Love is a Many Splendored Thing (Multi-POV Stories in Gaming)

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With fan-favorite series with multiple point-of-view (multi-POV) story-lines being more popular than ever (from white-haired dragon mothers to zombie fighting in the apocalypse) we frequently hear gamers exclaiming that the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game isn’t a book, TV Show or movie. While it is true that no one person (even the GM) fully controls the actions of the story like in a novel, it is possible to capture the feel of more leaping narratives with a multi-POV game.

Multi-POV Gaming Realities

Using character trees or other rotational game setups, it is possible to get a multi-POV gaming experiences. When choosing this style of game there are lot of subtle differences to keep in mind compared with a standard party dynamic or short-term game. A lot of basic game realities alter and need to be explored or redefined like these:

  • Character Screen Time – In a multi-POV game you are going to see less of certain characters regularly. Even if you go with “direct experience” (see below) you are going to have more diffuse time spent with each character. A group with intermittent game times may struggle to maintain overall plot cohesion or immersion with these shifts and scarcity of playtime.
  • Player Downtime – Unless you utilize a system like character-trees or distribute stories over multiple regular game nights, players might be looking at long periods of downtime where their character is out of POV. This is can be the most challenging and negative experience with multi-POV games and is not recommended unless your group is highly supportive and collaborative.
  • Mechanical Complexity – Even with relatively simple builds the maintenance of multiple characters can be difficult for casual players. Casual players are often good-natured and “game for anything” but suddenly flare into crippled anxiety in the face of tracking 3 or more characters simultaneously. Make players understand this when get initial buy-in for a multi-POV game.
  • Progression Complexities – If you link experience points in a tree-system levels might be skipped in a characters off screen time. This results in characters with less actual playtime and players with less familiarity with the characters they play. Mass leveling events in shared experience games can grind down even an experience gamers processor speed. Alternatively, in a direct experience model (where characters only get experience if they are played) new POV conformations may result in level disparity and the attendant balance issues.

Advantages of Multi-POV Games

With a list of complexities like those above, it is easy to see why not many game groups favor or even try multi-POV games. But there are a lot of advantages to running such elaborate and shifting stories. Consider:

  • World Exploration – Your group gets to experience a far greater degree of variety in the campaign setting. Whether the official Pathfinder Roleplaying Game setting or an expansive homebrew setting, more characters in play and multiple active parties means more world seen. In the case of the homebrewer GM this will also make them develop a larger and more expansive world. As a net plus, the verisimilitude of the game generally increases as the world becomes more fully render.
  • Story Pacing – New avenues of distributing information and timing options become available. These include scattered puzzle pieces that require new POV crossovers to unlock or simultaneous action scenes lending gravity to all the characters involved. Flashback campaigns also become possible where one group discovers a major campaign secret and then plays the characters involved in that history.
  • Role Reprisals and Party Dynamics – More characters means more opportunities to explore roles and a more options to play over lapped roles. Traditional party metabalance may exist in most of the POV distributions but then a crossover might yield a team of specialists (like three or four POV groups rogues teaming up into a crossover group for a “Mission Impossible” mini-arc). This can cut down on resentment for highly desired roles in a group.
  • Gravity of Plot – It is an easy thing to say to a party, “The Great Master’s undead horde threatens to destroy the nation!” but it is another to have four parties in different locations encountering part of the same threat. The intensity and reality lent to stories in this manner is difficult to achieve in game in nearly any other way.

Multi-POV games can be frustrating to players who don’t separate in- and out-of-character knowledge particularly well. We suggest the following Book of Beyond: Liminal Power preview for those who have this issue:

Shadowed Dreamscape (Liminal, Teamwork or Heartbound)

Prerequisite: Mental attribute 13+ or shared liminal event with a heartbound partner or party member.

Benefit: Your dreams are haunted by the fringes of long-time friends or lovers. If you are asleep and another ally with this feat or who is a heartbound partner is asleep at the same time your dreams begin to bleed into one another. The GM describes the nature of shared dreamscape and circumstances of the shared reality. At a minimum characters should receive information similar to a status spell.  At the GM’s discretion this can instead be a roleplaying exchange or act in manner more in line with a divination or commune spell.

For more liminal energy interactions, you can get the Book of Beyond WIP subscription now or wait for the stand alone Book of Beyond: Liminal Power! Available at: d20pfsrd.com, drivethruRPG, Paizo and RPGNow.

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This entry was posted in 3rd Party Options, Game Mastering, Occult Adventures, Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, Player Advice and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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