Seeing Kill Bill the other night brought to mind one of my major frustrations with roleplaying games. Like many, I like to use characters and stories from other media (whether novels, movies, television shows, or whatever) to inspire my roleplaying games. Unfortunately, many of those stories that I would otherwise consider excellent fodder focus on a single character (whether exclusively or primarily), while most rpgs are built with the assumption that there will be multiple player characters each of whom will have more or less equal importance. To be honest, I like playing with more than one other person. While one-on-one roleplaying can be a lot of fun, that’s not the only potential solution to the problem that I see here.
Is the problem clear? Let me state it in a more straightforward manner:
Traditional roleplaying games are not built in such a way as to facillitate telling stories about a single protagonist, particularly when there multiple players at the table.
One currently popular attempt to get around this problem is used by the Buffy the Vampire Slayer rpg. In BtVS, a player can portray either a hero or a white hat. Hero characters are significantly more personally powerful than white hats and the assumption is that the story will be primarily focused on the hero. Players who control white hats are relegated to supporting cast, but they gain a certain degree of narrative control in return. I haven’t actually played the game, but I have heard that with the right group it works very well. On the other hand, in many groups everyone wants to play a hero. Also, this solution depends upon a supporting cast. If you have a ‘lone wolf’ type hero, this solution is likely to be significantly less effective.
How could a story about a lone wolf character be effectively told in an rpg in which there are multiple players?
I can think of two ways. I’m only going to mention them briefly now. I will come back in later entries and expand on each of them.
Method One: Role reversal
There is a single player assigned to the heroic character. Other players share the duties traditionally assigned to a single gamemaster. This is the method I would probably use to mirror a story like Kill Bill. The protagonist is single-minded. The scenery and style changes dramatically.
Method Two: Role Splitting
Multiple players share the single heroic character. Each of them might have a different agenda and different commitments (some of which they may be able to impose on each other). This would be a more appropriate method for dealing with complex characters with significant internal conflict. I’ll need to remind myself to look at Wraith: The Oblivion for some ideas on how to handle this.