Non-individual characters

I was reminded of an old question and a year old answer to it :
The question is : what can you play except from individual characters.

Even in traditional games you can play a collective, like a caravan of nomads, with collective resources and needs. In The Quiet Year I found myself playing a very intriguing entity, something like a political current. I didn’t intend to, and it wasn’t something explicit, it’s just the way I felt. I suppose the game does that.

Maybe some games about IAs can make you feel like not-an-individual, too?

In games like Annalise or Swords Without Masters, you can use Motifs, but you don’t really play as them. Likewise in Apocalypse World, you have a say in shaping this or that entity (the Maelstrom, the Gangs, etc.) but I don’t feel like you play them.

If you did play such characters, please tell me about your experience. is it still Role Playing? XD What is specific about it ? Does it influence relations between players ? Does it shape the kind of fiction told?


In Imagine, you don’t play people, just create situations around someone. No one takes charge of playing the character, but participants can give voice to certain expressions.

Just “ownership” is something I think should be discussed more; if a character is owned by the collective or by an individual; for how long a participant can own of a character. I think roleplaying games can grow as an entertaining happening a if we look at this angle from different perspective. This is also a strength of roleplaying games, compared to LARP, where it’s easier to jump between and play different characters during the same session.

I’ve been reading through Archipelago recently, and while it might not be what you are looking for exactly, each player is the authority over a specific part of the setting, I think. I’m low on energy lately, and that means that reading rules is not always something my brain is in a mode to handle at those moments.


To me, nowadays, a game master is nothing more than a player set with a different task, and what you wrote above is typically for a game master to handle - describing the world and it’s consequences.

If you take this into the world of collaborative storytelling, in Tokyo Brain Pop, other players play your best friend and your nemesis, and they are describing your succeeded or failed roll, respectively. We also got Wraith: The Oblivion and Svart av kval: vit av lust where other players take on the dark side of the character, trying to influence the good side of the character.

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I’m going to second elements in Archipelago. I’m also going to mention Paul T’s Under a Crescent Moon thought experiment on Story-Games (He ran the same thought experiment here). For those who haven’t read the original thread, his thought experiment was about exploring non-character roles for participants/audience members who weren’t directly charcter players. The more I think of it, I feel it was a tight refocussing of some things from Archipelago. I think this would be a fruitful avenue for you to explore.

Something else that I thought about, which is a little different, is the idea of having a game master and an assistant game master, where the game master is a referee and the assistant game master manages all of the factions and threats and dangers. I know this isn’t exactly what you have in mind, but I wonder if giving it some thought might lead to something fruitful.


Another game that comes to mind is A thousand years under the sun. I’m sure you’ve seen it, but for those who don’t know, it’s a world building story game where you are telling stories about peoples, places, and noteworthy characters but not actually playing them. Maybe this is something you could look at.


The 200 word RPG Challenge also has a lot of games like this. This would be a very fruitful place to start searching.

And finally, you might look at a game called House of Reeds. You can find a link to it on Fictioneers. This game has some of the things you’re looking for.

Paul_T’s game was in fact the “old question” I mentioned in OP :wink:
Thank you for the references!

My question now is not about ways to interact as a non-character, rather about ways to play as a character that is not an individual. It’s about the subjective feeling of playing a “character”, despite it not being a person. It’s subjective, so I don’t expect something that works for everybody.

I’ll focus on a case I know best: in Svart av kval Vit av lust, when I play the Beast, I don’t feel like I am playing a character. I’m playing something, alright, but it’s more like “a voice” or “a discourse”, without a center core of being. I have a purpose, like a dramatic character, but I don’t feel I have consistency like I do when I am playing an NPC. In a nutshell, the Beast is a device, but doesn’t feel like a character to me. I believe the same can be said about Settings in Dream Askew. They don’t feel like characters, more “dramatic devices”. Did you experience The Beast or Settings as characters? If so, how do you inhabit their (to me void and fleeting) core to make them a character? Or do you simply have different expectations set for what a character feels like in play?

I’ll get back to my Quiet Year’s experience: I felt like I played certain characters among the community (alright, nothing special), and soon I found myself playing a collective portion of the community. In about one hour, my character “evolved” from that into becoming socio-political trends that would “migrate” to other characters and collectives, inside and outside of the community. And it had consistency, undoubtedly so. Same happened playing genes in a Microscope game or words in a Dialect game. It’s a strange experience, a bit abstract, but nothing too out there. It’s just the scale these games are set to.

Thinking about it, I think memory is the “consistency” I look for. The character can persist in a body and mind, or as a body of knowledge and practices, a culture. And evolution is an expectation I set for a dramatic character to be “full”. So in a way I’m beginning to discern ways to recreate this “feeling of character”, with or without an individual to embody it. Thank you for thinking outloud with me, it is working great!


I discovered House of Reeds.I played something similar: Million Room Hotel (unpublished) by Come Martin. Exactly my taste, but no room-as-a-character experience.
A thousand years looks like The Quiet Year, A wood heart, and other map games. Yes! they work great for non-person characters.

I think BoB setting elements have been discussed and I agree that there is a very interesting distinction between “playing the world as things that happen” versus “playing some aspect of the world as a person”. That is a bit hard to parse I realize. An example of the first would be “playing the world” in the sense of a GM deciding if its raining or not. And an example of the second might be, playing the forest as a character with intentions.

I feel the sort of opposite happens in games like Nobilis where you are ostensibly playing a character but often end up embodying various abstract phenomena. I was playing Surprise and I was constantly forced to think in these abstract ways where I was trying to understand surprise as a element of the world and then, retroactively, fitting myself in there as a person who could act. It’s hard to explain but it was a fun and weird experience.


Wanderhome comes to mind, having played things like a garden or the small, forgotten gods (taking the form of a group of woodlice). It was an interesting experience, asking questions and prompting moves. The garden was less like playing a person, but still filling in that narrative space that a player occupies with a character.

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