Concept: Multi-character characters
Tested in: The One Piece campaign
What it is: As a shounen fighting manga, One Piece has a lot of battles. We did a pretty good job of simulating it in the One Piece campaign, with recurring enemies and climactic boss fights and whatnot. But fighting manga tends to resolve things one-on-one, while D&D is a party-based game. When it came time to end the campaign with a series of destined battles, we didn’t want to violate the setting by shoehorning the enemies into balanced groups so we could fight them on even footing, but we also didn’t want to violate the game by having fights where one player acted while everybody else sat down and watched. We needed a third option.
To solve this we leveraged a trope from the genre: heroes who tap into unknown stores of power to fight enemies who push them to their limits. To represent that in D&D, we decided that each character, for the purposes of their destined battle and only that battle, would actually be represented by multiple “characters”. For each fight, the relevant player designed three simple one-shot characters to back up their main character as a balanced party. For example, the cleric with tentacle powers created a defender, a controller, and a striker and reskinned them as masses of tentacles. By the rules, we were all different characters, but narratively, we were all controlling different parts of the same PC. The other players controlled these one-shot characters over four or five sessions made entirely of battles and shounen-style banter.
What we wanted: A mixture of typical D&D, where everybody gets to have fun, and shounen anime, where impossibly powerful heroes struggle against unfairly powerful enemies. Each battle would be unique and full of flavor, with different moods and pacing, and the players would breathe life into their temporary characters and contribute to the over-the-top action of the genre we were trying to emulate.
How it went: Of all the mechanics I’m talking about this month, this may have gotten the best reaction. Every fight was fun, from the ones where the player survived by the skin of their teeth to the ones where the player flattened everything that so much as looked at them sideways. Different players explored the concept in different ways; the aforementioned cleric gave everybody their own characters but forced them to remain within range of the main body, the fighter staged a bar fight where the terrain itself was a playable character, and the psion created illusory duplicates of herself that acted independently. I’m not reluctant to say I was especially proud of my character’s proxies; one split his spirit companion into three bodies whose powers changed whenever he made an attack, and the other hosted all four characters in the same body to represent her different personas and ridiculous speed. Even after four sessions of nothing but combat, we weren’t burned out because we enjoyed it too much to be tired. When it was all said and done, the only bad part about this mechanic was that it meant we’d fought the final bosses and the campaign was over.
What we learned: Splitting one character into multiple “characters” is brilliant, fun, and flavorful. But it’s hard. It’s not easy to create a balanced party from scratch, especially at the (epic) level we were. I would love to do something like this in Faith, but with all due respect I don’t think all my players have that level of system mastery. Few living humans do. The One Piece campaign was as least in 4E, where characters are black boxes that attacks come out of. In Pathfinder? That’s a whole other beast.
I’m not saying it’s not happening. I’m just saying we have to be very careful about it.