19
\$\begingroup\$

In one of the campaigns I'm in, I'm playing an AI/robot that belongs to another PC, and acts as an automated assistant. The other players and GM seem to like the drone's spotlight moments (in the 'screen presence' sense, not 'in-character moment of glory' sense). I'm also having great fun exploring a social dynamic that is very different from that of usual PC-PC relationships; I'm finding it so interesting that I want to play more PCs of this or a similar archetype (not necessarily an AI) in other, future campaigns.

However, there is an issue: my PC's spotlights happen rarer than other PCs' spotlights, and as far as I can identify, the reason for that is because they're largely reactive. Outside action scenes (where everyone gets to shine in similar proportions), these opportunities largely come in the form of direct questions and orders, or of Clippy's 'You seem to be trying to organise a planetary exploration mission; would you like some help?' moments (which seem to fit great with the comedic elements of the campaign).

I'd like to improve my roleplaying of this archetype (not necessarily an AI), making the character more active (whether reactively or proactively) without diminishing its unobtrusiveness and subservience aspects.

Are there techniques or other solutions that I could apply to either see or make more opportunities, or otherwise increase meaningful 'screen presence' while still making sure that the character doesn't come off as showing uppity? In terms of role models, Jeeves seems closest to what I'm aiming for, but achieving that in an improvised medium seems hard.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ The scope of this question is meant to work with the player perspective. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 11:48
  • 5
    \$\begingroup\$ This is a great question - please answer appropriately and back up your answers with experience. Answers that are idea generation that do not include support should not be upvoted and may result in closure of the question (which no one wants!) \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 5 at 16:19
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ What do you find difficult about doing Jeeves-like character in an improvised medium? \$\endgroup\$ – Myles Jun 5 at 20:14
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ How sold are you on the system-agnostic tag? I can see how this could be answered system-agnostic, but I also know some games have support for this type of roleplay. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jun 5 at 20:30
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ @Myles The fact that unlike Wodehouse, I play with actual people who aren't as predictable as when all characters are controlled by the same person? ^_^ \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 20:52
22
\$\begingroup\$

I have actually played a character like this.

Admittedly, this character wasn't an AI or owned by another character, but he was accustomed to being a servant/slave, and he carried that mentality after his master's death. As a result, he didn't really have any goals of his own beyond assisting those around him in whatever endeavors they pursued.

Subservient

This character was always offering aid and assistance to other party members, and to NPCs he particularly valued. Mind you, this wasn't out of the kindness of his heart - he just didn't really know any other way to operate, so he would always look for someone to serve. If there was a job that needed done, especially if it was undesirable to another character, my character did it. He didn't really have his own set of morals, so his morals and goals tended to reflect those of whoever he was assisting at the moment (a really fun way to play a true neutral character btw). And he always worked to further the goals and status of the other PCs.

Unobtrusive

I made sure to keep this character polite to everyone at all times - after all, it wouldn't do for the service to insult the guest, and it would be the greatest dishonor for one to insult his master. This also had the benefit of giving the NPCs a generally favorable impression without making them take particular notice of him - which became very important when our campaign very suddenly went all cloak and dagger.

Also, I made sure to keep saying things like "I only wish to serve" and the like, and to lead any disagreement with a passive "might I suggest..." or similar. This added some personality while also keeping this character from stealing the spotlight from other players.

Yet not passive

One trick to being subservient, yet active, is to actively anticipate the needs and wants of other characters. When my character was around other PCs, he largely spent his time suggesting beneficial courses of action, or offering to assist them with tasks that were either difficult or tedious (like bookkeeping for a shop that one PC was running). When on his own, this character spent most of his time learning the customs and layout of the local area while also building connections that he could use to aid his party.

As a result, if the party needed something done, my character always had a useful contact, or knew of a secret passage, or had special knowledge of an incoming shipment, and so on. This never intruded on what the other players were doing, but my DM did give me plenty of spotlight time to build these connections, and every instance where I had a useful connection or special knowledge came from a scene that I had actually played through and acted out.

