Mixing up your Roleplaying Game: Cast of Characters Roleplaying

The Multi-Tasking BarbarianIn a recent podcast we discussed the concept of ‘Cast of Characters Roleplaying’. After we finished recording we realised that we had had numerous conversations of the type and had never posted about them formally afterwards (despite many promises to). This is the first in a series whereby we will endeavour to catch up on these topics.

So what do we mean by Cast of Characters Roleplaying? During the conversation in the podcast we discussed the idea of handing over control of a couple of the recurring characters to one or two of your regular players. The idea being that they would then play out the characters based on the motivations and knowledge that these characters would have.

For example, let’s imagine you are playing a noir styled game. The group is called in to investigate some shady dealing or another. As the GM, you realise that the protagonist (say, a damsel in distress), the local police sergeant and the villain of the story are all going to recur throughout this particular adventure. These three characters you write up with a brief background, their motivation as it applies to the story, and whatever stats are appropriate. After you construct these characters, you hand them to the more theatrical player(s) in your group which they then use to play out the story when the rest of the party encounter them.

So why would you do this?

Firstly, it’s a way of encouraging a player to look after the NPCs of your story in a more interesting fashion. Instead of playing them yourself, you would be allowing one of your player’s to contribute to the story in a meaningful way. The possibilities are endless. You could potentially have 3 or 4 players playing all the NPCs interacting with only one or two PCs in a complex investigative game. Your job in this case would be to create the story arc, characters, and their motivations.

Secondly, if your group has a theatrical type player (see almost any GM’s guide to almost any system) you will have learnt quite quickly that they like to roleplay their characters… a lot… This can mean that they often dominate the story share and can turn already quieter players into wallflowers. By giving them the NPC’s to play, you are:

  1. keeping the game more interesting for them, and
  2. by giving them a role whereby they HAVE to react and play off the other players, therefor, inviting the whole group to participate in the story collaboratively.

Thirdly, if your group is looking for a way to beef up the roleplaying nature of the game that you are playing, this is an opportunity to give those player who are interested the means to play the role of multiple characters in a single session.

Some things to bear in mind

You will make things easier if your NPCs aren’t likely to come into contact with each other. If this does happen however, allow the player to choose which character they want to play, and then take over the other(s) as necessary.

You will also need to make sure you have sufficient motivation and story hooks to give your selected players the best opportunity to roleplay the character appropriately. This means playing the character in a  fashion that fits in with your campaign, but also making the right choices to keep the story moving at least nominally in the right direction.

Using a cast of characters approach to an adventure may result in the story going in unexpected directions. You will need to be prepared to handle almost any stray story arc that comes your way, and this doesn’t suit all GMs. You can offset the likelihood of this happening by revealing more about the character’s backgrounds and motivations. If they are well described and sufficiently detailed, you should find that this mitigates some of the risk of a story going off the rails.

Finally, choose your player(s) wisely. Not all players will be willing (or necessarily able) to play three or four different types of characters in a single session.

In conclusion, if you are feeling that your game is in a bit of a rut, or you are looking for new approach to dealing with NPCs, this may be a way to livening things up. You will be giving a lot of control of the story to other player’s around the table and this increases the collaborative nature of the story. You will be tapping into the collective creativity of the players around the table and you may find yourself being surprised as to where this leads you.

We discuss this topic on this podcast at about 40 minutes in.


About RupertG

RupertG has been playing roleplaying games ever since he discovered Dragon Warriors at the age of 12. Since those days he has played many different RPG's, collected not insignificant Dwarf and Tomb Kings armies for Warhammer Fantasy Battles and even worked as a games designer in the heady days of the late 90's building a CCG. Now he runs a gaming blog and is a participant in the Grand Gaming Experiment
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