There’s another thread that talks about how many players people like to have in their RPGs. But this one is about a notionally related, but different topic: How many characters do you expect a player to portray in an RPG?
Classically, RPGs assume one character per player; D&D, for example, talked about “your character” and their “followers.” But there is also troupe-style player, where players may have a couple of continuing roles and also step in to play minor characters, rather than all minor characters being played by the GM. And there are intermediate cases such as Wraith: The Oblivion, where each player both plays a wraith (a dead person’s spirit still bound to the mortal world by unfinished business) and another wraith’s shadow or dark side.
In a lot of my own campaigns, I go with the classic pattern; it makes for intense focus of each player on a single character—whether on their tactics (in an action/adventure campaign) or on their personality and motives (in a dramatic campaign).
However, I’ve run campaigns where each player had two characters. There are a couple of likely reasons for this:
Sometimes the game concept favors having two different important roles. For example, when I first ran Mage; The Ascension, each player played an Awakened mage, but mages tend to have “consors” who are not Awakened but have useful abilities, so I had each player also play the consor of another player’s mage. In one of my GURPS campaigns, an alien first contact scenario set in the 1930s, the storyline provided for both diplomatic representatives of the major powers (the United States, the United Kingdom, Germany, the Soviet Union, and Japan, plus a representative from Vatican City) and scientific advisors; so each player got two roles.
I have provided for two characters each in a campaign where I thought character death was fairly likely, Under the Shadow, set in an alternate Middle-Earth where Sauron won the War of the Ring and most of Tolkien’s heroes were dead.
I’ve run a campaign about an interstellar trading ship where two characters per player was just sufficient to fill all the slots in the ship’s TO. (That one actually had six players, which is unusually large for me.)
In my current campaign, I brought in second characters incidentally, fairly far along, when one of the PCs, back from a very high-profit first trade voyage, decided he could afford to get married. I invited three other players to each portray a possible wife, using a character sheet I had written up, with the three prospects each carefully balanced to have some desirable and some undesirable traits. There wee sort of “guest star” characters, but the players really got involved with playing them.
In one campaign, set in an ancient castle occupied by multiple lineages of sorcerers, I had each player take on four roles: A senior sorcerer, a young apprentice sorcerer, a castle guard, and a lower ranked castle servant. I wanted to give an “Upstairs, Downstairs” feel, showing the milieu from different angles within its small society. It worked out that the apprentice sorcerers and the guards got most of the camera time, but all four characters came to life over the course of the campaign; in fact I consider it one of my most successful.
My experience has been that most players can handle having two characters, though I have one player who dislikes it and would not normally choose to do it (she was too tempted by Under the Shadow to resist). Not many players are up for more than two, and I haven’t tried it again—but the four who did were brilliant. (One of them was a published novelist, though not a well-known one; the other three had all written fiction, at least fanfic; two had backgrounds in performing arts—all of which probably helped them handle intensive character interaction.)
How many characters do you have players portray? Have any of you tried campaigns with two or more per player? Do you have tricks for making this work better?