Table Thoughts: The Chameleon

Green Chameleon · Free Stock Photo
Image by Egor Kamelev

Having played TTRPGs for so many years, I have been exposed to various player types, both good and bad. Rules Lawyers, Munchkins, Thespians, etc. However, the most destructive by far is the chameleon. Now mind you there may be other names/descriptions for this type of player, but many a game in my past was disrupted if not wholeheartedly destroyed by one.

So what is the chameleon, you may ask? Well, the chameleon is not just a type of player, but a mindset that takes over one. I have noticed that easily distracted players are the most vulnerable, as you will soon discover. The very mindset that plagues the chameleon disguises itself as inspiration, thus cementing itself as something positive in the mind of the host/player.

You see, the problem takes root when the player begins consuming media. They watch a movie, play a game, read a book, etc. Soon after something begins to click in the mind of the player, and there is a sudden latch and urge to play as [insert popular media character here]. The urge grows in direct proportion to the player’s enjoyment of the media consumed. The more entertaining, the stronger the urge to play as [insert popular media character here].

But some of you may be wondering what the bad side of this is. After all, inspiration leads to many interesting character concepts. Inspiration itself is a wonderful thing, however, the chameleon does not use [insert popular media character here] as the primordial ooze by which an original concept is grown. No, my dear reader, the chameleon wants to play as close to [insert popular media character here] as possible. They want to be what they have consumed.

This drive proves problematic in both ongoing and new games alike. Easy come, easy go applies to inspiration as well. Imagine the pain as a GM when your player of X session is suddenly bored with their character and so desperately want to play as [insert popular media character here]. Regardless of the combinations, the dialogue would follow this path:

  • Chameleon: I want to play as [insert popular media character here] in your [Insert setting that doesn’t fit] game.
  • GM: You want to play as [insert popular media character here], huh? Well, that isn’t really going to fit because it’s this campaign was designed for something else. Why don’t you play as a character that has some of [insert popular media character here]’s traits?
  • Chameleon: Okay! How about this? [They begin to give a description of the exact thing they want to play without conforming it to the story. Perhaps making a single backstory tweak to make it seem like they thought a lot about this.]
  • GM: Isn’t that exactly the same as [insert popular media character here]?
  • Chameleon: No, because [Mentioning the minor tweak, and making it seem like a huge sacrifice]! Don’t you see? It totally fits with the story!

The problem arises when the GM gives in. Perhaps the chameleon is a friend, or perhaps they are just afraid of losing a player. Regardless, the end result becomes the same. The chameleon now begins play as [insert popular media character here], shoehorned into a place it does not belong. But the story does not end there, as the chameleon is never truly satisfied. It is only a matter of time before new media is consumed, or they get bored with the very thing they fought for, and their colors change again.

One thing I have always noticed about the chameleon is the choice of character conforms to both power fantasy and lone wolf character types. In this way, the chameleon may also be a subtype of the Edgelord. Also, lone wolf characters as a whole do not mesh well in a game designed for cooperation (like TTRPGs). Many characters in popular media (especially games) are just one person armies, so any player would eventually become dissatisfied not being able to play that fantasy out in another medium.

Here are some real life examples of a chameleon getting their way. I’m going to put names in quotes, as they were just poor clones of this concept anyway:

  1. Wanting to play as “Legolas” in a pirate game. Lasted five sessions before moving onto another character.

2. Wanting to play as a “Grammaton Cleric” in a game with a contemporary setting. Lasted two sessions, the game died with it.

3. Wanting to play as “Spawn” (yes, THAT spawn) in a game of In Nomine. Lasted about four sessions before the GM gave up in total frustration.

The last example was at least semi-worked in the game setting, but the character’s power level was leagues beyond everyone else. In a literal sense, the other three players were normal people and the chameleon was a demon with all of the same powers as the aforementioned Spawn. This indeed caused a rift amongst players, and even broke an entire quest line that the GM spent months creating.

