How many characters per player

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?


In Wives and Sweethearts, dealing with the spacefaring Royal Navy, each player had three characters: a junior officer, a Royal Marine, and one other crewmember. This allowed a bit of mixing and matching: an officer plus some marines makes a landing party, an officer plus some crew makes a detached duty party.

Through a process I don’t entirely understand it ended up being more about stuff happening at a single planet than about the spacefaring I’d first envisaged, but I think the principle’s a good one.


Wow. I’ve actually never even thought about this possibility, and at the beginning was turning up my nose at it. But as you went along, it just makes so much sense, and I can’t believe I haven’t thought of it. If everyone is on board with it, I think you can do a lot with the concept, allowing more moving parts in a world that will be likely more fleshed out than you could muster on your own as a DM. Plus, if you change focus between sessions, it can give players a respite from a certain type of adventuring style. Like doing one shots, but more focused and staying in the same world. I don’t know if I’ll ever be brave enough to implement it, but it would be fun to experiment with.

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The Band of Blades RPG has players take different character roles in different phases of play. The game is about playing a band of mercenaries supported by powerful champions called the Chosen. A great decisive battle for the fate of the land against a powerful evil called the Cinder King has just been lost, and the Legion has to manage a fighting retreat to safety before an overwhelming tide of evil creatures led by the Cinder King and the fallen Chosen, now called the Broken. Think the Black Company by Glen Cook as a good analogue.

There’s a campaign phase, where players take one of officer roles of the mercenary legion, such as the Commander, Marshal or Quartermaster, and play revolves around long-term planning and strategic moves.

Players also have characters who are the soldiers of the Legion for undertaking the mission phase. There are a number of different squads in the Legion, so players can have a few characters spread over the squads.

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I’ve thought of something like that for a campaign about a large team of supers like the Legion of Super Heroes.


That certainly came up in Manse, the campaign with four characters per player. I had players start out by coming up with a senior sorcerer/aristocrat and drawing up a family tree for their House. With the agreement of the players, I added in a fifth House to cover things their magical styles didn’t address. Then each player added a cadet sorcerer—mostly from the same house, though one player chose to have her cadet character be from the added fifth house. Those family trees gave me a lot to work with, including some NPCs who took on a lot of life.

That’s true too. We had council meetings of elder sorcerers, classroom sessions of cadet sorcerers, wilderness patrol trips of guards, and so on.
One memorable session focused on a dance that was sponsored by the elders to give the cadets a chance to meet prospective spouses, attended by the cadets (including one set of PCs), several younger squads of guards (including the PC squad, though one of its members was there as a chaperone), and the sons and daughters of the village gentry (all NPCs). I got out the hex board and we mapped out where everyone was sitting and who was dancing with who . . .


A few story games make you play minor characters when your main one is not in the scene, and it works, generally. I am starting a game of Good Society, a game that has in the rules that everyone has to play a protagonist and two (I believe) side characters, these last two created and assigned to you by another player. My darling Pasión de las Pasiones has players not in the scene playing out the audience of the telenovelas that it’s being created at the table, and it’s a blast. In Dream Askew everyone plays a main character and shares GM duties, so playing side characters on the top of that is normal.

There is also character funnels in OSR games, in which every player plays a group of characters through a deadly adventure, and continues the campaign with whoever survives the ordeal. A bit too gruesome for my taste, but I like the effort in going somewhere a bit different.

I think it’s doable, if everyone is on board.

That’s a clever narrative device. Sort of like making them the chorus in a Greek tragedy.

It would be interesting if you had something akin to the Shadow idea in Wraith, with audience response feedback having an influence on the “script” the on-camera character is given.

For a long, long time I never even considered multiple characters per player, but then I encountered Apocalypse World, where one of the advances you can take is straight up adding another character for you to play. And Vincent Baker’s like “why don’t people do this in other games? It works fine and it can really enrich things.”

I still mostly haven’t done it, but I did try to run Night’s Black Agents with just two players for a bit, and gave them each two spies because it did not feel to me that the game would work well with just a couple of PCs. And in play-by-post, which we were doing, that’s just as easy as one, really. At a table it’s probably a bit trickier.

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I note that both @Minato and @Giant_Kumquat have said “If everyone is on board.” I didn’t state this explicitly, because it’s built into the way I recruit players; I hand around a list of possible campaigns with descriptions that include “how many characters per player” (if it’s more than one) and ask players to rank or rate them. But I agree that player buy-in is essential.


I’m really NOT a fan of having to run multiple characters. It takes me a while to engage with a single character. Having to split my attention between 2 or more characters delays that engagement and is a barrier to enjoying the game.

