copyright 2002 by Brandon Cope
This article is intended as a guide for players and GMs in running two or more PCs in the same adventuring party. To a lesser degree, the suggestions can be used for running different characters in separate parties in the same campaign world who rarely (if ever) meet.
Why Run Multiple Characters?
Usually, there may be so few players available on a regular basis (usually three or less) that it is necessary to keep the party at a strength to be competitive in the campaign. Some GMs cut back on the scope of their adventures, which isn't really a good solution, a few make no changes, which generally results in a high body count of player characters, while others make up for the difference with NPCs (be they hirelings, henchmen or allies), but this simply shifts the burden from the players to the gamemaster who is already busy enough.
Starting With the Basics
The first, and really only, rule of running multiple characters is: Keep Them Distinct. They don't necessarily have to be of different races or professions, but they should have different personalities and goals. Before running multiple PCs, the player should write up a brief summary of the character's likes, dislikes, beliefs and goals. Of course, these can change over the course of a character's adventuring career, but there should be a consistent foundation laid early. Games such as GURPS® and the Hero® system are well suited for this, since various personality traits are relevant to character creation. There are also several game aids out (most of them independent of any game system, such as the Central Casting® series by Task Force Games®) that aid in constructing character background and personality.
Treating the PCs as separate entities may seem easy, but it isn't always so. Knowledge often 'seeps' from one character to another, and the PCs sometimes trade or share equipment too readily. Knowledge transfer is difficult to control, and sometimes isn't done intentionally by the player ("Was it Blue Max or the Black Knight that slew the Stupendously Ancient Dragon?"). An easy way to reduce this problem is to have the player keep an adventure journal for each character. Each adventure should be covered, including who the PC met and what special knowledge was gained. Then, when the player isn't sure if a character should know a particular fact, the game master would look it up in that character's journal.
A GM may also find other uses for a character's adventure journal (such as linking an upcoming adventure to some past one, having recurring minor NPCs and villains, etc.). However, the player should not be allowed to read through the journal during play (unless the character is literate and keeps a diary, or has a photographic memory...).
Characters trading or sharing equipment too readily is another frequent problem, but is easily dealt with: the GM simply says 'No.' However, some game systems have mechanics for allowing this. For example, characters in GURPS or the Hero system can take each other as Allies, so some equipment sharing could be allowed. In level based systems, a 5-20% penalty to earned experience points (depending on the degree of trading) would be appropriate. Even so, the best of friends or closest of siblings won't share everything, so GM intervention may still be necessary. If the player insists that the PCs are the closest of siblings or friends, then such a bond should be enforced in all situations: one PC should be willing to risk his life to protect his life-long friend, for example.
Start Off Slow
The best way to integrate multiple PCs into a campaign is to run them separately for a few sessions, if possible. This gives the player a good opportunity to feel out the strengths and weaknesses of the character and to develop the PC's personality, while not having to worry about developing another other character of theirs.
Another possibility is for a player to take over an NPC that the party has had frequent contact with, perhaps even a member of the party. While this requires that the game master must create and run the character for a while, it does mean that the player has much less work to do in fleshing out the new PC. Such a changeover should be done gradually. The best situations to begin the transition are combat and role-playing events that the PC isn't well-suited for but the NPC is.
In situations where this isn't possible (ie., the game master is just as short on time as on players), each character should be treated as equally as possible by the player. Each PC should step forward in situations where his or her (or it's...) abilities are suited to deal with the predicament (which is somewhat common in large, well-run parties that can afford specialists). Of course, overconfident PCs (and players) will try to meddle in things they shouldn't...
Most of the information on running multiple characters applies to characters run by GMs as well as players, though few of a game master's characters will need to be as well developed.
Running multiple characters is difficult but possible, and can be very enjoyable for the player (while easing the burden on the GM) if handled correctly.