How many characters per player

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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I have to admit I find the concept of “immersion” kind of obscure. I spend a lot of time as a GM, meaning I have to take on the roles of several or even many different people in a session. I have had the experience of spontaneously thinking of actions or lines of dialogue that fit a particular character, without scripting them in advance, not even a few minutes in advance; I just know what that character would say or do. But this doesn’t involve my experiencing the situation as if I were that character (which I agree would be disruptive). It’s third person rather than first, more in the spirit of “Have you tried acting, dear boy?”

And the same thing happens when I’m a player rather than a GM. I play much more in third person than in first. The character is a persona, a mask.

I had one player, in my first Transhuman Space campaign, who was doing something that might have been immersive play. What I experienced it as was his not doing much with his character and not making her comprehensible to the other players or to me. I talked with him about it and I gathered that he was very focused on how she was experiencing the events of the campaign, but that he didn’t think of telling us, or of having her say or do things that revealed her to the audience; he was focused on his own experience of the character’s point of view. I asked him to adjust his portrayal of her to make the rest of us more aware of how she was reacting—to give the audience more purchase on her, I guess.

But I don’t know if that’s what “immersion” is about, or if that was just a peculiarity of this one player.

However, back at the main topic, I don’t think that playing more than one character makes it impossible to have a strong character concept, or deep involvement with the events of a campaign. Having to play two different characters in the same scene, or to alternate rapidly between the two in short scenes, might be a problem; but if an hour or more focuses on one particular character, that’s plenty of time for most players to get involved in the role, at least in my experience. (My players in the campaign where they each had four characters were very much at the characterization/social interaction/roleplaying end of the spectrum; that was the least action/focused on my three campaigns in that cycle.) Which isn’t to say it would work for what you specifically have in mind.

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For me, the idea of playing multiple charters is not just to have a spare in case one exists the game, but to open up possibilities to work on the story from a different angle that would not make narratively sense for a certain character -all while working within the role a player, with the same tools, possibilities and limitations (kind of).

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When I’m playing an RPG I’m always running a simulation of my character’s mind inside my own. Immersion, to me, is what happens that process of running a simulation becomes unconscious, and I realise “aha, well of course [PC] will do that” in response to a situation without having explicitly to reason it through.

Another example is in email from me to the GM, during setup for a campaign recently begun: “I don’t know whether [my PC] is married; she hasn’t told me yet.”

I’m generally involved in 3-4 different campaigns at a time, usually about half of them as GM, so I’m already doing a fair bit of context switching. Though I think multiple switches per session would start to be hard work.


I think this is part of the skill set of a GM/DM, to have clear ideals and reactions for numerous NPCs.

I found it takes time to develop this, and preparation is key. You don’t have to have lines prepared, but you have to understand motivations.


I wonder whether some of this difference of opinion is world-familiarity. That character who hadn’t yet told me whether she was married was going to be played in Transhuman Space, a setting with which I’m quite familiar, so I can spend a lot of time puzzling out her personality. If I were playing in a setting that was new to me, I might be working harder on making sense of that first.

Is there, then, such a thing as third person immersion? I have had the experience of immediately knowing what an NPC will say or do, without advance scripting or reasoned analysis.

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Character immersion, to me, is like method acting. When my character is happy or sad, angry or enamored, I feel the same emotions. I never have to think, “what would my character do?” I just do it and it’s in-character. I just can’t do that with multiple characters. When I GM, I don’t do this with my NPCs. (I GM for different reasons than I play, but the topic was about playing, not GMing). For many roleplayers, their favorite gaming experiences about some great event or thing that happened in the game. For me, my favorite gaming experiences are when I’m just talking in character with other characters and having very personal moments.

Of course, there is never 100% character immersion. I am able to separate out the game from my character thoughts. I can make decisions for my character based on what works best for the game and metagame even if it goes against that they would have done.

I hardly ever do that.

Let me tell you a story about one of my favorite players. She was in my campaign about present-day British teenagers who strayed into the fairy realms, Oak and Ash and Thorn. Her character, Lucille, had gotten involved with another character, Spider, who was a football hooligan. In one session, her character sought him out for sex at a bad time, when he was in a really bad mental state, and had gotten drunk, and the encounter turned unpleasant for her.* She got away, and in the aftermath one of her fairy woman friends beat Spider very badly, and then dumped him at another pavilion for magical healing—and Lucille sneaked into the pavilion and lay down to sleep beside his unconscious body.

Well, this was pretty intense stuff, so a few days later, when I was having lunch with Lucille’s player, I asked her if it had pushed things uncomfortably for her. And her whole face lit up and she said, “It was great!” Later, she wrote about it, and said that she had experience the scene on three levels: She felt Lucille’s feelings, and at the same time she was feeling impatient with Lucille’s being foolish and self-destructive, and at the same time again she was gloating over how intensely all of us were reacting to her portrayal of Lucille (particularly the shudders as we recognized that her lying down beside Spider was perfectly in character for an abuse victim).

I don’t think I’m that good! (The player had been a theater minor in college.) But when I play my characters, I’m always thinking in terms of “what can I do that both fits my character concept and will play well to the audience?” That is, part of me is back inside my head. On the other hand, I don’t want my characters to live back inside their own heads—I do that myself a lot of the time, and I want gaming to be an escape from it—so I tend to do the first thing I think of, as a way of having my characters be more impulsive and outward oriented. It’s just my good fortune that sometimes the first thing I think of is a good bit of characterization.

*I should mention, I think, that Spider’s player was not doing this to gratify some sort of abusive fantasy. The player had written the character up in GURPS with several psychological disadvantages, and when the situation arose, I had him make self control rolls—and he failed three in a row! And the player paused for a moment or two, and then said, “No, I have to play it,” and described Spider acting in accord with all of those disadvantages. He was as shaken up as the rest of us when the session ended.

it’s not a matter of being “good.” It’s just about what you find fun and what you get out of gaming. “Method acting” has its detractors and it’s not the only way or best way to play.

Lucille’s story was great, but it also illustrates the emotional dangers one can encounter during play. This opens up the topic of trigger warnings, X-cards, and other such things which no one (including me) wants to get me started on!.. : )

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I think you’ve just named it. I’ve had the same experience many times with NPCs that I have thought about, and played for a while.

Well, I’m not sure she was doing method acting. She may have been doing more classic acting.

But I don’t think I agree that it’s not a matter of being good. I mean, if I played a musical instrument and belonged to a band or a chamber group or something, I might enjoy the act of playing, but I also would want to play well and give the other musicians pleasure when they listened to me. And when I roleplay, I want the other players to enjoy my dialogue, to be interested in my character’s actions, and if possible to be moved, and all of that requires a certain kind of skill.

I think for the most part my player group were good with intense emotional content.