Of course, it also helped that my party was very much CHAOTIC and came up with some really wacky plans - many of which were, uh, pretty bad and probably doomed to fail. So, without altering the goal, I would suggest a (typically) more subtle approach and a more structured plan to basically ensure that nobody died while we - ahem - attempted to assassinate a king for example (we weren't even suspects after the fact). In other words, I became the planner and strategist, whilst others actually made the decisions.

This active role did actually lead to quite a few instances of getting the spotlight, as this character managed to be both assertive and subservient at the same time. He definitely got his moments to shine, and never by taking the spotlight from someone else.

Give your character some quirks

Apart from everything I've said here, I gave the character a few personality traits to make him stand out. He was always practicing at something - whether that be magic, cooking, law, engineering, or anything else that seems useful, he was throwing most of his attention into something. At the same time, I gave this character a habit of getting really focused on whatever he was working on, to the point that he would fail to notice details outside of that thing.

His obsessive nature led to some really fun interactions with the other PCs, and is now one of the thing other players tend to remember most about him when we talk about that campaign (it ended a couple years ago).

You don't have to pick those personality traits, but I would suggest giving your character something quirky and unique, but otherwise mild and largely irrelevant to the games' mechanics. If you can make these quirks endearing in some way, other players will remember this character.

TLDR: Actively serve the party

Don't grab the spotlight. Don't make the decisions. But also make sure your advice is heard. Don't make demands, just suggestions. Follow orders, but don't wait around to be told what to do. Actively make those connections and attain useful knowledge. Do that, and you'll get plenty of chances to shine. And give your character some kind of personality quirk to make them memorable.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I'm finding this answer helpful, as it provides concrete things to do in pursuit of my goals, and it makes sure to stay focused on the actual scope of the question. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 17:22
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Well you made it easy for me by almost exactly describing the character I played lol \$\endgroup\$ – MrSpudtastic Jun 5 at 17:23
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I particularly like pointing out that this mindset means doing things the other characters (or even players) want done but don't want to do themselves. That feels very spotlighty without stepping out of character (an accidental spotlight if you will) \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Jun 5 at 20:37
7
\$\begingroup\$

In my experience having a character who is subservient to another player's character is all about trust. Servant liege dynamics don't always depend on a reactive servant, but master players don't usually like being taken by surprise.

I've played several WH40K campaings where one player usually plays the inquisitor and the rest play their cohort. The closer I am to the player who plays the inquisitor, the more free I find myself to act, because they trust that whatever I do it's for the enjoyment of everyone (let's say I want to play a traitor, If the inquisitor player and me trust each other, they might overlook my character putting too much attention on a heretic idol).

In other occasions I had to play with inquisitor players who didn't trust me that much and felt like I was often being controlled too much or not able to give my opinion freely. When a player exerts too much control on your actions and gives you little freedom it can be soulcrushing.

About the relevance of trust in master/servant type of relations.

Master/servant relationships are interdependent, and I understand that being subservient and unobtrusive also makes you more invisible, since you're giving away part of your power and independence to your master. You mention Jeeves as an archetype you'd like to follow, but what sets appart Jeeves from your everyday alfred is how he frequently crosses the line of subservient and unobstructive behaviour to solve the problems presented by his master (Jeeves is the reactive one in the relation). This unique relation works, because he is more capable than his master so Wooster has to deal with it. Jeeves is the servant, but Jeeves is not powerless. Jeeves and Wooster work toghether and by working together is how they both shine.

And working together gets better is there's trust in your partner.

with that out of the way...

My advice would be to talk to the player who plays your master, and plan some scenes or dynamics you want to explore. Maybe Clippy turns self aware, maybe a virus makes him malfunction for a while, maybe there's an update that modifies his attitude. If your "master" is into it, they're going to help make it a fun scene for everyone while retaining some sensation of control, and you can reherse in advance what kind of things you want to do without fear of others players shutting you down because your master can be your backup, instead of a limitation.

