Shared Characters - how does it work best for you?

I have recently thought quite a bit about my attitude towards games with (significantly) shared characters.

There is Girl Underground with The Girl being played by a different player every turn while their own character is fading to the background or literally not present.

There is Alienòr in which somebody plays Alienòr at random per scene plus their own character and gains some extra narrative authority to represent her influence.

There is For the Queen in which we establish facts about the Queen collaboratively but never directly enact her.

There is Turning Point in which we play one character together at an important moment in life and alternate acting as them from scene to scene with everybody else playing sidekicks.

I could go on with more examples but I’m sure you have plenty more yourself.

I want to know from you:

  • what do you enjoy in sharing a character?
  • when does sharing work for you, when does it not work?
  • what are your recommendations for others?
6 Likes

Of the examples you listed, I think what works for me the most is the For the Queen-style, with aspects of the character collaboratively established, and the character is obviously incredibly important to the game but never directly roleplayed. A related setup is Companions’ Tale, where not only is the “hero” of the story sort of collaboratively assembled, but also it is overtly possible for the player characters to be unreliable narrators, so the “hero” character doesn’t necessarily need to be that consistent!

Extrapolating from that, I think it works better for me when the character creation is shared, but not necessarily the portrayal. It’s challenging for me personally to associate the same character with different players; each scene sort of ends up being compartmentalized in my brain, so it’s tough to string the whole narrative together.

I think the exception that proves the rule is maybe something like Bluebeard’s Bride, where the rotating portrayal is decidedly about portraying (sometimes very) different aspects of a shared character. For some reason that makes it easier for me to track the overall narrative of a single character even if portrayed by different players.

7 Likes

Oh yes, that’s a great point: collaborative portrayal vs collaborative creation makes a big difference and indeed Companion’s Tale can be seen as more on the creation side.

Interestingly, however I like to state my personal taste, somehow an example sooner comes to my mind in which I have to admit that I very much like the way it’s organized in that game - against my assumed taste.

For example, I would have said that I appreciate immersion a lot and having “somebody else in my head” is not comfortable for my play style. So I prefer having at least one character just for me. But then there is Turning Point where we all have just one character, no split of tasks or mind. And it worked so well last year at Gauntlet Con 2018.

3 Likes

Normally, in collaborative storytelling, when you got a lot of shared characters, the participants usually got their own characters and then take on different roles to extrapolate the main characters. Polaris is a clear example of this, where each character got their own story arc and everyone takes turn playing each story arc, filling the scenes with “neutral personal characters”. Alienòr is an example from another perspective, where the main focus is to lift her up as far as the participants can, but in order to do so, they need to tell something about their own character. This is basically what the game master otherwise normally do, by creating situations that the characters have to react to and, by reacting, telling something about their characters. In other games, the skills and how they are used also tells something about the character (ex. Fate).

So the sharing isn’t really about something in itself, but about helping defining the main characters in the session. The major issue with this kind of play, and it’s usually only used in collaborative storytelling, is that you focus more about creating something with other people. You build a group consensus while seeing something grow (the story or the setting), in comparison to more traditionally play where you merely focus on acting out in character and reacting to what the game master throws in your lap.

2 Likes

My only experience with shared characters has been with Kids on Bikes and the shared powered character (the Eleven in Stranger Things character). The different aspects of the powered character’s character “sheet” is divided onto different cards and randomly distributed to the players (and the GM too if desired) and they control the powered character when the things on the card come up. The cards can be collected and redistributed at any time if you like but usually at the beginning of a session.

So far I’ve enjoyed the experience. I enjoy seeing how others are interpreting that character compared to my own internal concept of that character. It’s fun to see everyone riff on everyone else’s interpretations too.

2 Likes

That’s a good point for me in what I can enjoy but really have to come to that point of ‘let loose’ before it goes into a meaningful and fruitful collaboration aspect of shared characters.

I’m afraid of the idea that something I felt for a character gets violated by somebody else’s interpretation. I love going deep into a character and then it can potentially hurt the most.

But then, if I feel trust and empathy in the group, if I reach the point of acceptance that ‘this is not my character alone’, it can lead to wonderful moments of roleplaying.

It obviously is the magic of vulnerability in a safe space.

2 Likes