Monday, 23 February 2009

Character death and multiple characters

Since our current group started playing Labyrinth Lord in late October, right from that first session, I thought I would try something different. I used to play D&D about twelve years previously, acting mostly as DM for a group of school friends and we had some great sessions. Back then, it was much more 'traditional' in that each player had one, and only one, character. I thought I might try breaking that convention this time around by allowing the players to use multiple characters and ever since our first game session that's exactly what we have been doing.

This has a number of interesting effects on play. Firstly, you have to set a maximum party size limit to prevent the players from abusing the privilege. I set our limit to eight characters in the party, but it can be expanded sometimes for quest specific NPCs. Hirelings and animals such as war-dogs take up slots just like characters. I may have to rethink this aspect as hired help has never been used to date except as non-combatants, such as hiring a tracker to ensure the party do not get lost.

Secondly, it almost completely solves the problem of character death. D&D has always been a merciless game where first level characters are only a single two handed weapon sword away from death; until they reach third level you have to be a little cautious with them and pick your fights with care. Players simply don't mind this aspect of the game so much when they can keep playing with their existing characters that have survived the encounter in which another was brutally slain. Death needs to be an ever present threat to keep the players on their toes. It's much closer to the spirit of the original game that Gary Gygax envisioned in the first place, when it plays out this way, I feel.

Defend the horses! A photo from our recent game session where the party's horses (which pull their wagon, here represented by two plastic bubbles - alas, the wagon model didnt make it to the session!) were under threat from two hungry Rocs...

Thirdly, you have to determine where new characters can be generated. In my campaign world of Summit I only allow it to happen with towns, villages and cities. This means that the party can be whittled down in size while travelling the wilderness or exploring deep and dark dungeons, falling prey to hideous monsters and deadly traps, a facet that adds to the tension and danger as a quest nears its climax.

Fourthly, there is a negative effect. It's harder to roleplay multiple characters, by definition. As players have less 'ownership' of any one character (by virtue of managing multiple ones) - at least until they reach higher levels anyway - this naturally affects the amount of 'flesh' that the player adds to his character's underlying mechanical 'bones'. A way to alleviate this problem a little is for player's to roll up vastly different characters (at a minimum, different classes) but this problem tends to wane with time as characters climb levels anyway. The longer a player uses a character, the more that character exists within her imagination.

In conclusion, I would recommend trying this if you fancy a change in approach to roleplaying games. Its a useful approach if you only have a small gamer group, too.

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