Copyright © 1994 B. A. "Collie" Collier
This zine was inspired by a conversation with one of my roommates, George. Also, a version of this zine has seen print before, as my first and second columns in the Adventurer's Club. It was originally written in mid 1992, so don't be surprised by my characterizations of comics characters being somewhat out of date. This is an unsolicited plug -- buy the magazine! Read my column! Comment! :-)
It seems sometimes there are teams that should be able to run just fine, but don't. The players are good, the PCs are well thought out and interesting, the story has potential, and the GM is enthusiastic. However, for some reason the team is disorganized, the members don't co-operate, and everyone is frustrated. Having been in games like this, George and I sat down and tried analyzing just why these groups didn't jell.
As far as we can tell, there are certain roles that must be filled for the team to work. These roles fulfill both organizational and emotional needs. It should be kept in mind that we are trying to label the roles of the characters not the players. The labels that we have assigned to them may have some bad connotations to some people; however we are simply using these words as labels, not for the emotional baggage they carry. The generalizations may seem somewhat simplistic, but they nicely answer some game problems that George and I have been mulling over.
The necessary character roles (as we identified them) are: the leader, the lieutenant (or second in command), the soldier (or follower), and the rebel.
The leader is not necessarily the group's boss, but rather someone who sets the tone for the group. This can be moral, tactical, or some other type of leadership.
A good example of this is Captain America of the Avengers. He sets the moral tone of his team ("We don't kill, and we fight fair") . He is also a combat leader, in that he organizes team strategy, and is always out there in the forefront of battle. Cable, from X-Force, is another excellent example of a leader. He has decided that he is fighting a war--thus killing is condoned. Also, his commands determine both team strategy and individual tactics.
The lieutenant is the person to whom the leader can delegate tasks, trust at her back, and (most importantly) talk to freely. In a sense, the second in command is the conscience of the leader. Her disagreements with the leader will always be privately discussed; she supports the leader completely in public.
Robin, Batman's partner, is a lieutenant. Batman trusts his sidekick implicitly; he knows Robin will carry out directives. Robin will always cover his back on missions, but will speak up privately if Batman's actions seem irrational. Wonder Girl of the New Teen Titans is also a lieutenant. Her leader, Nightwing, counts on her to implement his tactical decisions, and her muscle has often pulled his fat out of the fire. When Changeling, her team's rebel, argues with Nightwing, she actively sides with her leader.
The soldier (the role most commonly played) is the one who carries out the decisions and moves in the directions indicated by the leader. The private decisions of the soldier can be very important, but they are usually personal rather than group related.
Two examples of the soldier are Colossus of the pre-Dark Phoenix X-Men, and Cyborg of the New Teen Titans. Both have difficult emotional decisions that they have made, but in both cases these were personal. Neither has ever let their team down in a crisis.
The rebel is someone who refuses to agree to the direction selected; who resists "group-think". She is similar to the lieutenant, but her disagreements are aired in public. Because she is a public voice, she is not necessarily trusted as implicitly as the lieutenant by the leader. Depending on how her rebellion is expressed the rest of the group may consider her trustworthy, more or less. Leaders usually consider her a pain in the ass. :-)
Wolverine of the pre-Dark Phoenix X-Men and Pantha of the New Titans both exemplify this role. Both are causing the other team members to think about their own feelings on various subjects. Wolverine caused the X-Men to become quite firm in their insistence that no one ever be slain. Pantha is the dissident of her team. She doesn't like her new form, and she questions and argues every decision the team makes.
Let us take two examples of teams, and break them down into their roles. The first example is pre-Dark Phoenix X-Men.
Leader: Professor X
Prof. X is the brains behind the team. He is the moral leader of the group, and their spokesperson to the public. He sends the team on missions, thus determining their strategy.
Cyclops determines the tactics of the group while they are on mission. This insures the leader's directives are carried out. He may have problems with Prof. X's orders, but he won't undermine the Prof.'s authority by arguing in front of the team.
