Monday, September 12, 2016

Gamemaster's Guidepost: Dungeon Fantasising II

Guest Post by Kyle Norton

About three years ago, one of the players in my regular GURPS group offered to run a Dungeon Fantasy campaign. He had been working on the setting for more than a decade, and finally felt he had reliable enough players to tromp around in it, so off we went.
He pitched a really neat idea to us: “Torn between 2 character concepts? Make both, take one on the first expedition and the other on the second. I’m fine with you switching whenever we are back at town, and they can both progress at the same rate”. I took him up on it and made a second character, then a third, then… After a year or so I found myself with a stable of six characters. Another player brought four characters to our party, while a third player brought three. The third player would swap and stay swapped instead of weaving them in and out of the party.

My stable of part time party members covered a pretty wide range: Half-Elf mage, Ogre Knight, Human Ninja, Half-Elf Mystic Knight, Troll Scout, and a few experimental characters that had tentative GM approval, but never actually saw the light of day. Between the players who were not rotating characters in and out, we had some roles covered very thoroughly, but some not at all, and sometimes, a player would not show up and we would need someone to pinch hit for a role that was normally covered. As a player who was focused on keeping things moving and loved the mix of playstyles, it was fun to show up and read the room and say “I think I’ll bring the mage today”.
The end result went something like this:

GM: Your next mission is to travel by boat to make diplomatic contact with a race of warrior fish men. They are close to 8 feet tall and brawny. They also frequently have contests of strength and skill (subtle hint there).
Me: I’ll bring Sir Samwell Blacksun, the kingdom’s only knighted ogre.
GM: Excellent.

And another time

GM: You need to investigate ancient ruins of a civilization that used magic to build *everything* including pop up ships, flying towers and blade golem guardians.
Me: Sounds like a job for a Metuo the bookish, research focused half-elf mage. 

Of course, he later surprised us with another ruins expedition on the way home from a mission where I’d brought the Ogre. I couldn’t switch to the mage, but the other player who used a stable of characters had brought one that day who acted as magical skill monkey (a Dwarf Artificer with a lasso, which worked out fine and allowed another part time character to get some time in the sun).
My GM loved the fact that he could drop a few hints about magical traps and make sure the party had a mage, without ever having to tell someone “you need to play a mage full time” and (with only a little warning) could drop a no-mana zone without making one player useless.

He did mention that there are a few things to keep in mind. The players with part timers need to be willing to work with the GM. If the GM gives hints, the player should pay attention. If he doesn’t have the right character along for a scene, he shouldn’t whine, sometimes it’s better that way. Further, once you’ve left town, there’s no going back to swap, even if you only traveled a few hours, finish the run. The player also needs to recognize that when a character is not in the adventuring party, he is off doing something to keep advancing as if he were. His skills, powers, spells and gear are unavailable to a party he is not currently adventuring with. Further, the player needs to make sure the new character has some personality and isn’t just Orc Knight #23, so that the party and NPC’s both feel like they are working with a legitimate character.

Meanwhile, the GM needs to work with the players, give a few good opportunities to swap characters, give the character that was dusted off just for this adventure a chance to shine and show off (or at least be noticeable).

So, if you have a player who just itches to make new characters, and has a hard time choosing, consider letting him play both. It’s not for every game, player or GM, but when it works it’s fantastic.

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  1. It sounds almost like you had an a variation on the Open Table concept that some of the OSR people are talking about.

  2. I'm not familiar with the Open Table concept. I'll have to look it up now.