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Game Design

Perverse Access Memory: WISH 78: Two Characters, One Game

Do you think allowing one player to play more than one character in a game is a good or bad idea? Does the style of the game make any difference? What about the format (FTF, PBeM, etc.)?

I can only address FTF for obvious reasons. Lesse: right now I’m running a DnD game and a Nobilis game (split into two different groups of players on two different days, but with an intertwined storyline and setting).
That’s it? Hmm. Seems like a short list.
Also: playing in a DnD egyptian-style thing and Dave’s Spycraft game.
With the exception of Nobilis, the sole example of multiple-character play would be in various side-kicks or allied NPCs that get ‘run’ in combat by whichever player volunteers for the extra work. Taken in turn:


DCM DnD: there are no active sidekicks or NPC allies at this point. Everyone plays their character. Interestingly, one player has a Cohort through his leadership feat and another player had acquired a bodyguard through the use of a charm spell, but the Cohort has been given duties ‘off-stage’ that keep her completely out of the story, and the mage tired of the NPC when she realized that the character in question would never really ‘come around’ from being evil.
DnD-Necropolis: I’ve built my character (a harsh, unforgiving, generally un-fun priest) with a Cohort named Aziz (Light!) a comedy-relief rogue/ranger clone of Benny from the Mummy (doing penance as the servant of the priest for getting caught tomb-robbing). I deal with him during combat, but generally anyone can ‘speak’ for him during the game (Dave does the Benny voice best, which makes it fun). Also, we have an NPC ally that the GM speaks for, but whom Margie deals with during combat. Unsurprisingly, both Aziz and the ally NPC (Khonsu) spend most combats firing arrows at likely targets and most of the travel time making Tracking, Spot, and Listen checks.
Spycraft: No cohorts, and no player-run NPC allies. Seems unlikely that there ever will be — I don’t believe Spycraft has an equivilant to the Leadership feat, and it’s hard enough doing the ‘gear up’ phase with just your own character to deal with.
Nobilis: I’ve been working on the idea proposed in the book that encourages players not currently involved in a scene to play NPCs that are present — in a game where players frequently end up seperated from one another and could easily spend an hour or more between their turn at GM facetime, this seems like an elegant and generally cool trick. (I have no idea what swank, cool-kids ‘term’ is used for this style of play on those RPG ‘game theory’ forums that apparently everyone but me reads. Troupe-style? Whatever.)
Again, I’ve been working at it. Mixed results that have depended, unsurprisingly, on the level of willing participation from the players involved.
In Chrysalis C, Stan has been a vital proponent of the idea and has actively encouraged this sort of play — the best results of this practive came recently, during the scene where Stan’s Mariska meets her daughter’s (played by Margie) new boyfriend (played by Dave). Hilarity ensued. Stan’s also had a lot of fun playing his anchors (and has been brutal about playing his Hate anchors in such a way as to let me know that he really understands what he’s getting into with having most people hate him). Kudos to him for involving lots of NPCs, using them well and, best of all, encouraging others to use ‘his’ NPCs as well. Not everyone’s been as sanguine about this idea as others — some folks simply do it as an “oh sure I guess it’s the GM’s ‘thing'”, and some folks seem even more nonplussed about it. We’ll see.
In Chrysalis A, we’ve had less Achor-centric activity (which I’ve honestly been trying to do something about — I’ve got a lovely idea to put Gwen, Esteban, June’s preacher, and Jackie’s journalist together in some kind of ‘covert mission’), and also less NPC-playing by the group in general. Thus far, things have been relatively sparsely populated (due possibly to the fact that we have less time to play during the Chrysalis A sessions), but I did get a chance to have Randy play Meon for awhile last game.
As I mentioned though, Chrysalis A is a game in which we don’t always have a lot of time to play, so it’s really a good thing if we can get people playing npcs in each other’s scenes — I need to forcibly remind myself to write up those brief ‘primer cards’ for NPCs I know will show up in a scene so I can hand them out in-session to people.

Name: Elizabeth, Power of Finance
Personality: Elizabeth Hurley in Serving Sarah, or any assertive woman who knows what she wants and isn’t remotely afraid of using her physical allure to get it.
Goal: Try to convince Donner (and the rest of the Chancel Familia) to host this year’s “Seven Lovely Sins” event.*

That’s really all that’s necessary for any of my players to take the character and run, and keeping the Goal private makes it more interesting and fun for everyone else, as they try to suss out the NPCs motivations. Nine times out of ten the player doesn’t even need the NPCs stats.

* – (See the Pyramid archives for more details on this event, unless you’re a Chrysalis player, in which case, stay away. 🙂