Tuesday, July 31, 2012

RPG Week: Support Characters

A big part of the fun in role-paying games is, of course, getting to be a hero. Problem is there are all these other players at the table, and they want to be the hero too. If you play in a campaign setting it can be even more difficult as the adventure will not always be in your character's interest. What is one to do?

Part of this lay in the game master's hands, though we are not blaming her for it. Yet. ;-) In most games, and most always in campaign settings, the current chapter of you character's life resides in what the game master comes up with for an adventure. Sure, your mage is awesome, but we are going to save the temple your cleric belongs too, or capture the fabled sword needed to slay the dragon. It is hard to make either of those adventures about your mage. Maybe next time, right?

One option is to get used to playing a support role. Yes, it can suck, but there are some awesome supporting characters out there that people love—sometimes more than the hero. Look at Thundarr the Barbarian, a classic situation where we have a focus hero (Thundarr), his rough-and-tumble sidekick (Ookla the Mok), and the more reasoning and skilled hanger on (Princess Ariel). Sure, Thundarr is a bad ass, but people love Ookla, and frankly I think Princess Ariel could take both of them if she decided to. So, even though every adventure is about Thundarr (most, at least) the supporting cast gets to share in the awesome.

The other option, for a gaming group as a whole, is to not exist in a campaign setting, but rather play individual adventures with no over-all story arc. Having adventures with a fairly pointless goal, in a manner of speaking, puts all the players on common ground. Whomever is having the best luck with the dice, the snappiest dialogue, or the best ideas in completing the task becomes the hero. This time it may have been you, next time someone else. This can be hard on game masters, as I think many of us are geared towards campaigns, particularly when we have made a world to play in.

Third option is to play something brutal like Basic Dungeons & Dragons. Characters tend to do two things in Basic D&D: die well, or die horribly. The guy who lives the most often is likely going to be the hero, but this is not always the case. Players who tend to be thieves (rogues) are also not often the "I want to be the focus" types, and sticking to the shadows can often save one's ass. Character grinding systems tend to lead you away from proper campaigns, as it will not be long before none of the original characters are around to take up the charge.

Fourth, there are always games for two players. Games like James Bond 007 tend to want one player. Sure, Bond has a rotating stable of sidekicks, but when it all comes together it is Bond vs the world. So, one player as the spy and one game master could work. Another option on this formula might be one character and multiple players deciding what course to take with it. This might work well with mysteries or spy games. The players might also collectively decide what the supporting cast would be up to (those they might normally be in charge of).

Last, and this might be terribly unappealing to many, is to rotate who plays what character. I know, we get very attached to our characters, sometimes unhealthily so, but look at it this way: Say we are playing in the world of Thundarr. This week you play Thundarr, I play Ookla, and player three is Princess Ariel. Next week, everyone trades. This way, no one is stuck in the support role, but also no one is stuck playing the meat wagon either. Heck, even rotate the game master, if your players are comfortable enough.


nanoalchemist said...

Two words... Han Solo

Darius Whiteplume said...

1st movie, very true. After that, Luke was the support character ;-)

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