I have been playing D&D on and off for about twenty years now. In that time I have seen some magnificent characters and some terrible ones (some of which have been mine). Now, I don’t begrudge people the opportunity to play any character they want; I don’t even mind if the character is disruptive to the party, as long as the player is not disruptive to the group (unfortunately these usually go hand in hand, but I have occasionally seen PvP done well). However, what does make me a little sad is when characters are cliches; in a game that is all about imagination, it surprising how often certain character types come up.
[Note: These are all characters that I have encounted more than once. If you think I’m talking about you, it’s certainly possible, but you’re definitely not the only one.]
Thieves who steals from the party
Ok, so being a thief means you steal stuff… that’s fair enough. However, that doesn’t mean you need to steal everything you see; fighters don’t fight everything they see, after all. Stealing from the party (whether directly from the other characters or by hiding some of the treasure before it’s divided) also has unfortunate implications for the thief; he clearly doesn’t consider care about the party members and given the setup of most D&D campaigns, he probably doesn’t hang around with anyone else… he basically has no friends, poor chap.
Lawful stupid paladins
These tend to come about when someone takes the “law” part of lawful good too seriously and forgets about the “good” part. Yes, a paladin has to uphold the law, but when you start preventing the party from breaking some petty law, even though you’re also preventing them from saving the entire kingdom from certain doom, you might need to re-examine your priorities.
[As a side note, next time I get to play a paladin, I’m tempted to base him on Samuel Vimes from the Discworld books, who is a perfect example of an interesting Lawful Good character.]
Wizards who just take combat spells
Sometimes it’s just the easy option, sometimes it’s pressure from the rest of the party for the wizard to pull his weight in combat, but whatever the reason, I have regularly played with wizards who fill all their level 1 slots with magic missile, level 2 with flaming sphere, level 3 with fireball and so on. This is, of course, a perfectly viable way to go if that’s the character you particularly want to build, but I always feel a bit sad when such spells are simply taken as the default option.
Greedy neutral characters
I don’t object if someone actively makes a character with a mercenary background, but I have too often seen neutral characters simply default to money being their only motivation; they won’t save the village unless they’re being paid, there’s no point in defeating the dark lord if they’ve already looted his treasure chamber, etc… This is really just lazy characterisation, as there are plenty of other motivations a neutral character could have, which don’t involve money; my last two unaligned (I was playing 4th edition) characters were an expert swordsman who adventured in order to improve himself against superior opponents and a sixteen year old who adventured because visiting other planes is awesome fun.
As a final point, none of these characters are inherently bad (except maybe the paladin) as long some thought has gone into them. If you’re specifically building a fire themed wizard then taking mostly combat spells is probably appropriate; if your thief is stealing from the party and sending the extra cash back home to help his sick parents, that’s a good background; if your neutral cleric worships the god of money and is obliged to take payment for his services, that’s pretty cool. My objection is when these characters are created because “that’s how you’re supposed to play a xxxxxxxx”, as this undermines the very point of an RPG, which is play a character how *you* want to, not how anyone else wants you to.