Playing the Everyman


Are you tired of playing the same stereotypical characters? Tired of not being challenged? Bored of playing a superhuman hero? Why don't you try playing an Everyman?

I meddled around for a while with generic games like GURPS, but still ended up playing characters that can be classed, like merchant guardsmen, fighter/mages, thieves, and so on. And then one day I had an epiphany. I decided to play a completely different character. One that couldn't fight, who had no applicable skills to an adventuring party.

I played a composer.

My composer, Raphael, was loosely based on some of my favorite Classic composers (Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz) mixed with modern music. He lived for music and could take any experience and put music to it. Raphael had skills in playing musical instruments, composing, orchestrating, crafting musical instruments, reading and similar things. He was small, extremely intelligent, and musically gifted.

I met a lot of resistance when I introduced Raphael to the group. The poor guy couldn't ride a horse, swing a sword, talk his way out of trouble, pick a lock or anything else remotely useful to a roleplaying group (outside of social and some slight political skills). He was everyone's bitch... for a while. Then we had to infiltrate a castle and decided to pass ourselves off as musicians.

Suddenly Raphael was the leader of the group.

He taught everyone in the party the use of a simple musical instrument and I had to come up with a performance, including authentic music, fit for a king. It was cool.

...these characters were extremely fun to play.

Other Everyman characters that I have since played include a cook, a Jackie Chan stuntman, a couple of college students, a high school student, and an alcoholic bum who had been a lawyer until his wife and kid were killed by a drunk driver. None of these characters, aside from the stuntman, had any skills that a normal group would welcome. But these characters were extremely fun to play.

I tend to like movies with similar "Everyman" heroes. Movies like Cellular, Cast Away, Die Hard, Evolution, Galaxy Quest, the Fugitive, and Jaws. Each of these movies features heroes who are woefully outmatched and usually have no combat skills (with the exception of Die Hard).

  • The hero of Cellular is a twenty-something slacker pining after the girl that dumped him.
  • Cast Away features a middle-aged FedEx employee who is stranded on an island for four years.
  • Die Hard has a cop on vacation to visit his soon to be ex wife who ends up tackling a building full of terrorists.
  • Evolution's heroes are teachers from a local community college who take on an alien invasion (sort of).
  • Galaxy Quest features actors of all things, helping an alien race who believes that the TV series that they were on were "historical documents" combat a nasty evil alien.
  • Harrison Ford is the epitome "Everyman" actor. In the Fugitive, he plays a doctor on the run from Federal Marshalls.
  • And we all know that Jaws features a cop who is terrified of the ocean who has to deal with a man eating shark.

We all enjoy Everyman heroes, and some of the best stories of all time feature these unlikely heroes... so for those of you bored to death of playing superhuman characters that your GM has a hard time challenging, why don't you try playing an Everyman? It is EXTREMELY challenging and much more fun than you might think.

And if you don't like the character, they're awfully easy to kill off. ;-)

I'm curious, Calamar: Aside from that castle infiltration, did you not feel useless while playing, or did it just not bother you? How about the other players?

I´d like to contest the two policemen beeing "everyman". Especially any character played by Bruce Willis.
I mean, a policeman is supposed to be trained in the basics of unarmed an armed (pistols, maybe even shotguns/gas or other special weapons) combat. They are suposed to keep up on a reasonable level of physical fitnes und and have taken psychology (?) classes to deal with dangerous situations.

That sounds more like fighter with some diplomatic skills. Wheras John McLanes performance looks more like several level of fighter and rouge.
And in the mentioned movies they are largely in ther favorite subjekt matter: fighting/arresting an offender.
The Galaxy Quest actors were also "schooled personnel" considerig the alins replicated everything to work like the movie.
I haven´t seen the other movies so I can´t comment on them.

I think it may be fun to play an annoying/incompetent (inview of the skills required in the forseeable future) character for a little while. But in longer campaigns, unless the GM invents a powerful reason the other characters must tolerate him, this character is going to get dull or even a liability very quick.
Wich would lead to the player changing to a more useful character for the campaign or building up adventuring skills (whatever they may be in the current campaign). By building up adventuring skills the character practically stops being an everydayman.

I played in character and thus felt like I was contributing to the enjoyment of the game. But ya, I was the butt of everyone's jokes for a while. Then my character was able to contribute to the game more.

But you don't need a kung fu master to have fun. The best games that I've played recently had entire groups of "everyman" heroes. And they rocked!

I did specify that Bruce Willis/John McClaine barely qualified as an everyman. But he is still a simple cop going up against highly trained and armed terrorrist/thieves. Which put him out of his element.

