This article was first broadcast in Episode Seventeen on 28th March 2018.
Ostron: One of my players used the sending stone, they want to change characters AGAIN. It’s something like the fourth time and I have no idea what to do here.
Lennon: What are they now?
Ostron: Gnome Cleric
Lennon: And they’re switching to…
Ostron: Goliath Barbarian
Ryu: That’s…um…that’s quite a jump.
Lennon: Might not be insurmountable though. He’re some pointers.
Even the most carefully crafted character can eventually become more of a burden than a companion. Most players have experienced the conflict of approaching a D&D session and realizing that they’d rather not play the character whose sheet they’re looking at. Unless you have some assurance that the current campaign is wrapping up in another few sessions, this situation can be a recipe for conflict and confusion. Fortunately, we’re here to help.
First of all, before anything else, you should ask to talk about your issue with your DM. The DM is the one crafting the story and needs to be kept informed of any major changes. Usually the DM is the one making those changes, but in this case it’s you, and doing so can have a dramatic effect on the story and the DM’s plans. For example, if they’re crafting a sideplot centered on your character’s sister, and you suddenly decide that your character won’t be around anymore, the DM will want to know that before they sink any more effort into crafting that part of the adventure. However, things may not be that dire.
Before you settle on the idea that you need to set your character sheet on fire and move on, it’s worth doing some analysis to determine what it is about your character that you don’t enjoy anymore. We’re going to cover a few likely causes here and the possible ways to fix it, both for minor issues and for larger problems.
First possibility: you don’t like the personality your character has. This is obviously more of a roleplay concern. Fatigue with the character’s attitude is understandable, particularly if you’re attempting to roleplay an attitude or worldview that’s quite different from your own.
One possibility is to have your character step back from as much active roleplaying, so you don’t have to think and react with the personality that’s annoying you so much. Depending on the group, the other players may pick up the slack for you and assume what your characters reactions would be. Alternatively, the DM can suggest what your likely reactions would be based on how the character has behaved to that point.
If you want the character’s personality to actually change, the DM can probably accommodate that without too much hand-waving. Personality changes after brain trauma are well documented, so literal hand-waving of other characters, inflicting spells like Dominate or Feeblemind, could have a personality change as a side effect. Or the DM can add events and circumstances that would give your character a more organic reason to change their personality, like having the party encounter more and more struggling, angry victims that might encourage your character to be less merciful and more interested in bashing heads.
If your character’s mechanics in combat or skills are bothering you, the change might be harder to fit into the campaign without some suspension of disbelief. You first have to identify what you want your character to be able to do that they aren’t doing now. If it’s something such as “doing more damage” or “being able to attack from range”, the fix may involve adding a feat you didn’t have or possibly multiclassing (taking a level in Fighter is usually an easy way to gain proficiency with a weapon you might want to use, for example). If the change in ability is minor, it might even be easy to explain in game. A character suddenly using a bow can explain that they used to go hunting, for example. Or gaining proficiency in stealth could be done with the built-in downtime training mechanic described in the Dungeon Master’s Guide.
If the change you want is more substantial and you’re past level three, some character restructuring is probably going to be involved. If it’s something like “I want to start using magic,” multiclassing to wizard might suffice for your needs, but you’ll be behind in the number of spells you’re able to cast based on your level. On the other hand, if your class has an archetype that allows magic use, such as the Fighter’s Eldrich Knight, you could switch archetype rather than class.
The challenge there is, again, if your character is beyond level 3. If you’re already embroiled in an archetype but want to backpedal to another one, or if you want to back up and re-level in another class, there’s going to be some substantial story interruption or cataclysmic event centered on your character that causes them to change classes. Typically story explanation around events like that involve possession or direct intervention by a more powerful being, sometimes coupled with some time dilation to explain someone gaining months or years worth of experience without putting the story on hold for that long.
If you’re going to make a change to your character that’s that substantial, it may be worth replacing them unless the backstory and history of the character is something you definitely want to maintain.
Going that route is a bit easier to explain in story terms. Death is obviously an easy out, but it can get annoying for other players if a character is obviously attempting suicide or the DM is blatantly going out of their way to target that character. Another option might be for the character to decide they need to settle down or they want to return to an area the party visited before and devote more time there. If they’re part of a larger organization, they could be recalled for official business. A good source for reasons a party member might leave is long-running TV series. Many of them have regular characters rotate out due to real-world issues and need to explain it in the show, so see what some of those reasons have been.
Obviously all of this is only an issue if the group and the DM are concerned about the change or departure of the character making sense within the story. If your group isn’t terribly focused on continuity of your tale, just change what you want as long as the DM’s okay with it. Otherwise, we hope some of the ideas above will help you out.
Lennon: So what do you think?
Ostron: Personally, I’m leaning toward Wild Magic explosion
Lennon: Well that’s certainly one way of doing it
Ryu: Weeeeellll, you know, we could get another opinion…
Lennon & Ostron: NO HAT!