Do you sometimes feel as if every campaign is the same? Still you use another system, new module and different characters, but everything stays the same? Perhaps the group dynamics have stagnated, but what to do?
A decade or so ago, after playing with the same group for years, I started feeling I was in a loop hole. Every campaign, every session began to feel the same, repetitive and even boring. I was gaming with a group of my friends and we had gone through many different D&D, Vampire the Requiem, Call of Cthulhu and World of Darkness campaigns, sharing the role of game master.
Still, after all these years playing together, no matter what roleplaying game we tried, whether we ran published modules or homebrew, things simply didn’t seem to change. Every session felt like the last session and I felt less and less enthusiastic about our games and became disinterested in them. For a while I felt as if I needed a break from roleplaying games.
It wasn’t until I got invited to join another game that I understood what the problem was. Our group had stagnated and was stuck. Every player seemed to fall into the same role, so every story seemed to become the same.
In almost all social situations we accept our roles and fully play them out. In one situation I am a father, in the next I’m a co-worker and in the third I am a lover and a husband. Sometimes we need to find a way to fulfil two or even three roles at the same time, for an example if I need to bring my son to work I’m a father and a co-worker at the same time.
This applies just as much to the roleplaying group. Some of us are natural leaders, others are thinkers and yet others are do’ers. This affects the group dynamics, the politics within the group, which sometimes can become sour and polute the atmosphere within the group.
Why swapping player roles matter
Every group has its own dynamics. Each player has a role to fill, some take on the role of group leaders, others take on the roles of muscle, yet others take on the roles of the brainy types and so on. For many groups this is fine and every player content in fulfilling their roles. In other groups the roles rotate between players from campaign to campaign.
Rotating the roles may give players who are either perhaps shy or feel stuck in some role a chance to shine. This is even more true in groups where there are players who might feel that their character is the main character of the story. By rotating the roles players who usually stand in the shadow of the group leader might get a chance to shine.
Of course, player roles should never be forced upon anyone and only as long as everyone in the group agree to rotate the roles. There are players who love to be the leaders, while other players excel at being the sneaky types. Sometimes, however, it can be not only good for the group to swap roles, but also very healthy for players to try on new roles, since it can help us understand better each other’s roles and contribution to the group.
Group dynamics and interaction
The older I get, the more I like and emphasize the interaction within a group. As a player I try and interact as much as possible with the other players, and as a game master I encourage the players to use every opportunity to interact, roleplay and enjoy being in character.
In groups where the player roles are set and hard to change, I’ve both experienced and heard that the interaction between game master and the player that fills the role of the group leader, can become so dominant that other players might feel that their characters are in supporting roles in the group leader’s story.
Using the narrative to help players shine
As a game master I feel responsible to make sure that every player has a chance to shine, a moment where their character stands in the limelight and can have a major impact on the story. The only tool I have for this is the narrative.
The problem with some player roles is that some of these are more influential in the narrative, for an example the group leader is the character that tends to speak the most on behalf of the group or make the most decisions. I’ve even played in a session where the leading player was so dominant that he actually told other players, who were trying to take part in the narrative, to be quiet, so that he could focus on being the group leader and interact with the NPCs. And they complied! Perhaps I’m old fashioned, but that doesn’t float my boat. Needless to say, I didn’t have much interest in playing again with that particular player.
I try to create situations where each role in the group becomes paramount. This also means that the players who often are more inclined to follow the leader or leaders, need to act, make decisions, interact with other characters or NPCs. Much as many players see splitting the group with disdain, sometimes it is simply necessary to make sure players that have taken on supporting roles find themselves in these kinds of situations, where their character is in the leading role.
Inclusivity is the key
Modern roleplaying games are all about inclusivity. But we need, both as players and game masters, to ensure that applies to more than just being willing to play with players of different race, gender, sexuality or religion than us. It also means that we actively try to include every character or player in our narrative, because there might players at our very own table that feel forgotten or left out.
Identifying the player roles can be helpful in both preventing your games becoming stagnated and to give each player a chance for their character to be part of the narrative. Rotating the roles is something that can help and empower players, especially those who tend to fall into supporting roles. Finally, by rotating the player roles you can get more diverse group dynamics and help players feel that their contribution at the table matters.