Monday, April 11, 2011

I is for Inclusion, The Gang's All Here

It's nice to be included.

It stinks to be left out of the fun.

Check these scenarios if you would...
Scenario 1

Last session your party finally located the hidden chamber containing the accused magic item you need to destroy. Unfortunately, it is guarded by a monsterous, y'know, monster of some kind. Big one too. Fifteen minutes into this session, two party members are dead. Now, as those two players gripe, cuss and make up new characters, the rest of the group slays the big baddie and now has to destroy the item and get out of the dungeon. Thing is, what will take longer; the party getting out of the underground labyrinth it took two or three sessions to navigate so they can meet the new characters or the players finishing their characters in time before the session ends and you've all got to go home?
Scenario 2

Street-level, detective type hero figures out that all the crimes and villains fought so far lead back to a mastermind villain whose base in on the moon. It appears he has a killer giant robot ally. So, while flying, super strong, space travel capable members of the superteam head to Luna for the final battle, skilled archer guy, detective guy and acrobatic girl go get some coffee.
Scenario 3

Starfleet Captain assigns his first officer, the ship's doctor, security chief and some NPCs (one more security guy, a botanist and a geologist) down to the surface of weird planet Gamma. Meanwhile, he sit in orbit with the other 294 NPCs and waits. And waits. You could have the ship get attacked in orbit but...really? Again?

Role playing games are fun to watch sometimes but rest assured I think we'll all agree they're more fun to play. So, many years ago in the earliest times of our hobby, when Humanity first crawled out from caves and rolled dice and ate Taco flavor Doritos, we instituted the don't split the party rule. In addition to safety in numbers, it kept everyone playing. No one had to sit on the sidelines and wait while the other half of the group was active.

Personally, I love splitting the party, so I needed another solution.

My friend William first introduced this idea to me in a serious way in his awe-inspiringly epic Champions campaign. Will ran a single Champions campaign from the game's release in 1981 until about about 1996-97. When I played in the campaign in high school, there were over 15 active players.

At one point in the campaign we has a near Crisis on Infinite Earths situation, where the heroes of three Earths had to team up to thwart the combined efforts of three Darkseid level villains, one from each reality. Will made sure that some of the adventure was a crazy big fight, some of it was figuring out what they were up to and how to stop it and some of it was saving the civillians as the merging of the three Earths was causing hurricanes, earthquakes, volcano eruptions, you name it.

Now, while all 15 players didn't necessarily play at the same time and at the same table every time, you would eventually end up with sequences where your character was not the right gal or guy for the situation at hand but you (the player) was available. So we each had more than one character. We never played them at the same time however. We had alts.

For those unfamiliar with the term 'Alt', an alt is a secondary character you use from time to time instead of your main character. The term alt means alternate or alternative character and comes from the Massive Multiplayer Online RPG community. People who play World of Warcraft for example, often have one favorite or main character and a number of alts. This worked incredibly well in Champions. While my alien powerhouse Starguard was off in space battling one of the three villains directly, S.I.M.O.N., my android with a human brain saved people from natural disasters. Meanwhile, the New Yorker, woefully out of his league since he has no powers at all, battled rioting crowds while covering the Batman-like Nightforce so the latter could get to the bottom of how to stop the big bads.

After that, Will would periodically say something like, "A siren blares in the distance as the rain picks up. Your street level heroes are on the roof looking down at a crime scene. Another body was found, same acidic burns as the last three." And so, we all reached into our character folders and instead of pulling our Starguard, Omni, The Pulse and Fusion, we went with The New Yorker, Nightforce, The Pulse and Arrowsmith. Wait? The Pulse's player doesn't have an alt? Sure he does, but the Cyan Super Speedster is his street level detective guy.

This idea works great for Star Trek. Having lower ranked, specialty skill alts means you can beam down with the rest of the landing party or stay on the ship or both.

In D&D...well, the way I would do it would be to make up two or three characters at the start of the campaign. Figure out which one is your favorite and start with that one. If he or she dies you have a ready made new character who can join in right away.

And GMs, find a way to let them join. Stop all this, "They can meet up with your new character once they trek out of the dungeon which it only took 6 hours of real time to transverse." That's silly and no fun. There, I said it. Maybe the new PC(or PCs) have been lost down here for a while themselves. What? You think you're the only group in the country who thought about raiding this particular dungeon? Maybe they're stuck in a trap or a cell (dungeons, as I understand it, used to be used to hold prisoners before they became apartment complexes for monsters*).

It's also possible that at some later point the PCs may develop a base of operations. Then the alts could be introduced as followers or henchmen or something of that sort.

This being a Monday and Muppet Mondays being a feature I'm planning, I'll say that all this relates to why I thought of the Muppet RPG as a troupe play game. It's best to have different Muppet characters so you have a chance of having an appropriate Muppet for any given scene or sketch.

Anyway, I'll end with this, 'the more the merrier', so if at all possible - having more characters to use is better then having none to use. After all, you all came to game.

Barking Alien

*Dungeons as Apartment Complexes for Monsters is SOOO Muppets. WOW! I love this idea for a series premise. What do you guys think? It's a little Sesame Street, a little Fraggle Rock and yet sounds like it would focus on the more adult appreciate humor of the Muppet Show or Gorch. Damn I like this. Like Monsters! Monsters! meets the Muppets RPG as a sitcom. Ooh!



  1. Another option I've heard of for your Scenario 1 is the "zombie": A minor NPC or monster for the player to play while his main is out of the action.

  2. Excellent. I had thought of adding the 'player gets to play an NPC or monster' approach but forgot to include it.

    Another line I wanted to put in but forgot to sums up my thinking on the subject pretty well...

    "If 6 people show up to sit at your gaming table for 4-8 hours, then for 4-8 hours, if at all possible, 6 people should be playing."

  3. Yep in D&D I don't usually have them actively maintain alts but most of my players have several characters ready to go. If someone drops then the new one is typically found in whatever dungeon or ruin or forest they are in at the time. Traditionally they are chained to a wall naked and upside down but I can't always work that in. Tied up in a sack being carried off by hungry beggars worked pretty well in the city so that may become a new tradition.

    Supers is usually pretty easy. I've had people just fall out of the sky before.

    With Trek, well, knowing there are 400 crewmen aboard means we should be OK but knowing there's a number on it is kind of like knowing it carries 400 photon torpedos - I don't expect to use them all, but on a bad day I might see it as some kind of challenge to do so.