Let’s take a second to think about why people play roleplaying games. What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Hold up, lets roleplay this:
“Hey (insert name). Let’s play (insert roleplaying game).”
What’s the first thing you thought of? Chances are, it was what type of character you wanted to play. What is your characters background? Who do they know? How do they make a living? And most importantly, what kind of badass stuff can they do?
If you’re a wizard, you want to cast spells. If you’re a rogue you want to be stealing valuable treasures. Or maybe you’re some cool Cyborg or Alien lifeform. It makes sense you won’t be throwing the most powerful fireballs or killing epic warriors from the shadows. But seriously think about what it means for your character to have a class. To be level 1.
Let’s meet a friend of mine. I call him Joe Civilian.
Joe Civilian (I’ve always been the best with names) is a level 0 civilian. What badass stuff can he do?
Well he can start a bar fight.
He can swing wildly with a sword.
And he can die pretty easily.
How many roleplaying games are there about being level 0 civilians? Know why that is? Coz it’s boring. Farmville: Tabletop Edition is not the sort of thing which is likely to do well (oh please don’t make that. I will boycott that).
The reason we play roleplaying games is because we want to step outside of our own lives and engage in the experience of another, wild and wonderful world. We want to become a part of a bigger story. Our way of accomplishing this is by imagining ourselves as a person who is different in any number of ways. Someone braver, stronger, most dexterous. Someone more violent, more magical or more cunning.
It’s at this time I should probably make my point.
Let them stand out.
Let them be that cool spy, or that fearsome bounty hunter. Let them pull off interesting heists or make interesting deals. I’m not advocating for overpowered, infallible characters. But there’s a balance, and too often I see it go the other way.
I’ve been involved in games where the person running it (Mr/Ms Master) decides that level 1 characters are pretty much useless. Maybe the skills checks are impossibly high, or they can’t attempt something because “you’ve got to work up to that”. And in some cases it’s valid, but not in the way the average person thinks it is.
Level 1 characters have started down a path. They’re already skilled at something. They’re not epic warriors, but they’re no longer average citizens. If they want to try and pickpocket a random NPC, if they want to make that deal or bargain as a part of their introduction then they should have better than average odds of succeeding. Let them be cool. Let them embrace the character they want to be. They might be playing for the challenge, but don’t confuse it with playing to lose all the time.
You need to develop moments in stories where each character has a chance to shine. Maybe each character is tied to a specific moment, maybe a certain dungeon has traps best met by certain classes, maybe there are five magic stones they encounter along their travels, and each find the one they’re destined for at certain intervals and get a chance to roleplay the moment. Each person sitting at your table is there to be a part of your story; not just a backdrop or a random citizen. They each deserve a chance to influence and shape your world with their own choices and imagination. And they each deserve to be the most important character in at least one moment.
Sometimes certain players dominate the table. Sometimes it can’t be helped. Maybe they roll really well, maybe they’re better at roleplaying, or maybe they’ve min/maxed the hell out of their character and they happen to be good at everything. This is your challenge, Ms/Mr Master. Learn how to bring other characters out, and give them a chance to do or be something epic.
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Thought I’d share some of the various roleplaying games you can purchase from Amazon.