Sometimes the Hero’s Journey only has room for one Mulan or Arthur. In these instances in the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game we are at best lucky to have a seat at the Round Table or make a getaway with the Merry Men (or Women). While a good GM can mitigate this effect and modules often try not to make a story all about one player or character, there are going to be moments in the best games where our character is NOT the one in focus. How best then can we enjoy the sidelines even if it is just for a while?
Playing Sideline Characters in the Pathfinder RPG
When discussing side roles in most heroic journey style stories it is fairly common to see players withdraw, mention that “one time,” or reference titanic boredom. However when the paladin goes after the lost holy avenger Antioch there won’t likely be a pot of four of them at journey’s end. So how should his rogue, wizard and cleric buddies address being the potato salad to the main dish of that storyline? Here are a few ideas:
- “You wash my back…”– Favors make the world go round and that can be true for a sidelined character too. If a rogue helps the ranger save Dunwood Reach the rogue can certainly ask for a little “quid pro quo” and expect the ranger’s help in taking over the guild. This makes Dunwoood Reach a path to the guild take over and makes the ranger’s limelight meaningful to the rogue. Selfless acts of aid may seem heroic on paper but they can be boring to play. Make a deal. Get some skin in the game.
- “The Power Behind the Throne” – Playing the character who gets advantage THROUGH another character or group of characters can be the PERFECT sideline character. Every step of the main character or characters gets our sideline puppeteer closer to their own.
- “I’m the Coach” – This character is often older or more experienced than the “main” characters of a group. Like the Phil to another PCs Hercules, the “sideline” character is trying to get another PC to the finish line. Each victory becomes our coach’s success. Such characters may even “test” the other PCs by abstaining to see how the party does on its own.
- “I’ve Gotta Write this Down” – The chronicler/historian/bard character has been a staple side-liner for decades (if not centuries). Again this character’s story isn’t really possible until the other character or character’s story succeeds… so helping them is really in their own self interest.
- “I can’t believe it’s really you!” – The hero worshiper or willing sidekick can be as much fun to play as the “main” character in the story. The added benefit of these types of characters is they have a built-in arc of coming into their own. Sometimes the limelight character(s) don’t want the admiration and try to disuade the hero-worshiper from joining or holding the character in high esteem.
- “It is for your children’s children I do this.” – The long view character, elves and fey or other long lived creatures might take a guiding hand subtly trying to shape events to come in the distant future. Their willingness to quietly “stir the pot” is born of a patience most humans couldn’t hope to comprehend. The glory can belong to anyone else but the future will be ours.
The side-lining of a character should at best be a consensual move by player and GM but moments of inevitable drops in individual significance to an adventure are bound to happen. Having a motive for these low-story periods can help maintain personal engagement and higher levels of enjoyment for everyone.
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