When Everyone Wants To Be The Star

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One of the biggest issues any licensed traditional roleplaying game has at the table is how to deal with the license characters. While some people will always want to play their original characters, there can be a clamor on who gets to play certain, franchise characters. For example, Doctor Who: Adventures In Time And Space suggests some soft approaches to who can play The Doctor (give it to the best player for the role, switch every adventure, switch on regeneration. etc.), but one could use the rules from Everyone Is John to mechanically model this dynamic.

The crux of this idea comes down to having that character (called The Star from here on forward) be a shared character amongst the group. Everyone would still make and have their own characters, but they’d all have access to The Star.

Throughout the session, people can earn Star Points. The exact nature of earning Star Points can vary, but good roleplay moments, playing to your character’s motivations, acting like The Star, or accepting consequences that stem from your character’s nature are all good options.

Star Points can be spent to be The Star for one action on a one-to-one basis. If two or more players want to be The Star at the same time, they can secretly bid for it. The players write a bid down in private then give them both to the GM at the same: higher bid wins, roll off on a tie. Only the winner loses their Star point.

While no one is controlling The Star, the spotlight1 is fluid and can go to any member, like during normal gameplay. The Star can’t act in a manner that affects the game when no player is in control. When The Star is in play, the spotlight moves to them. When someone is The Star, their character fades into the background.

This mechanic will make sure everyone who wants to gets a chance to be that one character, it allows you to include licensed characters in your campaign directly without losing player agency, and it can help answer the question of why X character doesn’t just solve the problem.

There are some clear limitations with this idea, as well.

If Star Points are too easy to earn, everyone will be sitting around as The Star changes from player to player. If Star Points are too hard to earn, then it can get too competitive to be The Star.

If The Star is too weak, then being The Star is kind of a pointless endeavor. If The Star is too stronger, then it can lead to it being the most logical and assured solution: boring and predictable.

This works best in games where exact placement and time are fluid. Tactical games can get really messy with this mechanic.

Keeping track of the Star’s actions can be weird. Players and GMs might find it weird why The Star just jumps in to do one thing then vanishes. One could handle it by having The Star in the background the entire time and only have them matter when a player is The Star. If handled incorrectly, it can lead to GM railroading.

Some people may feel this compounds the feeling that they are only side-characters: a problem that many feel when playing a licensed title.

For those looking to make a licensed game (official or fan) for a series with beloved protagonist, this might be a good idea to explore, as long as the limitations are understood. For GMs, I’d be weary: this isn’t a rule that is easy to just work into a lot of systems and really only works for a game based on a franchise.


1 A term that refers to the focus and attention of the group and game.

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