I just recently read a forum post about using or creating a character for a fantasy board game that is primarily a healer. It happens that this forum is devoted to the old fantasy board game that the Questing Heroes Role Playing Game rules are based upon, and so this post hits very close to home. This brings up a very important idea, not only for Questing Heroes but for any other role playing game in which characters might have a specific role or goal.
The board game upon which Questing Heroes is based is, really, what would be considered a dungeon crawl style game, where there is one player who is against the heroes, and the heroes fight their way through the “dungeons” to defeat the over-all evil being who controls all the monsters and all the bad things in the game. There is really very little actual role playing – that is, acting out a character and developing a character into a real creature within the game that has its own thoughts, feelings, desires, and goals.
This creates a very real problem for a character who is focused on one thing that, for the most part, is not related to fighting or to combat situations. Unfortunately, this could cover quite a few types of characters: Clerics and Healers – those characters devoted to healing, consecrating, and making sure everything holy stays holy; Druids – those characters devoted to ensuring the safety of the wild-lands and of animals, devoted to anything and everything nature, weather, and the earth; Burglars – thief-type characters who avoid figthing at all costs, who break-and-enter and steal things, who pick locks, sneak, and hide. In a game that is devoted to fighting – what is typically called a hack-and-slash style game – these types of characters would have very little to do. Clerics and healers would have to avoid the combat and stand around waiting for the other characters to get hurt so they could heal them. Druids might occasionally run into some animals upon which they could use their spells, or they could happen upon some plant-based creatures, perhaps. Otherwise, they stand around waiting, as well, avoiding the combat and trying to stay alive. Burlgars? Well, in a dungeon crawl setting, unless there are locks to be picked or traps to be disarmed, a burglar would be almost useless, unless they could sneak and hide and act as a lead scout for the adventuring party.
And so enters the first two words that make up the acronym RPG – role playing. If a player wants to play a healer, a druid, a burglar, or some other character that has little to do with fighting and combat, it is up to the GM to ensure this player enjoys the game. In some cases, it is almost necessary for a player to play such a character. Adventuring parties need healing. Adventuring parties delving into dangerous dungeons might have foreknowledge that there will be traps to be disarmed and locks to be picked. Sometimes, adventuring parties might travel through wood regions and will need a druid to tame animals, travel through roots, and purify stagnant water.
It is up to the GM to provide plenty of opportunities to role play. One way to do this is to make the world around the characters real. Provide plenty of stimulation for all the senses – sights, sounds, smells, feelings for the skin. This will get the players’ wheels spinning and get them talking about what is going on around their characters. Perhaps a player decides their character hates the smell of woodsmoke, and so complains about it while they camp at night. Maybe one of the characters loves the sounds of ducks quacking, because they would hear them while fishing with a favorite sibling or cousin.
Another way to elicit plenty of role playing and the acting out of characters is to provide plenty of interaction with Game Master Characters. Of course, this would most likely take place in settlements, not in dungeons, so the GM may want to offer lots of small settlements throughout the wilderness, places where the characters can take a rest, purchase new equipment, or sell treasure, and then take part in local gossip and story telling. This does not necessarily mean the GM has to work night and day coming up with a ton of characters to fill up the world. He or she may wish to have a long list of names handy, and some general ideas of how people in the specific setting behave and think, but improvising and quick thinking can make up for any lack of full character traits for every single GMC.
There are large numbers of actual “in-game” methods to allow a non-combat related character to have fun and enjoy playing the sort of character the player wishes to play. Clerics and Priests in Questing Heroes, as well as in most other game systems, have the ability to Consecrate areas, making them holy and special. Create special places along the path the adventuring party takes, places that will catch the fancy of the player (and his or her character), and offer some motivation for the character to Consecrate the area. Perhaps the god or gods will bless them with special abilities for a short time. Perhaps the Consecrated area will become like a shrine, and will bring others into the same Religion or Faith, and the character will meet some of these GMC’s in the future.
The same can be done for Druidic-type characters. Offer up small-to-medium sized animals that can be turned into friends, and then can provide services for the adventuring party – scouting, gathering food, spying, tracking down a specific type of plant or clean water. Perhaps it gets too cold one night when it shouldn’t, and the Druid must provide warmth for all of the other characters. In Questing Heroes, Druidic characters could have access to a spell that allows travel through plant roots. This could save a lot of time for traveling, or could allow the party to bypass a particular danger for a short while.
For Rangers, rogues, and thieves, perhaps offer plenty of motivation to using a tracking skill or some special Knowledge skill that other characters would not possess. Questing Heroes provides rules for using tracking and skills of all sorts – knowledge on terrain, animals, plants, weather, history, regional inhabitants, etc. Create settings that hold many locks to pick or clever traps that need to be disabled, though they may not cause great bodily harm, perhaps they block the way to the next section of the quest. Provide numerous thick-skulled guards who are either asleep or engrossed in conversation that a thief-style character can sneak by them to steal a key.
At the very least, a GM can even provide some nice in-combat methods for non-fighting characters to have fun. This requires a good deal of description of the combat area, and requires the players to remember what they are told and to ask questions if need be. Provide rocks or other objects that can be thrown at the enemies, catching them off guard and distracting them. Sometimes there are no specific rules for how this could work; simply make that enemy take a small penalty, or force them to re-roll an attack or defense roll, and take the lesser of the two. Provide ropes, vines, or other such instruments that two players can hold and wrap around the legs of the enemies. Let Priests use the Consecration to give their comrades bonuses; let Druids use their tiny animal friends to provide distractions; let Rangers and Thieves attack from afar, or sneak up behind an enemy and stab them from behind, when there would not be any defense allowed.
The logo we like to use for Questing Heroes is: Create the character you want to create, not the character you have to create. Allow your players the freedom to play characters that are not particularly helpful in combat. There is absolutely no reason any character cannot be a joy to play, with just a little thought and ingenuity on the part of the GM (and the players themselves).