I watch a lot of TV. Probably too much.

Shows like Buffy the vampire slayer and Firefly have a whole slew of characters, which is perfect for a gaming party as you fill in the slots to the point you think you can handle.

But some shows like Supernatural focus around only 2 characters maybe three. Rarely several supporting characters appear in one episode.

I'm thinking about this primarily because I'm planning on running a Supernatural RPG game, and all I know of this format is two main characters on the road. I'm expecting at least 4 people and I don't know how to adapt the ideas and stories I'm having (that are based on the show) to fit more people.

Often in the show, especially in the earlier episodes, one brother is in trouble/compromised/helping an NPC and the other had to help out. That's a dynamic I like a lot.

How can I adapt the themes and dynamics of the TV show (and others like this) to an RPG game with 4+ people?

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    \$\begingroup\$ Usually it works better to gather a group suited to a game idea than to change the essential character of the game to accommodate everyone who might play. But that doesn't answer your question, so it's just a comment. :) \$\endgroup\$ Commented Aug 12, 2012 at 15:40
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    \$\begingroup\$ I'd just pick two supporting characters and write them deeper into your custom storyline. Cas, Bobby, Ellen - there are lots of choices if you're willing to develop them a bit more. It's certainly less work than inventing new characters. Remember its not too hard to bring people back from the dead in Supernatural :) \$\endgroup\$
    – dpatchery
    Commented Aug 13, 2012 at 12:18

4 Answers 4


Solution 1: Harlequin

Have an extra player play NPC's. At start of scene, give them a card with their goals for the scene, and the NPC's sheet. If needed, give them also some information about what that character knows about the bigger picture. (But note that what they know may or may not be true.)

Solution 2: Expand the structure to 2+ Teams

Split the focus between team 1 and team 2, with players on each team. For example, if doing, say, any given police drama, each episode focuses on one team as the big, A-Story characters, with a smaller B-story by the other team. For Example, in Law and Order SVU, Bensen and Stabler are team A, and Tautuola and Munch are team B - in any given story, one of them is the lead story, getting about 2/3 of the episode, and the other team gets about 1/4 the episode. (minor overlap covers the remaining 1/12).

Solution 3: Narrow the Focus of the Characters

In Classic Trek, the "Trio" is Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Kirk is the action man and romance man, Spock the brains man and logic man, McCoy is the Heart Guy and medic. My last 4-player focused Bridge-Crew Trek game had the Captain who was Brains Man, psionics man and Social Sciences, the First Officer who was the Heart Guy and Action Man, the Doctor, who was both medic and logic guy, and the security chief and psionics guy. Note that the romance guy is absent, and the additional role still leaves some empty space for a 5th player. (Or that empty space can be used instead for some comedy of errors.)

Solution 4: Main or 2+ supports

Have players choose either to play 2-3 support characters, or one main character. Those who pick support characters get reduced points, and their two or three characters should be fairly different.

For example, if doing L&O Criminal Intent, Player 1 is Goran, Player 2 is Eams, Player 3 is the Captain and the Shrink, plus maybe Eams' boyfriend (in the show, not seen). A fourth player could be the Coroner and the ADA, and possibly Goran's mother.

TV in General: The Relationship Map.

The most important element in good TV emulation is a good clear map of the relationships.

Take, for example, Buffy. Who are the main characters? Well, for the series overall, Buffy, Giles and Xander. Why? Those three are in all seasons, and all other characters hang onto one or another of them. Monsters mostly attach to Buffy or Giles. In any given season, 1-3 others are 'main cast' - but the others vary by season. Anya, Tara, and Dawn are later seasons only. Willow goes away for most of a season, as does Giles. Giles doesn't get written out, tho - he guests every couple episodes - and his presence is still strongly felt even in his absence, and his prior relationships drive both a couple villains and the second tier characters. Willow's absence was fan-hurt, but not so much story loss, as most of her relationships overlap with Xander and/or Buffy.

