Even in some of the most indie of indie games, the role part of role play is important. Our tendency as creative types is to always move towards more diversity. Our groups are made up of people who have a range of useful skills – they fulfill different roles. In character driven games you could indeed have a group composed solely of Paladins and feed the game of their personalities. Perhaps this group’s lack of expertise in key areas can become a core part of the story as this group of white knights have to become creative to finish their sacred quest.
Most groups don’t follow this profile. We fill out the key combat, narrative and skill roles with a varied set of proficiencies, personalities and professions. In game this means the party is well rounded and can achieve their goals. As players we each get to contribute and feel our contribution is valued. The focus of the group rapidly rotates as they put the best character forward or bounce off conflicting personalities. Nobody likes to feel redundant or excluded, to the point where I’ve deliberately retired a character I felt was getting in the way of other players.
Then the sneaking happens. It’s a recurring theme in games that I’ve played that the sneaks, the rogue, the hidey one ends up acting alone. Why so lonely? If the space marine misses her shot in combat she can just shoot again. Misstepped in persuading the local baron to support your war? Try a different approach. In these the phase of the narrative continues as the failure is recoverable. When the rogue gets spotted in the middle of the enemy mansion the narrative goes from the quiet phase to the noisy phase. So the rogue goes in alone, because unless they’re lucky, no-one else in the party can make that infiltration without getting spotted. The narrative focus becomes almost first person like, leaving the other players to wait. Hopefully they’ll be in a situation where they can fill the time by talking in character while they wait.
Overspecialisation could perhaps be a keyword here. If the rogue has significant skill at infiltration, to make it an interesting challenge the risk of failure the difficulty must be high. But that high difficulty immediately excludes the rest of the party from coming along as they automatically fail. But lower the difficulty so that even the guy in plate mail can evade detection and the rogue’s hard earnt capability becomes wasted time.
This problem can be answered by having more than one degree of difficulty. There are parts of the infiltration that all party members are going to have a chance at achieving – they can all make the dash across the courtyard. But only the rogue can get into a position where they can see the guard coming and make off with his keys. This doesn’t even need the GM to change their planning, only that the players take advantage of their party’s skills to get everyone inside.
Having the barbarian hiding in an understairs cupboard will at least give our sneak-thief somewhere safe to run when they get spotted.
Image Credit – Thief on the Walls by John W. Sheldon – CC BY 4.0