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Meet Bob’s Brother, Cob

Jolly Blackburn’s excellent “Knights of the Dinner Table” comic strip has tackled this topic, but it’s never come up on TT: What do you do when a player’s character dies and instead of creating a new PC, your player erases the “B” in Bob, fills in a “C” and reuses the exact same character?

I honestly don’t think this comes up too often these days, but I could easily be wrong. And if I am, I’d recommend handling it one of three ways:

1. If you’re running a beer and pretzels [1] campaign where nothing is taken too seriously, let ‘er rip.

2. If Bob died before his player had a chance to enjoy Bob as a character, Cob should definitely be A-OK. You might encourage your player to put a bit more creativity into it, but it shouldn’t be a big issue.

3. If neither of those two cases fits your situation, disallow it — unless your player can provide a compelling reason why Cob makes the grade.

The longer I write TT, the less often I take that kind of adversarial stance on player-related issues — but this one is just so sloppy that I feel pretty strongly about it. What do you think about Cob, and does he have a place in your games?

(I’m heading to GenCon tomorrow, so between spending time with my wife and packing, I probably won’t be on much today. I’ve got posts cued up through Monday, and I’ll see you next week! — Martin)

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#1 Comment By Jeff Rients On August 14, 2007 @ 5:58 am

As a kid my group had a dude who went through a spell of bad luck. He had at least two PCs he reused in lengthy series. After Nitanic Sphincter XVI or so I told him he had to make a new freakin’ PC. The problem really hasn’t come up since then.

#2 Comment By Granger On August 14, 2007 @ 6:32 am

Some players just really like a specific character type. It’s only a problem if that interferes with other player’s fun.

My last campaign had a player who specifically made a background so that he could experiment with half-orcs. The children’s names all started “Kra” in alphabetical order (Kraa, Krab, etc.). When the first PC, Krag, died while saving several kidnapees, the brother, Krac, came in looking to eventually seek revenge.

One of my highlights in the campaign was pitting Kraf against Krac. It seems Kraf was angry at Krac for letting Krag die.

Granted, noone wanted to play the 16th child.

#3 Comment By Joe Sixpack On August 14, 2007 @ 6:54 am

How much similarity is too much?
In a game I’ve played, a specific character type dies (rouge, wizard, decker, etc.). In re-chargen everyone realizes another PC of that type would be ideal to maintain party completeness.

So in games you run, do you mind similarly able characters with different backstories?

#4 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On August 14, 2007 @ 7:46 am

IMO, There’s an issue with playing a character archetype and being disatisfied with the results that you obtained and thus wanting to play them again. That’s acceptable. However, most players are comfortable with at least two archetypes. The least you can do is alternate.

#5 Comment By Walt C On August 14, 2007 @ 8:44 am

Building on what Joe Sixpack said…

Subbing a similar character is used all the time in TV shows, especially when an actor leaves. There is a hole that needs to be filled, and it is often filled with a similar character.

In games like D&D, you need the four food groups, especially at lower levels (rampant multiclassing can mitigate this). If the party fighter, and only the fighter, needs replacing, it makes sense to bring in another fighter or alternate (barbarian, paladin, ranger). Unfortunately, this can lead to player typecasting.

I think exploring a new dynamic with a similar character type can be just as interesting as a totally different character. Bob the Fighter was very mercenary and could be counted on to do anything as long as there was profit in it. How will the party relate to Bob the Paladin? A new cleric of a different god/pantheon would act radically different than the last cleric, even with a similar spell list and equipment.

That said, no new character should be a clone. At the very least, I’d make the “name replacement” player answer the question “how is Grond different from Frond?”

#6 Comment By michael On August 14, 2007 @ 9:44 am

I’ve always had an ‘anti-clone’ rule that states that each successful character of a player can only be built on less points (small increments of 1, 5 or 10 depending on your game system).

The ceiling on this successive point reduction is whatever consistutes ‘normal human’ in the game.

This encourages players to put their best efforts into their first character surviving and prevents future clones.

#7 Comment By Frost On August 14, 2007 @ 9:47 am

Depends on the game. In my ongoing campaign, everyone expects at least a little bit of creativity to go into character creation. There would be a collective groan at the table if someone simply did a name change and came back as a brother.

However, if it’s a one shot on a weekend or at a convention, and a PCs dies before getting to the final encounter, I have no problems letting the PC come back with a different name.

#8 Comment By Abulia On August 14, 2007 @ 10:32 am

Good friend did this in a D&D game. Worse he named them Frodo, Sam, etc…

We didn’t much care. This was back when you played games to have fun and groups didn’t do social contracts. 😉

#9 Comment By Frank Filz On August 14, 2007 @ 11:08 am

In a point build system, I don’t inherently have a problem with clone PCs. Really, I’ve never seen it, though obviolusly folks have seen such a problem.

