My Guy(s)

I’ve been enjoying playing multiple PCs across Champions Now, TORG, and (starting soon) Rolemaster

When I encountered this practice first-hand, it was in the GM role and in the context of ‘the crawl,’ playing Lamentations of the Flame Princess and Tunnels & Trolls. In deciding to ask each player to create 2-3 characters for these games, I was motivated by procedural concerns. 

I found (and still find) the procedures of Lamentations of the Flame Princess most interesting when there the party includes a diverse profile of classes, hit points, equipment, and situational skills (particularly languages), and, in a play-group of four, that’s easiest to achieve by having 6-9 adventurers. 

In Tunnels & Trolls, I wanted to experience the leveling-up procedures that had been discussed in detail by others at Adept Play. Again, in a play-group of four, the simplest route seemed to be having 6-9 adventurers at the start, rolling a new upstart at 1st level when an existing adventurer perished, and watching as derring-do, foolhardiness, failed Saving Rolls and cursed mirrors created an unpredictable scatter of levels, XP, and XP-to-next-level-up.

These games were successful. However, having actually played multiple PCs extensively over the past year, I find my earlier motivations for doing it to be terribly remedial, too concerned with avoiding flat play. Playing multiple characters is not just a kludge for not having enough warm bodies in seats. It offers its own possibilities.

In Champions Now, I played three characters who shared a sheet. I won’t re-hash the events of that wonderful game, but I will note that the more I’ve reflected on my play of a family of goblins piloting a steam-driven colossus, the more I appreciate how having authority over three tightly knit characters let me establish a many-to-one relationship with the situations of play that wouldn’t have been possible if there’d been only been one Gobbo behind the curtain. 

When Sam threw mystical-mythical Special Effects at me, or when Rod dropped us into the home-dimension of a race of polyhedral peacekeepers, I got to refract their contributions through the very different personalities, perspectives, and Skills of my three protagonists. Even with something as simple as the Gobbos arriving at a banquet, I had to make constant small adjustments to my perspective on the developing fiction to account for all three of them. It kept me on my toes and inspired me to some of my personal favorite play of all time.

In TORG, I played two characters who intersected with very different components of the situation and saw each other seldom. Muhammad Anwar was the national hero of a Banda Aceh, Indonesia under assault by the predatory reality of Orrorsh. He was a mover and shaker in the religious and social politics of the city and (due to his high Reality skill) a character with unique insight into the metaphysical implications of the events of play. Simon Enfield was a sorcerer whose home-dimension was Orrorsh. He came to our world as a colonist of Orrorsh’s British Empire, but turned his hand to helping us Earthlings fight back the invading reality. 

With these two characters, I had the opportunity to interact with very different areas of the situation. Muhammad advised politicians, built bridges with church leaders, and eventually established a Bureau of Reality to more effectively coordinate the military, religious, and popular forces of Indonesia in the Possibility Wars. Simon, meanwhile, distilled mystical potions from cursed centipedes, devised dangerous rituals in abandoned factories, and interacted with the mysterious sorcerous front of Orrorsh’s invasion. 

In contrast to my Champions Now goblins, Muhammad and Simon did not often share scenes with each other, and the fun was in shifting between their very different situational priorities and aesthetic inspirations. They made the fictional world that Rod, Sam, Jon and I were playing feel bigger, and it let me pursue more diverse inspirations than I could have if I was only playing one of them.
There are a range of questions I want to explore further, now that I’ve developed some sense for this as a practice. When is playing multiple PCs actually better for the activity than only playing one? When is it merely a matter of preference? When is playing multiple PCs actively harmful to the activity of play? And: When do ostensibly one-player-one-character games have space for multi-character play?

[One potentially helpful profile of these variables: In Trollbabe, playing multiple player-characters would, I think, be a miserable disaster. However, having the Relationships available to play in addition to my single Trollbabe is always inspiring, both along the lines I experienced in Champions Now, where others’ contributions are refracted through my Trollbabe and her friends/nemeses, and in TORG, where playing the Relationship lets me interact with corners of the situation that I otherwise wouldn’t even see.]


