Special Snowflake Syndrome

by Solomoriah

EDIT 1/26/2020:  This was originally posted in 2013; in the years since then, the meaning of “snowflake” as an epithet has changed, at least in the USA.  I’m not going to edit the post, but I do want to make sure that everyone understands that, in this article, “snowflake” is not intended to point a finger at people who believe in either liberal or conservative politics.  Rather, snowflake is used in the original sense, i.e. someone who wants to be “special” or “unique.”

While talking with a GM who is trying to bring his modern players into Basic Fantasy RPG, he mentioned how his players complain about the lack of class and race options in the game.  I won’t quote the player, as I don’t have his permission to do so, but in effect he said he didn’t feel his character was unique; he even indicated envy of another player who was apparently allowed to play a bugbear crusader.

This is, to me, an indication of something called “Special Snowflake Syndrome,” and sadly it happens in the real world almost as often as in games and fiction.  I visited the TV Tropes page on the subject and found this little tidbit:

Whether a character is interesting has nothing to do with how esoteric his background is and everything to do with how well he’s played.

I’ve mentioned in another post that, in the Old School, we (GMs) don’t write story.  Story is what happens when the players take up their dice and walk into our world.  Well, that sword has two edges… in the Old School, player characters don’t begin as special snowflakes, all unique.  They become that way by being played.

I am in no way saying you shouldn’t allow players to have characters of supplementary classes or races in your game.  What I’m saying is that you, as the GM, set the tone for your world.  Don’t allow a player to bring in a half-dragon shaman/acrobat just because he or she wants to be special and unique.  If you have many half-dragons in your world, and you allow shamans and acrobats (and you allow them as a combination), then yeah, you should expect your players to want to try that combo.  But don’t allow them just because the players beg and complain.

I played a character once, in a different game system, who was a human fighter.  He was the first character I played for any length of time, and to begin with, other than some decent ability rolls, he was hardly anything special.  But as time wore on, he became that way.  He did a service for the elves, and they gave him an uncommonly intelligent horse; he was fool enough to eat the heart of a strange creature that was half dragon, half basilisk, and upon surviving (one saving throw, at a penalty, and I was sweating bullets) he gained an extra measure of strength and an aura of power that awed ordinary people.  He could force a morale check by frowning, if his opponents had only a couple of hit dice or less.

He didn’t start out special.  He earned it, and by extension, I earned it.  It’s a far more interesting story than anything you can apply to a beginning character in your favorite modern game, because it actually happened (in the fictional sense, anyway).

What’s the difference, you ask?  If I had brought him in with those features already, and I tried to read the background to the GM or the other players, they’d be like, yada yada.  But the other players were there when we saved that elven village (they all got something too) and they were there when he foolishly ate the monster’s heart (and they were almost as interested as I was in the result of my saving throw).

We, that is, my group and I, all remember that classic adventure from the old days where everyone has the option to sit down and eat at the ghostly banquet.  You choose to eat each food, or drink each drink, as you see fit; each thing you eat or drink has some effect on you.  Some were good, some were bad, some were good if you made your save and bad if you didn’t, and if I remember right one was good if you failed your save, and neutral if you succeeded.  Some of the characters who went through that adventure (when I ran it for my “new” group a year or so back) are still around; one never needs to eat (but may if he wants to), while another can use ESP once per week.  Those characters, and their players, earned their dose of awesomeness in actual play.

Special snowflake syndrome is irritating enough in real life; why should we encode it in the rules of our games as well?

3 thoughts on “Special Snowflake Syndrome

  1. Robb_d20

    The GM in question here! First, maybe I didn’t clarify it in my post, but the Bugbear Crusader was in a game of 3.5, not BF- but the effect still holds true in any system and certainly did happen with my group (including the un-quoted player and the bugbear player) to everyone at one point or another.

    I’m trying to instill the earned/not assumed role to my players, and seeing as how they’ve all already died at least once in BFRPG they’re starting to learn I feel. I do also feel not all will like it though, as there are two characteristics that can be applied to some of my players- some can be described with both:

    1. Rules Arguers. Note, not rules-lawyers, but those who simply wish to make a point whenever possible about how the rules in the book or my ruling wouldn’t work.
    2. People who play to BE the special snowflakes, who want to play to be someone more than who they really are and be a hero.

    Now I have nothing against #2 since that’s all preference, but #1 also has to be changed. I also tried to instill the earned status by fast-forwarding them a year after they all died- one of the players torched the local blacksmith’s house and killed him, got the party thrown in jail and ultimately killed. Now, they came back with a new party a year later to a day dedicated to the memory of the blacksmith and hear tales about how horrible the old characters were and what has changed since then. Now if only they can do that WITHOUT dying,..

    1. Solomoriah Post author

      The Old School has a place for those who want to be special snowflakes… but we expect you to earn it. Nobody really starts that way.

      But, yeah, guys who want to argue about the rules need to learn that, in the final analysis, it’s just a game. It can never be perfect (though I’ve seen people descend into madness trying).

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