What I'm tryng to say is... Masters and servants have a dynamic, and that dynamic can be your route to the spotlight

\$\endgroup\$
  • 4
    \$\begingroup\$ Thanks for backing-up your answer with your expertise! +1 \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 5 at 10:00
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ I can't say I find this answer helpful, as it seems to go in a different direction that I was trying to ask about. Maybe it's because I'm bad at explaining the question. But point is, this answer seems primarily tackling the issue of trust (and neither others nor I seemed to spot any symptoms of having a lack thereof) and on ideas of changes which seem to be at odds with the unobtrusive servant archetype. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 10:24
  • \$\begingroup\$ You're right, I didn't go point by point, still, this is my solution I hope the extra explanation helps. Maybe to you it's not about player dynamics, and more about improv. \$\endgroup\$ – NameDisplay Jun 5 at 10:54
5
\$\begingroup\$

Give the character some independent motivations

The character you describe sounds similar to the character of Bailey from the Third Eye Investigations arc of the Roll Dice and Cry podcast. (Unfortunately, the podcast was recently ended several episodes into this arc due to lack of time, but there are still enough episodes to demonstrate my point.) Bailey was a human soul contained inside an automated cleaning robot that had come into the ownership of Theo, the detective and owner of Third Eye Investigations, who would bring Bailey with him when investigating cases.

For the most part, Bailey simply followed the orders of Theo and the other player characters, or gave "Clippy-style" assistance as you suggest in your question. However, being a human soul in a robot, Bailey also had motivations of their own related to their former human life and unrelated to serving Theo and the others. Bailey also had independent motivations relating to maintenance of their robot chassis, such as finding a place to recharge (the equivalent of resting for a robot in the game system they were using).

These independent motivations gave Bailey's player ample opportunities to initiate interesting interactions without needing a prompt from another player. For example, in one instance Bailey invited another player character to "chaperone" them as they went to recharge at a place that they previously had connections to as a human. Several times while investigating cases, Bailey would, unprompted, offer suggestions for a line of investigation that would serve their own needs in addition to helping solve the case, for example by leading to acquisition of information or materials relevant to Bailey's prior work as a human. If the podcast had gone on longer, it is likely that Bailey's independent motivations would have eventually come into direct conflict with their directive to serve their owner, which in turn would lead to an interesting story moment to resolve that internal conflict.

So, in general, giving your subservient character additional motivations gives that character reasons to initiate interactions without explicit or implicit prompting from other characters. In addition, it gives you reasons to get creative with the orders given to your character in order to find the best way to fulfill the letter of those orders while also advancing their own goals in some way, perhaps without letting anyone know they are trying to do so, instead of just completing the orders in the most simple and direct way possible. Lastly, having independent motivations virtually guarantees an eventual direct conflict between those motivations and an order given by the character's master, which can bring the issue of unconditional subservience to a head.

Even if your character is fully robotic and specifically programmed for servitude and therefore should not have any personal motivations unrelated to that function, you can still find other ways to introduce confounding motivations that compel them to act outside the normal bounds of passive obedience. Perhaps there is a glitch or bug in their programming, or perhaps as part of their backstory, someone hacked them and programmed a secret directive that overrides their normal programming under specific circumstances. Maybe they were originally built for a different purpose and then reprogrammed for their current purpose, but some of that old programming is still lying around in their memory waiting to be activated. You could even set things up so that their normal programming conflicts with itself. For example, two directives could be to protect their owner but also follow their owner's commands. If their owner gives them a command that would obviously cause harm to their owner, they will need to resolve that conflict somehow.

Note that many game systems have mechanics built in to facilitate adding these kinds of personality traits to your character. For example, in Third Eye Investigations (which was using the Blades in the Dark system), if I recall correctly, Bailey could get experience points for suppressing their former human desires in order to follow an order, which created a mechanical incentive to steer the story in a direction that would bring Bailey's internal conflicts to the forefront. While creating your character, you should look for features like this that allow you to represent any personal motivations that go beyond simple subservience.

