It's Friday night and you're running a Dungeons & Dragons campaign. You've invited four friends to play and they're submitting character concepts for your approval. Let's see, Johnny wants to be a human rogue: check. Alice wants to be an elven druid with a pet snake: Check. Bob wants to be a gnome bard: Check. Steve wants to be a wakyambi shaman. Che—wait, what? He eagerly pulls out a sourcebook you've never heard of *
In case you're curious, the book in question is Nyambe, a third-party sourcebook covering a Darkest Africa setting
and explains how Wakyambi are like African elves but with prehensile feet, and shaman are like clerics. Then why don't you just be an elven cleric? "Because Alice is already an elf!" he whines. You begrudgingly check the race and class's abilities. Nothing too gamebreaking. So now you're faced with the decision of allowing the character, though he'll probably hog the spotlight as no one has any idea what the hell he is and there's some reason why he's so far from home, or disallow him and deal with an irate player. Well, our mothers always told us we were special. We can be anything we want to be, right?
So maybe it's for this reason that when people create a character, they often choose the unusual. This can manifest in something as simple as being a member of a rare race and/or class. Or it can be a good-aligned member of an Always Chaotic Evilrace, or vice versa. Players may even go so far as to make up a race/class altogether, so as to be truly unique. This can also show up in fiction when an author writes a character with aspects of themselves in it. It is especially common in Author Avatars and Mary Sues. But this is not always a bad thing, for many compelling and interesting protagonists have these kinds of traits. There's something compelling about a character who is bucking the social norms or defying his entire race. If nothing else, a great deal of angst can be milked from it.
Of course, some people may want to play as something weird solely for the mechanical benefits, mixing traits and templates with no concern for how such a being would fit into the setting (or is physically possible, for that matter). The wise gamemaster is advised not to allow such a monstrosity unless the powergamer can explain exactly how a half-vampire, half-dragonWarforged came into being. Others will do it just to be disruptive or to refuse to play along with the campaign's genre because it doesn't interest them.
In role-playing, the most common form of special snowflake are the Drizzt clones themselves. Drizzt Do'Urden is himself a victim of this trope, and it, along with being a noble Badasswielding dualscimitars, no doubt accounts for his popularity with the role-playing crowd. It's been remarked sarcastically that nowadays, all drow are good-hearted guys who shun their dark evil kin and become killing machines on the side of good.
Some gamemasters will forbid this kind of behavior, rolling their eyes at the guy who absolutely must play a dragon thief, Chaotic Good Drow ranger or an Avariel wereshark Elemental Archon of Fire. 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. However, some will rollwith it, letting people make up stat bonuses for the most ridiculous of races or classes.
Such creativity has its place, however: In a setting like Planescape (where hundreds of worlds collide) or Spelljammer (planet-hopping adventure) such characters are no problem, and, indeed, may add to the game.
Compare Common Mary Sue Traits. See also Aerith and Bob. For when it's the gamer themselves getting special treatment (and one who is prone to creating such characters), see Dungeonmaster's Girlfriend.
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In The Gamers 2: Dorkness Rising, one player declares he is playing an Elf Monk, despite the fact that the DM said ahead of time that this was a Medieval Western Europe inspired setting and that an Eastern-flavored Monk wouldn't fit, and that it was also a human only campaign. The DM begrudgingly allows the Monk class, but disallows him to play an elf, to the point where the in-game avatar's elf ears get ripped off.
The original Drizzt, as mentioned earlier. If not intentionally written this way, he still captures the essence of this trope.
As a general rule, the older any tabletop RPG that's still supported gets, the easier it becomes to create special snowflakes in it as more races, classes, and equipment are added in every (other) Sourcebook. This is simply because new and additional character customization options almost always sell.
Ironically or not, this was going to be the main concept for the canceled Werewolf The Apocalypse video game, which was ammunition for a lot of the folks that felt the game's designers were missing the point.
Not as frequently, you'd also see someone suggest either one of the other changing breeds from a splatbook or the long-since killed-off Croatan or Bunyip tribes.
And every group has that one guy who wants to play a Bastet (Were Cat), because they're cool loners with most of the powers of the werewolves (with the ability to copy werewolf gifts they see, Taskmaster-style) but with none of the social obligations or available family members/mentors to keep them in check. Also, most of them will sleep with anything. And also, that same guy usually considers cats to be cooler than dogs (this is an actual reason given by some of them).
