Monday, November 19, 2012

One in The Pipe and Fifteen in The Clip: The use of understudies in DCC

Disclaimer: I know I'm not the first person to look at the relationship between PCs and henchmen/hirelings, and I'm sure that I'm not the only person to do this for DCC. However, I cannot for the life of me remember where I read about it before, so please let me know if you've seen it done, and where you saw it, so's I can post links to others' thoughts as well.

As I've played in and run several sessions of DCC, something keeps coming up in the real-life/virtual tabletop discussion: What happens if you level up a character and that then that guy dies? Do you:

A. Roll up more zero-level mooks and hope for the best.
B. Generate a character at exactly the same level as before, to replace the one you just lost.
C. Have understudies for each of your characters, what someone (see Disclaimer above) referred to as a "stable" of characters.
D. Do something completely different than A, B, or C, because those are pretty fucking stupid, Edgar, and you need to do better, like this (provides example).

Well, I know that "D" is most likely to be the most popular answer, you snarky bastards, and I'll leave further responses in that vein to you.

In the meantime, I'll provide what I think is MY best answer: It's "C" (yeah, isn't it always?).

Now, I can see "B" or "A" working for your random FLAILSNAILS drop-in players. Well and good. However, for players who stick around my campaign, I can't help but think that having more than one character to play would be a good thing. This game is deadly. People die often. They need to be replaced. Why not take that as granted, and build in a mechanism whereby it could happen as a matter of course?

For example, once a DCC zero-level mook achieves first level, one of the things he/she can do it hire an understudy (or two or three--whatever). This understudy gets paid a share of the take, has upkeep costs, and can be called upon to do things appropriate to his/her roll. This person would gain experience points just like the PC, and would earn them for their "apprenticeship" under the PC.

Caveat: It would be important that the zero-level character have some real reason for his/her apprenticeship. So, a warrior probably would have an understudy who actually could become a decent fighter. A wizard would have to have someone of at least modestly robust intelligence, and so forth. This, of course, it much easier if you are a dwarf, elf, or halfling. However, I would suggest that the understudy have a score of no less than 9 in the requisite characteristic. Franz the Fighter should not have an understudy who cannot lift a sword. Alaric the Cleric shouldn't have a weak-willed apprentice with no personality. Zoranth the Wizard shouldn't have an apprentice as dumb as the proverbial post. Billy Blacktooth the Thief needs an apprentice who won't get caught for being fumble-fingered.

If a character choose not to take on an understudy, that's fine. But if he/she dies, then there's no one to step into the now-empty shoes. Back to zero. Roll up your mooks. If the same character has one or more understudies, then presumably they can step up and continue the adventure (and take their master or mistress's stuff and loot, as well).

The beauty of it is that it even works at higher levels. If you have a PC who is 3rd level, for example, and has kept an understudy alive through his/her adventures, then presumably the understudy would be, at worst, at 1st or 2nd level. That's a bit of a hit to take, but would still provide a viable character for the current (presumably 3rd level) adventure.

Some other thoughts.

You have to pay the person, and keep them in room and board. There is a cost to this.  I'm guessing one silver piece a week is a good wage. If the understudy levels, then you multiply it by 10, perhaps.

Morale is important. If the PC keeps using the understudy as a meat-shield, then the understudy may rethink his or her career options. Maybe after taking a sword in the face, that whole turnip farmer thing starts looking a lot better. I won't speak for the gong-farmer, however. The GM would have to think about this a bit. Yes, the understudy is a PC, technically, but he/she is also "The Help." You treat The Help like crap, then your soup gets spit in, your belongings disappear, you have problems with attendance, and so forth.

It might be a good idea to establish a home for one's PC. Not  a stronghold, mind you, but a place to keep the trophies and the laboratory and the extra tools and loot, when one is not out adventuring. The player's "stable" of characters, one presumes, could safely remain behind at the house when not needed. One could also, perhaps, maintain a household of understudies of various sorts, to be trotted out as needed, to gain experience, and to do whatever it is that they do with the PC of record.

What thoughts might you add to this?