The Everyman in RPGs

Last week, I threw out some ideas for dealing with the underdogs – characters with crappy stats – in fantasy games. Today, I want to look at the everyman.

In the mists of time, when 3d6 were used for rolling ability scores and when ability scores really didn’t give much in the way of bonuses, every character was an everyman. By everyman, I mean common, average, ordinary folks. That was part of the beauty of the game, really. Everybody that delved into that dungeon was hopelessly outmatched by the things lurking therein. I think the average human being tends to root for other average human beings, and in this respect there is a similarity between the everyman and the underdog – when you’re a normal guy surrounded by Conans and Merlins, you are, in a sense, an underdog.

I think the concept of an everyman also hinges on the idea of regular folks – the peasantry – versus the aristocracy and nobility. The notion of rustic honor and the value of honest labor and the full-throated enjoyment of life versus the restrained and condescending nature of the nobility.

Okay – enough explanation. What do we do with these folks?

1) Common Sense

Most of us remember the scene in Lord of the Rings – Gandalf the Wise can’t figure out the riddle, but the little hobbit hill lives in a hill does it easily. Common people have common sense (well, maybe not in reality, but in stories), and that common sense gives them the jump on the over-educated. Perhaps, once per day, an everyman can request a special clue or a re-roll when trying to figure out something that a more qualified person has already failed at.

2) Regular Fellers Stick Together

Regular folks have to stick together, and this might suggest a special perk of the everymen. If there is more than one everyman in a party, perhaps they can swap ability points back and forth – one guy drops a couple points of intelligence or takes a saving throw or attack penalty for the next 24 hours so another guy can get a needed boost. Or maybe one everyman can forgo an action and lend it to another.

3) The Sergeant Major

It’s a well known fact that veteran NCO’s run the military in every practical way, with the officers (especially those damned lieutenants) just getting in the way. Well, it’s a well known fact in tons of books and movies, and that’s what we’re interested in here. That everyman might have some hidden depths of practical knowledge that the heroes and underdogs lack. Perhaps a newly created everyman gets three “life events” that are initially kept blank. As he or she adventures, those life events can be filled in, giving them a boost of practical knowledge when its most needed. When the party is surrounded by bugbears, for example, the everyman fighter breaks out with, “Well, in my younger days, I was in a patrol in a very similar situation to this one. One of the henchmen was a cook, and he happened to know that bugbears cannot resist the smell of burning meat – drives them nuts. We made a quick fire and started roasting what meat we had, and in no time, the bugbears were tearing each other apart in their madness for food. Once they were fewer in number, we unbolted the door and slaughtered the lot of them. Could be that the same idea would work for us here.” Things like this are fun in a campaign because they allow players to invent a few bits and pieces for the campaign world, though of course they do need a bit of refereeing to keep them from becoming silver bullets – i.e. saving throws are always permitted, and those berserk bugbears that survive the initial bloodletting might be tougher customers than they might have been normally.

One thought on “The Everyman in RPGs

  1. I love #3! It reminds me of the desk jockey nerd counterpart to hardass gunny Clint Eastwood in “Heartbreak Ridge”. It is an excellent way to use the character's unknown past in an uncharted world. Kudos.

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