The Blank Page Problem
If you've ever created a character for a RPG, you will find yourself stuck at times with a problem you
|Four Links: Hmm. Different kind of Party, I suppose.|
This is the Blank Page problem. It comes up on occasion. Its when you have more solutions than problems and no one solution looks superior to others. Some players are quick to overcome this- Minmaxers for example, while prioritize the most game winning mechanics over ones they deem less powerful. This is a advantage of having these players- they know what they want to play, and they can dream up their character super quick, so long as they have a context for a character.
The Blank Page Problem rears its ugly head especially for players who don't minmax- the ones who instead aren't focused on game-maximization. These players still lack a basic filter to weed out the infinite of choices to something finite. The Role system is intended to be a filter for both kinds of Players. It'll guide Minmaxers into a context that leaves room for other players to shine, while other players will, because of the limits put on them, have a filter that helps them overcome the decision paralysis the blank page problem creates.
Areas of Concern
So how does the Role System work? It creates a list of roles, and each of these roles are randomly assigned to each player. As a GM, you should put a list of options available to each of these roles. Defining what each "means" in your game is important. What also is important to explaining to players they aren't limited to these choices, just that their focus should be the same as their role. Each role therefore needs to have a "area of concern."
In each Role, these areas of concern can be maintained through a variety of choices, but just creating the limitation in and of itself helps players become creative. A player used to playing fighters assigned the Priest role in the Four Adventurers system, will be forced to think in new terms. Perhaps they go the Paladin route, or maybe they take on Cleric as a Cleric of some war god. Either way, the player's role has got them started on thinking of a character different than they'd normally have played, and while they still honor the area of concern of their role.
In the case of the Priest, this is handling divine magic, which is big enough of a subject that the character can serve their role while subverting the expectations of it. Of course, a player may still want to just step in the stereotype of that role as well. Which is fine- so long as the player has fun with this process, that is all that matters.
Classic Foursome (D&D)
The original four roles are Mage, Priest, Thief and Warrior (you can also do this alternately, using the four classic elements instead).
The Mage is the classic wizard with all the tropes: arcane magic, area effect spells and powerful effects to bypass or find things through arcane power. Classes in Pathfinder that suit the role include Alchemist, Arcanist, Bard, Magus, Sorcerer, Summoner, Witch, and Wizard. Sometimes Bloodragers, Monks or Rogue can fulfill this role.
The Priest is the holy man or woman: divine magic, healing, and miraculous powers to provide support. Classes in Pathfinder that suit the role include the Alchemist, Bard, Cleric, Druid, Hunter, Inquisitor, Oracle and Witch. Sometimes Anti-paladin Monk, Paladin, Ranger or Rogues can fulfill this role too. The variability inherent in Clerics and their gods means that they add a great deal of further blank page to deal with- consider even dividing up Clerics in three or more other "cleric of particular flavors"- putting specific clerics and their gods under specific roles.
The Thief is the sneak, the criminal and scoundrel: backstabbing, stealth, dirty tricks or bypassing traps and locks without much effort. Classes in Pathfinder that suit the role include the Alchemist (yeah, alchemists are that versatile), Bard (Same with Bards), Gunslinger, Inquisitor, Investigator, Monk, Ninja, Rogue, and Swashbuckler. Sometimes Ranger, Fighter or Wizard can fulfill this role too.
The Warrior is the tank and main hitter: melee combat, ranged combat, taking hits and handling combat threats. Classes in Pathfinder that suit this role include any martial class, especially Barbarian, Cavalier, Fighter, Gunslinger, Hunter, Magus, Monk, Paladin, Ranger and Swashbuckler. Sometimes Bard, Rogue, Inquisitor or Druid can fulfill this role too.
You'll notice some big overlap, and that a few classes seem to blur the lines between multiple roles with no problem. This is because the Roles used here are very broad, while Classes in Pathfinder (and D&D et al) are all designed with an literary archetype in mind.
This isn't the only way to approach this, And I chose to use Pathfinder classes as examples of mechanics you can tie to it. For other permutations of handling these four roles, you could tie each role to restrictions on traits and skills- simply telling a player that one of their starting class skills must be X can get the idea across as well.
The Trinity: Kirk-Spock-McCoy
This role variant is for three characters. The Kirk-Spock-McCoy invokes the Star Trek TOS vibe, but it hits on three key functions, forming the Freudian Trio of Id, Ego and Superego. There are plenty of other threesomes you can use for theming, but Id, Ego and Superego oft isn't a bad way to think about it.
The Id (The McCoy) is the emotional one, using their feelings as their main strength- artists,
The Superego (The Spock) is the logical one, who puts thinking and planning before doing anything else- scientists, your archetypical smart character or anyone who prizes reason over impulse. Think of ice.
The Ego (The Kirk) sits between both, and keeps the three together, acting as the glue that makes them work. This character balances out the weaknesses of the rest of the trio, often acting as a leader, other times as the heart of the team. Think of Lightning.
There are more variants too. There is the five-man band or more complex further team mixes you can touch on for fodder for setting up Roles. There are other things you can do when you implement these rules too. If you want to do a four person setup, but have five players, you can use the roles above and add something a bit more snowflake as a fifth option.
You also can double up on some roles, or even use one role to define the group concept or campaign's core concept as well. Trying to define four Rogues for example, but through the use of using the Roles twice (once to define thief, a second time to further refine them), also works. The key to using the roles is that they are for generating creativity, not stifling it.
Thanks for reading! All comments are appreciated, unless they propagate bigotry. Good ideas are praised, bad ideas ignored, while great ideas are stolen. See yah around the bend!