And the cop from Jaws? The guy had a phobia of the ocean and had to go out in a small crappy boot to hunt down a MASSIVE man eating great white shark! How out of his league do you want him to be? None of his training prepared him for anything remotely similar to the situation that he found himself in. And if you watch the movie, he get's picked on by the shark fisherman and the Oceanological (sp) researcher.

And yes, it does work best if all the pc's are everymen. But most fantasy novels have one character, usually the hero destined to rule the world, that starts off as a whiny nothing.

Please see Lord of the Rings or Memory, Sorrow, Thorn or the Wheel of Time series for good examples.

In fact, the Wheel of Time starts with 5 everymen characters who, during the course of the novels, each become powerful leaders. But each of those five were completely useless for the first few books.

And the defense rests.. ;-)

"Fish-out-of-water" =/= everyman.

John McLain and the jaws guy still had a level or 2 of an adventurer class. Steven Segall and Jackie Chan are regularly characters that get picked on early in the movie, response is the difference, SS kicks the sass out of them and JC takes it. Doesn't change ability.

OTOH, Star Wars is another local boy makes good. Not until the second movie is he daclared "Strong in the Force."

WoT are debatable. In the first 1 or 2 they appear weak, but 2 have lengthy destinies (seperate topic: is a destiny set in stone if it hasn't been revealed?) and end up as 3 strong mages, a werewolf and well, Longshot.

On a seperate note: I have run convention games with very weak local merchants (baker, bee-keeper, merchant, bookbinder, cheese-maker) as PCs. It was a riot.

Aside from Mr. McClane, I've always wanted to run/play in a D&D game (specifically) where you start out as an entire party of Commoners and, if you want to, then train and become "heroes" throughout the course of the game, or even just stay commoners running from enemies far more powerful than you. I like that feel. That's one thing I love about World of Darkness, is it emphasizes you are a normal person! No fighting vampires! It's a very fun play experience and very different from D&D. However, I don't think I would play an everyman in a group unless everybody else is one too, because in that situation I would be able to explore the character as fully as I want to given the themes the campaign would naturally have and such. I wouldn't be able to do that as well if, for instance, I am weak, but my party can kill all the bad guys any way. If I'm gonna be weak, I wanna go all the way, with the party running all the time! I'd love that.

Fugitive is freaking awesome by the way. Bubblefish, how have you not seen that movie!? Go to the rental store right now and rent it, thus making one of the key decisions of existence. It's truly one of the best movies I have ever seen. Blows out of the water the "thrillers" of today with their explosures and crap. This is real suspense, real character development, real good storytelling. Go get it right now!

Actually I don´t really know if I watched that movie. It´s just not a title I remember. On the other hand the german title may be different enough I just didn´t recognize it.

I´ll run it through google though. Just to find out wich movie it is.

It's amazing. You won't be disappointed.

Yeah, Most of the everyman characters I play end up in a zombie invasion. Which is understandable, because modern campaigns are pretty much only when only plot hook ends in invasion.

Actually, I like to run espionage thrillers or sci fi/horror with Everyman characters. The Fugitive and Enemy of the State are good movie examples. Good books includes Robert Ludlum novels and Stinger, by Robert R. McCammon.

I also love to combine genres and settings, as you may have noticed because of earlier articles. A serial killer murder mystery/thriller set in a fantasy world is fun as hell, for example.

Heh, For me, anything with the word "mystery" is literally fun as Hell

Something to think about with everyman character players, if your GM is any good, they will generally devise a situation where the "everyman" can be useful -- the castle infiltration was a nice touch by your GM.

All in all, if everybody's having fun, I'd say you're doing it right!

I ran a campaign once that was exactly what Tzuriel described above. An entire party of Commoners that ended up being adventurers within 5 or 6 sessions. Two of the six players didn't have the patience for it and left before things got to the point they would have consider "good". The other four played it for monthes.

One of the players multiclassed into the Expert class and was more than happy for the life of the character. The others ended up as very "normal" seeming versions of Rangers (the magicless variety), Fighters, and Barbarians (more like "farmers with weapons"). They became rather high level before getting in over their heads and dieing, but they always seemed like normal people that were in abnormal circumstances. At no point did they come across as jaded adventurers with more gold than comon sense.

Still to this day one of my favorite campaigns that I've run. Poor Cottingtown needed heroes, and no one else would rise to the challenge.

See Scott? That's EXACTLY what I was talking about! I love campaigns like that, both as a GM and player. Thank you!

One of my biggest pet peeves are players who sit at home making character after character, either trying to maximize (munchkin out) their character or worse, making higher level (more powerful) characters from scratch and then expecting to be able to play those characters.

I knew this guy named James. He tried slipping a 30th level mage (MERPS) into a group that was avaeraging 3 levels.

