This article was first broadcast in Episode One Hundred Fifteen on 22nd April 2020.
Lennon: Hey guys? I just came from HR and I have a question.
Ryu: Well that explains the sulfur smell
Ostron: Oh hang on, let me just prestidigitation the floor here and…
Lennon: Why do I feel funny? Hey what’s going on
Ryu: So where’s the real Lennon?
Ostron: Wait for it…
Lennon: Hey guys? I just came from HR and I have a question
Ostron: Great! What’s on your mind?
Lennon: Why has Gath Memvar signed everything “Forever Cleric”? I thought his official position was Head Scribe?
Ryu: Oh, well that was his job originally, and he’s comfortable with it. So are some of the staff. I mean, just ask KayDee’s favourite organ donor.
Lennon: Yeah, fair enough, Ostron really does like having two kidneys. I really feel like Gath should just move on.
Ostron: Eh, there’s an argument either way on that, I think. And not just for my kidney’s sake.
If you’re a player who’s got many years of play in their dice bag or you’ve been playing in several one-shots and shorter campaigns, you probably end up with a large number of characters played over the years (assuming you haven’t been playing with the Killer DM and she’s killed all of them and set your character sheets on fire). The character taken through an epic multi-year campaign may have really evolved, or a one-shot character that had an interesting premise might do well given more time to mature. Alternatively, you may also frequently play the same or similar class (clerics do tend to be hard to find), and it’s simply easier to pull out an old character.
The question becomes, though, what is the effect on the rest of the group? There are a number of reasons to create a “stable” of characters, though some caution needs to be used when re-using these characters.
One of the big benefits to re-using characters with a regular playgroup is familiarity for both DMs and players. Sure, the backstory may need to be tweaked to fit the setting, but in general, the “fluffy” or story aspects have largely been written. The DM knows the kind of character that is coming, and you spend less time on character building and backstory development.
Re-using characters also introduces an opportunity to flex roleplay muscles. For example, if the group was playing Curse of Strahd, your character had reactions and development based on that setting and those events. It’s up to you to decide how that same character would respond to the mountainous challenges of Storm King’s Thunder, or walking around the Chultan jungle in Tomb of Annihilation. For a different kind of challenge, bringing the same version of the character through each campaign could prove interesting, especially as the character grows more powerful; however, the DM would need to make some adjustments to provide appropriate challenges, particularly if your character is multiple levels above the usual stated limit and it’s important to not dial them back a bit.
If all the players in the group have a number of reusable characters, this also makes it easy to build a party. A well-established group could have upwards of 20 characters between the players, allowing quick and easy party building. Additionally, this allows for some persistence of character interactions, allowing the players to build deep, complex stories that supplement the DM’s story. It’s a lot easier to be exasperated about something two characters experienced a year ago while adventuring together if it actually happened, rather than the players making it up to roleplay a believable rivalry or friendly competition.
It’s also worth noting that many online character builders, including D&D Beyond, make it easy to build a character all the way through level 20, and then scale them back to whatever level you need without fiddling with selecting abilities and spells all the time, which makes reusing long-standing characters even easier.
However, there are some downsides to re-using characters. One of the immediate drawbacks is you can become typecast into a specific role, forcing you to effectively only ever play the same class or race. If you keep playing a spellcaster, for example, you could show up for a campaign session zero and discover everyone else’s has already picked classes around the idea of you playing a Wizard, or you could start getting questions from other players about being “allowed” to play a class your character usually takes on. This isn’t necessarily a problem if you’re okay with the same character, but it may mean that if you want to try something different you’ll have to give your regular playgroup advance notice.
Alternatively, if you played a character that caused friction in the group for whatever reason, you may want to stop and think before returning to that character. Examine or ask the other players what bothered them about the character, and possibly look at revising the character to remove the more problematic aspects of it. If it was something you feel is inherent to the character’s DNA, and changing it would effectively make them a different character, it may be worth abandoning that one, possibly unless you find a different playgroup.
Finally, you want to make sure of your motivation in replaying the same character. If you genuinely want to explore how the character would behave in a different campaign, or you feel like you have more to explore with the race or class, that’s great. But if you’re doing it to avoid some of the “work” of D&D, you may want to reevaluate, or possibly get some help. If coming up with a new character concept is daunting to you, ask for some suggestions from other players, or check online to see what ideas people suggest. If researching class and race abilities and filling out a sheet fills you with dread, that’s another area where at least one other player will probably give you a hand. If you’re worried about taking on a different social role, one of the other players or the DM can probably give you pointers and help you out during the actual game.
The best way to strike a balance, is, you guessed it, talk to your DM. DMs may want to have a player recycle an old character, or request a party made of specific characters; players may also want something similar. At the same time, DMs may want to enforce a “new characters only” rule from time to time to shake things up a little bit, or have half the group reuse old characters while the other half introduce new ones.
Lennon: So what you’re telling me is everyone’s fine with Gath being the forever cleric and I should stop being bothered about it.
Ostron: Exactly, now we need to get Lennon for the scrying pool.
Lennon: What? I’m right here-ohhh noooo
Ostron: Right, I’ll message Lennon to come out of the HR office.
Ryu: Isn’t he just going to come out complaining about Gath again?
Ostron: Nah, he’ll have forgotten it.
Ryu: It seemed like it was really on his mind.
Ostron: Who is he in the HR office with?
Ryu: Ohhhh riiiight. Oblex. Well, I’ll see you in there. And I’ll be watching for slime trails.