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Changing PCs Mid-Game: Good Idea or Trouble Waiting to Happen?

Written by Janna - Published on August 22, 2009

Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

It’s inevitable. If you run a game for any substantial length of time, you’ll eventually have a player who wants to change PCs right in the middle of everything. This can be frustrating for the party and the DM, especially if you’ve put plot elements in motion which center around the original PC.

Should you make the player stick with the character they already have, or should you let them change PCs mid-game? Before we answer that question, let’s take a look at some of the most common reasons players want to change PCs.

Scenario A: “My PC concept doesn’t fit the game.”

This occurs when a player draws up a PC that’s just not appropriate to your campaign. Maybe they’ve got a lawful good paladin of Bahamut, and they dream of receiving a hero’s welcome with trumpets blaring whenever they set foot in town. The only problem is that you’re running an unaligned or evil campaign, and your major NPCs (and possibly the other party members) regard the paladin with everything from suspicion to open scorn.

To avoid this fish out of water scenario, collaborate with your players before you kick off the campaign. You can give them a basic outline of the game and the central alignment without divulging too many details. This will help players decide if they want to participate, and draw up appropriate PCs.

Scenario B: “Nobody likes my PC.”

Because of bad decisions or inter-PC personality conflicts, the character just doesn’t sit well in the party dynamic. They have become the red-headed step-child of your campaign, and the player wants to abandon them and draw up a PC with less personal baggage.

When faced with this scenario, you should ask yourself two things: First, is the conflict emerging from out-of-character differences? If so, helping the players resolve their issues could prevent problems in the future. Second, does the player make a habit of playing disruptive characters and then abandoning them before the consequences of their actions catch up to them? If so, it might be time to draw the player’s attention to their habit and let them know it’s not going to happen again – at least, not in your game.

Scenario C: “I want to try this new class they just released.”

The player has just gotten their hands on a new rule book, and lo and behold, there’s something in there that is (in their opinion) way cooler than the character they’re already playing. They just have to draw up a new PC so they can experience the godly coolness firsthand.

This scenario isn’t as common as you’d think. When it does happen, it usually happens within a player’s first few game sessions. Why? Because players find it difficult to give up on a PC they’ve invested time and energy into developing. As long as they’re still enjoying the original PC, they’re more likely to stick it out than to change PCs mid-game.

The Bottom Line

D&D is about having fun and, as a DM, a huge part of your job is making sure your players have a good time.  Having unhappy players around your table isn’t a good way to keep your game alive. My advice is to err on the side of enjoyment. The transition might be a little bumpy, but if a PC change will significantly improve a player’s game experience (without significantly detracting from the enjoyment of the other players), let it be.

How do you feel about players switching PCs mid-stride? Leave a comment and let me know!

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Written by Janna

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Janna discovered D&D at the age of 16, and she's been rolling the dice for 16 years. (You do the math.) She is fond of intelligent villains, drow society, and campaigns that explore the Dark Side.

 

 Comments

18 Responses to “Changing PCs Mid-Game: Good Idea or Trouble Waiting to Happen?”
  1. Steve says:

    The most common reason I’m given is that the player thinks that their current character’s story arc is played out, and they have achieved what they were setting out to achieve.

    When this happens, we discuss whether it’s true or not — it usually is, from the player’s perspective — and how to bring that arc to an end: character death, or departure? If departure, why and under what circumstances.

    Then we discuss the new character, how they join the group, and how that will fit the plot.

    I see no need for the transition period to be bumpy. Working things out ahead of time usually makes these successful, and a character’s last session can often be made into a memorable event.

  2. Jon says:

    At my table it’s usually me that suggests for the player to change character, way before they do. The main reason for these changes is incompatibility with the rest of the party.
    On the other hand it is not often it gets that far as I’m a killer DM, I kill pcs on random encounters…

  3. Alex says:

    Ouch, dude! I’m usually pretty lenient on what the players want, as long as it’s a “real” reason, something that detracts from the experience. I try to enforce things in players that I would want them to do in the real world : ie. Stick with a choice.
    That way, I don’t feel too bad about saying know, and they come to realise what kind of choice they’re making.

    be on the right side, and you’ll never be wrong.

  4. DandDGuy says:

    I believe that it is a collaborative effort between the DM and the player whether the time is right for the PCs to change mid-stream he or she may have to wait a few sessions to change. as for the killer DM please read. this article. Killing PCs just because you can your players will eventually become resentful and start leaving your game.

    http://www.dungeonmastering.com/gaming-life/dm-dilemma-should-you-let-the-pcs-die

    This will help with that all of the articles on the site are meant to be helpful.

  5. Yax says:

    I meta-game a lot of the basic circumstances that would allow a complete stranger to suddenly hang out with a new group of adventurers. Once all players agree on why it would make sense, we roleplay the details.

  6. DandDGuy says:

    That is another way of approaching the problem of changing PCs mid-stream Yax and is a good way to avoid a problem in future sessions.

    On a side not Yax I am thinking about doing my own web Site by the name of ArmChairGeek.com what do you think of the name for the site.

  7. Jon says:

    @DandDGuy, to my defense I don’t kill the PCs just because I can. I just don’t believe in fudging the dice in order for the players to live a fluffy puffy cushion of invincibility. Upon introducing new players to our group I always make it clear to them that their characters may die because of a freak accident or a lucky goblin mob (even if they’re lvl 10). They accept that and quite a few of my players love character generation and actually enjoy the fact that they get to try out a lot of the concepts they want to try.

  8. DandDGuy says:

    Oh OK, then I am sorry I must have ms-understood what you were saying.

