prime". Whenever i try to learn "as DM, for future quests and whatnot" any solid facts, he is very dodgy. For example, the party meets an elf clan, and the leader of that clan talks to every elf in the party (which includes two other players, plus the problem player). The two other players give their clan names, ranks, specialties, that sort of info. The problem player is silent, then says (out of character) "I don't tell him anything." I say as DM "the elf looks at you, then says 'Are you not proud to be an elfen? Come friend, tell me which clan you belong to!'" He then asks me out of character for typical elf clan names. I give a list of about seven or so, and he picks one. I then say as the elf leader "Ah, that's a good clan! Their craftsmen are famous throughout this region for their bows! We'll have to get you working on some bows for us, eh?" The problem player then immediately says "that doesn't fit my backstory, i'm not actually a part of that clan."
To recap the essence of the problem: a player won't allow any kind of backstory or roleplaying refinement/exploration that could possibly inconvienence/harm him in any way.
Things i've tried: -Talking to him privately (he said little more than "ok" -Giving him incentive to develop a more robust backstory (by allowing side quests based on the players' backstories, with DM tooled loot [something to the effect of "you find your family's lost tome of genealogy, and through it you absorb much knowledge on the world of the past." You gain a +1 bonus to history checks relating to natural creatures.]) -Giving him plenty of opportunities to change his character/backstory (I allow all my players to freely change characters for the first three whole sessions of my campaigns; the sacrifice of continuity is well worth avoiding somebody playing a unfun character for 30 levels)
Things I CANNOT do: -Kick him from the group. He's a close friend, and I firmly believe doing so could ruin our friendship. -Absolutely FORCE him to change his backstory. I believe this crosses the line from DM to tyrant and in addition might take him out of his comfort zone.
Now that i've wrote a novel's worth of words, can anbody offer advice in this situation?
From reading this, the very first thing pops to my mind is: he does have a character flaw. His character is a pathological liar. The backstory keeps changing because the character keeps changing it, for some reason. He doesn't want the truth to be out, so he keeps making himself sound better and better. Maybe because he feels bad about what he did (the whole Zehir worship and all) and wants to paint himself in a better light, perhaps he did something else. Perhaps he just feels like he's not good enough compared to his companions.
This will allow him to change his story, in character, whenever he wants. As long as nothing catches up to him, he can keep lying his ass off to anyone he meets. Whenever you want to introduce something from his backstory that actually happened, discuss it with him before the session, so that he (as a player) is aware (or can object to) what happened. And his character can deny it, change it, manipulate it, whatever he likes.
Not sure if your player thinks this is a good idea, though. Maybe he really wants to play a Mary Sue.
Epic Dungeon Master
Want to give your players a kingdom of their own? I made a 4e rule system to make it happen!
If he's showing up week after week to mutter the name of a power, roll dice, and do math on his sheet, then that's what he likes. He may have "gone along to get along" with the roleplaying discussion you had at the start of the campaign. But that doesn't sound like the game he enjoys per se, though he may enjoy watching the other players ham it up and listening to the stories that unfold. You can't force someone to want to engage in that type of roleplaying.
Therefore, just focus on the other characters for now. If he wants to jump in at some point, he will.
The problem player's background is the former, more specifically he's on the run from an entire village of his Elven kin after he slew his wife's killer. He also contends that he made a deal with Zehir as a part of getting his revenge; the typical "god X please give me power to do act Y, and in return I'll worship you" But here's where the problems begin. Everybody in our party has some kind of "difficulty" or "problem" inherent in our backstories. For example, the warlock is a childhood friend of the ardent, and when the ardent falls in combat the warlock gets very irrational, doing all manner of things foolish and dangerous to himself to revive his friend. The problem player REFUSES to have any kind of shortcoming to his backstory.
... snip quote] I'm not sure why you say he has no problem in his backstory, having his wife murdered, getting kicked out of his elven clan and worshiping an evil diety sounds like a huge problem to me.
the feel that i got, from your elf clan name thingy story was this:
elf NPC "pressured" players for a surname/clan-name.
other elf PCs provided name
subject elf PC asked you for some names, you gave him one.
Subject elf PC tells NPC elf the name, then NPC elf springs some fluff that the character wasn't aware of as being attached to the clan names.
this could be taken two ways: #1 - the elf PC was just trying to get the NPC elf off his back by shooting a random name out so the NPC would shut up.
