Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Group Need vs. What You Want to Play

Occasionally I get a new player in my group - either a returning fellow gamer or an entirely new one.

Just about the first question I hear from them, before they make up a guy, is "What does the group need?"

My response is the same - what do you want to play? What kind of guy sounds fun, given the context* of the campaign?

This is how my current group ended up the way it is. Two scouts. Two barbarians (one PC, one NPC), both built as front-line combatants. Two knights, also built as front-liners. A martial artist built to fight. A wizard with an interesting combination of spells.

Where is the cleric? The standard answer is "blub, blub, blub." Swimming with the subterranean sharks. He died, and the player moved on to a new guy he wanted to run. The party probably "needed" a cleric, but they didn't get one.

I know one scout's player has a holy warrior as his backup PC, in case he needs to whip one out on short notice. The knight has a necromancer he keeps tweaking and re-tweaking, and keeps hoping enough folks will show up with a new-fragile-wizard-friendly combo so he can try him out.

It's possible with a TPK we might end up with an entirely different group - no scouts, no "standard" wizard, no knights, no barbarians, no whatever.

But I don't care, and I strongly discourage caring about that.

Even in my DF game, where it's a pre-designed environment, trying to build out a group to take it on is a losing proposition. It might "work" in that you're an efficient, optimized set of problem solvers for the kind of problems the dungeon environment poses. But if you're running a character you'd rather not be running, or your third choice because the group needed a cleric and they already plenty of fighters and didn't need a second thief, is that good? Is "success" in play the cornerstone of fun, or is "this guy does the cool stuff I want to do in my leisure time?" the cornerstone of fun?

So my response is generally the same - I tell people to pick something that'll be fun to run, and run that. The group efficiencies will work themselves out. The lack of a whatever or a preponderance of too many whatevers will work itself out. The fun will just be different than expected.

For this reason I tend to look at PCs in isolation, not in a party composition context. If you aren't totally redundant, and as long as you've got something fun to do, and you'll enjoy doing it, the game will work itself out. This is especially true in my pickup-game format, where the party might have a cleric one session or not, or really need a bunch of fighters but be nothing but second-rankers, or desperately need ranged fire but lack the folks to provide it. Planning around "need" assumes a steady need, but planning around "I'll have fun with one of those" doesn't assume much of anything.

So that's why - if you play with me, pick something you'll enjoy running** and run it. Group needs will work themselves out.

* So for my DF game, the context is "guys who'd go into tunnels full of monsters looking for treasure." In my last game, it was "guys who'd buy into the idea of saving the world from an evil wizard." For one short-lived game, it was "Victorian adventurers who'd investigate strange magics and conspiracies." Given that context, what sounds like a fun character?

** And know how to run. Yes, understanding the GURPS Magic rules is a prereq for running a wizard. Sorry, but there it is, they're simple enough but you need to get them before you play them or I end up explaining them instead of GMing.


  1. I totally support playing what you want to play and would never tell anyone, "you can't play a Scout because the group already has two Scouts and really needs a Cleric."

    But most veteran role-players usually have two or three choices for something they want to play, and it isn't a bad thing to find out what would shore up weaknesses in the group. Sometimes the discussion can even inspire a great character concept that's really fun to play: my current character in Nate's Jade Regent game is a Knight/Wizard/Mystic Knight that I jammed together to weld my desire to play a front line with the group's need for some kind of arcane spellcaster, and Bruno has an orcish shaman up her sleeve that's intended to replace Staver as a ranged attack through use and abuse of the psionic template and my alternate shaman take. If she just chose to her normal preferences, she'd probably have a minotaur Holy Warrior or some such as her backup, but I think she's more enthusiastic about the shaman.

    I don't think constraints are a bad thing, as long as people take them as advice and not straightjackets.

    1. Sure, but what happens when someone else's PC dies off, or quits playing, or swaps in a replacement? Aiming to fill a "need" is nice, but it's inherently temporary unless everyone is always doing it. The party makeup will end up changing the game - a no-fighters group will look a lot different than an all-fighters group, for example. So why aim to suit the party makeup to the game?

      I really could sum up my advice simply as, "What the group needs is you to have fun playing your paper man." Outside of that, there really is no "need" in a game.

    2. I'm not advocating playing something that you don't want to play or that you won't enjoy.

      But I do think that when you're staring at that blank sheet of paper (or newly created GCA4 character tab) and thinking about the 20+ templates and 400+ base henchmen+advances combinations, you need some kind of filter to manage those choices down to something that you can have fun with. Sometimes, that's easy: "I've always wanted to play a charismatic tactical leader and now I can!" and sometimes it isn't. When the choice of filters isn't easy, asking, "well, what does the group need right now?" provides some constraints, which you can either embrace (Bruno coming up with a pseudo-psionist/shaman blaster to be a ranged attacker) or ignore (Kevin deciding that he didn't want to play a thief and coming up some kind of nymph ninja-martial artist thing).

      The line-up in the Jade Regent game has gone from Barbarian, Cleric-Wizard, Holy Warrior, Knight, Scout, Thief to Cleric, Cleric-Wizard, Holy Warrior, Knight, Ninja, Scout to Holy Warrior, Knight, Mystic Warrior, Scout. Fulfilling a need of the group has generally been distant second to playing an interesting character. And even when fulfilling a need has been important, it's more of a "what fun character design can I create that fulfills this need" which is how it should be.

      I think we're generally in agreement: have fun playing your paper man. But it's fine to ask for guidance from the other players, either for what they'd think would be helpful or what they think might be cool.

    3. Oh, sure. I'll provide guidance, in the "here is what we have now" kind of thing, but honestly . . . we almost had a player join intending to run a Scout. We'd have had three scouts. Do we need 3? No. Do we need 2? No. But do we need 3 guys having a blast? Sure! So it would have worked out. Kind of my point, really - it'll work out.

  2. I always tell my players to play what they want. It's the only way to insure that they have fun.

    Personally, I think a group's best chance of succeeding is to have the main four: Wizard, Cleric, Fighter and Thief. But I have a couple of games now that do not have all four, even though I have 7 players in one of them.

    It poses a challenge: Locked door and no thief. It's their job to figure out a way around that. Perhaps they have to go back to town and buy a Knock spell?

    What? You mean there's no Wizard either? Life sucks!

    Occasionally, I supply an NPC that they can hire; Rent a Thief to go back and open the door.

    "What do you mean it's my fault you didn't ask him to check for traps?"


    1. It's what henchmen are for, after all - my players have pooled cash to keep a cleric on retainer, and one PC pays extra to get him a bodyguard. You lack the tools, get the tools - but I hate to see someone play against desire to fit a niche.

  3. With GURPS I feel that the fighters tend to be more powerful and they also are involved with much of the action. Maybe a good PC groups could be a group of fighters with a cleric, wizard and thief as henchmen. Most of the players I have had preferred the fighter with GURPS DF.

    1. One of my players suggested early on that everyone make Knights or Wizards, and hire everyone else they need as henchmen (if even then). My response was pretty simple - go for it, and let's see if it works!

      They haven't, yet, but they did learn a bit more combat-heavy with their replacement characters after we lost a chunk of the party. It's possible an all-knight party with some supernatural hired help would do well. Or it might not - there is a lot of stuff you need magic to do in my dungeon.

  4. Of course, for a character going through DFA1 or a mentalist suffering certain rolls on the Psionic Encounters Table those henchmen count towards N. That one extra Mindwarper can be killer.

    Just kidding! I'm fairly sure I know your reaction to assuming the GM is a robot.

    1. I've got some minis that would pass as Mindwarpers, too . . .


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