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This is a problem I've been having in general so far as a Game Master; some character classes seem to be designed not for party play, but to be "loners" and shine only in specific situations. Some players like them, some pick them, I just don't know how to "Master" them.

Some examples of my history with said classes:

  • D&D 5th Edition. A player creates a rogue player; he loves stealth scenes, assassination, etc. He notices he's become the "official trap disarmer" of the party, and every now and then he gets to shine in stealth sections, however since half the party wears heavy armors they usually crash the fun for him or he has to go alone, fails some die rolls, and is placed in a very dangerous and life threatening situation that doesn't gets any better. He soons starts hating to be a Rogue because there's not enough chances to be sneaky and cut throats, and he becomes the "skill maid" and trap-damage-eating guy.

  • Pokemon Tabletop United: A player wants to become "too specific" as well and builds a character of the Rider class, so he can Ride on Dragon Pokemon. Tho it fits the game world (since we're playing in a Dynasty Warriors x Pokemon setting), he wants to use his very specific rider combat class every single session, however that also means the prep increases and the things become stale because every single encounter I have to think of another flying rider or he becomes too over powered since the rest of the guys fight in land. Also, he wants only Dragons on his team, so at low levels he has nothing to ride since he doesn't wants land rides, which has made using his whole "Dragon Rider" class very stressful, even if it fits the game world.

  • Anima: Beyond Fantasy: A player creates a scholar, he wants to play the role of the nerd that follows the group of adventurers and writes down everything about their travels while aiding them with her wit and brains. The game is high fantasy action, and what she does every turn is just run, hide, and spend real life hours thinking on what to do since her build means even a rock between her eyes wil lmake her explode in a bloody mess. She still insists to be the "puzzle solver" and "mystery master", so I have to think on puzzles just for her every single game...

We've used the Same Page tool, and as a group we have fun and we really like to play together, however it doesn't stop them from wanting characters that are too specific and require extra planning and solo scenes for them to really shine as the others do, which turns the roleplay into boring because during those scenes, they either become stuck, or want more of that "main character "feel, since there's no way they can really aid the party without getting bored, and sadly, RAW support those characters and I can't tell them "no" because all of them fit my game worlds...

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Back when I first started playing RPGs (over 20 years ago) a friend of mine used to joke "I've always wanted to play a scribe. Just follow the party around, writing everything down." And now, here we are. Mind = blown. –  Sandalfoot Aug 19 at 2:12

8 Answers 8

up vote 14 down vote accepted

You've run into a common problem - "Party RPGs with non-Party Characters". Same Page Tool can't fix groups who want different things, and it also can't fix game design that works against it's own game premise. You have a few options:

Class Limiting

"Hey, we're playing X kind of game and these classes/types in this game don't fit that. Can we just not use them for this game run?"

Games that usually have classes antithetical to their goals usually also have a pretty broad set of class selection, so it's usually not too bad in terms of choice limiting. The other half to deal with is the social contract of your group.

(There's also a subset of gamers out there who deliberately pick the most contrary ideas to what you state the game is about. "Dude, why do you have a Navy Seal character in our game about civilians running from monsters?" Those players are their own problem...)

Building with Limitation in Mind

"Hey, for this kind of game I want to run, these kinds of characters will need to fit these kinds of situations. Can you spend your points/pick your skills/build your powers to better fit this?"

This is a relatively good option - you can get stuff like "combat rogues" and such that are better designed for situations rather than splitting off. This depends a bit on the system's ability to allow customization or choices within the class system, and also lets players know up front what they need to consider with a character class build.

Non-Party Play and Strong Pacing

If you can run a game which isn't dependent upon a party structure, all those character classes generally work fine as long as their goals and concepts line up. In these kinds of games you need to be able to cut scenes relatively quickly, not spend a lot of time on wasted scenes and the players need to have good goals to aim for.

That said, usually systems that are more mechanically light work better for this than ones attempting to balance out a lot of abilities, though games like Burning Wheel or Blade of the Iron Throne can work fine for it, mostly because the basic resolution systems allow for quick play and give good goal-building tools in the form of Flag mechanics.

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+1. It's not that these characters don't fit the world setting, it's that they don't fit this particular campaign that uses that setting. –  GMJoe Aug 20 at 7:04
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+1 for the "Non-Party Play and Strong Pacing" section. I have no real problems GMing a group consisting of a mage solving problems on astral plane, priestess over-specialized on fighting undead and demons, rogue/spy/assassin types and ordinary fighters liking long duels. Solving unimportant combat with a single contest of skills, making the party do something while the individualists does their action, and foremost quick scene cutting is the key. Some rules are better for this than others, but with few house rules, you can do it in any system. –  Pavel Sep 12 at 12:44

For starters I would like to say that I've been in the Rogue situation, and it was actually a little more frustrating. The Fighter would just bust down doors and take enemies head on knowing he had a health battery in the party druid, but I digress.

Not Really for Players

A lot of the most problematic classes aren't really designed for the players, unless everyone in the group does it. Sometimes it's overtly stated in the description (such as "this is intended for NPCs, so GM beware"), but other times the games lose the trees through the forest. They want combat that works and brush aside other details as one-and-done skill rolls or glazed over as "good RP".