\$\endgroup\$
  • \$\begingroup\$ While personal motivations are barely applicable to the currently-played character, the approach to role-playing based on passing the duty through the lens of a personal motivation is likely to be useful in the future. Thanks for your answer. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 18:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @vicky_molokh For an AI/robot character, one way plausibly introduce an independent motivation is to introduce a glitch or bug in their programming that compels them to act in a certain way. (Not unlike "flaws" for D&D characters.) \$\endgroup\$ – Ryan Thompson Jun 5 at 20:18
2
\$\begingroup\$

How To Improvise Jeeves, feat. A Game Where You Improvise Jeeves

What Ho, World! is a storytelling game of farce and elegance that incorporates many notable elements of the Wodehouse Regency-era farces where Jeeves was a supporting character. Among them is, of course, Jeeves - I'll be using the game features of the Servant "playdeck" in order to illustrate some of the other interesting things Jeeves can bring to the table, since it sounds like you have the "relationship to master" angle pretty well down already.

The Annoyance

One character has a habit of accidentally, teasingly, or possibly even maliciously interfering with your duties. They may spend a Spade [to send you into disarray].

Jeeves is legendarily unflappable, but it doesn't make for a very fair game if that only goes one way. It's not so much that there must be somebody who drives you to distraction, but it is important to consider the character of your relationships to your master's friends. That might mean there is someone you can't stand, but there might also be someone you fancy, someone you think is a good influence on your master, someone you think is a bad influence.

Speaking as a GM, it's much easier to set somebody up for a spotlight moment in an incidental scene when I have an idea how they already feel about the people there.

The Elaborate Errand

[Y]ou can ask the group for an errand from someone that will take all your attention. Gain a new Joker, but choose one complication and ask the other players to fill in the details.

Jeeves was all the time getting tasked with complicated stuff, but usually it played out offscreen while Bertie bumbled around in the spotlight. If your system supports extended tests of some description, like Fate contests, you can use that to frame your downtime activity, basically interspersing each part of the test between other characters' scenes.

In your example, you could be crawling the infosphere for information, which of course is visualized as a series of improbable tasks linked together by dream logic. And if you run into difficulties you can ask the other characters to provide assistance through various means they don't really understand the connection to, so when you're putting together a jigsaw puzzle made of swiss cheese but a moderator engram is guarding the last piece, you can ring the people in the ship and ask them to start a flamewar over the superiority of Blasted Flavorsqueeze to that obvious knockoff Flavorblast Squeeze, in order to distract it.

Hidden Depths

In a crisis situation you can unearth skills left fallow since you entered your current employment. Commit a Diamond and choose one field of knowledge: [...] you may demonstrate world-class competence within this field.

Admittedly this might not be relevant to the more purpose-built class of AI, but developing a skill set and a checkered past that rarely comes up is helpful in giving the GM more to hook you with than just your default schtick.

The Voice of the People

If you give someone suggestions on how to improve their attire or behavior and they accept your advice, their next Heart spend is free.

This was also a fairly common Bertie-Jeeves throughline. Bertie would adopt some ridiculous fashion or mannerism that was just the latest thing, and Jeeves would gently express his disapproval until Bertie let the thing lie.

Not that Jeeves was on the edge of fashion; rather, because he wasn't on the edge of fashion he couldn't possibly have had an ulterior motive to get Bertie to set aside his gold-plated lorgnette; it really just did look ridiculous.

If it suits you, you can play up this angle and be a moderating voice to ambitious PCs, not out of jealousy for their ambition but out of concern for its reach.

Yes, Man

When someone comes to you with a problem and asks for your advice you may propose a simple plan of action (no more than three steps) that is guaranteed to get them the result they desire.

Alternately, you can lean in this direction. You don't need to be grasping and ambitious to brainstorm elaborate plans that are doomed to live in interesting times. You just need someone who is grasping and ambitious, and more crucially, believes in your ability to plan.

It will help if your system involves a high degree of adaptability on the GM's part, so you have some freedom to make risky and even ludicrous plans that will nonetheless pay off in the end, assuming everyone does their part.

Restoratives and Other Helpful Things

With access to a drinks cabinet, some of the powders you keep on you, a few minutes' work and the spend of a Club, you can put together a special cocktail.

