Monday, September 9, 2013

Player Characters and their “Bench”

A while back I wrote how I would love to have a campaign where the main party had a “bench” - a group of other adventurers they could use is they ever needed to. Why? Well, what if the mission is to sneak into the enemy castle by scaling a wall, picking the lock on the castle safe, and escaping without ever being seen. Not exactly a job for a pally, now is it? In fact anyone in heavy armor is a detriment to accomplishing the task. But, if you had a bench, then the guy who normally plays the hulk in heavy armor can just pull out his thief or illusionist character and be of help to the party. For me, being a role-player, this matters because there are missions that I just don’t think my character would want to go on. (I do normally play characters that in other game systems would be considered pallys.) So, how? OK - This is NOT realistic or perhaps even reasonable, but imagine if every player in the party had three characters. Every time the party had an adventure, the player would choose one character to use. But, at the end of the game, every one of the three would get the same experience and possibly even gold. They would not (in my opinion) get extra magical items, and would be forced to pass any items they might have around. So does this work? Well, it eliminates the issue of trying to keep the characters all generally at the same level of experience, though admittedly in a very artificial way. It probably under powers the party, because they would have fewer magical items (since they are likely sharing them amongst more characters), but the GM could compensate for this in some fashion. It also weakens the party because the player will not be as good at playing that type of character as they might have been, but this seems a little too whiny. If a player is good, he/she should be able to play one of three characters without being a fool. Problems? Oh yeah! Now that you have three characters, what if you want to bring two on a particular adventure? In fact, you’d most likely want to, and the rest of the party might think it is a good idea too (OK, everyone bring their huge fighters and their healers!). Now, the GM might allow this, and then cut the experience by splitting it amongst the number of characters in the mission. (My game tries to measure threat when awarding experience, not simply tally up points for dead monsters. So the idea of losing points due to more guys only affects experience if it lowers the presumed threat level.) Is this too big a problem? Maybe not. So what is the excuse? the rationalization? While the main party is off adventuring, the ones who stay at home are doing similar, but undefined tasks. I think the whole team (players times their three characters) would have to be an organization of some sort to make this work. Maybe they are an adventuring guild, or a military unit, or an organized crime gang, or a religious organization (a cult, but not in the bad sense of the word), anything to tie them together and justify them staying together as a team. Hey - It works for the Avengers and the Justice League, why not fantasy heroes?


  1. We do this with a current Pathfinder game - we have two teams. Team Kaboom is so named because they have three people with firearms and one of them is an alchemist. Team Stealth shows the abuse you can use for the feat Stealth Synergy. Everybody has a high base stealth and we can use the highest die that anybody rolls when we're sneaking together. We're having a crossover event soon where there's an assault on an armed camp that's too big for one group alone.

    Previous incarnations in the same world have had a "monster squad" and "God squad" for odd races and religious themed characters. Each group stays together doing different missions based on their specialties. Experience is level within each group, but it may differ between groups.

    I just got a heads up from my GM that an upcoming module in the Zeitgeist adventure path (EN World) will have a second string group that we'll be piloting for part of the adventure. I don't know too many details.

  2. We certainly used a similar idea for Shadowrun, except I called it a "stable" of characters, as sometime a character would not fit a mission or it was optimized for techs or whatever. It worked very well for the very mission oriented Shadowrun game.

  3. We felt Shadowrun required “auxiliaries”. With the matrix stuff and the astral plane stuff where many of the characters were unable to participate, you seemed to need them. We often would have the hackers (deckers?) show up an hour early so they could get into the mission’s computer. Then we assumed they did stuff like open doors and turn off cameras for us while the mains did the missions.
    Actually, we got so tired of the system (but liked our characters) that we added an AI who became the hacker for us. Gladys (the AI) then did all the door opening, camera turning off, and street light greening for us. We felt it was a great way to handle some of the tedious stuff while enhancing the campaign. Of course, having an AI tended to attract attention and cause missions, but those were fun too!