Storyguide player characters?

Most rpgs seem to be against the storyguide (or whatever the title) playing a character. Most games I know have a storyguide character though (that is not a normal NPC).

I am currently starting a new game and I've been wondering if you can help me make up my mind whether a storyguide character is a boon or a bane*?

*yes, typical pro and contra

To me it all comes down to shared storytguiding or not. If you're trading storyguides, absolutely, because the alpha storyguide is also a regular player. If you're not, I would not have the storyguide play a character. The problem is that if you're not, then the storyguide has absolute control over so many things. That means the storyguide's character is really a glorified NPC. Whatever the reason - storyguide getting overly involved in player decisions, storyguide protecting his own character, storyguide character being placed by other characters to make important decisions, etc. - it never seems to work better than having an NPC. Similarly, an NPC who's always along for the ride and isn't just back-up of some sort for a player seems to cause similar problems, even when the storyguide doesn't have such an ownership of that character. If you are playing with a sole storyguide, I think you need to ask yourself why the storyguide wants a character instead of just running NPC's. Maybe the storyguide wants to be a player, too, and the storyguiding should be shared - then sharing is your real solution. If not, just why does the storyguide want to be on both sides of the events at the same time?


I think it can work fine, as long as you remember to keep him as an NPC.

Some games are built on the agreement that an NPC will order the PCs around in-game. Even then, he usually won't order the players around out-of-game - the players will agree which characters will go for this adventure, say, out-of-game, and the NPC will order this in-game. Or perhaps the saga will be set up in advance with the understanding that each character would be forced to participate in an adventure for the NPC/House/whoemever - i.e., the storyguide - every X years.

In some games, an elder NPC grants the covenant respectability and resources, while staying secluded within his tower - and generally succumbing to Final Twilight when the PCs/covenant can stand on their own. Or perhaps a wise old resident redcap fills in the clueless magi on the tribunal's politics.

There is no problem for the SG to have a character in the background, providing in-game advice or lore, resources for the covenant, or so on. And he can advance this character if he wants. But what he should not do is play it as a PC. The NPC must not be a major character in the stories, and must not forward private designs. He should not order the PCs around, or even participate in decisions the players make as if he was a player character - he isn't. If these boundaries are crossed, I fear the storyguide character will quickly become annoying, overbearing, tyrannical, and gain "special treatment" from the SG - in short, it will ruin the game for everyone, the SG included.

I think, in Ars Magica more than any other game system, a storyguide character can be fine... as long as that character doesn't recieve any special treatment from either the players or (especially!) the storyguide.

For me, the reculsive Bonisagus lab rat in a covenant of more active, adventerous types is almost the protypical storyguide character. This guy can stay the covenant, distill vis for the aegis, help out with longevity rituals, etc, but otherwise only pokes his nose out of his sanctum to attend the seasonal covenant council meetings where he lobbies for resources for his latest project, casts the swing vote and tosses out the occasional story hook.

Generally, unless you're doing troupe style play, I think storyguide characters shouldn't have major story flaws. Minor story flaws are probably ok as long as they can be used as hooks to bring other characters into the story.

As an aside, I think the storyguide character should not be the grumpy senior magus who sends the other magi out on missions. That character, IMO, should be an NPC... albeit a well developed one. If anything, the storyguide character should be a little junior the other player characters, in status if not in power.

Well, if you are playing troupe style, you need someone to play when you are not running. On the other hand, it is pretty pointless to have your character be the focus of an adventure that you run. So, it all depends on how often you will be storyguide. If you are running the game 80% of the time, just play the grogs when someone else runs. If you are running 15% of the time, make a magus already. If you are running 50% of the time, you might want to make your characters highly specialized in some way, or take flaws that explain why they can't be brought into the action. For instance, if you are going to be responsible for running stories relating to dealing with mundanes, having your magus take Blatant Gift and Susceptible to the Divine would help explain why your magus is not involved in your stories. Similarly, if you take the Cyclical Magic Flaw and Virtue linked to seasons, you have a perfect reason for your magus to stay home so long as you run your stories during the seasons while your magus is weak.

I would suggest designing and playing a character no matter what role you play in the troupe. You may intend to be the sole storyguide in the troupe, but I'll bet that others will have stories they want to tell, and when that happens you get to play your character. In fact, if the other players understand that you have a character with its own goals they are actually more likely to write and run stories so that you have a chance to play.

And when you're not playing, your player character slots back into the role of NPC and you're able to send him "to Thebes" (our current euphemism for "not being played this week") or use him to help progress the story.

But remember that the storyguide's player character should not be the voice of the storyguide; it shouldn't work under the same assumptions or use the same knowledge. It is a character just the same as any other. Use it instead to round out the covenant, provide a little background context, fill in some of the gaps of daily covenant life. Importantly though, try to find opportunities to actually play your character. I think your troupe will be more obliging than you might think.

Our alpha SG started without a character, but then found his players could have fun with meetings and forming the rules of the new covenant, planning, voting, philosophizing, plotting against one another and such, which really does not take much longer then the real world alternative. (There were some three sessions before we upgraded from a simple hut to something we could actually survive the winter in).

He then decided to introduce a character to partake in the discussions when we were playing amongst ourselves.

I am running the most recent plot, and left my character at home, but somewhere in the story the characters took a left turn, leaving poor Henricus stranded far from the rest characters going to one of the alpha SG's stories. His character is still with them, but will be more silent. I made me a companion which will guide part of this story, but will be on the backburner again when the party comes close to my story again.

It all depends on the character and the player, I did not want Henricus around, a very vocal character, but Catalina will be possible.

I certainly see the tricky situation. Being one of - or the one - major SGs I always have a Magus character all the same. If nothing else then to use in the chcracter rope-play of meetings and such. Otherwise, I use the Magus to kick off some stories, give informaiton and hints and whatnot. Only potential problems are when the rest of the magi try to send my Magus out to do the stuff (like speaking with the mundanes) when I'm running the story. That is obviously because I'm running the wrong story for them then...Well, almost. They have another magus who can and will speak with mundanes, but thet player sadly misses a lot of sessions. I'm also trying to make a point for my players about designing a secondary character, the fables "Companion". But some of them tend tot hink this needs to a a character interacting directly and solely with one other magus, like being the Companion of the magus. I've told them once if I've told them a thousand times: You need a character youcan play if your magus can't or won't participate in a story. In fact, I tell both my groups this!

OTOH being SG so much means I can't really find the time to play the secondary character as well, so I oftenjust play a grog if my magus doesn't participate. But recently I've designed a new cimpanion and re-designed an old one to better fir the amount of time I give them.

But naturally I can separate the knowledge and power I wield as SG with what myMagus characters knows. It's a matter if changing hats. In an old saga, we did in fact use real hats! Mainly because I playes a Maga and my first Companion became more of a NPC Autocrat so I created a new one as grog captain. But the Autocrat was still used in character role-play, but not on adventures any longer. To avoid confusion I changed hats a lot.

A general thing: Do whatever you character does not like.

For instance, I had a character which was weak to iron, investigating an abandoned mine, running around with armoured men, or such would have scared her off, giving a good reason to stay at home.

This also holds true for magi and companions. In the above mentioned saga, I played a smith as my companion, the magus hated the companion for smelling of iron, and the smith had no love for etheric airheads.
I now run an investigative and diplomatic Vim magus, and have designed a half feral shapechanger with a logic block and bad memory for companion.

Not only does this make the division more believable, it also is a good indication of when you are playing what to the troupe and yourself, and makes the companion more of a fresh splash of thinking. A certain train of thought might not be believable for one of the characters, but your companion might just have the inclination to think of it, so you won't have to sit on the brilliant idea that could solve your covenant's problems forever.