  9. Rob says:

    We have a player in one of our games who changes characters every few sessions. It is pretty annoying, but we have spoken to him quite a bit about it and his behavior doesn’t change. Sadly, short of telling him to stop showing up to the games there is not much we can do.

    In addition to the issues mentioned above, his continuous character churn has caused us problems with the magic items in the group. His characters have both occasionally walked off with important (for the plot) magic items and caused a glut of magic items to be brought in. He has even admitted to picking items for his starting magic items that he thought “the party could use if this character dies in a couple of sessions.”

    He is a nice guy, but boy is this habit of his annoying.

  10. Argent says:

    I’ve just had this exact situation come up in my 4e campaign. I’d specifically designed the campaign to cover the full 30 levels. I spent a fair amount of time outlining the background and also that I wanted to make sure each player was comfortable playing a character for that length of time. As a group, players and DM, we looked at all the characters and made sure there were no obvious weaknesses in the party and that key skills and roles had a primary PC and a backup. I really didn’t want to get 3 or 4 adventures in and find the party were just fatally flawed.

    So 5 sessions in 2 players wanted to change – both for character concept reasons. It was kinda tough for me to accept it but I didn’t push back and just went with it. The reward I got back from was that they effectively swapped characters! Yes they made some changes to the odd stat or power but both were sufficiently invested in the campaign that they wanted to maintain as much consistency as possible whilst maximising their own enjoyment.

    Was it luck? Great players? Proper preparation? I don’t know but I’m really pleased with the way everything turned out. Now if I could only remember to call the players by their correct character’s name …

  11. DandDGuy says:

    That may be a good opportunity to kill a character talk to him about and I bet that it will change his mind. But, try to be subtle about it because you don’t want a confrontation that would be a bad thing. Just talk to him if that does not work threaten to kill his character for the sake of the game. Sounds mean, but it might work to get your point across.

  12. Yax says:

    I had a player who had been playing a fighter since 5th level, and the party was now 13th.
    Here’s a comment Partick sent me:

    He got tired of playing it, because “High level fighters just don’t get as much out of their levels as other characters”. He asked me if he could “roll up” a sorcerer to take it’s place. Since I had worked the campaign so that characters could easlily be written out, and worked in (they worked for an organization and went on assignments, so party changes were bound to happen), and the party needed a blaster, I said yes. Even though this player was known for making “Posey Sorcerers” as we call them, he made it clear that his caracter wouldn’t be going all out unless absoltely necicary. It’s been working out wel so far, the party is 20th level, and after several other party changes(players leaving and joining our group), we’re ready for our first Epic Adventure. They’re going to be sieging a city of sand and fire giants, but I’m not sure what else to throw at them. If you have any ieas, I’d appreciate it.

  13. Delf says:

    One of our group members has PC ADHD. I started a 4th ed campaign not long after its release and he changed PCs right in the middle of an adventure because he didn’t feel the rogue class allowed him to pull all the cool stunts in “Assassin’s Creed”, so he wanted to play a minotaur fighter and knock everything over. He’s not a new player, either; he’s been gaming for 15 or 20 years.

  14. Zyferiax says:

    Yeah, I have to say that I don’t mind too much players switching chars during a campaign as long as there’s a good reason. I just recently switched my character from a cleric to a barbarian because we all realized that I couldn’t be a leader well in this game, something I didn’t know until now. Now we’re doing way better…

    I don’t know… sometimes it’s a good idea and can be handled, and sometimes it just can’t be, that’s basically the bottom line there.

  15. Wampus Cat says:

    If, for whatever reason, the players want to change character class, I try to get them to keep the same character and just change the class. That way, the background can remain fairly constant, and I don’t have to throw away a lot of the hooks I’ve already created for the character.

    Seems to work pretty well, although I’m not sure what class a couple of my players are using at the moment…

  16. Paradox Backlash says:

    We had a campaign that ran for 7 years, with more or less the same core players and characters. Our DM got around *most* people wanting to change characters by introducing an in-game “library” where a character to go and re-train as a different class, or be morphed into a different race/gender. Pretty much turn in all your skills, respec however you want, and come back as your new class one level lower than the rest of the party. We still had the one guy that wanted an entirely new character every couple months.

    I only ever had to change because I was initially playing a psionicist, and the DM decided that once we hit 15th level they were too underpowered compared to the rest of the party.

  17. Brennon says:

    I played a campaign once where I took on two characters. I was playing Auduin, my Paladin for a long time and the DM approached me and asked if I would consider playing a different class and character. I immediatly said yes at the chance and made Dairn Ironfoot, my Dwarven Ranger with a hatred of goblins lol…as if theres much else to hate as a dwarf.

    But yes, it worked out really well. Of course Auduin and Dairn couldnt be in the same place at the same time, but we worked out reasons why the other would go off now and then and be replaced by the dwarf, or vice versa.

    Made an already rich group even richer and worked out for the best. I love my dwarf!

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  1. […] Changing PCs Mid-Game: Good Idea or Trouble Waiting to Happen? Janna covers the three most common reasons a player wants to drop a character from an ongoing campaign and how to handle these eventualities. One reason for dropping a character that she forgot to mention was the “I didn’t think my character would turn out this way” reason for dropping it. Some people have a preconceived notion as to what the character will turn out to be, and somewhere the character takes a left turn. This could be due to lack of familiarity with the rules, a poor choice or two by the player or a change in editions in the gaming system that drastically changes the character in a way the player did not anticipate. Over the years, I’ve had plenty of people get tired of their characters for one reason or another. I always try to see if there is a way to work things out to keep the character in the party, but I’m not adverse to outright dropping the character in exchange for something the player will have more fun with. […]



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