Back in the day, like when polyhedrals were high tech, a role undertaken by one of the players was that of a “mapper.”
If you didn’t want your fellow adventurers to get lost, you needed an accurate rendering of where you’d been. Corridors of a dungeon run deep, twist around, reach dead ends and are magically tricked. Without a good map, finding the exit became problematic.
Rarely is that sort of adventuring considered “fun.” By today’s standards, we want story. We assume the characters know where they are going, even if the players don’t. (As someone who has accompanied Boy Scouts on many hikes, I can say that even with a compass, this presumption would be misplaced in real life).
But I admit, if you are gaming with a table with a projected map or sitting behind a computer console with a digital rendering of the adventure space, having a designated “mapper” does seem superfluous.
Today’s adventure games sometimes require other jobs from players that may or may not be specific to their character but helpful to the party as a whole. Consider having a member of your table pick up one of these duties to make for better gaming:
Basically, someone to keep track of the gear. This person can track encumbrance, if you use that rule, and equipment that might be kept on mounts, in carts, or stored at the headquarters. That way, when a player announces they will pull out their 10-foot pole, the DM can ask “from where” and get a reliable answer. A player who has stats for vehicles handy is always appreciated.
Similar to the quartermaster, but the wizard’s apprentice keeps track of all things eldritch in nature. Yes, this includes magic items (including descriptions of the item’s magical effects, should some particularly nagging rules question surface). But it’s also good to know how supplies are running on magical components, from bat guano to diamonds. Especially diamonds. The apprentice also knows the rules governing spellbook and scroll construction.
Downtime tracker and calendar keeper
What is today’s date? What is the weather? How did our various businesses fare while we were off adventuring? A diarist of this sort is a big help to the GM. Time passes, seasons change, days spent in Undermountain or the Underdark start to blend together without someone keeping track. Â
What’s the party loot? How do we divide up the shares? Who gets what? In the course of adventuring, the party might see more treasure than they ever would playing Monopoly. Doesn’t it make sense that the adventuring party have a banker? The accountant and wizard’s apprentice will soon be fast friends, especially when they need to make a withdrawal to cast a heroes’ feast.
Ideally, you say, this is the GM’s job. Yes, it is. But how the PCs perceive the characters they encounter – and who they actually are – well, there can be differences. (Sometimes NPCs are disguised, use aliases or die – details that can be forgotten on the spur of a moment). Â If keeping track of experience is also part of your game, this character can help check behind the GM, should a particularly XP-heavy encounter be forgotten. Mostly, though, this is less about keeping track of adversaries than it is allies. “Didn’t we know someone in that town we’re coming back to?” Yes, you did. And the answer is in these notes.
If you have any suggestions for other adjunct jobs the PCs can do to take a load off the GM, share them in the comments.
I have a love-hate relationship with mapping in fantasy RPGs. It’s traditionally considered critical because of the wargaming RPGs grew out of in the 70s and 80s. The expectation that the group must slavishly create a detailed and accurate map is bolstered by computer based games where it happens for free. But is it really worth the players spending a lot of time and effort on it at the gaming table? I’d rather establish an upfront understanding with the group about how carefully the characters are mapping– are they rushing through or going slowly enough to draw diagrams? which character is keeping the map?– and then sketch out the map for them as they go. It keeps the players’ focus on the story rather than the tedium of record keeping.
I like the quartermaster and accountant roles. My LT group has one person who does both of those jobs. It works well because it plays to the character’s strengths as well as the player’s. In the same vein as my concerns about mapping, though, if there weren’t such a fit I’d reconsider how important such record keeping is to the game. As an adult the game is a lot less fun if the GM has to keep holding the group’s collective feet to the fire for things they do poorly or don’t want to do.
I think that last graf of yours is really insightful. And I love that you have someone willing/able to fill those roles. It’s a big lift off any GM’s shoulders when they don’t have to worry about things that rightfully belong in the player sphere anyway.
In our STARFINDER campaign, I gave out several roles to players: Keeper of names (basically tracks NPCs and their names), XP tracker (including putting XP progress throughout the game up on a big whiteboard), treasure keeper (which character ends up with which item), condition keeper (handles conditions in combat), initiative keeper, and finally rules czar–basically, if someone has a rules-related question in game, they ask the Rules Czar first for a ruling.
>Rarely is that sort of adventuring considered â€œfun.â€ By todayâ€™s standards, we want story.