Networking Characters

Most characters’ power seems to lie either in themselves or in a relatively easily accessible source. Among the mundane characters, you get the strong, and the clever, and the beautiful, and often combinations of the above; among the powered, you get innate superpowers, you get drawing from magical leylines or the local equivalent… you get the idea. The power comes from within them, and is always (plus or minus difficulties due to their own mental states or moving too far away from the source) there for them once they’ve learned to use it.

But every now and then I see a character whose main advantage isn’t in power or skill or inherent attribute, but in synergy. They can’t do everything, but they know people who do, and for whatever reason can probably get them to pitch in—through friendship, pay, exchange of services, knowing the right person to ask the favor, social manipulation, all of the above. I’ve always thought these sorts of characters were tremendously cool.

Why aren’t they used as often? First, let’s look at the majority of characters. To put it in RPG terms, theirs isn’t a power that would require its own opposed roll just to be able to use. (Set-difficulty roll, sure, but that’s a lot more straightforward.) They rely on themselves, and don’t need to look that far outside themselves for help—and that means neither their creators nor (if applicable) their GMs really have to worry about the complications between them and what they can do.

On the other hand, the networking character is all about the network. One of the effects is that, while she has effectively more skills than a character of equivalent experience working solo, she can also lose them more easily. Many people don’t like that, for whatever reason.

But the character being about the network creates one major hurdle for the GM or writer: they have to create the network. Yes, it could be that the character’s creator, writer or player, can just start inventing people to delegate tasks to, and that’s decently cool, though in games it bears the risk of the player coming up with something the GM doesn’t want to deal with, and in writing there’s always the risk of conflicting with the rest of the text. But that might not be an option, or the character’s creator might be of the type who asks, “All right, these are my resources, what can I do with them?” Their resources serve as both constraint and springboard; make them open-ended, and the creator might not be able to figure out what sorts of resources to write in.

So why still be fascinated by them? In my case, it’s partly because I like to learn from the fictional characters I interact with, either through game or through fiction. The thing about the networking character is that as often as not, the only thing super about her is the size of her buddy list (or equivalent thereof). Other than that, she’s having to operate under societal constraints, work within her own limitations, and get around them by knowing who to ask for help, and that makes her strategies somewhat more applicable to the world around me; that’s interesting. (Besides, by contacting the right people at the right time she can get half a dozen projects working towards completion at the same time. How cool is that?) Moreover, the dependence on other people means she’s easy to plothook, if nothing else to get the sources of her abilities back, and if she’s a character in an RPG she’s likely to extend her delegation skills to helping out her teammates.

Do networking characters have to be rare? I don’t think so.

1 comment

  1. Gremlin1384 says:

    Just a fan and fellow gaming blogger hoping for some networking of our own. If you’re interested in checking out, or mentioning my blog at realmcrafting.blogspot.com (Campaign Creation from Conception to Completion: A week-by-week description of creating a complete RPG campaign setting and ruleset), I’d be honored. Or, of course, you can delete this comment. Of course, I’d be happy to return the favor and send some traffic your way — because you deserve every reader you get!

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