Even heroes need rescuing once in a while, and with that the helpers in Princess Bride, Star Wars and Lord of the Rings become important. In the post You Are Not the Star from the blog The Player’s Side the author wonders about campaigns, where only one character is the star of it all, and the others are not. It is suggested, that one could experiment by having the GM create a storyline, where only one character is the main character, and that the players approaches the storyline with the intent of not being central to it.
This reminds me of my own experiences. Running a whole campaign with only one main character seems excessive to me, and I haven’t done so, but I tried something, that looks a bit like it.
Not being central is also interesting
For me the important element is, that even though I am not the center of the universe or the scenario, as long as this does not mean less screen time and less opportunities to contribute to the game, I don’t mind. Take for instance Lady Blackbird (download), where I and another player were both playing characters that obviously were minor characters in the main story playing the mechanic and the pilot, whereas the Captain and the Noblewoman were the central characters, but none the less everybody had fun, because as minor characters we still had our fair share of the screen time, and we actually got to perform the daring rescue at the finale, that saved the star crossed lovers from the evil pirates, thus saving the day.
In the Danish Shima No Narawashi (download) there is only one central character, a samurai send to a lonely island to collect taxes, when he comes across a murder. Only one player is the main character – the samurai – whereas the remaining players (there is no GM) plays all the minor characters. It is both fun and it keeps you busy, so once again, sure thing.
In one-shots you can easily design stories, where only one player is the main character and the other players act as if their roles are the supporting cast, as long as being the supporting cast means passively watching.
Not being central in a campaign
For campaigns we do it differently. Let me present you with some examples (I’ll explore them at depth some other time):
Going on a journey – in our city-based wizard-campaign it sometimes happens, that a character needs to leave the city. When that happens, the GM hand the other players minor characters and supporting cast. These characters sometimes have a secret agenda (sometimes this involve the main character (e.g. spies or helpers), at other times it just add some depth to the game, that one of the minor characters has his own errands). The minor characters are a welcome change to the game, and sometimes each of the other players have two or three different characters, that they switch between in order to create a whole crowd (leaving me more time to concentrate on other plots).
Trapped in a different dimension – recently the characters were for various reason trapped in different outer planes. In one plane the other players played fellow prisoners driven mad by their outer dimensional plane (their purpose was to show the four different gruesome fates, that awaited the main character, should he fail to escape), and in another plane two characters were trapped and kept as slaves by devious gnomes. The three other players each played a gnome, who was offering freedom the characters, should they assist him in replacing the current gnome lord [actually the gnomes were all trapped in this realm, punished to forever to try to gain the throne from the current gnome lord]. This time the two central characters had to navigate the gnomic intrigues. In the third case to two characters were trapped with a musician in a night that lasted a 100 years.
– to play these episodes, I created a mini-game/scenario complete with it’s own strange rules allowing me to experiment with all kinds of crazy ideas, since the rules were only applied for a single session.
It’s your turn today – each of the characters are caught up in their own problems, and once in a while it is time to resolve one of these problems, and sometimes this requires, that we focus on that player’s character for the evening. I announce this at the beginning of the session, and it is usually already mentioned at the end of the former session, e.g. ‘next time we’ll deal Marie-Luise’s character’s attempt to become a member of the Secret Order of Dragon Mages’. The other player’s then dedicate their evening to help their fellow player and they put their own plots a little bit on hold.
Also in the game Primetime Adventures you take turns being the central character. It is quite interesting to have one session dedicated to resolving your character.
So I haven’t tried a whole campaign with only one main character, but in oneshots and in special episodes in campaigns I have often tried it. It works very well.