Adventure stories that fuel roleplaying games often focus around people who can change the world. From the starship captain to the prophesied return of the king, we like to tell and participate in tales of epic proportions.
However, this competes with the egalitarian concept of player balance. RPGs generally try to balance player ability according to the rules of the game, and in most of the games I’ve played, GMs like this equality to extend to a player’s station in life. This becomes a challenge for the Aragorns among us.
Rather than reject the epic hero concept, we can focus on intentionally casting one or more characters in these VIP roles. Here’s some tips on doing this successfully.
Get on the same page
It’s important that all players–that is, the player in the role, the other players running characters, and the GM understand the ramifications of this.
Imagine Star Wars as a roleplaying game. The Jedi clearly have the power. Think of how much it would suck to play the scoundrel Han Solo unprepared, especially if Luke and Obi Wan were the other people in your party. While they were running up walls and clouding stormtrooper’s minds, you’d be stuck saying, “I shoot it with my blaster. Again.”
This goes beyond the mechanics–in a story like Star Wars, the action focuses around Luke. Han Solo (and even Obi Wan) necessarily take a back seat to Luke’s story. This isn’t necessarily a problem–but it is if the players are not expecting it.
Finally, I’ll reiterate the fact that the GM is a player, too. It’s critical that the GM understands what it means for a player to be of a certain station in life. It’s equally essential that the GM give moments to stand in the spotlight to other characters. After all, Han pulls Luke’s feet out of the fire on more than one occasion, and Obi Wan’s confrontation with Vader is a central scene.
Don’t let the VIP dominate
This is one of those “reality vs. fun” situations–it might make sense in the real world that the usurped prince gets to call all the shots, but that generally doesn’t make for a fun game.
The first principle here is to give the VIP role to a responsible player. Hopefully, all your players fit this bill–but if you have someone who likes to dominate, they’re probably not a good choice for the power role.
You might decide to use some story element to effectively diminish a VIP’s power (ideas for this below), or your may simply go all Uncle Ben on your players and remind your VIP that great responsibility (both in game and out) comes with this power.
Make sure the job doesn’t belong to an NPC
Is your whole story dependent on your VIP pulling the sword from the stone and becoming king?
Then you, my friend, need an NPC.
The VIP job might certainly be connected to a prophecy, but if it must happen for your story to matter, then it isn’t fair to ask a player to fill the role. You can circumvent a lot of problems in your campaign by assigning the role to a prominent NPC rather than a PC who has to jump through your hoops.
Here are some ways that follow the ‘Sword in the Stone’ example, in a way that could work for a game:
- The boy has already pulled the sword from the stone, but for some reason was banished from the country. Now, he comes to reclaim the throne. (This works because he may or may not be able to reclaim the throne, and no one knows what that looks like.)
- The boy is destined to rule the land, and the legend says that the ruler of the land pulls the sword from the stone. (This works because the PC might circumvent the legend, or prophecy’s interpretation could be flexible)
- The opening scene features the boy pulling the sword from the stone, but that’s only the beginning of becoming king. (This works because the initiating action leads to further action, and thus more story whose outcome is not yet determined.)
Ideas for diminishing the VIP’s power
Here are a handful of story-based ways you can give a player the VIP role without letting them dominate the game.
- The Aragorn Plan: your VIP’s status must remain hidden until late in the game.
- The Rebel Scum Plan: your VIP’s status is not recognized by the legitimate ruling authority, so she can’t dominate society (yet).
- The Snikt Snikt Plan: your VIP is nearly immortal, but his success is dependent on the survival of the team.
- The Shepherd Book Plan: your VIP’s moral authority is wielded wisely, lest apparent hypocrisies of the past be thrown against him.
- The Kirk Plan: your VIP is a charismatic leader who has one good kung-fu move, but success of the party relies on the varied skills of others.
- The One Ring Plan: your VIP’s status is secondary to an epic plot that requires a non-VIP character to succeed.
- The Who’s The Boss Plan: your VIP’s station is secondary to another (a king who reports to a ecclesiastical authority, a priest who reports to the divine, etcâ€¦) and must be responsible with power, lest it be challenged or removed.
Have you ever played a VIP in a game, or do you have stories of this being done well (or poorly?) Are you a VIP in real life who can’t get a break in your games? Tell us about it in the comments!