For situations like your dragon rider, I recommend finding their antithesis. He likes to fly? Here comes the Anti-Air ground support, the pea soup cloud cover, the thunderstorm, the erupting volcano, the battlefield being in a valley of too-tall mountains or below tree cover etc. ad nauseum. Not every combat has to happen on a checkes board we perfect visibility. Also, not every Dragon type in pokemon flies. Usually there's a workaround for why the "usual solution" isn't the best. He can still fly and have some extra degrees of difficulty without every army having a flyer.

Hivemind

Something I like to suggest when you can predict heavy spotlighting is what I call the Hivemind Method. The core player makes all the final decisions and rolls, but the rest of the table can contribute. In d20 I would do (rollx10) seconds to discuss, in the Roll & Keep it was one minute, plus one minute per raise, in WoD it was [success] minutes. Small enough time to keep it compact but they could still discuss things and the player would make their choice on/before the timer ran out.

  • For a rogue, I would have some trap designs ready and the players would use the time to discuss how to disarm the trap before them (mechanical traps were always a favorite).
  • Whenever the diplomat goes off on her own to strikes some deals, have the core player make the diplomacy/courtier/whatever roll and based on that roll, give the players a set amount of time to discuss things.
  • During combat where the mechanic is rather expansive (L5R, 7th Sea, Fireborn) I let the non-combat character 'ride along' with a combatant to suggest tactics.

Pilot an NPC

When a situation that a character is less active, I have let players just simply control an NPC. It's easiest in combat because there's almost always an extra hired sword around, but this can easily be toadies to the party in court or some such nonsense. Sometimes I permit my more trustworthy (not necessarily the most intimate with the system, just less selfish in a metagame sense) players pilot an NPC that's key to the situation - even if they are working against the party. I let them in on the stats, and say "this is what you're trying to accomplish, her are some things you (don't) know" and away they go. It cuts down on GM overhead and sometimes sparks some very interesting side arcs. So while one character is off riding a dragon to scout their marching path, he plays a lieutenant of the party on the ground, maybe flashing back to make a few rolls. Or when all the brutes are idling, let the players take the roll of an aggressive trader when the party barters for a stay with his camp.

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Have the player use that character only in scenarios that work for it. In the case of the thief/rogue, keep him for city play and have the player roll up something else for dungeon stuff; perhaps make the thief the henchman of the new character so that the player can take them both on the adventure, but you can focus spotlight time on the one that's most interesting in a particular situation.

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Could you elaborate please? I feel like this answer means that players would be each straddling two characters (a lot of overhead) or have to sacrifice character concepts out of hand. –  CatLord Aug 15 at 18:42
    
PCs have henchmen; simply allow the player to swap the roles of "PC" and "henchman" between the characters based on locale. When in the city, the player can play the thief as their main character and the henchman is joint-run with the DM as normal. In the dungeon, the thief becomes the henchman. Ultimately, if your player wants to play a character that doesn't make sense for the style of campaign you're running you will both have to compromise somewhere. –  Nagora Aug 22 at 8:50

While it might be overkill, have you tried troupe play? Essentially, if you have an organization (an adventuring clan, a small church, a warrior's guild, the order of the stick, what have you) that the players are a part of, give each player three characters at the start of the game, with the rule that they have to be built for different roles and an encouragement to make one of them a generalist.

Then at the start of each session, tell the players generally what the goal of the night's play will be, and have them pick one character to use for that night. I usually have this happen in character- say, the party reaches new territory, only to be told by a fleeing peasant that orcs have lain siege to the keep up ahead, or that the Clockwork Caverns are famed for their devilish traps and puzzles, but that bandits have a habit of looting unguarded caravans. If the game cares about XP, share it equally amoung a player's three characters.

This usually ensures that everyone has somebody who can contribute, and gives you a bit more freedom in designing situations. If a player builds one character for a specific niche situation, that's fine! They'll spend most of their time in their other two roles, but now and then you can bring out a problem that they are uniquely suited to solve and watch them go to town on it. If not, then they aren't sitting around doing nothing that session.

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GM Struggles and Laments

I run an open world and the players are not even bound to stay on the world. I do not tailor ever session for every lonewolf character. First I require every player have at least 3 characters and the characters are individuals, not default groupies. Sure I have a wide variety of potential quests and adventures that the characters may or may not choose to follow. They may even go off in uncharted areas with undefined goals. Most of the time the characters played in a specific session are in a group, but not always. I have had individuals or groups in as many as five different places in the world at the same time.

Play your world as diverse as you want or as restricted as you want, but the characters need to figure out how they can fit and contribute in their world. As DM you can do any number of things to prod them into action without catering to them, or you can occassionally cater to an individual character. Thirty Seven years ago the rule books were guidelines and the game had so many less rules that the adventure was driven by the imaginaation of the DM and the DM ability to draw out the imagination of the players.

Make the rogue figure out how he can contribute more, perhaps use his stealth before the warrior barges into the room and while the warrior holds the attention, use the distraction to slip behind the enemy and assasinate their leader. Encourage them to figure out how to steal the show from the thunder blustering warrior and still be a contributing team member.