The same guy tried doing something similar in a GURPS campaign. The other characters were 120 - 170 points. His was 800! I counted them out!

These characters were two of hundreds that he had made while bored at home. He was so bad at "fudging" creation rules that we had to make him make his character with me there. That way he couldn't cheat and wouldn't waste our time.

But once he got going he was a good gamer. Oh well...

Ya, everyman campaigns rock!

That was the subject, wasn't it?

Damn... And I wrote the article too. No excuse... ;-)

As I've mentioned before, one of the best characters I ever had the pleasure of running for was a rogue with no thumbs. And my friend Geoff had a blast playing him too! He was basically a 2nd level Rogue (to start with, anyways) that had spent half his skill points on thief type stuff, and the other half on more diplomatic type stuff. Bluff and Disguise and the like. He fit in perfectly with a group of 1st level characters because he could only use half his abilities. Did it hamper him? No...he was balanced against the group he was in. We did it purely for flavors sake...Geoff wanted to play a Rogue that was only good at telling people he was a Rogue, pretending to be a Rogue, and in all other ways not being a Rogue at all.

He still had a place in the group though. He did the talking...but he always kept his hands in his pockets.

I like the plot twist where they use Raphael's talents to infiltrate the castle. Clever. My favorite part is when games get clever and that is usually exactly what is required when the characters are "everymen."

One of our old tricks is to play a game with the instructions "make yourself five years from now." Five years is enough that you could have learned something, but not enough to totally pimp out your character. It's hard to be anything but an "everyman" when you're talking about yourself. You might be able to make a fitter, slightly more skilled version of yourself but you can't go too far.

Now that it's been almost 20 years since the first time we did that, for a Chill game, it is very entertaining to look at the characters. I really did learn bureaucracy (civil servant, both federal and state), my husband really is a scientist and naturalist, and two of our best friends really are a fitness trainer and well-respected folk musician. Those things were only ideas of how things might work out when we drew up the characters for a Halloween game back when we were in college.

I don't know what it is about Chill that makes people play themselves. We did something shockingly similar for Chill once many years ago. And that was on Halloween as well!

I'm seriosu ly temtped to make a Shaun of the dead-style campaign for DnD. Lots of Zombies, most powerful you can get is warrior (city guard) or adept (local guru). rest wil be commoner/experts. Maybe one Aristocrat. Just for kicks. It'd be funny as heck, and I could keep it to relatively weak undead. (Zombies all over the place, the occasional awkened zombie to mess with folks.)

Verily yours

Hey Zip,

I never felt useless when playing this character because I gave him an interesting personality and backstory. As a gifted student, he grew up rubbing elbows with the city's elite, which gave him plenty of opportunities to make friends, engage in espionage and make enemies. People in power saw him as a pawn to be used, which created a lot of complex adventures and stories for our game word.

Despite my character's deemed "uselessness", he ended up being the catalyst on most of our adventures.

Sorry for the delayed response. ;-)

Delayed response? This is the first post in Gamegrene for a year-and-a-half. I was wondering who, if anyone, would break the silence.

Well, last time it was me I think. I was waiting for someone else to step up to the plate this time around.......

Have often been tempted to write an article, but I really should get my thesis written up first!

I do miss the quality of conversation we used to have here. I occasionally dip into the Tabletop Role-Playing Games group on facebook, but it's really just a chatroom.

"What's your favourite system?"

"Where can I find content for system X?"

"My players want to play system X, but I prefer to run system Y, what should I do?"

"Any players in Area Y who would be interested in a game of Z?"

"If I want to run a game including lots of {insert typical content}, what system would people recommend?"

"Support my new kickstarter project: your RPG character portrait printed on a set of coffee mugs"

Not that I'm decrying the existence of such a forum, but I do thirst for something more elaborate.

The other problem with that group is that as soon as a discussion about anything even remotely profound or controversial begins, it very rapidly degenerates into a roomful of people shouting at each other. Not that Gamegrene did not sometimes have its share of turmoil and disagreement, but it remained mostly good-natured and civil.

Also, the TTRPG group rules state:

"Do not revive threads older than one week."

I am rather glad that MorbusIff does not hold to that convention here. In fact, a toast to Morbus for keeping this site alive!

In other news, I see that I have been a Gamegrene member for 10 years 2 weeks. Two weeks ago, was my 50th birthday. I wish I had noticed earlier, I would have made some sort of combined Gamegrene Anniversary / Half-Centenarian post to mark the occasion.

Now, back to that thesis......

Good luck on the thesis. I saw some "journalism" on the internet about a lack of sun-spot activity being predicted by several computer models. Has the author correctly represented the science. Are we due for a solar minimum period, accompanied by lower global temperatures, in the next decade? Or is that too far removed from star-farts to be in your bailiwick?

