I’ll start with an example. The party are travelling on a cruise ship, by way of gifted tickets. On the third night there’s a murder aboard ship. The ships captain, knowing the party have a reputation for solving problems quietly, approaches them to solve the crime quietly. After the assassin finds his equipment is being messed with, the party found a hitchhiker. Gunning him down, they have enough evidence to point everything at him. Which is just as well because it was actually the assassin who was the murderer. In his sleep.
This involved me essentially taking control of the character. I did this with a measure of permission from the player involved. He had taken the complication Brainwashed and Programmed. So that he wouldn’t know in and out of character, we deliberately didn’t specify at character creation. But it was still something I was very cautious about.
The tale we tell is a shared story that we all contribute to. We contribute the most to it through the actions of our character. It is through them that we influence the game worlds with their actions. In taking control of a character away from the player, you substantially reduce their ability to influence the narrative.
Getting this wrong can have catastrophic consequences. The player will feel left out, even railroaded, and the group as a whole will gather a measure of disconnection with the story. Playing out of character whilst in character is the easiest misstep. If you’re dictating what the character does and that doesn’t fit with anyone’s expectations of the characters already established personality then you need a good reason.
Outside agency can be that good reason. It’s not the GM taking over the character, it’s an NPC. This translates the character acting out of character into GM simply running a distinct separate personality: essentially another NPC. Fun can be had with this as the other player characters adapt to the changes in their teammate.
But even more fun can be had if you add an element of discovery. If the other personality acts when the other characters are not about to witness it, you can create all sorts of interesting scenarios. There’s the tracking down of where they’ve been, meeting people who’ve met the character during the blackouts and trying to workout if the ‘other’ is working for good or evil. Entire adventures can be had in finding out there’s even something amiss to begin with.
We are of course assuming that the other personality is the intruder. Now I’m thinking of a game where you all play parasites that can only control their hosts when they’re asleep.
Image Credit – Sleeping in the Street by J J – CC BY-NC-ND 2.0