With a random character generation system, I really don’t have an issue. And I don’t see random chargen being applicable to a system where backgrounds really matter much. The endless stream of Bob, Bob 2, Bob 3, etc. in the early days of D&D really wasn’t an issue.

Michael: I would definitely find your rule of reduced points for building subsequent PCs very frustrating. I have been that player who through bad luck has gone through a few PCs. At some point, it would become untenable.

I admit I am really stumped as to how to deal with players who get tired of PCs (either discarding them, or suiciding them). Probably the way to handle it is if the player really doesn’t want to play a long term PC in a long term game, to suggest the player find a different gaming group.


#10 Comment By Jennifer Snow On August 14, 2007 @ 12:31 pm

@Frank: We had a player that would make up a character, get bored with him, and kill him off. He wasn’t hugely blatant about it, he just wanted his characters to actually die sometimes.

It can help if the GM and the other players think of it like a book in which some of the protagonists die for “realism” . . . this guy is just playing all the Kenny’s for you. Feel free to scream “OMG, you killed Kenny! You bastard!” and then get your players to help you figure out how to get his new character into the group.

I’ve never experienced the serial-character problem, because in my old group if your character got killed you tried to build a new one that wouldn’t die in the same way. If your group is having trouble filling niches, it’s time to introduce some NPC’s or potion shops or something.

#11 Comment By Heather On August 14, 2007 @ 12:52 pm

I think it tends to be entirely dependent on the player and the characters he creates. Some folks just know what they like to play, and I don’t have a problem with that. Sometimes as someone else said, a character gets killed before the player has a chance to play with those aspects of the character he was looking forward to; in that case it might be good to just help the player find little ways to differentiate this character from the last. Some folks also just aren’t as creative as others, and trying to force the issue isn’t necessarily a good thing, particularly if what they’re doing isn’t ruining anyone else’s good time. The only time I could really see it being a problem is if for whatever reason it was getting on the other players’ nerves; at that point it’s probably time to have a chat with the player about doing something different.

#12 Comment By Rick the Wonder Algae On August 14, 2007 @ 1:19 pm

The major issue I have with it is when versatility is necesary/desirable from a tactical point of view, once person always hogging one party function every game every campaign, every iteration means no one else gets a crack at that spot. Of course that opens up it’s own can of “is versatility necesary or can a lack of it be worked around” worms but of course that’s all dependant on your players, your DM, your system, etc…

#13 Comment By Andraon On August 14, 2007 @ 1:58 pm

I would have to say it would depend on how things went. A lot of systems I play allow for a character to rise from the dead. If a player of mine had a character die before they got to really enjoy it I would likely bring that character back to life with a catch to add a new plot hook for the character. Of course, if they keep dieing then I’d eventually make them roll something else.

#14 Comment By Telas On August 14, 2007 @ 2:40 pm

I’d razz the person who did this mercilessly.

The only possible exception would be someone whose character died a stupid death, such as that g*ddamned bridge in The Forgotten Forge.

Then I’d let Cob by without more than a minor grumble.

I don’t think “Telas always plays a meatshield” is quite the same subject, but it might be worth some conjecture on its own.

Telas the Merciless

#15 Comment By John Arcadian On August 14, 2007 @ 6:29 pm

I’ve had people play similar archetypes. One guy always plays a sneaky roguish type, but he always does it a little different. In one he was straight up DND style thief, in the next game he was a goblin swashbuckler, in the current game he is a military scout. Same type of character, but they aren’t clones. Often they share some of the same skills and abilities, but he always plays them differently in personality. If he didn’t I would be bringing the hammer down, gently.

Abulia said “We didn’t much care. This was back when you played games to have fun and groups didn’t do social contracts. ;)”

I fully agree in some ways. If the tone of the game is a completely snarky one and the reason you are playing isn’t to do some realism or epic based story, then yeah having larry, my brother larry, and my other brother larry is just a funny touch. If that isn’t the game you are playing, then it doesn’t seem like the player is even trying.

#16 Comment By Asmor On August 14, 2007 @ 7:36 pm

I’ve only done that once… DM disallowed the level 17 psion I had prepared for the game and had to make something quick, so I made a monk focusing on luck feats from Complete Scoundrel.

The “lucky” monk took a draw from a Deck of Many Things in that first game and was destroyed by a wraith, which I could barely touch.

So then I whipped out his brother, and joked about how Teid (the old one) was really the unlucky brother who only believed himself lucky… Kind of like the guy they purposely trained wrong, as a joke, in Kung Pow (“How you like my face-to-your-fist style?”).