Congrats on the two milestones. I am 12 weeks behind you on one count and four years on the other. I hope that Gamgrene is gestating and will self-revive at some point. I believe that this gaming hobby is not just a fond distraction based on adolescent wish fulfillment, but can contain wonders both subtle and profound.

I do find solar dynamics interesting. I went to a couple of seminars on the subject at a conference and thought to myself that if I were to fancy a change of direction after finishing my doctorate that would be a nice avenue to explore. However I'm afraid I haven't really kept up to date with the latest news coming out of the solar dynamics community, so I'm not in a position to comment on the sunspot thing. As a research field it is quite a good way removed from protostellar jets apart from a shared interest in magnetohydrodynamics. The solar folks have the benefit of being able to study their object of interest up close. The object I am trying to deduce things about is 140 parsecs away, and it's a good 4.5 billion years younger than our friend Sol.

I think that the gaming group is almost like a microcosm of society in many ways, and you can glean a lot of wisdom from participating in one. The best thing about game systems, is that they are all broken. In one way or another. How you go about dealing with that is what makes every gaming group different. And what the heck, it's great fun too.

Last night we had a great session. The party finally ran down a long term villain who's been a recurring opponent of theirs for around 10 years of real time and cornered him in his last redoubt. This is the guy who always has an escape plan. With some very clever play on their part (a dash above their usual, I have to say) they managed to get him pinned down but he still had one last chance to escape, if he could just make a saving throw. The players were in agony because they knew his saving throw bonuses were all tremendous and he needed to roll anything, but a 1. As with all crucial moments like this I rolled the dice out in the open in the middle of the table.

And it came up a '1'

The neighbours next door probably wondered what big football game we were watching at 00:30 in the morning. ;-)

That is fabulous; gamey-goodness at its best!

And, not speaking from ignorance makes you extremely unqualified for a position with the North American media. You better keep to your side of the pond so as to not infect the discourse over here.

On the sunspot thing, I did come across something about this today. As I suspected might be the case it seems that journalists picked up on a press release and tried extrapolating their own conclusions from it. Interestingly the science was presented at the NAM conference this year, which I didn't attend but I did attend last year's NAM as discussed above. I have to say that sometimes, scientists are rather naiively disconnected from what is going on in the world outside their own work and do not take much care about how they communicate their results. To them, it's just a piece of neutral science, and they don't consider that it might be politically charged - they are just out to publish their research. So sunspot people will, charged with academic excitement, put out a press release declaring that the sun is going to cool off for a while - and the poor climate guys who are really at the front line of an out-and-out, take no prisoners war against disinformation will be tearing their hair out because they know what's coming next.......

Then it's further complicated when the solar people suddenly get a mic shoved in front of them and are pressured into making a statement about climate change.....which they might not even have thought about very much in their little solar dynamics box.........and they (suddenly smelling research funds) say "Well......I suppose it might lead to a mini ice age, yes." Although the climate scientists have already run their giant computer models with multiple solar output scenarios and they are the people the journalists should be asking that question.

Thanks Gherkin! When I read the original article my "spidey-sense" was going berserk. It is chilling how much the article that you referenced confirmed my misgivings.

From the Article: "The media failed in its duty to investigate and inform. It didn't seek expert comment to put the research into context. Instead journalists tried to answer technical climate science questions themselves, and mostly got it wrong."

Gherkin: " I have to say that sometimes, scientists are rather naiively disconnected from what is going on in the world outside their own work and do not take much care about how they communicate their results."

Sure. However, we shouldn't live in a world where scientists need to censor plain speech because of the Idiocracy's inability to parse meaning, understand nuance, or ask for clarification. The fault lies with those who are too embarrassed, too lazy, or too reactionary to look for the context and identify the gaps in their own understanding. Not every question is easily answered in a ten-second sound-bite.

And yes, I feel for climate scientists. I got a good chuckle from imagining their exasperation. Kennedy had a quote about the value of your opinion being proportional to the effort that was spent in developing it. Yet, it seems these scientists are forced to debate, in the public forum, against ignorance. Debate can only happen once you clear away the ignorance.

Again, thanks!

Couldn't login and post for a while.

While I'm able to do so:

and I occasionally frequent:

Sometimes I run a Roll 20 campaign:

Though as I'm still striving to finish my doctorate I don't have much time for that right now; may get back into sometime next year.

Just in case anyone ever wants to get in touch.

As old websites I frequent start to die out, it's very comforting that gamegrene remains. I don't much have many places to be reached, but I do have a twitter that I hardly use! But maybe I'll use it more often it Greeners start poking me on it.

Also sometimes, I'm on twitch broadcasting: