View Full Version : Specialized Roles

2010-09-21, 11:29 PM
This really isn't a rules question but more of a GM challenge. Some character classes/concepts are very specialized around performing one task really well. To the point that no one else can remotely participate in what they are built to do, and you can't even really challenge them: in their area of expertise, they are meant to win.

Sure you can deny them the chance, but what have you accomplished by doing so? I remember the time my friend was running a 3.5 game with new players and several spellcasters. He asked me to play, in order to help keep the party alive.

I chose to make a Spiked Chain Trip-Fighter, hired myself out to the casters as a bodyguard, and basically hung back. If anything came close, it entered The Hell of Being Prone.

We quickly came to a strange problem. If he (as the DM) used enemies that were difficult for me to lock down in this way, such as Centaurs or ranged attackers, there was no reason they couldn't just slaughter the highly-unoptimized casters (we had a Sorcereress, a Bard, and a Cleric/Sorceress, as I recall.

If he used normal melee opponents, his party lived, but the battles were usually cakewalks. Our two Barbarians would rush in, deal lots of damage, and then fall down. The enemies would then move into my domain, and be more or less useless until the casters managed to spell them down.

Or my feeble 2d4+ chip damage finished the bad guys.

We couldn't figure out a satisfactory solution, and eventually the game fell apart. I wasn't doing anything wrong, but there didn't seem to be any way to challenge my character outside of taking me far beyond my comfort zone.


I'd run into this sort of thing before; back when I played Shadowrun, it seemed like there were two games. The main game where everyone cooperated on missions, and the hacking mini-game, where the GM ran your Decker through a solo dungeon and everyone else just sat around.

The Decker being, naturally, optimized to be a cyberspace God, and pretty useless away from a 'net connection.

The reason I bring this up is that a friend of mine is about to start a new Spycraft d20 game. He's working out different things the characters can do, of course, but his previous game had fallen apart since the party wasn't very good at working together, something that's essential for most d20 games.

Everyone would handle problems in their own way, and pretty soon he felt like he was running three games at once. So he really wants to make everyone feel like they're on a team this time around. Sort of like Leverage, where even people who aren't optimized to perform a certain task can still help out.

The problem is one of his players wants to be a Wheelman. Unlike the other classes in Spycraft, the Wheelman is optimized to do one thing. Drive. Really well.

The pursuit rules are very good, and the Wheelman is an expert when chase scenes come up. Unfortunately, it's another 'mini-game' that other characters can only somewhat interact with.

So the problem is, again, that we have a character who is designed to win a certain kind of encounter (and it's usually pointless for him to fail, as this is his job), but only marginally useful outside of those encounters (granted, the Wheelman is decent in combat, but he lacks the freebies of the Soldier class).

And worse, when his specialty comes up, other characters provide less of a benefit to him!

So I'm curious how other GM/DM's handle the problem of the super-specialist in their games, should one pop up. Do you try to help them (and everyone else) have fun, or just let them struggle with how marginalized they made themselves with a shrug?

Also, if anyone has ideas for what my friend can do with his Spycraft game, I'd love to pass them on.

2010-09-22, 01:18 PM
I don't know the game of Spycraft so I'll base my suggestions on the old spy game Top Secret I used to play...

For the chase scenes ... If there's a helicopter strafing the car then the shooty characters will probably be shooting back. The character with the underworld connections night know of a back ally parking garage they can try to escape through. If the chase goes down a dead end to a stream with a Dukes Of Hazard dirt pile at the end then the brainy character can calculate whether they'll clear the stream and let the wheelman know if he should go for it or bootlegger reverse and head back toward the bad guys.

As for the wheelman outside of driving scenes ... If the party needs a distraction then the wheelman and sneaky character could get into the warehouse at the back of the building and cause havoc with a forklift while the sneaky character cuts the power and/or phone lines so the rest of the party can accomplish whatever the party came to do.

Just a couple of ideas,

2010-09-22, 01:46 PM
A couple random ideas: (note: not familiar with Spycraft, adjust ideas as needed)
Give the Wheelman access to some remote control cars with small cameras mounted on them. Then add either listening devices, or high explosives, or whatever makes sense.

Tell him that the game takes place in an alternate universe where the "wheel" was never invented. He is now the "Fireman".

Give him (in real life) a Gameboy, a comfy chair, and a pair of sunglasses. When he's needed he can put down the Gameboy, put on the sunglasses and say "Let's do this thing!"

2010-09-22, 03:01 PM
In my experience the best thing to do in situations like yours is to mix things up.

You have a spiked chain tripper, thatís going to demolish two legged things his size and some squishy casters. You could throw a mixed group of enemies at them. A centaur and a few human bandits or some such, could prove an interesting and fun challenge.

Swarming a spike chain fighter with giant monstrous spiders or other things that are nearly impossible to trip is asking for player resentment. The same goes for throwing around anti-magic fields and other sorts of antics. The trick is to throw the players a bone now and then, but not to bend over backwards.

I guess what should be done is to figure out what your partyís weak to, and capitalize on it, but only on occasion and not overwhelmingly so. weíre looking to create a challenging scenario not an outright TPK.


The mini-game scenario is one Iíve dealt with, and your wheelman situation is easy to solve. Let the other players fight on the back of the vehicle while the driver. You have a melee guy? let someone jump onto the car so he can fight him, let the rest of the party shoot back at their pursuers. Just borrow from action movies and the like and you should be fine.

2010-09-22, 11:38 PM
Also outside of chase scenes ... Wheel men are good for infiltrating wherever drivers and pilots are needed - circuses, carnivals, stunt shows, limo services, rich folks who need a driver, race tracks, marinas, etc. He's also a good way to get the face man some backup by posing as the face man's driver.