One of the things I like most about roleplaying games is that they’re a cooperative experience: the players are working together for a common purpose. Each character might excel in a particular area, but the “win condition” for the game is “we complete the story,” not “I have to do better than everyone else who is playing.”
Unfortunately, for many players, making the “best” character in the group becomes the goal of playing, rather than being an effective part of the team. Double unfortunately, the easiest way to measure which is the “best” character is by adding up how much damage a character can deal in a round, and any character option that doesn’t improve that damage statistics is an inferior or even “useless” option. That sort of thinking means the player is thinking “me, me, me” instead of “us, us, us.”
(Also, as I pointed out in an earlier blog post, the game is already stacked in the PCs’ favor–you don’t need to optimize your character to “win” the game.)
My upcoming game, Five Moons RPG, emphasizes that you are part of a team. Your character functions more effectively when you take your allies’ abilities into account, and every character has class-based abilities that help other people on the team.
(Update September 23, 2014: If you like this post and where these ideas are going, please check out the kickstarter for my Five Moons RPG, which uses these ideas. Thanks!)
Synergize Your Powers
Every character has character abilities that interact with the abilities of the other PCs in the group.
For example, a fire wizard might have an Incendiary Blast attack spell sets an opponent on fire, and a Explosive Combustion spell that does extra damage if used on a creature that is on fire. The archer warrior in the party might have a Burning Arrow attack that sets an opponent on fire, and a Dynamite Arrow* that does extra damage if used on a creature that is on fire. It doesn’t matter whether it was the fire mage or the archer warrior who set the creature on fire–the Explosive Combustion spell and the Dynamite Arrow attack both get their extra bonuses. Either character could ignore what the other character is doing (spend round 1 setting the creature on fire, then round 2 taking advantage of the burning), or they could take advantage of each others’ actions and activate these “combos” more quickly.
This game mechanic helps someone creating a new character get suggestions from other players about what attacks and spells have an enhanced effect when the other PCs are around.
Your Class Has Tangible Effects On Others
Another way to reinforce the team aspect is through effects that you automatically grant to other members of your team. The perfect D&D/PF example of this sort of thing is the paladin’s aura of courage, which grants allies a bonus against fear. (A bard’s inspire courage ability is another ability like this, although it requires expending performance rounds instead of being on all the time.) In World of Warcraft, most classes have some kind of “buff” that you can add to everyone in your party—priests add stamina (increasing your health), mages add intellect (increasing spell damage), and so on. Warriors could add their bravery bonus to nearby allies, rogues could add a bonus to Stealth or Reflex saves (or to certain social interactions), and so on.
This game mechanic lets each class contribute to the party as a whole–no character is an island, and it encourages players to try a class that contributes a “buff” that your group doesn’t currently have.
Coaching Your Teammates
Another way is to expand upon the idea of the “aid another” action and give all classes ways to “coach” other characters to do better. PCs in the same party see each other practice, work, and fight all the time. They’re not going to be completely ignorant about each others’ abilities.** The wizard has seen the warrior do that stab-spin-chop maneuver dozens of times; the warrior has heard the wizard speak the words to Incendiary Blast over and over again. There are many examples in fiction and movies of an unskilled character being inspired by an expert character, whether as a flashback to watching the expert in action, a “what would the captain do?” moment of reflection, or even a guided suggestion like “trust your feelings, Luke.”
In Five Moons, your expertise in your class allows you to temporarily improve another character’s ability to perform a task relevant to your class. For example, your warrior can call out tactical tips to help the cowardly rogue do better in a fight. Your rogue can pantomime how and where to walk to reduce the armored cleric’s noisy movement. Your cleric can tell the wizard of an old prayer of healing that fixes broken fingers. Your wizard can tell the warrior how to activate the Mystic Emerald of Agrijarrn. This “mentoring” or “coaching” isn’t always effective, and you can’t do it all the time, but it’s there when you need it.
And here’s a fun bit: your character can help another character this way, even if you’re unconscious or dead. How many times have you watched a movie where the hero dies, and the sidekick has to kick some ass to get the job done? That’s what I’m talking about. As I just said, it’s not always effective, and you can’t do it all the time, but sometimes when the situation goes to hell, you have Greatness Thrust Upon You, and it’s time to step up.
To sum up, in Five Moons RPG, I want your character to interact with the other PCs, teach them, and learn from them. It is a team game, be a team player.
* No, it’s not actually called that, but it’s a good visual concept.
** If you’re a fan of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, I’m talking about this bit from the “Grave” episode.
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