Soldiers: Phoenix, Nightcrawler, Storm, Colossus
These are the team members who carry out their team missions. They all have their own contributions to make to the smooth running of the team.
Now look at a team in flux: the group in Aliens, the second movie.
At the beginning of the mission the power and role structure looked like this.
Leader: The man with the rank of Lieutenant-- sorry, I can't remember his name!
Lieutenant: the corporate, Burke; Sgt. Apone.
In this case, the leader's problem was exacerbated by being forced to have two people as second in command. One was Apone, the Marine. He was a true second in command; he was trusted by his leader to carry out official directives. The other was Burke, the official Company representative. The leader had been told he had to listen to this man whenever the Company's interests came up.
Soldiers: Vasquez, Hicks, Dietrich, Crowe, Hudson, Spunkmeyer, Bishop, Wiersbaschie; the Marines.
She had an unpopular position (the Marines were in over their heads on this mission), wasn't friendly with anyone, and didn't really want to be part of the team.
At the end of the movie we have a different situation.
She took control because she had specific experience. The previous leader was not able to cope with the situation, as is shown by him and most of his command dying.
Ripley had to have Hicks as her Lieutenant for two reasons: Firstly he was the only surviving adult human. Secondly Ripley trusted him; they both had the same stated goal of getting as many people as possible out alive. Thus she knew he would implement her orders: prevent the A(rtificial) P(erson) from retrieving an alien specimen by harming the group.
Soldiers: Bishop, the AP; Newt.
Bishop followed Ripley's orders every time. He had to interpret them creatively; e.g., lifting the shuttle so that the collapsing station would not crush it when her orders were not to move the shuttle. However, his behavior was in all cases oriented towards following orders and saving the group.
Newt had valuable information, but she was a child. Ripley had to give her orders, and hope she didn't break psychologically under the stress. Newt would not have made a good lieutenant; she didn't have the authority of adulthood.
This unfortunate man had the unenviable task of informing the group that their survival was secondary to keeping the station intact and retrieving an alien specimen. Needless to say, this was an unpopular view. His rebellion took such an extreme form that it caused his death.
Say you have a group of good players, an enthusiastic GM, and a team of interesting characters, but your group just doesn't seem to jell. The above framework can help you figure out why. Analyze your team to discover which of these roles are not being filled. Some examples follow.
The team seems to flounder, and nothing really seems to get accomplished.
Check and see if you truly have a leader. If the team consists only of soldiers and rebels, the rebels will not be trusted, and the soldiers will have no-one to follow.
Talk to your team-mates and/or the GM about this lack. Decide, or possibly vote, on whom you want as leader. Alternatively, have someone design a new PC specifically for this role.
Another possibility is to have the different characters each take a turn or session playing the leader and making the team's decisions. The best PC to lead will usually show up after a while. If desired, the leader role can stay a temporary thing. However some consistency is good; it is usually best to have some kind of official framework. That way, in a crisis everyone knows who to turn to. If necessary, the "leader" can be just the public spokesperson.
The leader is unable to come to a decision; the team never succeeds in its missions.
This is a problem if the team wishes to win sometimes. If your leader is incompetent or waffles constantly, you have the wrong PC for a leader. See above for solutions.
The team never seems to go into combat. Everything is talked out without a fight. The team's goals are not objects, but rather ideas.
This is a problem?! ;-)
If you have a very clever leader this is possible. It is a problem when the rest of the team is not included in the process, or if the team wants to fight.
Again, talk to the leader. Let her know what you really want. She may not realize how you feel. Sometimes just being included in the decision-making process is enough. If she's really good, she'll let the team blow off steam in the traditional way. :-)
Your team has a leader, but the leader is usually cranky or short-tempered. Or the leader constantly gives directions, to the point of distraction.
This means you may have no-one playing the part of the second-in-command. Your leader is over-worked, and doesn't have someone she trusts to implement her decisions. This will make her frustrated and annoyed at small transgressions. Alternatively, she may be trying to make sure that her instructions are followed correctly by incessantly repeating them.
