Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Decentralized Power in Character Design part 2

As I commented Monday it's sometimes a bit of a jump for people to accept decentralized power (power that is not inherent to the characters' body) in role playing games. This is a little odd, since the original RPG had one stat - Charisma - that was dedicated to decentralized power and all of the character classes, but fighters especially - transition to that as a focus after name levels. 

I'm of course referring to henchmen, hirelings and eventually followers. The ability to hire people to come with you on adventures - people that barring morale checks were initially under the players control - was a major one in early play, and the game explicitly transitions fighters to commanding territories and armies once in the double digit levels. That the player would command resources outside of their PC and their gear was assumed.

However as more and more people played the game that decentralized power decreased. Like many game groups mine didn't do much if anything with henchmen and hirelings. Part of that was wanting to engage in more immersive play (and hence not be working the numbers for a henchmen and hirelings in addition to our PC) and part of it was either not understanding or not wanting to engage in higher level political play. D&D didn't help because non-fighters, and magic users specifically, accrued ever more personal power as they advanced past 9th level and never really entered the political realm of play that fighters held. If you _liked_ the dungeon/wilderness adventure paradigm then Wizard and Cleric were the classes to play after 9th level, which you can see in the number of high level Mary Sue wizards wandering around the early published campaigns. 

The first game (that I know of) that did anything with restoring decentralized power was Traveller, which had a chance of your PC starting play with existing political power, a ship or large amounts of cash, but aside from the rank those weren't permanently part of the character. You don't see that until Champions comes out and people can purchase powers with a limitation that makes it a device they can temporarily lose but always get back. Likewise you can 'buy' allies and contacts, but they are not guaranteed (relying on a random roll to appear in many cases) and controlled by the GM. Even with that the idea that the player would wield _reliable_ power through others - having troops to command, spies under their control etc. – faded away from game design. You can particularly see this in interations of the GURPS rules where even their Supers designs fought tooth and nail against the idea of Signature Gear even up through the early 2000s.

The reasons for this movement are twofold in my opinion: first was the desire for more immersive character play, and having to control other people breaks away from that. The second was simulationism: since in real life no one completely controls someone else there was the urge for more ways to insert GM control. I’ll look at these a little more later.