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  • Only you can prevent Fishmalks

    http://taking10.blogspot.com/2019/03...fishmalks.html

    A very interesting blog article (not by me).

    =====

    We've all been in a game with that one character. You know the one I'm talking about. Maybe it was the guy who rushed into battle while wearing a nightie he stole from the princess because he thought it would be a larf. Perhaps it's the guy who insists on meowing like a cat, even if his character is not, in fact, a cat. Or the one who ran into the throne room, slapped the king in the face with a fish, and then ran out slapping his bum with it and howling like a wolf during character introductions?

    Well, it turns out there is a name for this kind of unstructured nonsense most of us have come to associate with the worst abuses of the chaotic neutral alignment. It's called the fishmalk!
    And we all have to work together to stop them from spreading.
    What The Hell is a Fishmalk?


    Chances are good that a lot of folks reading this already know the answer. If you're in that group, feel free to skip ahead. For everyone else, this term originates from Vampire: The Masquerade. In this game you play a vampire, and your character comes from one of the available clans. One of those clans are called the Malkavians, and there is something in their embrace that breeds madness. It puts a permanent derangement on your character that cannot be cured, and that you will suffer from for all eternity. The purpose of this flaw is to make Malkavians more frightening (as they're unhinged, even by the standards of undead monsters), and to provide opportunity to turn them into tragic figures.

    The problem is when players take this derangement, and they use it as a license to be kooky, zany, or otherwise silly. Then any criticism of them being disruptive, nonsensical, etc. is simply deflected by holding up the shield of, "I'm just playing my character!"

    As to the term fishmalk... well, it's traced to this image from Vampire: The Dark Ages.
    What you see is what you get with this one.
    When It Is, And When It Ain't, A Fishmalk


    Before you all click away to start using your new favorite term on whatever boards you frequent, I want you to put the brakes on for just a second so I can finish the lesson. Because there is more to a fishmalk than a character who is zany, weird, or inappropriate. What I've just described is Deadpool, and as we all know he's one of the most popular, enjoyed characters out there! So why isn't Wade Wilson a fishmalk? Well the answer is that sometimes he is, and sometimes he isn't.

    Context is important, here.
    Which, really, is the most important part of any classification system.
    If we look at the definition of this term in Urban Dictionary, we can find the context I'm talking about pretty easily.

    A person or character who behaves in a "wacky" or "random" manner in an attempt at humor, to the annoyance of those around them.

    See that last part there? The annoyance of those around them is a big part of what makes a character a fishmalk or not. Because if Deadpool shows up in a standard Marvel storyline, and starts running around with bunny ears on, or talking to people who aren't there, then all it does is annoy the rest of the heroes, and add dissonance to the story that's being told. However, if we are reading a Deadpool comic, then we see that Wade is actually breaking the 4th wall to talk to the audience Shakespeare-style, and that it is his self-awareness of being in a comic book that leads to him taking the piss out of how serious everyone else is acting. After all, it's just a comic, so who cares?

    The same thing applies to RPGs, and what is appropriate in a particular game. If you're playing, say, Paranoia then it's expected for everything to be ridiculous, farcical, and nonsensical at times. The game takes place in a satirical nightmare of dystopian sci-fi, after all, and it isn't trying to take itself seriously. Quite the opposite, in fact. But if you took your character from that game, and tried to play them in a more serious sci-fi game like Starfinder, then suddenly all of the tongue-in-cheek references, stupid decision-making, and popping entire shipping containers worth of pills no longer makes sense. No more than if you took your scarred ex-merc looking to find their children and plunked them into a Paranoia scenario would work; you're a square peg in a round hole, and forcing the issue isn't going to make it better.

    Be Funny. Don't Be Fishy.


    As I said way back in The 5 RPG Characters We Should Stop Playing, there is absolutely nothing wrong with playing a character who is legitimately funny, or who has some amusing quirks. If you want to play a minstrel whose mandolin is constantly out-of-tune, who can't sing, can't dance, and gets booed off stage, by all means, do so! Just make sure that they can actually help out when it's their turn, that they have a personality and history beyond being a crap performer, and that they are actually a useful member of the team despite the fact they can't carry a tune in a bucket.

