Friday, May 1, 2009

Keeping a Spare PC, or Maybe Three

In pondering an "Episodic" campaign style model for the Tankards & Broadswords RPG, I have been wondering if it would be a good idea to encourage, and maybe even provide rules for, campaigns having a "roster" of PCs available for play, either by having a communal pool of PCs that players can draw from, or each player having several PCs they can choose amongst for each adventure.

I can see a couple of benefits in this idea. First, the GM can always make recommendations to players about which PCs might be most appropriate for the planned adventure. Some people might find this idea objectionable, but I can sympathize with the notion that sometimes it just kinda sucks to want to run a really cool adventure idea, but know that it's not going to be interesting or appropriate for half the PCs in your party.

Tougher-minded GM's might say "Suck it up and deal, softie!", but while I might be guilty of catering to the players, I'm also guilty of wanting everyone to enjoy themselves. I'm all for players finding creative ways to use their PCs, and taking the initiative to get involved even if the adventure isn't an exact fit, but there are times when it might be better for the players to just use another character. Besides, the T&B RPG isn't exactly the place where one develops a long and intimate bond with their characters - moving from playing Grimgor the Barbarian to Ranthar the Sorcerer shouldn't cause any heart palpitations amongst the player base.

Another benefit of a "PC Pool" related to the above is that if a player can't make the game, and the loss of that player's PC means the party will be missing a vital part of the team for the next adventure, the idea that one player might be able to take an alternate PC and fill in the gap has some appeal. Again, I know some GMs prefer that players "make do", but for those who don't, this might be a nice solution, preferable over someone playing the missing player's PC (which a lot of people really don't like).

A third benefit is, of course, having a spare character or three handy for when a PC bites the dust. The T&B RPG can be a pretty lethal system if a player doesn't "play smart", and there really is nothing suckier than getting offed in the first encounter and having to just hang out with not much to do for the rest of the adventure, or at best, take on the role of another PC's henchman. While this can be fun now and then, having instead a fully-formed PC waiting in the wings that the PCs can run into at the next village would help matters. I also think this would further emphasize the idea that the campaign world is a living thing, and that the player's alternate PCs are out there having adventures and getting into trouble even when the players aren't playing them. Again, some players aren't happy with the idea that their PCs do anything without their consent, but to be fair, if that's the sort of player base one's working with, this isn't really the RPG for those people anyhow.

So, what's the opinion on this idea - good, bad, or just ugly? Dark Sun had it's PC tree, which was an interesting concept, and one of the few places (maybe the only place) I've seen where the rules specifically encourage having multiple active PCs in-game, and even then, the idea was you always had one "primary" PC and a couple of secondary ones, never mind simply a collection of characters the player could pull from every adventure. Does anyone know of other systems that encouraged this concept?


Darkwing said...

Having two PCs is a good number--if one gets offed, then you have a backup. If you have a "pool" of PCs to fall back on, then unless you're gaming very frequently, each PC is going to get very little "screen time", and each will develop very slowly (both in terms of experience and character development). The larger your pool, the worse this becomes.

Zachary The First said...

I've done this before in a linked one-shot I used to run, called Rifts MercHouse. I've been working on porting the idea to Castles & Crusades for the next campaign--having the group create three characters, and having them all part of a Merc outfit catering to those needing to explore the northwest/wilderness/ruins of our world. I even toyed with a "leaderboard" for all the different characters--something I'm still messing around with with. I guess I need to get it in a pdf.

Alex Schroeder said...

I recently introduced a new house rule to our Sunday sessions: "There is no Leadership feat. Instead, players build an entourage using roleplay within the limits of their Charisma score. One of their entourage will be a Loyal Follower and a potential replacement character. (Inspired by David Bowman’s Entourage Approach.)"

So yes, I approve. :)

The Badger King said...

I've been toying with this idea for a while. At first, I thought about generating a bunch of NPCs that hang around the local tavern, ready to be receuited, but advancing them in level as the party advances. Thus, if one of the party happens to die off, then they can jump into using one of the NPCs who is of a commensurate level. The advantage is, they know a little about this character, since he's adventured with them before.

The other thought I was thinking was having each player generate 2 or 3 PCs. I was going to say that, since my campaign is going to start in the Yeomanry in Greyhawk, they represent the children of one large family. Players can change characters as they see fit, or if one dies out, another steps in. The treasure goes back to "the family", so there isn't really an issue with having to divide it up. I am still contemplating this truth. 8)

Tadow said...

I'm planning on doing something like this when my pcs reach 10th level. My game is very episodic, so i see no problem with it as far as PCs attempting to min/max. My idea is that the players will work for the governor of a parcel of land. Each player has 3 PCs in their pool. The hero of the prvious set of adventures chooses which one of the three pcs the player will play on the adventure.

Timeshadows said...

I had my playtest group create their 2ndary characters two sessions ago, and had introduced one of them into the main storyline.

Tonight, knowing that my star player would be absent, I ran their 2ndaries through an unrelated side adventure 30 mi.-away that should bring the 0.5-level characters up to 1st, and breathe life into them before we re-join the Primaries.

In this case, the 'back-up' PC is a wonderful tool for continuing to explore the same area, without depriving the main group of essential characters.

As for the methods you suggest:

1). If the adventure has not yet started, yes, I think this is a great idea.

2). How would a stand-in character get to where the party is?

3). A given. Nice to have a spare handy. :)

Badelaire said...


If #2 refers to the "filling the missing player/PC gap", this would really only work between adventures, not mid-adventure (assuming that at least some adventures will span multiple sessions, which I think is perfectly valid). So at best, it's only going to work under certain situations.

Badelaire said...


This is true (re: screen time for PCs). Of course, at least within the T&B RPG, advancement isn't THAT big an issue - PCs start the game as fairly competent and grow gradually and haphazardly over time, not in a linear power progression like D&D or another level-based system. However, I can see that if you swap PCs every game, it would cause some troubles. If this is a concern, I'd definitely go with the idea that a player has a "primary" PC and then one or two "stand-ins" that only get brought out occasionally (Kind of like the idea that Timeshadows mentions - they'd be the "B-cast" and step in only rarely for certain plot situations).

Badger King:

I do like the idea of players being able to dip into a setting's "rogue's gallery" when necessary. It might be a better alternative to having a pool of PCs if, like Darkwing, you're worried about PC progression/screen time. In this manner, the NPC "guest stars" for an adventure, but then goes back to being an NPC the next time you run into them (could make for some interesting gaming moments, depending on what happened to the NPC while in a player's hands!).