the players as characters


ok, I've decided to try the GMing part for a bit, and after reading various discussions on Gamegrene i thought I'd try something a bit different: make the players play themselves.
I'd like you to help me explore this idea as you all appear to be very wise and experinced in the way of the RPG (.. a little flattery is always a good idea).

The basic assumption is this: the players, while doing everyday things here in our "normal" world, got sucked into a magical vortex/ abducted by superior beings/ fell into a hole in space-time / insert your mechanic here and arrived into a high fantasy world. (my choice being D&D 3rd ed. Eberron campaign, but any fantasy setting will do).

Granted, the exact detailed are TBD, but bear with me on this.

Following are the main ups and downs i could think of when evaluating the idea:

- no acting neccesary (especially for those of us thespially challenged) everyone knows how to act as themselves.
- no need for time consuming (but enjoyable) backstory and history creation (see last point). (if a player has to save his 10-year-old, goblin-kidnapped sister...he's emotionally in it.)
- no artificial barrier on player ingenuity ("your charater is a has INT 8 , He'd never think of that..")
- no clash between player knowledge and character knowledge. if you know something, you know it...otherwise ,nope.
- better sense of wonder and newness (is that a word?) since the characters are alien to the world they adventure in.
- the party of players know each other and there's plenty of ooporunity for PC-PC interaction

- having no fantastic characters 1: we game because we want something different ("hey, i can be my normal self any day, but a three-armed space cowboy...")
- having no fantastic characters 2: (" don't actually know how to cast Fireball, do you? or wield a huge axe, for that matter")
- real-world knowledge can be detrimental to play ("ok, GM,this is how i make TNT to blow up that dragon..." or "i want my mithril bicycle built exactly like this.." or "how can they possibly understand spanish?")
- the players are total outsiders and alien to the world. without basic knowledge of what is what and who is where. ("but the old man said there is no 'city guard' here")
- playing themselves could lead players away from the fantastic and back to the realistic
- it may be difficult motivating the players/characters (aside from "getting back home" scenario)

well, i hope you have thoughts on this subject. Pros, Cons and anything else is welcome.

- have mercy on the newbie -

Well Zip, I'll help you out with a bit of info...


- Players and characters do not know the world (unless you put them in a premade world that they can research on their own).

- Hard for players, easy on GM. Characters have to learn EVERYTHING. Do they speak english in your fantasy world? Even if they do, is it American English, British, Australian or Olde English?


- Players will cheat. Especially during character creation. (I used to fence in college. I was a 2nd Dan martial artist, I'm just a little out of practice. Anarchist cookbook is still online...)

- How do you assign stats and skill levels to people that you know without offending someone? What's YOUR charisma, bitch?!?!

- Does your game system have rules for transferring players into characters? If not, what do you do? (BTW the only systems that I know of that does a good job of this is GURPS, if you know the system and your players real well, and TimeLord's, which is actually made for this type of roleplaying.)

-Avoiding the characters bringing tech back to your world. (100 conquistadors with muskets killed millions of South American Indians.)

- What about disease, both in the fantasy world and ones that the characters bring with them?

Overall, running a game like the one that you are preposing here is a difficult balance between realism and respect. No one wants to hear that their character (which is based on the player) is a loser. This type of game can be fun, but I would say that it is for the experienced GM and players only. Stick with running standard adventures, either premade or self written for a while.

If you'd like, email me and I'll halp you write an adventure for whatever genre that you're running as well as giving you advice (and maybe even imparting some hardearned wisdom) as you run the game.

Well, it's been fun... Tootles...

"The only consistant feature of all of your dissatisfied relationships is you."

thanks, calamar.
i sorta got the feeling it were too complex for me while i was writing this post...i'm still toying with the idea of "how to set your friends' stats" (i think i saw a link around here for a site that did this by asking you real-world questions).
anyway, if anyone else has got ideas about this setting..feel free to contribute.

calamar, what's this TimeLord RPG like?
i'll be in contact regarding those advice ofers...

- have mercy on the newbie -

I have an article about TimeLords that's been in the writer's que for a while. Suffice it to say that it's the absolute hardest roleplaying game to learn that I've ever been exposed to. It's been out of print for a while but I've been able to find it in the better roleplaying stores throughout Denver.

well, i sorta had my question handed to me back on a platter as in an RPG night that was hosted in my university (mainly targeting newbies to RP) i ended up in a group playing a freeform game taking place in 2045, on campus (!), and i was playing!

well, in that respect, it was somewhat interesting. some issues were avoided as the characters (and players) are familiar with the surrounding. however, another conundrum raised its head:
do I stay faithfull to what i would really (probably) do in such weird situations as were presented, or do I do the fun, interesting stuff. (eventualy I decided I SHOULD try flying a battlebot...and ended up crashing into the dorms...)

just a thought

- have mercy on the newbie -

I've done games where the Players are the Characters, but they are generally only short-spanned games. Something you could do in 1-3 sittings. Things seem to fall apart if you carry it too far. It seems to work okay if you're doing something along the lines of "how would Bob react to being captured by aliens." Doesn't work so well for "okay, Bob, you're King of what?"