    And keep an eye on the table all around you. If you're noticing that your character really isn't landing with anyone else, then remember what I said in Make Sure Your Character Is As Fun To Play With As They Are To Play; put them back in your toy box, and save them for a game where they'll be appreciated. Because repeating a joke no one found funny isn't going to get a better result.

    That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday! Have any fishmalk stories of your own, regardless of the game they took place in? Share them in the comments below!

    For more of my work, head over to my Vocal and Gamers archives, and check out Dungeon Keeper Radio! Or to read some of my books, like my sword and sorcery novel Crier's Knife, head over to My Amazon Author Page!

    To stay on top of all my latest releases, follow me on Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter! Also, if you're looking for an easy place to find all my RPG modules and supplements along with my books, I'm on Pinterest now! Lastly, if you want to help support my work, consider Buying Me A Ko-Fi, or heading over to The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! Every little bit helps!


    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

  • #2
    Nothing to say about the blog content posted above. I tend to agree with the rationale as presented.

    I've a regret though: IIRC back in the day Justin Achilli ultimately decided to get rid of the Ravnos in the week of nightmares but was initially considering the Malkavians do go the way of the Dodo instead. I'm not sure waking an atediluvian and killing a whole clan was needed but if it were me and I were forced to choose between Ravnos and Malkavians... suffice to say the issue outlined above would probably need a different name.

    Comment


    • #3
      I'm not sure Fishmalk is a problem. Or, rather, it is only seen as a problem because it has been identified as such and has a name.

      So, let's say a player creates a pc who is a Ventrue stereotype. Snooty Thurston Howell accent, blue blazers, dismissive attitude, and all. Then they spent their table-time complaining about their pc's shoes getting dirty, or creating player v. player conflict by buying out everyone's havens and shutting them down because, "my character is an acquisitive ass, and that's what he'd do". We'd all just roll our eyes and say, "well, that's a bad player. Have a chat with him away from the table, and the game'll get back on track".

      But, because we have the identified term of "Fishmalk", it seems as if the concept of Clan Malkav, itself, is at fault.

      Put a bad, inconsiderate, or attention-starved player in any clan, and they'll cause problems.

      Comment


      • #4
        I feel like the clan weakness in V5 has been changed to discourage the Fishmalk stereotype. The bane doesn't operate in such a way that it makes sense for a character to be constantly zany.

        Comment


        • #5
          I feel the whole "How to properly play a Malkavian" debate stinks of 90s White Wolf elitism. They had this cringeworthy obsession with smacking us on the nose about what was good roleplaying and what wasn't. I'll damn well play my Malkavians as I please, anywhere that I feel like on the spectrum between humor and horror, but of course I'm not gonna be an asshole about it and play a character that doesn't fit the story or that the other players would be annoyed with. I have some common decency, for god's sake. Of course we can, and should, have discussions about cool Malkavian concepts, but I don't buy the old, tired "Malkavians HAVE to be scary" fixation for one bit. They could just as well be mysterious, or tragic, or pathetic, or even silly, or whatever else suits my groups' playing style and the mood we want in our story.

          That being said, this is not a criticism of the blog post in the thread opener as such, as that blog post only really argues "don't play a character that the other players don't like" - of course you shouldn't do that. It doesn't really tell you never to play a happy crazy or funny Malkavian.
          Last edited by Natsymir; 03-11-2019, 08:39 PM.

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          • #6
            I've seen "fishmalks" in plenty of character types that aren't Malkavians.

            There are mechanical things that can be done to tone them down in certain systems, the ultimate problem is not the games or the systems. There isn't a "fishmalk" Derangement that actually justifies the cliché. There are people making light of real mental illnesses to twist Derangements into 'zany' nonsense. People that do this aren't stopped by citing the rules, or referencing reality.

