Playing Two Characters

by Ameron (Derek Myers) on June 8, 2009

I like playing two characters. As long as I get to create them both, then I’ll play two characters any time the DM allows it. But playing two characters when one is yours and one belongs to someone else is a lot more difficult and generally not as much fun.

I’ve played in games where the DM gave players the option of playing one or two characters. Most of my friends choose to stick with one character, but not me; if I can play two characters, I will. Here are some of the pros and cons I’ve found over the years of playing two characters in the same campaign.

Pros

  1. Role-playing experience

  2. Playing two characters lets you try out more classes, races, powers and feats. New sourcebooks are coming out every month and the number of options is expanding exponentially (or at least it seems that way). It’s impossible to play every build in a real game setting, but playing two at once lets you sample the new stuff more quickly.

  3. More action

  4. If I’m playing two characters I get to do more. Every round I get to act twice. More swipes with my sword, more spells, more fun.

  5. Coordinated play

  6. The best part of playing two characters is that you control their actions and can work them as a unit. They can move to flank together and they can use their abilities to the maximum benefit. I recently played a Rogue and a Warlord – what a combination!

  7. Backup

  8. If one character falls below 0 hp or is knocked unconscious, you still have an active character in the campaign. This is also true if one of the characters is killed. There’s no immediate need to find a wandering adventurer in search of an adventuring party in the next room of the dungeon or at the local tavern.

Cons

  1. Too much responsibility

  2. Playing two characters has definitely become more difficult in 4e. Characters in 4e have a slew of At-will, Encounter, Daily and Utility powers to choose from. And don’t forget that many magic items have their own Daily powers too. That’s a lot of choice. Now double it.

  3. Slowing down the game.

  4. The mechanics of 4e are all about keeping the action moving. If you can’t keep up when you’re only playing one character, then forget about playing two. If your attempt to play two characters brings your game to a screeching halt then any benefits from playing two characters is lost.

  5. Clones

  6. If you’re playing two characters then they have to be unique. They should act and talk differently. They need separate and individual motivations. I’ve found giving them very different personalities helps a lot. But you don’t want to have them arguing all the time, because in the end it’s just you talking to yourself while the other players try to suppress the desire to punch you.

  7. Favouritism

  8. The down-fall of most two character adventures I’ve played in comes down to favouritism. You end up liking one character a lot more than the other. And suddenly you’re not playing two equal members in the party, but a master and servant. If it comes to this, then one of the two characters has to retire. The most obvious sign that this is happening is when one character lends or gives the other money or magic.

Conclusion

Playing two characters is certainly not for everyone. Most DMs I’ve played with won’t allow it, except when someone is absent. It can be a rewarding experience for a player to successfully juggle two distinct characters in the same adventure. But, it’s a lot more difficult then you might think, so don’t rush into it.

Have you played two characters in a long-term campaign? How did it work out? What sort of challenges did you run in to? Do you think it’s easier or harder to play two characters in 4e simultaneously?

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 The Last Rogue June 8, 2009 at 8:04 pm

A good article . . . especially pertinent to my gaming group, since I let a player of your choice run your PC when you are unable to attend a game.

The Last Rogue’s last blog post..Sort of Like Heroes #4 – A Tough Question

2 Rook June 8, 2009 at 9:45 pm

Well, I haven’t yet had the pleasure of running two characters in 4E. But I have done so in earlier editions and have experienced both the pros and cons you mention. I think it has a lot to do with the type of game play. Playing two characters is fine in hack-n-slash, bug hunt, dungeon crawls. However, in story-based, heavy role-play type of campaigns, I think each player benefits more if he/she concentrates on only one character at a time. Otherwise, it is too easy to confuse individual personalities and motivations.

Of course, there are always exceptions to the rule. Some experienced players can pull off the split personalities needed to run two characters at once. But if you’re rather new to the concept of role-playing games, I say stick with one character for now.