So your Pokemon likes to ride, suck him into an environment where he does not have the advantage being in the air, like a low ceiling cavern over water with lightening generating water creatures that have tentacles that can reach the ceiling, or a forest where flying above the canopy is a handi-cap and flying under the canopy is a disadvantage to movement.

Make your Puzzle solver deal with situation where there is no rock to hide behind, puzzle out how to survive in the heart of the situtation. Give them hints of a puzzle that is not even there and let them create the puzzle they solve without even knowing it. If they really like puzzle that much, let them weave themselves into a corner and back out. Perhaps let them get separated from the group in their attempt to take cover and have to puzzle their way out to rejoin the group. Use simultaneous game time play.

You are the DM you have total control of dificulty and risk, you control the death factor. You can adjust these without the players ever knowing. It is possible to tailor to the individuals and cater the group at the same time, if you can learn to make the characters tailor their part instead of breaking your world to play to the individual. Look at it from a real world point of veiw; does the world shape events to each individual or do people find their way through what the world throws at them? Lead the characters with subtlty and let them create their own stories.

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Like some of the others, I support the multiple player character model. No matter what campaign you are playing or what rules you use, there will be times when a certain character doesn't fit. This is not always because of "class" but can also be because of role-playing aspects. Some knights will refuse to take missions where they need to hide or hide who they are for example.

When using the multiple player characters, each player usually has three characters (obviously at least two). I think it works best when they are all members of the same adventurers' guild or mercenary band. That way, when the mission comes in, each player can choose the best character for the mission. I also support the idea of sharing experience. I think one of the best ways is that the character on the mission gets full experience, while the unused characters get half experience. This should help the guys at home never fall too far behind to be useful, though it does limit the magic items they usually get. One rationalization for this is that the "stay at home" characters are also doing missions, just ones you're not playing through.

These extra missions allow the GM to invent things that happened and use those results to prompt new missions. Did a different party fail? Did they turn up information about something no one expected? Did they discover a cursed item?

The other side of multi-characters is that if one dies, the player already has two spares to bring in. Developing the "guild" is the most difficult part. It isn't actually difficult, but making it believable and not just a game device can get a bit difficult. That's up to you and your players as to whether or not that matters.

Last point - this allows the player to sometimes get involved in some of that semi-solo action (spying, tracking, researching, assassinating, etc.) while also playing the main adventure, if more than one character is involved in different parts of the same adventure. It also allows the GM to write and run different styles of missions, so he doesn't get bored either.

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Why not tailor some challenges to make it beneficial to have a rogue, but possible without.

"You kick down the door of the throne room and the guards raise their weapons, advancing towards you behind raised shields. The captain of the guard cries out "Reinforcements, we are under attack!". The King dives behind the throne, a towering monstrosity of gold that completely blocks line of sight. Roll initiative.

The obvious solution is for the party to distract the guards, with the Rogue sneaking around for a good backstab.

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This is acknowledged and part of the problem. See the question onwards from: "every now and then he gets to shine in stealth sections". Part of the problem is they rarely get to shine, and when they fail they're often but not always isolated from the party. –  doppelgreener Aug 19 at 7:51

Play a classless RPG

One solution it to do away with classes altogether. There are many systems that do this, the only one I have a lot of experience with is GURPS. It operates on a point-buy system. The GM gives you a number of points (usually 100) and you buy whatever you want, with few restrictions.

The advantage is, you get exactly the character you want and can level up with whatever you want (as long as you have the points and prerequisites, of course). Want a wizard in plate mail? Go for it. You won't be as good at being a wizard as someone who spent their entire points on wizard stuff, but that's the downside of points-buy systems.

The disadvantage is that you spread out your points too wide then you can easily create a jack of all trades, master of none.

As an aside, if your character Grobnar dies then your next character can be Grobnar 2 who is identical to Grobnar, simply be buying the same items. Some GMs don't like this and require your new character be different to the old.

Edit It looks like the author edited the question and title, with the effect that my answer doesn't appear as relevant. (Perhaps that's why I have downvotes?) The original question was "How can I deal with "too specific" character classes?", to which my answer is "play a system that doesn't have classes.".

Yes, you can still create a class that sucks in combat using GURPS; however unlike D&D you are not stuck in that role - you can put the next five or ten points into combat skills. It also works the other way - combat monsters can put points into social stuff or magic. In D&D, this is impossible. There is no way a Rogue is ever going to equal a fighter in toe-to-toe combat, no matter what feats they take (and neither the Rogue nor Fighter will ever match a Wizard :-).

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Using GURPS, I could still build the loner who has to flee from combat, or the situational rogue who's otherwise useless because his time to shine never features in the adventure. Merely switching to a classless RPG won't fix this problem. –  doppelgreener Aug 19 at 0:45
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I love that GURPS lets me be an aged shopkeeper who has powerful divination abilities and no combat skills, but that very flexibility means that it's not sovereign remedy for problems like this. –  SevenSidedDie Aug 19 at 0:51

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