June 10, 2014
When playing a game based on some other well known source material, such as Star Wars: Saga Edition, The Dresden Files RPG, Dr. Who: Adventures in Space and Time, or any of the other countless role-playing games out there, it can be very tempting for the Gamemaster to introduce cameo appearances by some of the characters from the original work. Now, this is not necessarily a bad thing as it can be a lot of fun to go out for a drink with Harry Dresden, have a conversation about anything with The Doctor, or go lightsaber-to-lightsaber with Darth Vader, but it can be overused.
What is the easy way to see if you or your Gamemaster is overusing the canon characters? Simple, ask yourself this: “Who is the story really about?” The immediate and obvious answer should be “the player characters,” but really think about it. After giving it some thought, if that is still your answer, then you do not have anything to worry about. The focus of the game is exactly where it should be, on the players. If, however, you feel that the focus might be on someone else, namely a cameo character from the original material, then you have a problem. Players, you need to talk to your Gamemaster about this. Let them know what you think is going on here. Gamemasters, if you find yourself doing this, it’s time for a major readjustment in your game. I know it can be fun, and you might have the best intentions in the world for the story, but that does not matter if you are forcing your players to play second fiddle to what is really going on.
There is a big difference between the story in a role-playing game and fan fiction. Both have their place, but that place is not together in these sorts of games.
What can be fun, and what I feel is the proper way of using these canon characters, is having them make guest appearances like you might see in a television show. Using my own Dresden Files game as an example, when one of the characters – a Warden of the White Council – went to the Council for some advise, he was given the chance to talk to Ebeneezer McCoy, Senior Council Member and (secretly) the “Blackstaff,” something the player knew but his character did not. Be sure to enforce player/character knowledge when doing these sorts of things. Later, some of the characters found their White Court Vampire contact talking with another of her kind, who was introduced as Thomas, son of Lord Wraith. He said “hi,” flirted with the female characters, and went about his way. Simple as that. Another character’s father has some business dealings with a man in the Chicago area named Marcone, but aside from that, the characters have had no dealings with him.
All of these characters are a part of The Dresden Files, and when used in this way they help make the game feel as though it is too, but the whole time the story remains focused on the story of the characters, not these cameo appearances. Striking that balance is important for making these games fun and engaging, all the while letting your players feel a part of the world they likely know and love very much.
And yet, despite all I have said here, if I were to run a game of Dr. Who: Adventures in Space and Time, I admit that I would likely struggle not making the game about The Doctor. I mean, come on. It’s THE DOCTOR.
As always, thanks for reading and I wish you all good gaming.
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