Werewolf 20th's attitude to SSS is rather more sympathetic than it's previously been; if players want to be one of the Lost Tribes or Lost Breeds, fair enough. It may not be what the writers would do, but it's your story.
In the Old World of Darkness setting, the bane of gamemasters everywhere was any player who wanted to play an Abomination (a werewolf who survived being turned into a vampire, ending up as a shapeshifting, blood drinking, angst-filled killing machine with the magic powers of both species), or a Skin Dancer (a werewolf kinfolk who after ritually killing a bunch of were-creatures then turns himself into such a werecreature), or an awakened mage who is also a fairie changeling and a dhampir and a ghoul (a human minion of a vampire who drinks vampire blood and gains limited immortality and vampiric powers from it).
The fact that a published series of adventures had a character approximately this obnoxious (the infamous Samuel Haight) certainly didn't help. For Werewolf 20th, they dumped all of the crossover stuff Haight had got loaded with and kept him a Skin Dancer — and already dead, just to be safe.
In general, in the old World of Darkness the 3rd editions of the Werewolf The Apocalypse, Vampire The Masquerade, Mage The Ascension gamelines and the 2nd edition of Changeling: The Dreaming put a stop to that by outright stating that such creatures were extremely!! rare, or simply by enforcing new rules that a supernatural character becoming an [insert different supernatural creature here] will lead to said character losing the special powers she had before. For example, drinking vampire blood or being turned into a vampire will destroy the awakened avatar of an awakened character (who is thus no longer able to bend reality to his will) and will kill a changeling's Faerie soul forever. Such characters basically end up as mundane humans who then become a ghoul or vampire, respectively. Werewolves who drink vampire blood lose their connection to the spirit world. Suck it up, losers.
Werewolf offers the one of the best ways of both avoiding the wrong reasons for this trope and encouraging the right ones: making the pack all from one tribe (mixed packs have always been the exception rather than the rule). On paper, it's a Mary Sue gamer's worst nightmare, but in practice, it forces players to think outside the box and create a truly interesting character who doesn't have to subscribe to tribal stereotypes.
In Vampire The Masquerade there were two big factions, the Sabbat and the Camarilla, each with unique and exclusive clans of vampires that are members of one but not the other. Then came the Antitribu. A "dark" version of each Camarilla clan (this being the World of Darkness, you can guess how nice they were) inside the Sabbat. Likewise, Sabbat clan antitribu were in the Camarilla, but they were usually seen as potential turncoats.
For extra fun, any of the following clans/bloodlines: The Salubri, Baali, Harbingers of Skulls, Nagaraja, Samedi, True Brujah Deep breath, Kiasyd, and Cappadocians. Oh, and Dhampirs, too.
Interestingly, one of the 3rd ed sourcebooks that talked about the Salubri in the modern setting stabilised that only about less than 10 Salubri of each bloodline (Salubri had two pseudo-clans: one of true pacifists and the other of pacifist warriors that protected the former) and only gave names to two of them, making clear that the other ones were "free" for character concepts and game master NPCs.
Zig-zagged in Mage The Ascension. It's initially averted as Mages are individualistic by nature. Within a single tradition, no two mages will have the exact same style, and given the broad range of mystic stylings the Traditions cover, there is no shortage of possibilities. However, White Wolf still caters to this market with the idea of Crafts, groups of Mages outside the Council of Nine (some of which are extremely rare to find and probably wouldn't flaunt their magick around outsiders). Some players even create Crafts whole-cloth using ideas that would work perfectly fine within a Tradition, and try to get their Storytellers to accept them.
The New World of Darkness flat-out makes hybrids of any kind explicitly impossible, though some creatures can be thematic hybrids. Hilariously, the only real way to become something resembling such a hybrid would make your character a Cosmic Plaything; a hunter turned into a werewolf, who dies and has his corpse made into a Promethean, becomes human and gets turned into a vampire, reaches Golconda and becomes human again, then getting an epiphany and awakening as a Mage, somehow having the awakened soul put to sleep by being kidnapped to Arcadia by the True Fae and turned into a Changeling, getting killed yet again and then coming back as a Sin Eater with a Geist... but, through all that, the character would still only ever be one type of supernatural at a time. And probably very, very confused.