For those of you wondering, I call it the chameleon for two reasons. First, the player wants to color themselves as a particular thing, and secondly, they want this thing to also blend into the game. Chameleon is a dubious/ironic title because, as you see, the player cannot do the character justice, nor the character do justice to the game. Also, the moment a GM allows this nonsense, it breaks the narrative, the suspension of disbelief, and make the other players think that the GM is playing favorites.

For those of you defending the chameleon, remember this. Even if by some truly divine miracle, the chameleon role plays [insert popular media character here] with 100% accuracy, it does not mean that character fits the setting. So unless you want Master Chief running around in your next Call of Cuthulu game, think long and hard about the consequences of the chameleon. True, they may be excited now about a concept, but I promise you that inspiration will strike again.

Now for the Good News

Table Thoughts isn’t just about the negative side of things. Every problem is an opportunity in disguise, and the chameleon is no different. Here are solutions for both sides of the table.

GMs – The first thing you can do is discourage characters that fall outside the spectrum of the game. If a player is so insistent on playing as this concept, just shoot it down. Remember the following: No Player > Bad Player, and No TTRPG > Bad TTRPG. It’s about setting limits to curb problems before they happen.

The other solution is the better of the two, simply work with your player to create something that can scratch the itch of the chameleon while fitting within the greater game world.

Players – As stated above, the best solution is to take this concept in your mind and use it as true inspiration for something uniquely you. Think about what makes [insert popular media character here] so awesome. Ask yourself why you would want to play them at all. Every character has qualities that would make them interesting. As a fun exercise, we are going take my silly example from above and work it into something great!

Example:

Thinking about Master Chief from Halo, you can basically break him down thusly. Now mind you that I do not have an encyclopedic knowledge of the Halo-verse, but I know enough to get by. Master Chief is a super soldier, veteran, and all around ass kicker with enough accolades to fill a museum. He can shoot, punch, or drive his way out of nearly any problem.

Now lets take your average Call of Cuthulu game. It would be set generally in the 1920’s and could take place in any part of the world, or a globe trotting adventure. It’s a game of mystery, suspense, investigation and cosmic horror. So, right off the bat you may wonder how the two concepts will merge.

My idea would to stick with the veteran idea, but in this case Master Chief would be a veteran of World War I. Since his title is Master Chief, he is a marine, so it would make sense to make this character a marine as well. As for the name, I would merge two existing ideas. Master Chief’s first name is John and he is a Spartan… thus John Spartan is born! Also, any excuse to reference the movie Demolition Man is okay by me!

Before we get into the nitty gritty, we have to determine the elements of Master Chief that will not fit. Genetic Engineering, Superhuman Stats, Power Armor, high tech weapons, and artificial intelligence are some of the biggest aspects that need to be canned. At this point the player and GM should communicate about skills that may be useless. For example, we know that Master Chief can fly or drive anything, but that may not be needed in this setting. The GM should have an idea if there will be any access to planes, tanks, cars, etc. So the player will know if it warrants spending build points in those respective skills.

For the sake of argument we are going to say that the GM determines that tanks and planes will not be a thing in this game, so the player will leave that out. With all of this in mind, the player can focus on putting skill points into a heavy combat focused character. Skills in several firearm types, stealth, demolition, driving, a few perception skills, and even intimidation wouldn’t go amiss. Additionally, I would see that John Spartan would have higher physical characteristics and willpower, as opposed to higher mental traits.

Thus John Spartan is born and ready to go! Perhaps the GM will give him a signature firearm as a starting equipment. Name the gun “Cortana” as a nod to Halo, and the game can begin. This is a win win for everyone. The chameleon gets to play as close to the concept as possible, and this concept is organically introduced into the setting.

Conclusion

And there we have it! Feel free to comment and let me know if you agree, disagree or have examples of your own creative ideas! Also, let me know if you ever had a chameleon in your game!

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