It all started with a failed saving throw and ended with the Arakocra Monk hanging upside down from a gilded octopus chandelier while the shopkeep screamed for any city guards within earshot.
Let me back up a bit.
In my experience, most new groups of strangers generally take a while to warm up and roleplay with each other. When I get the opportunity to run games, I try to give my players options beyond the standard choices when building their characters.
At the start of our most recent D&D campaign, I asked my players to come up with some personal fears, quirks, and even biases. By adding a few extra mannerisms, the characters feel more fleshed out, and it provides the chance for players to act out when these character moments pop up. Our Paladin wanted her personal oath to be to eradicate any aberrations she encounters. Another player decided that his character hates Drow Elves (due to personal family tragedy) and any exposure to them caused an intense, occasionally involuntary, reaction. We conversed on how this would affect the character in game and settled on a Wisdom saving throw whenever the character interacted with the Drow (regardless of whether in or out of combat). If he succeeds, his character can overcome his prejudices and act swiftly; if he fails, he is either stunned for one round or has disadvantage on his next Charisma check.
The party’s Aarakocra player determined that he is obsessed with shiny baubles and trinkets, similar to a magpie. This quirk isn’t necessarily a hindrance during combat, but it makes any shopping trips with this character far more interesting to roleplay. If he’s out and notices something shiny, he has to succeed against a Wisdom saving throw or become consumed with need for that object.The first time the Aarakocra failed this save was in a magical “Joann’s Fabric” store. The party needed to speak to the owner regarding a disappearance, but the Tabaxi Pirate Rogue was also on the hunt for the perfect replacement pirate hat. This charismatic rogue was in the middle of sweet talking the clerk into letting them speak with the owner when the Aarakocra spotted a skein of golden thread behind the counter.
The player rolled a Wisdom save…and failed.
The Aarakocra leapt behind the counter and began weaving the thread around his claws and wings, much to the dismay of the clerk. The Tabaxi attempted to diffuse the situation with a well placed Persuasion check… and rolled a natural 1. A few burly stockboys were called to remove the party from the building, and once more the Tabaxi tried to calm down everyone …and rolled another natural 1. Ultimately, the party was forced to adjust their strategy and think of new ways to learn what they needed to know, which also added a great bit of character growth in dealing with the Aarakocra: they learned to keep a close eye on him anytime they needed to enter certain stores.
A few in-game weeks later and the party found themselves in need of a bronze dragon scale. Having met one already (as part of the Dragon Heist Campaign book), they determined that their best course of action was to try and bribe the dragon with some variety of golden offering to improve their chances. The Gnome Wizard located a nautical-themed antique store near the docks and entered with the Aarakocra in tow.
Once again…another Wisdom save for the Aarakocra.
This time a natural 1.
By the time the party had pried their Monk friend off the afore-mentioned Octopus Chandelier and begrudgingly paid for the overpriced and partially broken decoration, the entire table was crying with laughter. It’s moments like this that I want to encourage by having more options during character creation.
It may not be every Game Master’s cup of tea to improvise new scenarios on the fly when players inevitably go off the rails with unconventional solutions, but for my first Dungeon Master tip: Embrace Character Quirks. I find it wholly worth it when they make memories that last long after the session is over. When you allow you them to embrace their character quirks and experiment, you create an inviting atmosphere that encourages both character and team growth.