I struggled a bit with the second half of Roger’s Wives & Sweethearts campaign because of this, plus the fact that I had not generated some of the characters I was supposed to be playing, so they just didn’t ‘click’. IIRC one had a combination of disadvantages that I had no clue how to play. Humble + Overconfident + something else I can’t remember.

Durance - where everyone creates 2 characters - is okay because it is a one-off.

Battleship Alamo where everyone creates 2 characters (1 bridge crew and 1 marine) might be okay, because you only have the two, and the whole party will switch to the second bunch of characters. But I will probably like playing one character much more than I’ll like playing the other, and get fractious in the sessions where I’m playing the less interesting/likable one.

A GM tried to get me interested in his fantasy political intrigue game once, by saying: And if there’s a scene where the King is arguing with the Bishop and your character is not there, you can roleplay the chambermaid or someone like that! This was said as if he regarded it as a great RP opportunity I would be unable to resist.
My response: Where’s the fun in that?

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Well, I’m not even going to suggest that your preferences are wrong. I made a point of telling my players if I would ask them to play multiple characters, so those who didn’t want to could turn down a campaign and be put in a different one. It’s not my job as a GM to tell people they ought to have fun doing things they don’t enjoy, but to come up with things that they will enjoy.

I don’t think I myself have ever played two characters in a campaign; none of my GMs has ever tried that. So I don’t know if I would enjoy it. I have enjoyed running campaigns that work that way, and happily I have some players who enjoy playing in them.

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An interesting topic and a flexibility I have not used as often as I should.

In the old days of D&D we would have 2 characters often for players due to mortality reasons - often as caused by other players.

As we went on, the longest we played with multiple characters was Ars Magica - which suggests (I’ll forget the correct terms) a ‘coven’ consisting of, per player character, one mage, one ‘companion’ (more akin to a normal player character, and one plus ‘grogs’ - footsoldiers, servants etc. The idea was that one mage would go on an adventure, the rest of the players would bring their companions, and various grogs. It actually worked ok if the players were happy not to foreground their own mage - in the background those not adventuring had time to research. Ars also posits multiple GMs for the same campaign, but that is a whole ‘nother thread …

I have been thinking about this for a while as my currently parked Traveller campaign is Mongoose’s Pirates of Drinax, which has a whole range of alternate actions based on the players having new characters on a mission to root out the pirates, who happen to be the players’ primary characters. I thought it would be awkward and get in the way of the main plot, and was likely going to drop it, but this thread has given me food for thought!

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In my first Mage campaign, the player characters fell into two factions: the three Wu Lung, loosely allied with the Virtual Adept, and the Wu-keng, loosely allied with the Akashic Brother. It was entertaining when some players were playing non-Awakened allies of the other side than their Awakened characters . . .


In my War of The Worlds II short campaign, each player got 2 or 3 PCs per mission, but mortality was high, character creation was fast (~2 min), and healing was ~1935 standard, so a lot of PCs got hospitalized for two or three adventures. Some players had as many as four living PCs at a time due to this, and most had many fatalities. I seem to recall that only 2 of the original 12 PCs made it to the end.

I’ve always wanted to play Wooster and Jeeves DnD, where each player had one upper class twit “hero” and one deeply competent “henchman” (but not a matched pair), but since I’ve nver played it maybe it belongs in the great white whales thread.


“Roll against the lower of Stealth and Empty Chamberpot”.


As I mentioned in the thread “Personal Great White Whales”, I have an elaborate plan to do “ Star Trek done right” in my usual SF setting Flat Black , which involves four or five players each playing four or five characters — one each in the ship’s naval crew, the marines contingent, the diplomatic party, the Survey team of first-contact experts, and the group of senior officers that advises the captain. I’ve set it up at least four times, but never got it to work. I can’t say that I have ever had any success running a game in which players had multiple characters.

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In my Zimiamvian campaign of many years ago, the son of King Barganax decided that one of the player characters deserved his attention, and set out to climb in her window, confident of his welcome. And she greeted him with a flung chamberpot. I suppose that was a sort of Empty Chamberpot roll, practiced as a form of combat.


Pendragon encourages you to have a back up. (Deadly combat and long character creation process.) Plus as a generational game played over decades you need a legacy.

However It makes it different to define a voice for each character. At this point I have 3 living characters, mainly because unlike @Scribbs, my characters never seem to die.


I play rpgs because I enjoy being immersed in my character. Playing multiple PCs simultaneously is a non-starter for me. Playing different PCs in different scenes of phases of scenario is not appealing because I don’t want to switch between PCs. I haven’t played in a campaign so deadly that there was an explicit need for backup PCs; maybe 30 years ago. But that’s just the way I prefer to play.

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