Should the player character always be the most important

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ThisIsNoName
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Should the player character always be the most important

#1 Post by ThisIsNoName » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:05 pm

It seems like almost every RPG I've played has the character being destined for greatness, instead of just being an average person who has to work to get where they are. One example that really stands out in my mind is the Mass Effect series, where Shepherd can do absolutely anything he/she wants as long as it furthers his/her goals (Even wiping out an entire planet in order to stall the enemy for a bit).

I'm thinking of creating an RPG/VN blend with Ren'Py, and I want the player to be able to create their own character, Western RPG style. However, I already have a plot that is very JRPG-like, with experienced and fairly high-ranking characters. One idea I had was to have the PC start out as the newbie among the other characters, eventually becoming "one of the gang".

My question is, would people play a game where the character they're playing as isn't the leader, and has to follow orders (with their choice on how they want to execute the orders, and possibly to pass the mission to someone else instead).

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#2 Post by Applegate » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:10 pm

I think you will find that there will always be people interested in your idea, even if your pitch is that the players are going to date pigeons. Don't worry too hard if there's an audience - there always is.

The entire "destined for greatness" is probably because the audience they hope to reach are people who love fantasy, and playing as John Wayne who saves his apple trees from the kids who like nicking an apple isn't half as interesting as the same John Wayne setting about destroying the criminal gang of misfits who steal apples to power their doomsday machine which'll end life as we know it.

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#3 Post by papillon » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:12 pm

It's also that a lot of writers don't have much idea beyond the standard Farmboy Becomes Hero, and/or have been told that the hero's journey is the only story worth telling.

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#4 Post by J. Datie » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:27 pm

ThisIsNoName wrote:My question is, would people play a game where the character they're playing as isn't the leader, and has to follow orders (with their choice on how they want to execute the orders, and possibly to pass the mission to someone else instead).
I'd imagine so, since, even if they are playing as the leader, they're probably going to have to follow some kind of order to be able to progress through the game.

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#5 Post by sciencewarrior » Thu Feb 16, 2012 5:39 pm

Back in the day, I usually was the Game Master of my RPG group. One of the things you learn quickly when you GM is that they don't care about your overpowered characters with rich backstories. Oh yeah, so the Elven Archbishop is dealing 2500 damage on the Red Dragon. Who cares? It's just the GM power tripping again. Now my punny hobbit dealing a critical hit for 12 damage against a kobold, that's cool!

You can tell great stories where the characters aren't the most powerful ones around, but in the end, they must be the ones that change the world. It isn't Gandalf that saves Middle Earth with his powerful magic; it's Frodo, with his kindness.

An exception to this rule is comedy. You can have a backdrop of powerful superheroes involved in titanic battles, then focus on a group of workers that cleans up after they destroy New York for the third time this month. But again, the other guys are in the background. If they aren't, then you should let the player control them.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#6 Post by gekiganwing » Thu Feb 16, 2012 7:12 pm

ThisIsNoName wrote:My question is, would people play a game where the character they're playing as isn't the leader, and has to follow orders (with their choice on how they want to execute the orders, and possibly to pass the mission to someone else instead).
Are you worried about how to portray a main character who would not start as a leader? Are you not sure if this plot would make sense? Are you concerned about whether people would like (purchase?) your game? In all three scenarios, I believe there's a possibility for success.

I think that no matter whether the main character is a blank slate or an individual with a personality, the person does not have to start out as a leader. Let's say your main character joins a group at the beginning of the story. And let's assume this person's backstory lacks details that would make him/her a hero. From there, let your main character grow into a heroic role, and let the plot develop so that other people will accept him/her as a leader.

If you plan for your game to have a mission-based structure, it might be a good idea to let the player opt out of a mission. After all, if the player has to do one task after another with no options, then I don't think it would be different from linear gameplay.

Don't worry too much about whether people will like your game. It's impossible to please everyone. Focus on whether *you* like it. (But if you want to sell it, then you might need to be more concerned...)

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#7 Post by LVUER » Thu Feb 16, 2012 8:08 pm

Read/watch Fairy Tails (the one who make Rave Master). It's not an RPG I know, but it really have "playing an RPG-feeling". You join a guild, you do missions, you are part of the gang. Even the main protagonist, Haru Natsu, who definitely very special in that world that full of special people, is not THE only person who saves the world. He often saves the day alright, but he's still just a man in a certain guild. There are other people who's stronger than him and he always fight in a full party.

If you're talking about MC that starts as a newbie and then climb into the greatness, well, lots of RPG do that.