            My biggest issue with things like this, is that people don't end up playing fishmalks from only one motivation. If you want to know how to deal with someone that's playing disruptive characters, you have to understand where they're coming from.

            One of the players in my college group was on his surface your stereotypical fishmalk player. But I never had problems with him... because I realized he didn't want to be disruptive. He wanted to play strange characters like other people want to play social characters, or combat characters, or whatever. And once you treated letting him have some strange spotlight just like letting your friend that likes combat getting some combat spotlight... the disruptive aspects of a lot of his characters became fun for the group.

            Comment


            • #7
              Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
              As to the term fishmalk... well, it's traced to this image from Vampire: The Dark Ages.
              What you see is what you get with this one.
              When It Is, And When It Ain't, A Fishmalk
              I think the story in that picture is the Malks are crazy but not as crazy as they appear. And so they are hanging out in the kitchen and talking to each other about something mundane (returns on investments in the pickled fish trade) when they notice they PCs walking up.
              And so the two Malks are like, "Quick we gotta cray cray for the straights." And the one dude drops his pants and slits his wrists. The other Malk starts fondling the dead fish the cook left on the counter, 'cause you gotta work with what is available and sometimes the only thing available is a dead fish.
              Edit: More Malkavians should be run like Hannibal Lecter.


              Comment


              • #8
                In my experience, the early players who played Malkavians were the same people who wanted to play Chaotic Neutral characters in D&D. They just wanted to do whatever they wanted at any time, but justify it as "being in character". They typically wanted to do "evil" things, but not have the baggage of being evil. And they didn't want to take the setting seriously, until of course they did. They were basically a big pain in the ass. They were problem players who were going to gravitate to any concept that allowed them to do whatever they wanted.

                Of course, not all Malkavian PCs were like this, but in my experience that is what they were early on. As the game became established and more and more people joined the hobby outside the old D&D players, I found this declined and a lot more interesting Malkavian concepts were played that fit the setting and genre.

                One thing I find typical of Malkavian PCs though is that few players really wanted to play characters with an actual mental illness, which is what the Clan Curse actually was. Now on one level, I don't fault them for that. It can be really not fun to play. But some players had a good concept and an idea for the clan weakness that added to the character and the fun of the game. But too many players viewed it as "here is a personality trait" or "this is the defining characteristic of the PC" or sometimes even "here is my superpower" as the Malkavian clan weakness became more and more defined as a strange power that connected the Malkavians together.

                Comment


                • #9
                  Malkavians were stealthily one the worst written clans in the game.


                  “As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

                  Comment


                  • #10
                    Note the Malkavians are my favorite clan but I feel like they've often been written very poorly.


                    Author of Cthulhu Armageddon, I was a Teenage Weredeer, Straight Outta Fangton, Lucifer's Star, and the Supervillainy Saga.

                    Comment


                    • #11
                      For me, the defining characteristic of a "fishmalk" is that the character's behavior is actively making things un-fun for the other players. RPGs are a cooperative effort and part of the unwritten social contract of gaming is that everyone is there to have a good time. If one person is screwing that up by being an asshat - be it as a fishmalk or murder hobo or some other problem player - then they're violating that.

                      One of the better examples of a fishmalk was one I heard from Bruce Baugh which happened at a Portland Camarilla LARP. Three Malkavian characters were apparently going around with arms linked and deliberately standing in other players' way while saying "We are a hedge!" This was three players deliberately being disruptive just to be disruptive for their own amusement, regardless of how much it annoyed or aggravated the other players.

                      With Malkavians, there's always been an issue of mental illness being treated as a source of comedy (or tragicomedy), and that clashes with Vampire's concept of being a horror game. Comedy - and especially tragicomedy - can be used effectively as a contrasting element in horror and other serious genres, but I'm generally of the opinion that it has to be used sparingly and only at the right time. Otherwise it risks derailing serious emotional and terrifying moments, or worse, turning the entire thing into a farce.
                      Last edited by No One of Consequence; 03-12-2019, 01:37 AM.


