Friday, June 17, 2005

Bit Players and Walk-ons

"All the worlds a stage. and all the men and women merely players."
-Some guy who wrote some plays

As some of you may know, I am an actor by trade and a writer by avocation. I tend to look at gaming as a form of art and I'm always struggling to find ways to make it better and more affecting. In my time I have played many parts, each of them initially a small slice of me that is allowed to grow into a fully fledged person all by itself...Well, not all by itself. Other players help too.

As an actor, I've had some experience with playing small roles in shows...Even playing roles that i really didn't care for at all. This has given me a unique perspective from your standard gamer. It has been my experience that most players resent being given an NPC to play in lieu of a character of their own creation. Some might have issues involving their own creativity and others will be pissed because the NPC hasn't been Min-Maxed to their liking.

However, playing a character that is not your own can be an extraordinarily fun experience if you approach it correctly.

Fun for the newbie,passive player,or interested spectator
It's always good to have more characters than you actually need. You can find ways to work them in if you need to and you can also come up with ways to work a character so that they can only be a part of the action occasionally. This enables you to whip something on to a guest at a moment's notice and enable them to get into a game. It's a good idea when making a sheet for this character to dumb the system down as much as possible.( When learning a new thing I almost always prefer things that i can jump in and start working with immediately. If I download a game from the web and i can't make sense of it's controls without serious study then I usually trash it. I'm impatient like that.)

Who knows, not only may you bring in a convert to gaming but you might also find that they bring something unique to that character because they had no preconceptions about it.

Big trouble from little people
True Story: Once i was hanging out with some friends while they where playing GURPS Supers or some other superhero game like that. I wasn't playing because i had no interest and i was working on my Vampire game. The players had escaped from someplace and they were in the car and arguing about what their next move was going to be. I was watching and becoming increasingly amused. At which point the GM stated that the players had attracted the attentions of the Louisiana State Police for their erratic driving. Sensing a bloodbath in the making, I asked the GM if he would mind if i played the State Troopers. When the players heard the phrase "Would you step out of the car please" all burning hell broke loose. To my own credit, I managed to keep the players pinned down in their vehicle for about 20 minutes of gametime before they actually managed to subdue and kill me. ("Beudreax. We need the shotgun!")

As result. no matter what the game is, nobody speeds in Louisiana.

If you have somebody who might have the temperament to be the Utility Infielder and play some of the mundane roles. Run with that. This is also a good option for somebody who's recently been killed and therefore has no character to play for the rest of the evening. It's also a good option for those who like to hang out but don't really want to play for whatever reason.

Another interesting variation is a method called Chumping. (Coined by Bryan Pemberton and Ben Vandgrift) This is method use in LARP play to indicate a person who is temporarily playing somebody who isn't hugely important to the action but can still be interesting to interact with. For instance; Players of the vampires aren't actually allowed to play those character until the sun goes down but they may Chump all they like until then. There is a particular bartender who has been played by at least 6 people and we are encouraged to play the parts of police and newspapermen who ask awkward questions whenever something supernatural happens. This can be good when you have a Character that has to spend a certain amount of time out of action or you're just unsure as to what your character's next move should be and you need to think it over but you don't want to stop playing.

Extra points
From the sheerly greedy standpoint. You can always offer those who are squeaking and beeping about playing a pregen some extra points. Make sure you cut them off though if they've played the same character for over 4 sessions. They've come to like them and are simply hoping you won't notice and stop the gravy train.

Enables everyone to play at once
In tabletop play it can get a little annoying if you've got a player type who invariably has to play by himself for stretches of game time. A fix for this is to try to anticipate those times and set up the other players with NPC's who will interact with him. If you got a player who is all the time going off to check in with his contacts you might want to write up those contacts and distribute them to the players. If you're playing Cyberpunk and your NetRunner goes on a hack you'd be well served to give the parts of the Intrusion Countermeasure Daemons and Sysops to the other players. Run that gauntlet! Everybody plays. Everybody wins.

Drives like a rental car.
While I am a big believer in making an emotional investment in your character. There is something to be said for playing a character that you don't care anything about. I find this is most prevalent in Convention games where everybody is playing a pregen. There is a tendency towards the type of insane heroics that you would never consider with your own character. Why not exploit this possibility in a regular game. There is something to be said for playing a character that lives for 3 games,changes the lives of the other players and then dies horribly at the hands of the Villain.

Try something new.
Lastly, one of the best reasons to play a walk-on is one of the simplest. An opportunity to play something new. Try it out and see if it does anything for you. Not everybody digs this sort of thing but it's necessary for your evolution as a gamer to try new roles. Think it through. Many people get bored with gaming because it gets old to them but in many cases it's because they done nothing but play the same type of character since they started. I've seen too many people who are simply content to play themselves in a suit of armor...There's way more to it than that. Gaming is a great opportunity to explore lives other than your own...give it a try. Who knows, you may come to discover that you like the new role that you've been saddled with. Maybe it brings out something in you that you never suspected was there before.

What have you got to lose?

Sono Finito.


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