Today we are going to talk about playing a Supporting character, and by that I mean a character that is tied to one or more PCs. This is the best friend, the bard that is in love, the champion of faith that is desperate to save a soul, the lunar exalted that is bound to the solar champion, and the librarian that is desperate to feel needed by the hero that saved his life.
Every group needs a supporting character, a glue to hold them together. We previously talked about the role of the Glue of a campaign in a previous post. Dungeon delvers need a healer. A starship crew needs a commander. Raid parties need stat buffs. A group knows it will survive longer and can tackle tougher challenges if at least one person in the group is dedicated to supporting them.
The Story of the Glue
Holding your group together makes PC interaction very important. Such supportive characters are usually moral compasses for their group, pushing them to do what is right (or smart) for their collective goals. They bring out the best in their fellow characters, or at least the best that can be brought out.
If it is not already obvious, you should know that this means your role in the group is focused inward. Depending on the game and setting, this could make you a cleric or engineer or even a daimyo. While other characters might work together out of necessity or circumstance, your supportive character thrives by helping their fellow party members.
Roleplaying wise, this role of supporting character often focuses more on one individual than the entire group. Your character becomes a best friend, a loyal sidekick, a dedicated crew member to the commander, or even a romantic interest. If this is the direction you want your character to take, be sure to talk about the ins and outs of the character you have a relationship with and come up with something that you are both happy with.
Sharing the Spotlight
If you want to play a supporting character, you do not have to make them a support cast member in the sense that they are not as important as other player characters. As a matter of fact, supporting characters tend to spend more time in the spotlight than other characters, sometimes to the point where it does not feel so much like a spotlight any more.
Always keep in mind what your character is good at. Like any other character, your supporting PC will have most of their spotlight moments in this area. Healers will save lives from the brink of death, or possibly beyond. Mechanics will keep the vehicle moving when it is being torn apart by weapons fire. Lovers will throw themselves into the powerful attack meant for someone else.
Also, be willing to use your skills on people outside of the party. Sure you may have learned how to be a doctor so you could keep your sister alive, but you may also be the only one able to save a plague-riddled village before everyone dies. Craft a magic sword for that young guard that wants to prove himself to his parents. Support everyone you can that has a cause you believe in, because you are amazing at that.
Investing Your Hopes and Dreams
A good supporting character has a personally important reason as to why they are with the rest of the group. Did they make a promise to protect someone? Do they have an unrequited crush that they refuse to let go of? Are their souls bound to an individual? Is it the ship that they are closest to? Or are they a leader that believes their group is their family?
The tricky thing about a supporting character is that their ultimate goals need to be invested in someone else. If you are making a supporting character, do not copy another player’s goal word for word. Instead try to modify it so that is sounds more like it is coming from you. If a lost prince wants to unite his kingdom again, make it your goal to see him on the throne instead. Having your own perspective makes it your goal, which allows for all the conflict and cooperation that character goals deserve.
Sometimes seeing your dreams for another character, or party, means doing things that the party may not approve of. Play your character as their own person, not just a mindless yes man that serves someone else. Supporting characters have a reason to support the people they do, and that reason (not the people themselves) is really what drives the character.
That being said, rejoice your heart out when your group is successful. Their success is double your own. And put your differences aside when your goals drive you to do so. A cleric that will not heal a fellow party member for insulting her is hardly a devoted cleric of a goddess of forgiveness.
Some people argue about who the real hero was in the Lord of the Rings: Frodo or Sam. Frodo was the one to bear the ring to mount doom, but it was because of Sam’s support (literally carrying him at one point) that he was able to succeed. In fact, Frodo seems to give in to the darkness more than fight it. But Sam only bore the burden for a little while, and without Frodo he would arguably have spent his life gardening and never asking the woman he loved to marry him.
To me, they are both amazing heroes of one of my favorite stories of all time, as are the other hobbits. The great thing about this story, and the reason it has inspired so many fantasy RPG game, is because there really is no one hero. There are many. Some are brave, some are timid, some are powerful, and some are clever. But there are many heroes, traveling together (until you split the party) to create an amazing, timeless story.
So if you are going to play the character that mostly supports or the character that gets supported, have fun and tell an amazing story together!