                      What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                      Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

                      Comment


                      • #12
                        Originally posted by CTPhipps View Post
                        Note the Malkavians are my favorite clan but I feel like they've often been written very poorly.
                        My favorite Malkavian character is still Dr. Netchurch. He comes across as so mundane and reasonable right up until the point when he does something sociopathic without even blinking an eye. (In that way, he reminds me a little of Brian Cox's portrayal of Hannibal Lector in the 1986 film Manhunter, where he seems almost normal up until the point he starts doing evil.)



                        What is tolerance? It is the consequence of humanity. We are all formed of frailty and error; let us pardon reciprocally each other's folly. That is the first law of nature.
                        Voltaire, "Tolerance" (1764)

                        Comment


                        • #13
                          Originally posted by Tubect View Post
                          I feel like the clan weakness in V5 has been changed to discourage the Fishmalk stereotype. The bane doesn't operate in such a way that it makes sense for a character to be constantly zany.
                          The old weakness was RAW that you had to take one permanent derangement, with rues for different derangements in a seperate chapter, and most of these derangments didn't include zany behaviour.

                          Comment


                          • #14
                            Originally posted by Grumpy RPG Reviews View Post
                            I think the story in that picture is the Malks are crazy but not as crazy as they appear. And so they are hanging out in the kitchen and talking to each other about something mundane (returns on investments in the pickled fish trade) when they notice they PCs walking up.
                            And so the two Malks are like, "Quick we gotta cray cray for the straights." And the one dude drops his pants and slits his wrists. The other Malk starts fondling the dead fish the cook left on the counter, 'cause you gotta work with what is available and sometimes the only thing available is a dead fish.
                            Edit: More Malkavians should be run like Hannibal Lecter.
                            Can I just say that "Quick we gotta cray cray for the straights" is the funniest damn thing I've heard all night? Good show. Gonna steal this.

                            In all seriousness, I think that sentence encapsulates one of the more understated aspects of Clan Malkavian: they're mad, yes, but they ACT more mad than they actually are.

                            When the Jyhad revolves around vampires planning around each other, there's a tactical advantage to being underestimated. Ditto for confusing one's rivals as to exactly what is one's real Derangement, and what are the fake Derangements that can be dropped or ignored when tactically convenient to do so.


                            As for the subject at hand, I've started to realize as of late that a lot of "problem characters" in tabletop RPGs have nothing to do with the characters themselves, and everything to do with disruptive players/GMs. It's the same with DnD and playing Evil aligned characters. It's not the playing of an Evil character that's the issue, but that the player is using the Alignment as an excuse to defecate all over the story and backstab the other players.

                            Sure, Fishmalks make it very easy to slide into disruptive behavior. But if a player wants to be disruptive, that's not going to change if they play any other character. Or maybe it will, but only because they're not in the same mindset that precipitated the disruption. If the player is made aware of the problems that come with Fish-malkery, they'll probably change their tune. Playing a silly Malkavian is totally possible and even rewarding, so long as it doesn't swallow the game, spoil the mood, or detract from everyone else's fun.


                            Comment


                            • #15
                              My two cents on Fishmalks is that they need to be consistent.

                              I never buy the excuse players use "because I'm CRRRAAAYZYYY". No. Screw that noise.

                              When making a Malkavian, we figure out what your derangement is. It can be simple, like paranoia or megalomania, or something more complex (like basing your entire world view around the fact that literally everything is matter. There is no soul or identity, everything is interchangeable.)

                              Regardless of what your derangement is, that should inform everything you do. If you wanna slap the prince in the face with the entrails of a koala bear, go ahead. But justify that shit, otherwise you're just being an idiot.

                              To paraphrase Lore of the Clans, a Malkavian needs internal consistency. It might not make sense to anyone else, but the Malk HAS to make sense to itself. It acts in accordance with what it believes. The craziness comes when its beliefs and yours come at odds.


                              Furthermore, I believe Carthage should be destroyed.

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