Mapping the relationships out, however, reveals just how ensemble the plotting is for BTVS - Spike is linked to Angel, and Angel to both Xander (hostile) and Buffy (Romantic); Spike becomes linked to Giles, and later everyone. Anya starts linked to Cordelia, but then converts to Xander, and with Cordelia's absence, takes over Cordelia's role as Xander's love interest, and eventually Giles, as business partners.

Mapping out your party ahead of time allows them to come in with preestablished relationships, which makes the group dynamic much easier to maintain.

Round Robin with Troupe Style Rather than Group

Good start of game mapping can make it much easier to get a TV type feel. But also note that in TV-Land, not all the characters are in every scene. This can be emulated with what Marc Rein-Hagen dubbed "Troupe Style Play."

In Troupe Style play, every player has a main character, one that they alone play. The group also has a collection of secondary characters, which anyone not in the scene can play. These troupe-characters are included as needed, and usually, one or more are present in most scenes. They don't even have to be the same character to the same player. Focus on 1-2 of the main characters in the scene, and those not involved get to play a troupe character who could be in the scene.

Borrowing from Law & Order again, Dale Stucky could be a troup character, as could Dr. Wong, and any of the ADAs, plus a handful of recurrent uniforms, the Tech guy, and the Coroner. In such a game, Tautuola, Munch, Stabler and Bensen are all PC's. Only 1 or 2 scenes per "episode" would be all 4 PC's; all the others might be 2 pc's and 1-2 extras. Or 1 PC and 2-3 extras.


You'll notice in TV show that all characters have complementary skills, personalities and specific roles. They don't always get along with each other, but nobody is only "the second fighter". If you take a TV show with 2 main character and you want to create a campaign around it for 4 players, look at the two main character and identify their skills, personalities and role and try to look at what's missing...or simply take some of the traits and split them into multiple characters.

TV shows are also about balance. I don't know Surnatural enough and most shows I know have more than 2 main characters. Usually the dynamic in a two character show is a rotating spot light between the two. Also they complete each other a lot. Let's make a fictional example..

You have twins...brother and sister. One is a chosen of Zeus who lives in the today's Big Apple and the other one, separated at the orphan lives in Chicago and is a chosen of Aphrodite. They eventually get together at the beginning of the campaign and learn about each other's powers. The campaign begin with the two meeting friends (other players maybe) who could be chosen or not. Easy to expand on the list of chosen..you just pick other gods of the Greek pantheon. The normal people could be smart people who knows about the mythology, current events, technology and can help them understand their powers. Originally you had 2 characters and you take the classical NPC of the TV show and you turn them into characters. Just put the spot light on them from time to time.


There's two ways I can think of to make a 4-player Supernatural campaign.

The first essentially makes two separate 2-person teams, who work together as needed. So, like Dean and Sam, with Ellen & Jo. Or with Bobby and Rufus. Or Ed Zeddmore and Harry Spangler if comedy relief is in order. Going beyond Supernatural, many cop and spy shows use this style, and can be good veins to mine for adaptable plot ideas.

The second approach is similar to Jin's suggestion. Build up a multidisciplinary team just like in D&D. The two brothers are the frontline fighters, allow an Ash or Bobby or Frank Devereaux as the researcher/cleric type, and a Castiel or Ruby in the supernatural/wizard role. Beyond Supernatural, for plot ideas think Buffy the Vampire Slayer the A-Team or even Scooby Doo.


Rather than two teams, with the logistical problems of party splitting, encourage two pairs. That is, two groups of couples: characters linked with each other far more strongly than with either member of the other pair. A pair could be a married couple, a brother and sister, partners in a government agency/military/law enforcement group, mentor/apprentice, or other strong bond.

That way you encourage a strong bond and dynamic between 2 characters, without sacrificing spotlight time or going through gymnastics to split and rejoin the group multiple times during a session. They can be in the same situation (trapped in the same haunted house or chased by the same vampire), but they will tend to rely upon and interact with their partner more than the other pair.


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