#17 Comment By Ragoftag On August 15, 2007 @ 7:30 am

A replacement in a role or slot is one thing, but I try to make sure the ‘character’ changes, at the least. My problem has always been players who always play the same way, regardless of Class, Race, Alignment, etc. The current offender has run a dwarf rogue, a human wizard (all abjuration spells) and a gnome bard in the ‘I’ll hide in the back of the party and make useless contributions’. He just started an elf ranger in my game with, you guessed it, the archer path. I wouldn’t care, but the other players are getting peeved about his NPC-pc role in the party.

#18 Comment By Frank Filz On August 15, 2007 @ 9:43 am

Ragoftag said: My problem has always been players who always play the same way, regardless of Class, Race, Alignment, etc. The current offender has run a dwarf rogue, a human wizard (all abjuration spells) and a gnome bard in the I’ll hide in the back of the party and make useless contributions’

This is a different issue, and definitely needs to be addressed with a good heartfelt talk with the player about what they want out of the game. It may be that they somehow misunderstand the game, or it may be that they have been a victim of abusive GMing in the past, or they may just want to be a spectator, yet feel they are a part of things, or they may really have no interest in the game, and are participating for other reasons.

Rick said: The major issue I have with it is when versatility is necesary/desirable from a tactical point of view, once person always hogging one party function every game every campaign, every iteration means no one else gets a crack at that spot.

Yea, that can be an issue. I have felt that might have been a problem in some of my campaigns. I don’t think it’s quite the same as the Bob, Cob, Dob, Eob… problem. In the case of the endless line of clones, the replacement PC is usually stepping in to replace a character who met an untimely death. The other players don’t really have the opportunity to step into the now vacant role without abandoning their PC (now I have seen situations where several players abandoned PCs all at once, causing some disruption to the campaign because of the lack of continuity).

In the end, I think the clone characters problem is best dealt with by peer pressure, and perhaps some understanding when a PC was created to explore something and met an untimely death before that exploration occurred.

Also, if the campaign is so deadly that someone makes it to Dob, then perhaps things should be re-examined. If the game is old school D&D with lots of death, perhaps it’s unreasonable to expect too much characterization until a PC has survived a few levels. If the campaign is not supposed to have a high death rate, explore why that’s happening. If the high death rate is because of trying to run a heroic campaign with a “realistic” system, consider changing the system, or at least introducing hero points or something.

Also, think about how the system works. If replacement PCs don’t come in with the exact advancement (or development) resources (XP, and, if it’s relevant to the game, treasure), the replacement PC might look the same as the old PC when it was first written up, but should change through advancement (unless advancement is totally player driven). Some of the new indie style “narativist” game designs would prevent the perfect clone. A replacement Dogs in the Vinyard PC could have the same traits (in fact, DitV specifies that a replacement PC is built using all of the dice in attributes, traits, etc. that the deceased or retired PC had), but would not develop the same way because DitV development is tied to the events of play. On top of that, DitV gives the player a fair bit of control over when their PC’s die or retire so it’s likely the player is ready for a different character anyway.


#19 Comment By Jervis_Pax On August 16, 2007 @ 10:14 am

Once a PC is out of the game (can’t be resurrected or returned to life in some way), they are out for good. Play that character at a Con or in some other generous GM’s game, but not with me. I invest a lot of time up front with a player to develop back story that will mesh with the world. Once the player is gone (it hasn’t happened very often in my experience) it’s best to start over.

I can’t comment on allowing the same archetype, because I’ve never had a player who died decide they wanted to roll up the same race/class etc. Usually, by the time they’ve played for a while in the world I run, they’ve seen so many things they would have liked to experience differently, so they roll something completely different.

As a player I could never run the same type of character in the same game if I died. I have to be someone completely different or else it just doens’t feel right…

#20 Comment By Martin On August 21, 2007 @ 7:44 am

I do think replacing a PC with a similar PC is a slightly different issue. For example: I like to play rogues in D&D. If my rogue croaks and the party needs a rogue, there’s a decent chance I’ll create another rogue — but it will be a different character, and even if they have similar skills and so forth their backgrounds will be dissimilar.

My personal yardstick is that if it feels like the movie The Gamers — where the mage’s player rolls up another mage, and the other party members forget his “new” character’s name and keep using the old one — something’s wrong. 😉

#21 Pingback By Incorporating a New PC: The Magellan – Treasure Tables On September 26, 2007 @ 8:13 am

[…] In this scene from The Gamers, one player’s mage PC dies and is replaced with a virtually identical character (Magellan, hence “The Magellan”) — who is immediately accepted into the party because, you know, he’s a PC. […]