To have this character be a mummy as well, all of this either needs to happen six thousand years ago, or the luckless corpse becomes the new body of a mummy who's lost their original.
Exalted actively encourages this sort of behavior.
Given the number of types of Exalts, God-Blooded, spirits, and anything else under the sun which are supposedly completely playable, all with their own special rules, Exalted is guilty of endorsing this to an extreme, to the point where many storytellers would simply say "We are running a Lunar-only game" or whatnot just so they don't have to keep track of eight different kinds of special rules all at once, not to mention the difficult story implications of having, say, a Dragon-Blooded, a Lunar, a Gold Faction Sidereal, an Alchemical, and an Infernal Exalted all in one group.
Playing to this, Monsters And Other Childish Things has a sidebar that says that, with GM permission, it's okay to make up unique skills for your character to make them unusual and stand out. It actually titles the sidebar "Special and Unique Snowflakes."
This trope has become so pervasive that no one ever expects you to subvert it. Thus it is possible to play a Chaotic Evil Drow Wizard in a party with two Paladins and no one will ever think to detect evil on you simple because "Everyone knows Drow PCs are good aligned rebels against their race!" Just throw a couple angsty lines about wanting to fit in every once in a while and no one will suspect you planted delayed blast fireballs in their sandwich. Mwa ha ha ha ha.
Lampshaded in Dungeon Crawl Inc by Teagan, a drow cleric: "I just lie and say I'm a ranger like Drizzt and everyone leaves me be."
This trope has become so pervasive that it seems that sometimes the RAREST PC race/class combo is now a straight human single classed (no prestige classes) character.
The latest versions of DnD, 4th edition and Pathfinder, both try to bring that back. 4th edition locks you into a class, a paragon path and an epic destiny. Pathfinder provides incentives for most characters to remain single classed (filling dead levels, giving you extra hit points or skill points for staying with your original class, payoff abilities, etc) but allows you to multiclass if you want to. Really, 3rd edition had a better mechanic for averting this, a 10% experience point penalty but the mechanic was easy to forget and rarely enforced.
The 10% experience point penalty only applied under specific circumstances, and did not apply to the most egregious special snowflake classes (the prestige classes). Multiclassing in general was a bad idea in 3rd edition though; while the mundane classes might benefit from it to avoid "dead" levels, the spellcasters were better off taking only pure class levels and prestige class levels that granted full spellcasting ability. Thus while a fighter/rogue/ranger/monk might sound cheesy, it was less powerful than a straight up full caster character due to Linear Warriors, Quadratic Wizards.
Pretty much any version of D&D one might care to name has started out with a fairly limited number of player character class/race choices and then proceeded to enable this trope more and more over time in the name of making money by selling more splats.
Witch Girls Adventures hangs an enormous lampshade on this with the "Mary Sue" trait, which gives you a bonus when doing anything attention-getting or which demonstrates how special and unique your character is.
In addition, every player witch gets to be a special snowflake and have one Heritage that allows them to bend the rules a bit. You could take the "specialist in a magic type" heritages...or you could be a half-vampire witch or an Eastern-style witch who gains magical power from meditative disciplines. The sample NPCs are even weirder, and often have abilities that aren't possible within the rules at all.
GURPS allows the GM to charge character points for an unusual background, specifically to avert this trope.
Given that the Unusual Background advantage in and of itself doesn't actually do anything (the decision whether or not to allow the character traits it's supposed to justify the character having in the first place still rests firmly with the GM and they still have to be bought at full cost for no added benefits after already paying the points for it), a case can sadly be made that this amounts to nothing more than the GM taking a bribe to look the other way — and that paying character points for nothing also undermines one of the core conceits behind a Point Build System like GURPS, namely that characters built on the same number of points should be at least roughly equally effective.
Not just the individual models either. The setting is designed to be very friendly for fans creating extensions of the fluff, be they Space Marine chapters, Imperial Guard regiments, Eldar craftworlds, Dark Eldar kabals, Ork WAAAAAGHs, Chaos warbands, Tau septs, Tyranid hivefleets, etc. Some players will just use the rules and colors of an existing canon army, others will create their own colour schemes from wholecloth and detail elaborate iconography and backgrounds.
In Houses Of The Blooded, the designer devotes a section of the GM's section to "the Vach Problem," named after one of his players. Essentially, even though the game provides plenty of options for players to choose from, a player like this will want to play something that's not on the list of options. Wick's suggested response is to let them have what they want in such a way as to make them regret it.