Jeeves' famous restorative was quite useful to Bertie and the circles he ran in - everyone occasionally needed to recover from the consequences of a joyful night on the town or a sorrow-drenched bender.

Not that you run among drunks, necessarily. The important part here is that you cultivate a skill that is useful to everyone; an AI, for instance, could be particularly apt at fuzzing the images of people caught on camera to reduce the spread of notoriety. If everyone could potentially have a reason to need your help, you can get brought into more scenes.

Scuttlebutt

Your peers maintain a confidential ledger of their masters' and mistresses' embarrassing secrets for their own amusement.

The book of secrets at the Junior Ganyemede Club was a fairly constant fixture. While I am totally suggesting that the anonymized user data collected to improve application performance is not beyond the power of your AI to de-anonymize, at some dingy little infosphere hangout tucked under the main data trunks, it might not fit the setting.

What will generally fit is that "you're just the help" and have a good set of credentials to engage in what's often called "social stealth". As long as you're not confronting or accompanied by anyone important, nobody important will think you're worth bothering with because you're not the sort of thing important people bother with.

Admittedly this is kind of dependent on the willingness of the GM to play "the help" on the opposition's side. But if they are, that opens up the possibility for scenes only you could be in, like commiserating with the battle droids in the belly of the star carrier.

Own Goals (The Good Kind)

When you're the focus your abilities are refreshed to help you push for your Goals, but everyone else can further their own Goals if they're canny and find a way.

But lastly and most importantly, if you're going to participate on the same level as the other players, you'll want to have ambitions the same as the other players. Jeeves rarely had ambitions that drove a story the way Bertie's did, but in the card game he pulls from the same Goal deck as everyone else. Not that Goals are necessarily at anyone's expense; they include entries like "cover up an embarrassing incident from your past", "get the partygoers ruining your house to leave - politely", or "score and arrange a musical". You can probably see how some of these motivations could play out, factoring in the various strengths of Jeeves.

However, your (small-g) goals don't have to be things that benefit you. They can be things you do with a mind to improve the lot of your master or your master's friends, just things that they might not value or prioritize the same way you do. As a GM, it's much, much easier to respond to a player's demand for a scene when they can clearly state what kind of progress they want out of it.

\$\endgroup\$
-1
\$\begingroup\$

Work out what will be unobtrusive to the characters, but noticeable to the players.

You probably need to take most of the initiative for taking screen time for your character when it's appropriate, because other players can't easily judge what's a right amount. If you just take orders, the order-giver will usually end up with more spotlight. But that doesn't have to correspond to the character speaking up and getting the group's attention.

It could be, making a sotto voice suggestion to the bot's owner (The bot slides up behind PC and hums in a low voice "Did he say, Vortac? Didn't we have a bounty for him?"). Or if the PC is retrieving a piece of equipment, have the bot appear and hand it to them.

Think of the butler Jeeves anticipating Bertie Wooster's desires, or an experienced sergeant working for an inexperienced Lieutenant.

In order to be involved, you probably do need to take the initiative, and that probably does mean expanding what the bot does -- offering suggestions, helping other PC's than it's owner, etc. But you can do that without compromise the good dynamic you already have.

\$\endgroup\$

Some of the information contained in this post requires additional references. Please edit to add citations to reliable sources that support the assertions made here. Unsourced material may be disputed or deleted.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Hello, while these may are helpful tips I can not deduce where your expertise comes from - which is a requirement for this kind of answers on subjective answers, please add your source of expertise and describe how you or someone that you know has tried these tips and whether or not they have worked out. \$\endgroup\$ – Akixkisu Jun 5 at 10:13
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ This is currently the best answer in that it actually focuses on increasing screen presence while retaining unobtrusiveness. I'm hoping to see it expanded and/or other answers to pursue the same direction. Thanks. \$\endgroup\$ – vicky_molokh Jun 5 at 10:20
  • 2
    \$\begingroup\$ Can you please back up your answer? Right now, this reads very much like idea generation. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jun 5 at 16:21

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.