In “By Your Powers Combined….”, I talked about the idea of how in a JRPG game the player plays as a party of heroes, and each of these characters are unique entities and the story is all about how these people came together to achieve a goal, while in a Western RPG it is a tale of ‘The One’ hero who is out to save the world. Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, and so forth borrow from the idea of there being ‘The One’, one special person selected to make things right. But here’s a thought…. What happens when The One isn’t you?
You see it in movies a lot, where you have a viewpoint character and then there’s the real protagonist. The key is that the protagonist is the one who the story revolves around and usually is changed by the experience, and sometimes you don’t get to see that right away. Star Wars prequels didn’t introduce Anakin Skywalker until about halfway through the first film, and the prequels and the original trilogy could be said to be about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, in his quest to bring balance to the Force.
Sometimes, its that you’ll be shown one character and be forced to decide if they were good or not. Falling Down, the story of one man’s journey to get home while dealing with the issues of life, you start with the character of Bill Foster/D-Fens as his license plate says and how most people initially address him as. He is just trying to get home to be with his daughter on her birthday, but he ends up getting into a deeper and deeper hole until the cop who was sent out to stop him shows him what he’s done and he realizes he’s become the bad guy.
I got this idea after watching the TV show ‘The Magicians’ and reading a review of the first season where they talk about how the viewpoint character, Quentin, the one we started the show with, have been seeing the world through and have most of the interaction of the ensemble cast with, ends up being not the hero, no matter how hard he wanted to be. I find this great, because the story fits so well into an RPG setting, it’s even been done by some degree in settings. Look at World of Darkness: Mage, for example, or D20 Modern. Shadowrun, for a futuristic example. Magic is real and how we can deal with it in the modern world.
There was a quote earlier in the show, “People who read their books often discover they don’t like the main character, and are rarely happy with how it ends”, talking about how if you were to read your life as a book, you may not like what you read. We all have choices we wish we could change, hindsight being 20/20 and all that. We’ve hurt people, we’ve done things without thinking them through, in the end, it all boils down to being internal or external to the whole thing. Internally, we think the story is about us and everything that happens happens for us to get somewhere, while externally, we realize there is a larger universe and begin to explore the what if’s and the what could have beens.
To bring this back to the table, you play a roleplaying game with at least one other person in most situations. I would say probably three to five players is common at most tables with a Gamemaster beyond that. So, the stories are not always about you or your character, they need to be about the others as well, and you need to make sure that you are giving them their time in the sun. Do not try to make everything about you, expect that the story will involve you at some time as well, and if the gamemaster is really good, you won’t just be a bit character in someone else’s story for the whole time.
What got me thinking about this was what the reviewer said in their season review:
But given that the showrunners have said that they have six seasons’ worth of material for The Magicians, I have another idea: What if there is no main character? What if every season centers on one of the key six—Quentin, Julia, Alice, Penny, Margo, and Eliot—while including all the others? It would be a brazen way to assert the absence of a single hero . . . Everyone is the protagonist of their own story, so why not explore that concept, season to season?
Not only would that work for a TV series and be a great way to get past the whole ‘Here’s the key figure in the drama’, it also works well for tabletop games. Have this adventure be for that character, and this adventure for this character, having the other characters have moments to further their own epic tales along the way, so they don’t feel totally left out. The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum after all.