Given that you roll randomly for two origins (Like say AI and Yeti or Demon and Hawkoid) and you are encouraged to come up with whatever crazy reason you like as to how these two things merge into one cohesive creature, it's safe to say that Gamma World clings to this trope like a fat man to a doughnut truck.
In In Nomine, Bright Lilim are supposed to be extremely rare, to the tune of less than a dozen such ascensions happening in history. They're also one of the most common PC Choirs.
in Over the Edge, you can literally play just about any character you want to. Whether this is a good idea to actually do is open to debate, given that the more "special" your character is, the more likely someone is to see you as a threat to their own plans for world domination (or whatever else they're aiming for).
In any tabletop setting inspired by Star Wars, a player wishing to play as a "Gray Jedi" character often translates as "a good guy who can shoot lightning, choke people, and use all those kewl Dark Side powers without penalty".
Alternatively, "Gray Jedi" are known as "Dim Jedi"...may not just be a reference to their Force powers...
Goblins both parodies the Drizzt clones and plays it straight with an entire party of good-aligned Goblin characters. Played straightest and lampshaded by Fumbles, who insists on multi-classing 11 (meaning ALL the Player Handbook, if you consider D&D) different character classes, some of which are mutually exclusive.
There was also a party of five actual player characters, three of which were off-color Drizzt clones: A girl drow (played by a horny and immature male player), a short fat drow, and an emo drow. They acted like sadistic psychopaths when they weren't busy generating throwaway gags, and all three died shortly after being introduced, only to briefly reappear as Humans with different classes but otherwise unchanged. Their human character too had the same syndrome.
It's worth noting that while goblins with class levels are fairly rare, it's more common than most readers initially thought, as another Goblin character was revealed to have fighter levels.
Many of the Trolls from Homestuck are explicity stated to be very unusual. Aradia and Sollux are incredibly potent psychics, Sollux is also a supergenius programmer with two dream selves (all other players of Sburb get only one), Terezi gets super-senses from being blinded and having an incredibly rare Dragon egg as a lusus, Kanaya has an incredibly rare blood-type, is immune to sunlight and has an incredibly rare Virgin Mother Grub as a lusus, Vriska has her "Vision Eightfold", Equius is ludicrously STRONG, Feferi has the highest possible blood type, sharing with only one other troll, which is the Empress. Oh, and Karkat has a 'mutant' blood type, outside the haemospectrum entirely, that marks him as the Second Coming of Troll Jesus. Knowing how the trolls are presented however, likely all this mary-suism is quite tongue in cheek.
In Schlock Mercenary a blue-haired physicist named "Gav" was accidentally cloned 950 million times, having grown up in the 20th century when individuality was considered essential this caused no small amount of angst. Later appearances of the "Gavs" showed them experimenting with different haircuts and adding facial piercings, even going into different fields of research. Eventually they formed a corporation to figure out how to introduce genetic and memory alterations, and rolled dice to decide on their mods.
Pet owners often project Special Snowflake Syndrome onto their pets. Got a litter up for adoption? The pup with unusual markings or the kitten with distinctive ears will always get chosen first, even if its plain siblings are smarter, healthier, and friendlier.
This holds true with other pets as well. Reptiles with albinism, two heads, or some other deformity are often priced at a premium by less scrupulous sellers. More exotic species are often marketed this way too. Why settle for a boring old box turtle when you can have a mata-mata instead? The site in question even pointed out the creature's head because it was so unusual looking. But if you don't know what a mata-mata's head looks like, let alone any of its care requirements, you shouldn't be buying one as a pet.
Pops up in Survival of the Fittest from time to time. Occasionally handlers feel the need to make their characters "special" by giving them some sort of ability no teenager should realistically have, or making them psychotic sociopaths while still in high school. Doesn't pop up as much as it used to, however, due to mods encouraging handlers to show their work when dealing with illnesses (mental or physical), laws, whatever interests the character may have, and anything that is critical to the character.
Lucky Day Forever, Proles have this in-universe and use the Great Lottery as a way to become one of the Whites.
RPGs with a certain theme always have players who stretch what character is possible within that theme, even when that theme is very well-defined. For example, in a Harry Potter game, there are always players who are not content with being just a wizard, but come up with all sorts of extra (often non-canon) powers.