[Does It Work?] Five-Man Band (and similar tropes)


Hi everyone. First actual post here, so sorry if it’s been discussed before.

I’ve been wondering about the Five-Man Band trope and how/if one should incorporate this (or other party composition tropes) in a TTRPG/Story Game. It’s a successful cinematic technique, but would it work in a game?

Does anybody have any experience or examples with this? Does it work? Does it fail? What is good about it and what is bad?

These are my thoughts so far, but I have not tested any of them:

  • I think it could work in PbtA playbooks with specific moves for specific roles. Like replace the Alignments moves/rewards in Dungeon World with FMB-positions? (Perhaps they could even change, depending on episodes or spin-offs!)
  • It might kinda be a bit present in Lady Blackbird, built in, but nothing seems to steer you into playing that way, right?
  • I was thinking on restricting the Fate Aspect creation with a position in mind.
  • I’ve made a pre-generated sci-fi cast for a stranded spaceship game I want to someday run in RISUS. (It’s in Dutch though, so I’d have to translate it while it’s not finished yet, and most of the names are language based puns) I applied it on this cast and it works very well. I think it creates a nice starting position for play, but I’m not sure if something like this would organically emerge unless it’s written in the character generation rules. (which is easily adjusted in RISUS with a more narrow definition of Hooks and Tales.)


So I think one of the core aspects of the five man band trope, “group of character archetypes with different skills/roles that complement each other” is baked into Apocalypse World and many PbtA games. It’s also baked into a lot of just general TTRPG culture.

For general TTRPG culture, I see it as the idea of a balanced party. It’s the idea of niche protection. It’s when people go “oh, you have a cleric, I see that you’re healing focused, I’ll go battle cleric”.

But for PbtA it is the individual playbooks, and the singleton rule, where only one of each playbook can be present.


Yes. I love the playbooks idea for it. I’m not very familiar with Apocalypse World, so I don’t know there, but I know Dungeon World a bit. The thing is that the Niche there is mainly skill focused (except for maybe the Immolator being prime material for a Lancer type character and possibly the Wizard for a Smart Guy type character.)

I’m mainly interested in how the types relate to each other. I mean, there are so many variations on each member of the Five Man Band that they could as well be playbooks on their own I guess. Or even different variations. The Leader needs to lead the team and keep it functioning, on the field as well as off, The Lancer needs to challenge the Leader’s ideas, the Heart brings empathy and friendship into the mix, the Big Guy and the Smart Guy are less of a relational role, but a skill based one, so I guess these two are prime material for typical classes. Fighters, Barbarians, Wizards, Clerics, even Street-Smart Rogues or Witty Bards I guess…

Anyway. Thank you for the reply! It made me reflect on that not every member has a specific relational requirement in these niches.

But yes, besides the Five Man Band, the traditional RPG Party Composition is more applicable. Healer, Tank, DPS, Support, it was basically birthed from the hobby and born out of tactical (gamist) thinking, rather than a narrative idea.


I would definitely be interested in a “character role” interpretation of this idea. As you said, the tactical/niche protection angle is pretty well covered in RPGs, in my opinion, but the narrative or interpersonal dynamics which make media with this kind of trope fun to follow haven’t been (at least as far as I can see, again, with Lady Blackbird as a possible counterexample).

“Back in the day”, The Shadow of Yesterday was supposed to be the game for this, and so, perhaps, it’s natural that Lady Blackbird did it somewhat more intentionally.


It’s an interesting idea. Except 5 players is a lot for PbtA to handle at the table at once IMHO.


Yeah. I’ve been thinking about it for other systems as well, like FATE (but same problem, right?) or RISUS which might be possible.

Also, Keys/Moves are easily tagged on to other systems, especially if it’s linked to the reward system.
“If you take a hit for the team or considered the team above yourself, gain XP”
“If you called the Leader out on his nonsense, gain XP”


Still, not sure about if it’d work, but yeah. That’s how I’m thinking.


Just an idea…instead of just working out the five members of the band, instead put the bulk of your brain power into identifying and describing the lines of interaction from EACH member to every other one, then bake into a “bond”-type mechanic how those band members should interact with the others that are in the game. So it works even if you don’t have five players.

So the playbooks are whatever the player chooses, they choose to be one of the five band members based on how they want to interact with the world and other PCs.

So say one player chooses The Big Guy, one chooses The Smart Guy, and one chooses The Lancer.

You’d now should have active at the table: how TBG should interact with TSG; how TSG should interact with TBG; how TSG should interact with TL; how TL should interact with TSG; how TL should interact with TBG; and how TBG interacts with TL.

Then bake in a mechanic to reward hitting those types of interactions, XP, tokens, bonus powers/moves, whatever.


That would suggest moves that actually rely on other players for components, which is a really interesting idea. Would it be possible to make moves that you basically have to Voltron together from multiple players? That would focus on the relationships between different archetypes in an interesting way.


That would be interesting!
I wasn’t imagining them as moves. Something akin to bonds or drives. Directives or flags on how that character should interact with the other characters and how that character would like to be interacted with.


Yeah, that would be a simpler way of doing it. I think it’s two modes of interaction: one centered around the ways characters bounce off of one another, one centered on a more involved integration that goes beyond character personalities.


So this is not true in most PbtA games. In Apocalypse World and many of its descendants (Masks, Monsterhearts and Urban Shadows all spring to mind), playbooks represent genre archetypes. Each explores a set of themes, and drives story in a certain direction. The playbooks play off each other in different ways, much the way you describe the types. So, for example, in Masks The Beacon playbook is all about excitement and energy for team and the mission, choosing to be a superhero to do the most good. The Bull is all about brute forcing everything, be it the villain they face or a disagreement with the team leader. The Delinquent is about being a trouble maker. You get the idea. They may not match up with the five guys you talk about, they are 100% based in genre tropes and designed to relate to each other in ways that drive drama.


I don’t know about the five man band specificly, but I like the idea of character “roles” in a interactive sense.

For my own pbta hack I toyed with choosing your “role” in the group. Pick “de facto leader” for example then pick two other people at the table, they decide, one is your most loyal supporter the other thanks they should be in charge.

Or another example, You could pick “Paramore” one person at the table is your love “unrequited” or otherwise. Then pick someone who dislikes it. Maybe they wish they were the one or maybe their just protective, it becomes more clear when more roles are chosen.

You get some interesting combinations after everybody has picked a roll and 2 connections. It’s helped some players get a better sense of who their character is.