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The Plumbers

I had not realized this was Robert Deniro until I had to go looking for a photo.

Last night I was chatting with Adam from Barking Alien and the topic ranged around to difficult types of players.  There's lot of types that make for a challenge, but one of the most subtle kinds of challenging player is the one Aaron Allston dubbed "The Plumber" in his book Strike Force.

The Plumber is the kind of player who derives most of their pleasure gaming in the exploration of his or her own PC's character.  In many ways Plumbers are great players to have at the table: they usually have well-established backstories and roleplay a great deal.  Where Plumbers can run amok is when their interest in their own characters begin to eclipse the participation in group storytelling that is essentially to roleplaying games.

I'll give you an extreme example from my own gaming experience.  When I was running RPG's in college I had a Plumber named Chris in the group who one day came to me to ask if I would be interested in running a new campaign.  The kicker was that it would only feature himself as a player.  Moreover, not only would he run a single, well-developed character, but an entire group!  He had already created in his mind the entire cast, including the group dynamics, etc. and just needed a GM to host them.  I actually wondered if he hadn't gotten all he could out of the experience, since I suspected he would view my own attempts to introduce plot elements as an intrusion into his own story.

Plumbers can do more than just hog the spotlight (they do that with regularity too), in extreme cases they can disconnect themselves from the gaming world and the group, and just go down the trundle path of their own character's story.  And when you're in a group context, that can be disruptive.

In the old days, you could manage plumbers through "bluebooking," using actually small notebooks in which players could jot down their independent actions and have the GM respond apart from the group gaming session. Nowadays it is even easier, with email and the like.  Adam was lamenting the existence of two Plumbers in his own group, but that is his tale to tell.

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