#2 - the elf PC honestly didn't have a clan-name thought up or maybe even know he was supposed to belong to a "clan." The elf PC was asking you for some options so he could pick one to use. You obliged, but then afterwards slapped on some additional facet that he wasn't expecting, or apparently, comfortable with.
i THINK that you assumed #1.....but what if it was #2?
here's a strategy that will cover either situation next time a similar situation comes up: #1 everything happens up to the elf PC picking one of your sample names and then telling the NPC elf the name. #2 YOU ask the PLAYER (out of game) if he really is part of that clan. If yes, then ask the player to come up with an interesting fact about the clan (can be anything, really) for the NPC elf to remark upon, and also slightly enrich the players backstory. If NO, then ask the player to make a bluff check, opposed by NPC elf's passive insight....on a success, PC elf passes off his phony clan name with no problem, and on a failure, the NPC elf knows he lied (but probably doesn't think much of it)
the idea is if his character gave a phony clan name with the intention of "get off my back" - its a lie and is treated like a bluff, though probably with meaningless consequences other than shaping the relationship between one player and a single NPC.
if the idea is to come up with an actual facet of the players backstory, its important as a DM to run everything by a player BEFORE doing it in game. If the player has a say-so in what his clan is known for, he's much more engaged in the story....perhaps his clan IS known for Zehir-worship....to fit it in the story, the elf-NPC would probably not outright hate/attack him, but you could describe the fact that he gives the player's character a wary look and seems less trusting of him in particular.
backstory is, as you seem well aware, the "property" of the players, to be meddled with and interacted with only with great caution and permission by the DM. If you think about it, the players have only 3 avenues of control for the entire game world. Their character mechanics (the "numbers"), their actions in game (but only as far as the NPCs and events allow), and their backstory. The first two only provide limited control (numbers are only so customizable, and NPCs and events will temper and shape the player's actions a great deal), so it makes sense to really allow the backstory to be "theirs."
I once tried a game with "backstory plot" where the player's respective backstories shaped the plot of the game. I even WROTE the backstories and characters (it was the first and only time we've ever tried playing like that)....the spotlight ended up being too narrow to ever shine on more than one person at a time, and the player's and DM's respective interpretations of the backstory were different enough to cause significant problems.
My rule of thumb now is "the plot moves forward independent of backstories, but if the players want and if i can work specific things in, the respective backstories might make meaningful cameo appearances"
i'm currently running a grand "war" game with my players where one of them is a dragonborn. he's told me his clan was conquered in the past and he was raised by humans. He's one of the only dragonborn on his side of the war and doesn't really identify with the dragonborn ideals. But he's also opened the door for (and agreed to) possibly running into and fighting portions of his clan on the enemy side later in the campaign. I'm not expecting a quest for redemption or a heartstring-pulling moral dilemma. I'm really just tossing out the opportunity for the player to expand on his character's "character." by having some possible RP interactions unique to that situation.
For example, the party meets an elf clan, and the leader of that clan talks to every elf in the party (which includes two other players, plus the problem player). The two other players give their clan names, ranks, specialties, that sort of info. The problem player is silent, then says (out of character) "I don't tell him anything." I say as DM "the elf looks at you, then says 'Are you not proud to be an elfen? Come friend, tell me which clan you belong to!'" He then asks me out of character for typical elf clan names. I give a list of about seven or so, and he picks one. I then say as the elf leader "Ah, that's a good clan! Their craftsmen are famous throughout this region for their bows! We'll have to get you working on some bows for us, eh?" The problem player then immediately says "that doesn't fit my backstory, i'm not actually a part of that clan."
I think that this example shows that this PC does have problems from his backstory. When he said that his PC was not part of a clan it's true, he was expelled from his clan for killing his wife's killer.
Thanks for the feedback. I believe I need to clarify something though:
Its not that he won't roleplay. I'm fine with a player not comfortable with RP'ing not doing so. The problem is that he constructs his backstory and runs his character in such a way that I feel he's purposefully dodging any kind of repurcussions and/or negativity. Its as if anytime he is given the chance, he changes some aspect of his backstory to make it more and more unlikely that he'll ever face any kind of vengeance for his actions, or that he'll ever get caught up in any kind of background-related plot in any negative way. I THINK he does it in meta to cover himself from future problems, but I can't exactly prove my thoughts (hence why they're thoughts). I do, however, know that several other players have commented both to me in private and to the group at large that there's a disparity between the types of backgrounds in the group. I'm more posting to look for advice to prevent this from turning into a "My backstory, something solely for roleplaying, now protects me from all manner of threats" (which I could genuinely see happening)