[RR] Player Character Antagonism and Interaction

Your mileage may vary, but as a GM I find a unified front of players pretty boring. “Why, yes” they all seem to say although only one player is talking, “we all agree and do this.” In real life even something simple like choosing where to go to eat on a group dinner can become a balancing act. Bob’s on a diet, and Fi wants a steak, or at least something from a cow. Throw a vegan in to the mix and the difficulty increases exponentially. No one presses “X” to move along.

The more I play role-playing games, the more I get the feeling that the story isn’t that big of a deal. Sure, a cohesive metaplot would be nice. However, it’s the situations that really seem to stick. Those situations are especially good if players become invested in the outcome. Go for a full boat, when the players want different paths or outcomes.

I just started playing two play-by-post games at RPG.net, and already we’re hitting some great player vs. player or PC vs. PC situations.

The first game I am playing is Microscope. This is a game I’ve discussed here before, but let me say that the game will not run without player vs. player situations. The book says flat out that having a game by committee will just create a boring game. The way I remember it is “nuking Atlantis”. It’s a great mnemonic to the degree of player antagonism required. If one player creates Atlantis, the shining city of light and magic, which will rise up to save humanity and ascend the humans beyond creation, another player can definitely nuke it.

In the first round of play I took one player’s culture, the Door Lords, and destroyed their major continent the first time they used Ancient’s technology. In the current scene we are playing I wrote up that it would be set as an Ancient’s AI vs. the current “galactic federation’s” AI. There are four players so we had to write in two other characters. I am last to choose since I created the scene, and already the two AI’s were taken. They are currently moving the AI’s in PC directions I would never have envisioned.

I really want to check out Lame Mage’s (Ben Robbins) other RPG, Kingdom, where players take on adversarial roles. One player is the decider, one player is the reality check, and one player is colloquially the Catch 22 maker.

The other game I am playing is Chuubo’s, which I reviewed in a past RPG column here. We’re playing a “magical girls”-type campaign where we just lost our leader against the Void. Small bits of creation are all that are left.

Chuubo’s runs on quests, but the quests are rarely things like “kill a troll” or “fetch a dead cat out of a star’s heart”, where the arena is solely controlled by the GM with the PC reactor. Most of the quest actions are player-activated, and the player builds the quests of the PC based on how the player wants the character to be. Right now my character, an amalgamation of Disney’s Merida, UbiSoft’s Child of Light, and a Shelly Wan mural is finding herself after the Void tore out the heart of creation, in part, by killing the Princess of Light. I am running the quest “Changes” and a symbolic quest I named “Finding the new heart of Majesty”.

A symbolic quest, the core book explains is “[t]here’s something going on. You think it means… you think it… it relates to…” So when I as the player want XP for that quest, I have to poke at a situation and roleplay how my PC thinks the situation relates to the power of Majesty. I have found the result is best when I riff of another PC’s actions. There is already force in that vector, and all I do is shift it towards my ideals. Perhaps it’s a bit more collaboration than antagonism, but I didn’t ask and unintended consequences from both of us may result.

The written quests, like Changes, get even better because they require PC interaction. Right now the very nice Tree and Flower soon-to-be Primordial [magic girl] and I are going to find water. I’ve already warned the player, but as we wander away from the other girls creating their “Dust-Penetrating Psycholuminar”, I plan on dumping out “having a traumatic transformation or dissociation scene in play, where your reality gets weird because your true nature is changing or revealing itself”.

Now on one hand my character’s “element” is Majesty – the nobility and natural and righteous order of things so I don’t expect fireballs and chaos tentacles from beyond. However, I am – as a player – activating a problem. The other player’s active quest is “Down” where the PC could get into a fight with someone she cares about, break down from grief or shock, or get really, viscerally sick. In other words, the player can definitely push back.

All of this is really not antagonistic in the sense of dumping the queen on your wife in a game of Hearts. The goal of roleplaying is to create a good story. However, the point of all this is that it is not just the GM’s job to create exciting or unexpected elements in the story. Players have lots to add to the story as well, especially between each other.

–Ravious

3 thoughts on “[RR] Player Character Antagonism and Interaction

  1. Jeromai

    Sounds to me like you’re describing that ol’ story stalwart: conflict.

    This is not necessarily antagonistic in the sense that one has to annoy the other, or one has to be the absolute antagonist to the other’s protagonist, but simply that two motivations/wants/desires are colliding with each other – which leads to either one winning, or a lose-lose situation (which can be interesting from a meta or player’s persective, even while the characters are not having fun), a both-sorta-win compromise, or a true win-win and so on.

    Characters need to interact and produce conflict for a good story. So it stands to reason that in a roleplaying game, if players are the ones driving primary characters, some of the onus falls on them as well, not just the GM.

  2. Kaluu

    Having permission and support from the GM which allows both the GM and the players to blow out boundaries and create unscripted events and scenarios sounds like a lot of fun. The GM of course has to be able to create world and character responses, unforeseen by the players themselves, and allow the players to do the same, on the fly. That can’t be easy as this is all taking place outside of the rule set. If I am reading you correctly, the GM and/or the player could move the story beyond the “sorry I had to let you die” to “sorry I had to let you die, omg my character has been shamed, had an emotional breakdown, fled, and last seen wandering the wilds in his skivvies etc etc?”

    1. Ravious

      There’s a rule I’ve been following more and more in roleplaying that as far as I know was first writ down in Dogs in the Vineyard.

      I’ll paraphrase, but the gist of it is “say yes until you say no, then roll the dice.” If you and the player are really seeing eye-to-eye then don’t even say “no”; just say “yes, but”.

      The GM is there to help color the world and push as Jeromai indicates, conflict. If the player is wanting the PC to get in tough situations, why not? Don’t you think the player would be more invested? The GM can twist it, put unexpected in, make it have consequences… and there will be a great situation.

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