Rook’s last blog post..My Foray into 4E: Taking the “Role” out of roleplaying

3 Ameron June 9, 2009 at 11:56 pm

@The Last Rogue
Our rule is that if you can’t play and we’re running your character as an NPC, he can’t die. This removes the burden of consequence from the guy doing double duty, especially if he’s not familiar with the second class.

@Rook
I agree. If it’s a combat heavy game then playing two characters can be a lot of fun. If it’s a skill/role-playing heavy campaign then Id discourage most people from playing two characters.

4 Ben January 22, 2011 at 11:42 am

You list “role-playing experience” as your first reason, but you then just talk about feats and powers and options for playing the D&D board game.
You’re ignoring the more interesting proposition of playing as two different people, balancing two personalities, sets of goals and fears. It’s a great challenge for a true role-player. You seem to be confusing role-playing for game playing though.

5 Simon T Vesper October 11, 2011 at 4:21 pm

When I started with 4th edition, I was in-between gaming groups. The lack of available players meant finding ways to enjoy the game and become familiar, while only having two or three persons at the table. So I ran the first game and my friend played four pre-gen characters.

It was awesome. The first couple sessions we focused on the combat, since that was the biggest change. He got a great feel for group dynamics and teamwork. Then we introduced another player, and they split the share of characters. Then we added a third player, and he brought in two more characters. The first player was able to coach the other two, and in the end I had a few players who were as familiar with the game as I was.

For roleplaying, though, we always stayed with one character per player. We just decided that each other character had “other things” to do while the party was in town, or that only one or two characters would negotiate with the kobolds. Speaking from real-world experience, you don’t want more than one speaker when talking to a hostile opponent, so this let us get through the roleplaying and back to the grind of a new edition.

6 Erik Evjen December 1, 2011 at 2:21 am

I do have to agree with you on some points, Simon, as my group suffered the same fate as yours did – it’s only been me and my two buddies the good majority of the time. As such, being the DM it was kind of hard to have only two party members, so we decided I should make a character too. But, even then it was just a warlord, warlock, and fighter, and it was a bit unbalanced. That’s when we threw in our first two extra PCs, a ranger and cleric, both of which I ended up running (so…DM, fighter, ranger, cleric.)

That worked all fine and good for our old adventure of the weeks, but when we started looking to building a campaign the thought was “You know, wouldn’t there be more then just these five that have some claim at the stakes in hand?”, and after drawing experience from several tactical RPGs we ended up building a few more characters to inhabit the world that could join in on the party at any time, though we tend to keep the cap at six (The three main PCs, and three companions).

More often than not, that leads to those other PCs following the party being described and narrated by me in my DM duties, but three of us overall enjoy the available pool as there is a higher emphasis on the roleplaying and storytelling aspects then there is on just straight combat. Sessions are more so spent giving the characters a specific flavor and an understanding of why they are there and aiding the party; so when the combat does come in there is something higher at stake then any sort of loot I could drop for them as a DM – us as players have grown rather endeared to the characters we’ve created and have played over the years, and not to just our specific PCs but the whole group in general; so when one of those characters finds themselves in trouble the whole party is up in arms to save them.

That’s what really makes it awesome for me in the DM role. The players see the party around their characters less as a bunch of numbers and stats walking around, and more so as their character’s drinking buddies and trusted friends; and with the outside understanding that the campaign world is an unforgiving place there is a underlying feeling that their character’s friends could die at any time; and as such they play encounters more so in a way to make sure that everyone makes it back out alive, rather than a less realistic “oh, forget you, companion that’s traveled with us for two years who’s being eaten by a dragon, there’s a +3 frost axe I want to get to first!”

Maybe that’s just the storyteller in me speaking, but I’m totally cool with the concept of running multiple characters; definately so in a case like ours. I definately recommend roleplaying as all the characters you run though; if even just for one or two quips from one while one gets highlighted a bit more. When you build up the relations between those characters and the party as a whole, that’s when the game comes alive.

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