Gather round the campfire

Today we discuss the concept of single player stories with multiple people.

Many times over the course of your life as a game maker, there will come times when you want to relay information to your players that deals only with a small number of the characters in your game. Perhaps one of your players is attempting to pass the tests of knighthood, maybe an intense bit royal planning is going on and only one player is of high enough social class, or maybe it’s just a bit of backstory about how one of the players got drummed out of the space marines. Whatever the case, the point is you have a story that needs to be told, and not all of the player characters can be active participants in it. This can leave you with several players with nothing to do, which leads to dice towers, missing snacks, and the occasional combusted pet.

The initial reactions to this problem tend to be either of the “send the rest of the party anyways” camp, which leads to things like the half naked barbarian squatting in the corner of a fancy ball, or the “idle players” camp, which leads to food runs and empty chairs next week. There is, however, a remarkably simple solution to this problem, and one that tends to be equitable to the entirety of the party. Give them all characters. Telling the story of the grizzled veteran’s last days in the space marines? Everyone else is get’s to be a member of his squad. The aspiring knight is fighting in a tournament to prove his worth? The other PCs watch from the stands while their players take on the roles of rivaled and allied knights. Fancy dress dinner where the noble player is attempting to bend the ear of the king in support of his plan? Everyone else is a minor noble of one faction or another, and the original has to convince them to assist him. Make sure, when doing this, that the players you hand the new characters to understand their responsibilities and will be expected to behave in character, but this should be a fun experience for them as it allows them to take a small break from who they are used to being and try something new. The stealthy character get’s to play a boisterous and massive knight in the tournament, the diplomat can play a space marine, and the warrior can finally try his hand at talking to someone. Be prepared for them to take their character’s in a very different direction from what you had envisioned, but you can work with whatever they end up doing. Even if the fighter managed to use his throwaway noble character to incite rebellion among the masses, you just got a new main villain for your plot line.

This technique is even applicable in video games, allowing you to replace single character focused back story cut-scenes with a gaming experience a cooperative group can share. Whether traditional or electronic, this will allow you not only to keep the entire group entertained and prevent a lot of negative feedback, but will also increase the likelihood that your players will develop attachments to characters other than their own. A player is much more likely to feel sympathy for the priest whose family was killed by goblins if they played as one of his erstwhile cousins and were mercilessly cut down than if they heard the story over the campfire one night.

Remember, keep everyone involved in a way that makes sense. And it’s fun to take the occasional break and run a different character.

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2 thoughts on “Gather round the campfire

  1. That is not what I would have thought to do. Very creative, I like it. I may have to remind myself to try this out in further games or stories. In a perfect world, would there not be any single player storylines?

    • I am in no way diminishing the idea of a purely single player game, I just don’t think one should have to subvert multiplayer to tell one characters story. Also, this can work in a purely historical setting that involves no characters if you just let everyone be a character from the appropriate point in history.

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