Playing Multiple Characters

So in our Apocalypse World game last night, Charles officially started playing two characters. This is part of the game’s mechanics- after you improve your character enough you have the option of creating a second character to play. Vincent Baker, in the book, suggests that it’s kind of strange we don’t do this sort of thing more often as the GM plays tons of characters and it gives people more to do. He does seem to recognize some of the problems with it, though, and puts rule limitations on how any one player’s multiple characters can interact with each other.

Likewise, some of us have bene playing Remember Tomorrow by Gregor Hutton, which is another game with mechanics for you to play multiple characters. Once again, however, there are some rules based things which keep you from having two characters that only you are allowed to play at any one time, for example. You can only have one “held PC” (i.e. a PC that only you can play) at a time- all other PCs are collective.

This has struck me as interesting. We barely touched on Charles’ original character Raf at all last night, concentrating almost entirely on his new character Ruby. Part of this was because Raf just wasn’t near the epicenter of the action, but it wouldn’t surprise me if Raf drifted a little further from the action from here on out as Ruby is, frankly, a bit meatier of a character for Charles to play, and has been immediately more able to ingratiate herself into what’s going on.

So is playing more than one character advisable, or will it inevitably end up with one character outshining the other? Likewise, can you only do it in storytelling type games? Baker’s interaction rules (which I think are spot-on) seem to suggest that having a player have two characters who either help each other out a great deal or interact a great deal is problematic. Mechanically, it makes them too able to cheat, in effect, and RP-wise it means we all have to sit around and watch you role play out an interaction with yourself.

I think that if it’s going to work, the story has to have multiple plot lines and sites at any given time for player characters to be split between. Our APOWO game has three main locations, and Charles’ characters are in two different ones and have little chance of interacting a great deal. However, if we were playing, say, D&D and there was someone playing two people in the same party, I feel like it would shake out in a weird way, where either it would just mean that person got an extra turn in combat, or something, or they were constantly having to interact with themselves, which, see above, no one really wants to see.

Any thoughts? I almost feel like there’s a whole game here. Like Fringe the RPG where people play multiple characters in alternate dimensions who affect each other but don’t have a lot of face time with each other.

5 thoughts on “Playing Multiple Characters

  1. I think it is a mechanic which is interesting, definitely something which I have not seen a lot before. I think though, that outside a storytelling game it becomes very difficult to manage unless it is serving as a form of character retirement or interim appearance for a player whose character has been injured or otherwise kept from the party. Even though the casters occasionally harp on them but it is something that I have seen in a VtM game that I was a member of ages ago. It can allow, as you mentioned Todd, a player to create a character which fits with the story a bit better, also it can give a player the opportunity to try out different classes/play styles.

    I am also reminded of what Megan had said about a DnD group that she plays with, which has a fluid number of people playing. Technically each of the people is playing only one character at a time, but if perhaps their character had in a previous session completed an adventure in a different part of the play world which precluded their involvement in the current session (extensive injuries or being geographically too far away to reach the starting point), so a new character is introduced.

    A DM I played with at the junior college I went to before transferring to my current university, also had something like this in his games. He had persistent worlds (for his various DnD, White Wolf, Shadowrun, and Star Wars campaigns) where the actions of any one party, or even character, was perfectly capable of influencing the world in such a way that their impact was felt by any other character or group of characters. Though I think that is a little off the topic of multiple characters and more in the realm of a discussion on persistent worlds and how they can influence play.

    Anyway, my point is that I think it is interesting and it makes me want to play APOWO.

  2. First off, definitely give APOWO a try.

    Secondly, I think you’re right with what you’re saying here. I think part of the difference is onscreen time. In a storytelling game, your character is inevitably “off screen” a lot. In our APOWO campaign right now, we can go an hour plus without a character being present. There was a whole session where my character, Midnight, got to do two things, both of which were interesting, but neither of which were dynamic, just because the story wasn’t where she was.

    In our Dark Sun game right now, everyone is always on screen. There’s no reason not to be. If we split up, it’s brief and there’s not hour long chunks of free role-playing elsewhere in the world that we have to be an attentive audience for.

    It sort of, then, becomes like the persistent worlds you mentioned. You can play one character in one part of the world and another character in the other, and all is well.

  3. I don’t think I’d like to run multiple characters in most games. There’s typically enough to keep track of with one, and it would interfere with my immersion. If the game is designed to primarily be one player/one character, I want to really inhabit that character. Then there’s screen time issues; I’d either be taking time from myself, or from the other players.

    More ineteresting to me would be a game in which *everyone* played two characters, an A setting and a B setting which somehow commented on each other. Your Fringe example could be like this.

    A twist on multiple characters for a player would be multiple players for a character. There’s a time travel Fiasco playset in which everyone plays a time-travelling scientist at different times in his life. It might be fun to use Shock to play something similar, or maybe a set of clones or avatars.

  4. I won’t play 4E unless I get to play characters with a combined level of at least 6. This could be one L6 char, or 3 L2 chars. Otherwise there just aren’t enough interesting options.

    In a more narratively oriented game, I’d rather concentrate on just one character.

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