EDIT: correcting the protagonist name.
Last edited by LVUER on Sun Feb 19, 2012 12:17 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#8 Post by gas » Thu Feb 16, 2012 9:16 pm

In fact there's MANY good ole games that let you start as the newbie. Now the 3d stuff need for special effects and so you don't farm chicken, you destroy constellations :D! But the engine is the same...
I'm thinking about the wonderful EARTHBOUND (you start as a kid, A NORMAL KID in OUR NORMAL WORLD). And there's many example: Harvest Moon. You harvest beans. There's something epic? No. But damn, is A GREAT GAME. Pokemon games are the same. And if you look well, the whole first serie of Dragonball is the story about a silly guy, a stupid girl and a pig with issues... All these products are GREAT, and have a great audience. An RPG is a STORY: if the story is good, the game is good. And if the system is good too, you did a masterpiece. No need for the character to be EPIC: Luke Skywalker was a NERD for 2 movies, until Yoda. And Frodo? A damned midget WITHOUT SHOES? No, it's just the way you develop the thing that make something good, not the "job" of the lead.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#9 Post by papillon » Thu Feb 16, 2012 10:04 pm

I'm thinking about the wonderful EARTHBOUND (you start as a kid, A NORMAL KID in OUR NORMAL WORLD). And there's many example: Harvest Moon. You harvest beans. There's something epic? No. But damn, is A GREAT GAME. Pokemon games are the same. And if you look well, the whole first serie of Dragonball is the story about a silly guy, a stupid girl and a pig with issues... All these products are GREAT, and have a great audience. An RPG is a STORY: if the story is good, the game is good. And if the system is good too, you did a masterpiece. No need for the character to be EPIC: Luke Skywalker was a NERD for 2 movies, until Yoda.
... and that's *exactly* the tired retread of the hero's journey I was talking about. :) The Innocent Farmboy With A Great Destiny Ahead Of Him.

Starting as a newbie destined for greatness and becoming a big hero is not the tiniest sliver of original. (not that unoriginal is always bad! The hero's journey is a perfectly good story. But it's old, especially in RPGs, and a little worn around the edges.)

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#10 Post by Nuxill » Fri Feb 17, 2012 2:49 am

It would be pretty refreshing to play an rpg where you aren't the farm-boy-turned-chosen-one, to be honest. I think people would be drawn to it because it was different from the standard story.

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#11 Post by sciencewarrior » Fri Feb 17, 2012 4:54 am

The story has to fit the gameplay. If you have your character starting killing slimes with his wooden sword, levelling up, getting a rusted dagger, killing wolves, levelling up, et cetera, then the story has also to be about someone that starts in the bottom rung of the totem pole and quickly climbs up.

Does it have to be a Hero's Journey? Not necessarily. You can tell a gothic tale, for example, like the Vampire pen and paper RPG (although, in practice, most players approached it as a simplified D&D and focused on building a character that maximized the number of dice they could roll per turn). A story in which the ultimate goal isn't saving the world, but your own personal redemption, be it by giving up on your monstrous powers or by coming to terms with your beastly nature, could be very powerful.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#12 Post by papillon » Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:24 am

The story has to fit the gameplay. If you have your character starting killing slimes with his wooden sword, levelling up, getting a rusted dagger, killing wolves, levelling up, et cetera, then the story has also to be about someone that starts in the bottom rung of the totem pole and quickly climbs up.
RPG gameplay doesn't have to start with killing slimes and rats, though. (And who really enjoys spending hours killing rats to grind up those first few levels?) You could easily begin as a professional soldier / traveler / whatever with a couple of experience levels under your belt. It's all in the design.

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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#13 Post by Taleweaver » Fri Feb 17, 2012 9:43 am

It depends on the story who is the most important character. In a raising sim, for example, they most important character isn't the player character (the "teacher") but the character who is raised. In my VN "The Thirteenth Year", the player takes the roles of fourteen different characters, but not the main character. And I can imagine many fantasy stories where the narrator/main character is just a little bystander to the grand events that unfold before his/her eyes.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#14 Post by sciencewarrior » Fri Feb 17, 2012 10:31 am

Taleweaver wrote:It depends on the story who is the most important character. In a raising sim, for example, they most important character isn't the player character (the "teacher") but the character who is raised. In my VN "The Thirteenth Year", the player takes the roles of fourteen different characters, but not the main character. And I can imagine many fantasy stories where the narrator/main character is just a little bystander to the grand events that unfold before his/her eyes.
The game doesn't have to focus on the player character, but it should focus on their actions and how they affect the world, or it will probably fail as a game, even if it succeeds as a story. In a raising game, the teacher doesn't have the focus, but has all the agency. The princess may be the main character, but she is completely passive.

You can tell stories where the narrator is a small part of some grand event, but the grand event should be in the background. If all you are going to let your players do is walk around and watch while other characters do everything remotely interesting, then you can just cut the interactive elements and turn it into a KN or motion comic.
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Re: Should the player character always be the most important

#15 Post by ThisIsNoName » Fri Feb 17, 2012 12:41 pm

Maybe it might help to give a general idea of the game (I'm still making up the details, so I'm sure a lot will change):

Basicaly, you start as a fairly average person who joins or is drafted into the Royal Guard, a privately funded agency that is dedicated to protecting the royal family and other VIPs of their choosing. The majority of the members are ex-military (this is one of those details I was talking about, but somehow the old military was dissolved, restructured, etc.), and some of them are supernaturally powered.

The main focus of the plot would be protecting and helping one person (possibly the reason you joined).

So, in summary, it's more like a rise to awesomeness instead of a rise to greatness, but you don't become any more or less awesome than those around you.

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