4 responses to “My Guy(s)”

  1. I’d like to know more about your interactions with others’ material, i.e., reincorporation. An unsympathetic reading would perceive that you’re basically playing with yourself (stated literally; no entendre intended). Since I’m pretty sure you were in fact playihg with others, picking up things they said and having what you say picked up by them, the topic you’ve raised shakes into this for me:

    When you are playing more than one character in the same scene, is the process or effect of reincorporation among persons any different from playing a single character? Or more specifically, how is it refracted? I get that your own play is refracted among your characters, internally for yourself, but I’m interested in the among-people effects.

    Changing the topic slightly, there’s also the baseline topic of what it means to play any character, singly, i.e., at all.

    I’ll clarify. I’ve picked up the assumption from several conversations, e.g. here, that a GM plays multiple NPCs in a kind of fugue experience-delivering state, without actually playing them so much as orchestrating what occurs in this scene and the next, and that this behavior is distinguished from what players are supposed to be doing, which is … I don’t know, “feeling” and stressing over whether they’ll survive, or delightedy appreciating the orchestration, or both. This is related to the strange belief that GMing is so very demanding and playing characters is so very easy. OK – still not landing my point: that given this strange construction, a person playing multiple characters without GMing is perceived as doing something GM-like and therefore can’t possibly be “feeling play” as they should.

    Once all this foolishness is sandblasted away, one may be faced with what I just asked: to “play a character,” what is that, anyway? I don’t think it’s hard or even very profound … and I also think that once it’s answered in practice, that a person may have little if any difficulty in playing multiple characters at once.

  2. “Once all this foolishness is sandblasted away, one may be faced with what I just asked: to “play a character,” what is that, anyway?”

    If I could tackle this question first, I’d respond thus: To play a fictional component is to take responsibility for talking about it. In the context of roleplaying, ‘talking about it’ assumes authorities are present. In the context of a social leisure activity, ‘responsibility’ should be used in the lightest possible sense; ‘take responsibility’ should be contrasted with ‘be responsible’ – i.e., one voluntarily and volitionally assumes the responsibility, rather than having it imposed or permitted by someone else. One would do this because it’s fun to, or because one assesses that there is fun in there to discover.

    “When you are playing more than one character in the same scene, is the process or effect of reincorporation among persons any different from playing a single character?”

    With the above formulation of play in mind, the answer to this question is a simple no.

    Qualitatively, having multiple characters that are facets of a single fictional component presents everyone with more ‘grips’ for talking about the component. In Champions Now, there were moments where Rod invoked situational authorities that I think were inspired by the three-in-one quality of the Gobbos. For instance, where it seemed fun to bounce between their scenes in a rhythm that wouldn’t have arisen had they been three distinct heroes played by three different people.

    However, that’s a matter of feature/quality, like the difference between a clarinet and a saxophone. Without altering the activity or changing my criteria for what good play is, I could just as well have been responsible for Jumbo Gobbo, a minor officiant in the Coral Palace, and the weather of Ierendi between the hours of 6AM and noon.

    • “I’d like to know more about your interactions with others’ material, i.e., reincorporation.”

      OK, let’s get a little loopy here.

      You know how when a band is jamming the drummer may pick up a beat that the bassist lays down, and part of the pleasure of doing that and listening to it is how the drummer plays that beat on different drums, so you hear it high and brash on the crash cymbal and then subtly, beneath other stuff the drummer is doing, on the bass drum?

      Playing the Gobbos had this quality in a very marked way. To take a really simple instance, Sam would say the Naga said something mystical and megalomaniacal, and then I would say Jumbo (who worshiped her) was nodding along enthusiastically and Poppa (who hates snakes) was rolling his eyes and grumbling something crotchety under his breath.

      While this quality appeared frequently in playing the Gobbos, there’s nothing really unique about it. I would bet that not a session of play goes by, at any table, when someone doesn’t say what a character says in response to something, then follow it up with what the character’s really thinking. It’s a pretty ordinary occurrence in fictional circumstances of all kinds.

    • Presumably the loop (to appropriate your term) includes Sam or Rod, then operating in some fashion from what a given Gobbo happened to say. I mean, not always, but sometimes.

      I’m pushing at this because I’d like to distinguish the activity of reincorporation from a single person producing complex effects. Not that the latter is a bad thing or can’t have great properties – instead, my interest lies in those properties as they develop via multiple people’s interactions and use of content.

      Sam says A, Noah says Gobbo 1 says or does B (in reference/use with A), Rod or Sam says C (in reference/use with B), Noah says Gobbo 2 says or does D in reference/use with A or C) …

Leave a Reply