Few things are more annoying to a roleplayer than a poorly-executed cliché. Those who roleplay a cliché character require attention, work, and still oftentimes do not become more bearable as time progresses.
This is not to say that such clichés are an impossibility to play, simply that there are inherent difficulties in playing them that are often overlooked or ignored. The aim of this guide is to offer ways to make these roleplay types more bearable – specifically those featuring a ‘disabled’ character. This guide is not about those who actually have a disability in real life, but players who decide, for whatever reason, to give their character an ailment, be it physical or mental.
Many of those who work with novices have, at one point or another, encountered a character with a roleplayed disability. Oftentimes these are poorly done, sloppy, and not well thought out. And, unfortunately, it is also quite frequent for them to resist any and all attempts of a cure, falling to the time-honored ‘a wizard did it’ defense (or something equally unbelievable) to explain why their disability is resistant to all remedies. This is, quite frankly, jarring and annoying and should be avoided at all costs.
There are two basic things to keep in mind while roleplaying a disability, it requires a strong ‘what and why’, and a heavy degree of restraint and flexibility.
The ‘what’ is the most obvious of the three – what is wrong with the character? Many seem to default to physical disabilities or problems, a missing or crippled limb, blindness, deafness, inability to speak, and other such actions. While it is possible to roleplay these, these are difficult to convincingly show if the mechanics of the game can prove you wrong.
Unfortunately, mechanics must almost always trump RP, and this is one such case. Roleplaying a missing arm can be confusing if one is suddenly forced to wield a sword in the supposedly non-existent hand, or is struck in the right hand by an attack. Similarly, if cures for blindness, deafness or stuttering exists, it hardly makes sense to play these out as disabilities. For instance, in Achaea, blindness is cured by an epidermal salve or a mindseye tattoo – someone roleplaying a blind monk in Achaea is likely to be drowned in a sea of epidermal salves and the inks required to create a mindseye. Explaining why a cure that works for every other person on the planet but not for you can be a very tricky proposition.
Instead of roleplaying such common physical ailments, roleplaying some other problem may be just as entertaining without the suspension of belief required for more high-profile disabilities. Perhaps your character is allergic to a food or animal, or has a fear of birds. Whatever the choice, care must be taken that it both makes sense, and that it is not overly demanding of others – which leads into the next topic, restraint and flexibility.
There are two things to consider here – your impact on others, and your dependence on others. A deaf/blind/mute character will have trouble with many tasks, and will likely require another to help them on a regular basis. These are the types of disabilities to be avoided, if another character is not there to help yours, then you will be unable to do many things without breaking role. A healthy degree of independence must be maintained or the character rapidly becomes unviable in the long-run, you will get bored as will other players.
Similarly, your character should not be too demanding of others. Other players are not obligated to help yours through every trial in their life, and you should not force yourself on them. Such actions will likely make your character unpopular, and quick to be ignored whenever the opportunity presents itself. This also leads to an unenjoyably and hostile environment. Allowing other players to ‘opt out’ of roleplay situations whenever they like will allow you to get some of the role-play with a willing group, and still allow them to do as they please.
Though there is more work required, roleplaying a disabled character is not entirely impossible – simply improbable – and all roleplay associated with it should be approached with due caution. Remember, when planning your character, that often times mechanics trump roleplay and your character should be kept within the confines of possibilities. You should also execute the proper restraint – forcing others to care for your character constantly will not win you many friends, and may serve to alienate you from other players. Proper care must be taken to ensure your disability does not interfere with the fun of others.