Back in the earliest incarnations of Dungeons & Dragons there was a player defined as the “Caller.” In addition to playing her own character, the Caller had the job of collecting all of the other players’ decisions in a round and communicating them to the GM. While this made sense in large games with 20+ players, it seems a little ridiculous when there’s only five people around the table. For my groups “Caller” was merely the D&D term for the party leader in-character.
Still, I sometimes wonder if there isn’t a role for a Caller as filter in some modern RPGs? Here are some positive points to consider:
Party Unity: Having a Caller in the party promotes the group over the individual. It fosters a team approach to scenes/encounters, as everyone deliberates their actions as a group before announcing them to the GM.
Veto Pause: Sometimes a player proposes an action that is detrimental to the party as a whole. With a Caller, that action can be challenged before the GM acts on it. The Caller or GM can then ask the player to rationalize why she wants to take that action. If it was just to be funny or throw a spanner in the works, the player will usually back down – it’s not as funny anymore. If, on the other hand, the player had a very good reason for the action, she now has a chance to explain it.
Rules Filter: GMs have a lot to keep track of and remembering to apply every applicable rule can be hard while managing the game. When players have to deliberate their actions, they’ll often bring up the pros and cons of any decisions on their own, making it more likely that other players will point out the relevant rules and how they’ll affect the action.
Attention Filter: Ever have a player announce a bizarre decision or make a rash action because she wasn’t paying attention to everything else going on at the table? With a Caller, these actions can be challenged before they’re communicated to a harried GM.
Everyone Counts: Ever get skipped over because you got up to get another bag of Cheetos at the wrong time? The Caller will make sure that you don’t miss your turn.
Equal Opportunity: In combat, everyone has an equal shot – you wait your turn, perform your action, and wait until your next turn. In non-combat scenes, things aren’t so clear cut and more aggressive players can chew on scenery while the less aggressive ones struggle to get a word in. A Caller helps ensure that everyone is taking turns while monitoring what the characters are up to.
GM Support: When communicating things to players, the GM need only inform the Caller. This cuts down on the GM needing to repeat information; it is presumed that pertinent information is only communicated when the Caller is at the table. She can then be responsible for informing the player that missed the session or was in the bathroom during the encounter with the Evil Queen.
Obviously, there are drawbacks as well. I wouldn’t suggest the “classical model” of a GM only communicating with the Caller; imagine how difficult it would be to roleplay a social encounter with the Caller parroting both sides of the conversation? Also, some players resent a party leader of any stripe and channel their inner anarchists in such situations. Finally, a lot of the above points are minimized in small groups.
So what say you? Should the Caller stand beside the dodo and the giant ground sloth? Is there a place for a Caller in modern games? If so, what modifications would be necessary to make her gel with the group?