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Saturday, October 4, 2014

Have You Ever Played Multiple PCs in a RPG Session?

When I first started playing AD&D back in the early 80s, it wasn't uncommon for players to run two PCs apiece, especially if there were only two or three players (besides the DM.)

Heck, it wasn't uncommon for the DM to throw his own PC into the mix, especially in the "shared world" context of "there was no world besides dungeons anyway." DM PCs were handled by the group at large, and never we allowed to search for traps or find secret doors - just too bloody convenient for the DM if they could bypass the traps and find every secret door.

So, when did we turn away from multiple PCs and henchmen (who were always ready to step up as a new PC if their master took a dirt nap?)

You could argue with the power creep to the classes with each edition, there was less and less need for additional characters in the average party, but that doesn't explain why those playing retroclones tend not to play multiple characters and have few if any henchmen and hirelings in their groups.

Another question bouncing around my head thanks to Save or Die Episode 99.


  1. In the olden days, we always used to play with two characters, and for a while in my Monday night game the players had their main PC and a henchman or two each; they've stopped that at the moment, as they want all the XP for themselves.

  2. It wasn't all that unusual to run 2 chracters bck in th olden days when PCs moved at random from campain to campaign. The two I lugged about the most were a Furde the Feaarsome and Shadowblade a knock off copy of a certain pair of adventurr from Nehwon. They ended up getting passed on to players of my longest running AD&Dcampaign where folks typically had 2 or 3 characters but tended to only play 1 or 2 per session.

  3. I played a lot of 1e when I nstarted and never ran more than one character unless it was to take over for a missing player. That said, with a limited pool of players of old school games I can see where it would be an attractive option for DMs trying to keep their campaign alive.
    I think this is idea is seeing a resurgence with the "funnel" system. Unfortunately I loath 0-level PCs. It's like generating a traveller character that dies during generation only the agony is prolonged for two hours rather than a few minutes. If I were to allow multiple characters I'd ask the player to designate one as the primary PC and up to as many as the PC's charasma would allow as henchmen as secondary characters allowing one secondary character per PC level to be taken along. Primary characters would receive a full share of xp, while secondaries would get a half share, as was a common rule for henchmen back in the day.

  4. My experiences matched the comments above (though we very seldom used henches or hirelings except horse-or-pack-mule-watchers) and it was borne of necessity: it wasn't so easy to get 5-6 players together, consistently. Shocking, I know, but tossing dice and arguing about cavern-combat wasn't always more appealing than hanging out with girls at the pool . . . thus we ran 2 characters to a player fairly frequently. It kept the characters advancing through levels and xp at the same rate, too.

  5. Way back in the day, we each had 2 or 3 PCs, hirelings, and mules navigating the steps and ten foot corridors of dungeons. There never were any fireballs or similar to wipe us all out at once, not sure why the DMs never did that. It took forever to make progress due to traps along the corridors in the floor, walls, ceiling, sometimes all at once. Then there was the kicking in doors and fighting everything in the room. Parley? What's that? Just kill it! It didn't take long for that style of play to get old.

  6. It was not unusual to see players play multiple characters, though generally only to "fill out" the party's numbers. These days, I usually have enough players that they don't need extra PCs, or else I'm specifically designing adventures suitable for parties of 2-3.

  7. We stopped when we regularly had 12-14 players in a session, it just didn't work out for anyone to have more than one. Then 3e came along which left the impression, perhaps because of the Sunless Citadel adventure, that the normal party size was 4-6, not 8-10.

  8. We haven't done it in my group recently, but we've played a fair number of games with multiple PCs. It was really common when I was down to running D&D for only one or two players.

    I'd do it again, and in fact the next one-off game we have on the table is a multiple-PC game. It's fun.

  9. As a DM, I prefer one PC to a player. It's too confusing for me otherwise. I would much rather fill out a party with hirelings and henchmen (run by me) than have multiple PCs per player.

    So-called DM PC's are beyond the pale IMO. It reeks of Mary Sue, plus I have plenty of other things to do without worrying about running a PC as well.

  10. In my last two campaignes, one 2e the other my own old school house rules, at times players played multiple PCs and the party had henchman. But both were meat grinders so having a spare PCs when one dies was a benefit. It also allowed one player to lose over ten PC in 18 months of playing.

  11. We used to do it. Once I had a solo player run four PCs.

    I think back in the day is was much more about "play" and "the party" than MY character, at least for us. If someone dies is no big deal, the game goes on and is about the fun of playing, not the specific character. A character was a taken, an avatar of the player, the way the player entered into and interacted with the game world.

    It changed when people started putting too much emphasis on roleplay, started identifying strongly with their characters. If your character is an extension of yourself it can never really die, but the more it takes on an identity of its own the more precious it becomes. Preparing a backstory before play starts, designing a character instead of playing what the dice give you, exaggerated attempts at balance between characters, all contribute to a sense of ownership. And the more fake personality a character has the more effort to run it, so you don't have bandwidth or interest to play others.

    My brother once lost a 7th level fighter to a random encounter with a red dragon. He hardly seemed to notice, just grabbed the dice and started rolling a new char, a different class that sounded fun to play.

    If course roleplay and ownership have always been part of the hobby, but emphasis varies with era and with group as well as individually. I merely describe my observation based on my experience, not saying it was normative.

  12. I run my games for 2-3 players, and they usually have 2-3 retainers apiece plus a dog or two in the party. Being surrounded by plate-clad meatshields is a pretty decent survival strategy, even if it does make for slower acquisition of XP.

    Definitely only one PC per player, though. The reason is simple: player identification with the character. I don't want to hear any of my players saying, "The dwarf will do this and the cleric will do that." I want to hear, "I will do this." A semantic point, but a significant one as far as I'm concerned.

    1. I agree. I want it to be 100% clear what is meant when a player says, "I attack" or "I open the door" or whatever.

  13. I played the unknown presence-or-absence of my character as well as the demon possessing his body for a few sessions.

  14. Having replied on google plus on the title alone (before reading the post), I have a few thoughts to add.

    The first time I ran multiple characters was as DM. As a player we tended to stick to one character each because of the number of players at the table. These were the glory days of the 1980s and RPGs were incredibly popular.

    Henchmen were usually run by the DM and often an absent player would have his or her (yes, there were girls) character 'along for the ride' at the mercy of the group. Players soon learnt that turning up was the best option.

    I also played Wizardry, a pioneer of computer RPGs. If you've never played it, you've played one of it's descendents. In this game you ran a party of characters in a D&D setting. Character mortality was a very real part of the game and you created a stable of characters by the time you defeated the Mad Overlord on level 9.

    This computer game may have influenced our tabletop play. With smaller groups, running more than one character per player was often permitted. Although the DM (and other players) would monitor how well you kept those personalities separate, in the name of fair play. Because back then, it wasn't only the monsters that were potentially hostile.

    Currently in my Blackhawk campaign I allow players to run up to three characters at a time. It's up to them. With a smaller group it helps keep things interesting.

  15. I had one campaign in my late high school years where it was just myself as the DM and one of my friends who ran 6 characters concurrently. He started out running just a few but as the challenges grew I had him add in more. This actually worked very well but I wouldn't try that with anyone. It depends on the campaign and how into each of the individual personalities the player is.