I'd advise against making stats for real people. I knew a guy that made a character sheet of himself once...and it invited nothing but trouble. Now, granted, we were all 17 at the time and had (hopefully) less common sense than we do today. But...still...bad idea.

yeah, i know what you mean...

in the meantime, though, I figured it (using players as characters) should mostly be done when
a) the players are in familiar surroundings and know the environment (such as my example of on-campus adventure)


b) part of the setting is that the characters should know nothing about their surounding (such as RG's "bob and the aliens" )

- have mercy on the newbie -

i actually did almost exactly this type of game not too long ago. it was d20 based in a steampunk setting a mix of sorcery and steam, dragonmech, and call of cthulhu. now i got the system of it down pat and i was able to avoid hurting people's feelings, but it just didn't work out for us.

how to make the characters?

there is an excellent system already in place for the d20 system to create modern, "normal," non-heroic characters and that is the character creation in the call of cthulhu book. basically you choose from a list of skills and designate some as class or cross-class skills. there's also an offense or defense option to make you either more combat or save oriented. there is also a choice by the dm whether to use an optional defense bonus depending on how realistic or heroic you want your characters to be.

as for the actual stats you have let the players make their own characters. you can't dictate to them what their "stats" are and you can't realistically test people. i also think a voting system of your peers is a bad idea. i used the point buy system for character creation found in various sources, but the one that comes to mind is star wars. i also mentioned to the players that these characters should represent how they see themselves and are not necessarily meant to be completely realistic. so for example, maybe you have a guy in your group who's not so bright, but thinks highly of himself, if he wants to give himself a 15 intelligence, then let him go ahead, that's how he sees himself and that's the stat he's gonna be happy with. because it's a point buy there's a limit on what they can do. if they want to give themselves and outrageous stat like an 18 they're gonna pay for it with low stats elsewhere it's going to force compromise. it leaves the player satisified with the end result with no hard feelings. other players should not be allowed to question and individual's stats. just reinforce that this is how that player sees themselves.

now when assigning skill points i explained that players should put them in things they realistically know how to do and that they think might be useful to them. i also implied that some modern skills might be useful counterparts to skills in the fantasy world. so for example drive is really how well you can drive a car, but it might also apply to a steam tank or mech-golem. pilot represents a boating or flying skill that could apply to a zeppelin as well. if someone is a really good artist they shouldn't be forced to put skill ranks into knowledge: art, or perform: art unless THEY want to be able to use that in the game.

for feats i used the call of cthulhu feats which are basically an abridged list of the d&d feats. a professional game designer felt these were an accurate list of feats available to "normal" people (the bread and butter of a lovecraft adventure) and that's good enough for me. i encouraged feat selection based on representing personal talents etc. if someone felt they had good reflexes i might encourage improved intitative or lightning reflexes. many of the feat names are descriptive too, like stealthy, so if you consider yourself a stealthy person then you might want to take that feat.

basically anything they wanted to be able to do in the game they were required to back up with stats. so if you think you know a lot about computers and you want to use that in the game you better have ranks in computer use. similarly, someone who claims to be trained in fencing or martial arts or gun use or tracking should be taking the appropriate feats to represent that.

this system puts the "burden of proof" on the players. you don't have to argue that a person could or couldn't do something or does or doesn't know it, because the rules back it up. if someone balks about missing a feat or not having enough skill points etc, just explain that for game balance purposes they have to work within those restrictions and make the best approximation of themselves that they can. also remind them that their fellow players are also subject to those same restrictions and basically all of their foes as well, though that part doesn't really apply as well.

at the end you should have characters that the players are happy playing as themselves. i should also mention that the characters should start at first level. normal everday people shouldn't have any levels per se. first level represents our accumulated knowledge before any 'extraordinary" adventures. scientists, experts in their fields with years of experience, retired soliders etc might balk at being first level, but just remind them of game balance and approximations and the fact that though they may be exceptional individuals in the real world that is what their stats represent, so 4 ranks in a skill plus 1 or 2 feats and ability bonuses represent being very, very good at something in the real world. it's just the rpg stats and level represent unrealistic heroism on a fantastic scale. these come from stories of people slaying dragons and facing unfathomable evil, they are above and beyond and normal real world people and that's what subsequent levels will represent.

for my game i allowed people to start out with these cthulhu classes and then as they were exposed to their fantasy realm they were able to take more traditional classes, ie, fighter, rogue, ranger, or in my case musketeer as well etc, whatever your setting is. you could also allow access to new feats etc the more they are exposed to these fantasy worlds the more they become traditional characters.

now things didn't work out so well for my personal group. interparty relationships became strained and seeing "yourself" or someone you know die in the game was a little awkward. i had a character forced to roleplay out the death of his girlfriend right as their own relationship was dying. THAT was VERY awkward. it was also limiting to be yourself and kind of boring to the players.

i don't think i would ever do it again in a game. that doesn't mean the concept is useless though. i think what is a much better idea is to play characters from the real world sucked into a fantasy setting, but not to actually play as yourself. you could play someone similar to you without actually being you. it frees you up from being "forced" into being 100% yourself, no one is going to argue the stat choices of a fictional real world character, and there is still an element playing a new role instead being just yourself. you still keep all the pros, using real world knowledge, easier to play a normal person, strangers in a strange land while avoiding a lot of the cons.