Picture this: your GM just told you that you can play anything you want to play using any of the current Pathfinder books available that are not specific to the world of Golarian. Many people after hearing this would jump right into books like Advanced Races Guide and Ultimate Combat without really thinking about what everyone else in the group is going to want to play. This can create issues with a party later down the line when people see what they feel was the role that they expected to be filled by their character being filled by another. This can create resentment and can lead to the destruction of a game.
(From Wikki) Role: A role (from the French rôle, and sometimes so spelt in English) or social role is a set of connected behaviours, rights and obligations as conceptualised by actors in a social situation. It is an expected or free or continuously changing behaviour and may have a given individual social status or social position. It is vital to bothfunctionalist and interactionist understandings of society. Social role posits the following about social behaviour:
So the question becomes how do you prevent this from happening? One thing you can do as a GM is to try to have the players meet together before they create their characters. During the meeting you can specify that everyone speak openly about what they want to play and ask them to try to get a niche for their characters. Giving each player a choice in what they want to play is a good thing and letting the party decide for themselves how they are going to each fill their roles is also a good thing but be careful and make sure that the party has at least one fighter, one magic user and one healer or some proximity thereof. Nothing cuts a game quicker than a party that cannot heal itself. Alternatively, you can give the party clerics and mages in a bottle (potions) or swords for hire (mercs) if they decide they want to all play casters or fighter types.
The trick is to try to get everyone thinking on the same level so that people know what to expect from one another. Trust me. It can be difficult when player’s roles overlap and both people (rightly so) feel that it is their job to explore and investigate if that is the role that they created their character to fit. So be sure to try to get people to talk over how they see themselves working within the party. If all else fails you can assign roles. I tried this in my Dragonlance Steampunk game and we have three casters (Gunmage, Witch, Magus), a Cleric, a Bard/Cavalier, a rogue trickster and an Archer.
Having all of these similar classes overlap could lead to potential problems if say the gunmage suddenly decides that she is supposed to be the only one to do research on arcane happenings. Luckily, for the most part, our group works well together and everyone fits into a specific role within the party. The mages for instance fit into the witch being an expert in the occult and strange happenings, the gunmage in technology and magic and the magus in general mage combat and combat magic.
It also helps that within the campaign setting mages are identified by a specific color robe that they wear and is magically attuned to their alignments. This helps too with the differences in the characters which lets people have their time in the spotlight.
The time in the spotlight is another tricky thing when considering characters that have niches that overlap. How do you decide who gets to disarm a trap when two or more people have that ability? How do you decide who finds the arcane scroll? I usually let the players work those details out by letting whoever gets there first be the one to find it. Naturally, I want the group to work together so sometimes, as in the case of a scroll that was ‘borrowed’ by the gnome alchemist npc (follower of the kender), I create situations where they must work together to achieve their means.
In the above example, the kender Kaz had learned through offline roleplaying via emails (a topic for another column) of the scroll. The next session during the game Kaz tried to use magic device to figure out how to open the tube. Unfortunately, there was no obvious way to open the tube but it had several strange characters written on the case. Kas then enlisted the help of his friends – Xochitl, the Irda Cleric of Melikki was able to determine that the writing was a code written in abyssal, Firenaze the Centaur Magus was able to determine that it said that it must be opened on the full and Talane the Gunmage was able to determine that the next full moon for Nutari (the bad moon) was in a few days. Together, they were able to figure out how to open the tube and in a few sessions they will have their answer as to why the alchemist ran away from her master.
In closing, whenever you are running a game try to define the roles of the characters or have the party determine what roles they see themselves as fulfilling. This will create a more streamlined game and allow each person to have spotlight time showcasing their character’s strengths and allowing other characters’ strengths to shine through their weaknesses. Happy gaming!
In the next DM Advice column I will talk about offline roleplaying.