This case is remediable in the same way as the above example. What you need is a lieutenant. It is slightly more difficult in that your leader must trust the person fulfilling the role of second. The other alternative is to give your leader time off, and have someone else lead for a while.
To be honest, the first suggestion is rather difficult. Playing lieutenant isn't easy. However, the second suggestion is even harder. It is an unusual person who wishes to voluntarily give up control or power. Good luck.
The team works like clockwork. Missions are always a success.
See above, re this is a problem?! ;-)
In this team everyone knows and fulfills their roles. The one role that is empty is that of the rebel. This makes for a superbly functioning team. Unfortunately, after some time this can also be rather boring. The challenge is gone.
Try agreeing to have everyone swap roles. This will initially cause chaos, but it is usually fun to try to stretch your role-playing capabilities. Also, it will certainly cause your PCs to grow and change. You know that the team works well together, so if a really bad situation comes up you can go back to your traditional team roles.
The team spends all its time arguing, and personality conflicts force splits in the group.
There are several possible interpretations of this. Firstly, you may have two people fighting for leadership of the team. Everyone else is being forced to take sides, as each possible leader vies for control of the largest portion of the group.
Secondly, you may have no soldiers. Many people are trying to fill the spaces meant for only a few. Also, no-one wishes to show "weakness" by taking suggestions from anyone else.
A possible third interpretation is that you have someone with a very strong will who refuses to be leader. They do not want the responsibility of giving orders. Unfortunately, they do not want to take orders either. The only spot left open to them is that of the rebel. Thus they undermine anyone wishing to lead, while providing no steadying influence for the group.
I must admit I have never seen a team survive this type of problem. In every case, someone ended up leaving. However, I have seen the rest of the group talk things over and come to amicable agreements.
This situation doesn't have to end all gaming for the group. Identify your troublemakers. Make sure they really are being deliberately difficult--they may be unaware of the problem. Explain the situation. Try to figure out what the points of contention are. Try to solve them, or at least explain them. Perhaps everyone can agree, if the egos are left out of the argument. Remember, you are there to have fun gaming. If it's not fun, why game?
An important thing to keep in mind is that these roles are not set in concrete. Most people are constantly changing and redefining their PC's roles.
For example, it is possible to have someone who is not usually the leader step forward and set a new directional or moral tone for the group. This could give the team an entirely different disposition. Perhaps the usual leader has no expertise in a certain predicament, causing others with appropriate training to temporarily take on her role.
If there is no permanent lieutenant, a soldier or even a rebel might have the maturity and/or restraint that would temporarily qualify them for that role. A team where the leader has no second forces her to work twice as hard. Be careful your leader doesn't burn out.
It is not always easy to play the lieutenant. You must support someone whose secret fears you know. You may feel you could or should replace the current leader. However, be careful with this attitude. It is a good way to undermine the cohesiveness of the group. Also, consider how difficult you would find it to be trusting and confidential towards someone who seemed to wish only ill towards you and your plans.
A lieutenant losing faith in her leader but not wanting to cause a rift in the team might become a soldier for a while. A rebel gaining faith could do so also.
Possibly the most annoying role is that of the rebel who will not lead, aid, or follow. This type of person is just obstreperous. If talking to them will not fix the situation, the group may be better off without that particular PC.
However, rebels should not always be considered a bad thing. A soldier or a second in command might not be able to effectively head the group, but still feel strongly about a situation. They must become rebels in order to effectively discuss the problem. They are rebels because they speak out against the current group-think. These alternative viewpoints can become fascinating explorations of team and personal morality.
I know I must sound something like Dr. Ruth, with her incessant, "Communicashun ees thee answer!" Scary though it seems, all you need is the courage to try it. I've found honesty solves most of the problems I've described above. People usually respond well to blatant honesty. Consider carefully those that don't -- do you really want to game with them?
Let me how things turn out, and good luck!
Last Updated: Tues Mar 24 1998