Niche Stuffing – How To Balance the Party

footprint-312425_640So you’ve been invited to a lively game of Dungeons and Dragons. You’re excited – why wouldn’t you be? You haven’t been able to get your paladin on for a good while! You tell your DM the character idea, he gives you the thumbs up, and you spend the next few hours creating a character before heading over to his place with character sheet in hand. You meet the crew! Oh, how exciting! You meet Gary who is playing a barbarian – classic Gary! Oh, and Phillis is going to try her hand at wizardry – that crazy Phillis! What will she be up to next?! And finally you meet Tom who claims proudly he’ll be playing… a paladin.

Oh shit. You’ve just dick stepped.

What is dick stepping? Well, it’s an immature way for someone to describe two characters who fill the same ‘concept’. One person is a paladin and the character right next to him is … a paladin. Oh snap.

First off, can we call it something other than dick stepping? That’s sort of immature.

Fair enough. Let’s call it Niche Stuffing.

I don’t know if that’s any better…

Deal with it.

Okay, so is ‘Niche Stuffing’ bad? Can’t a game run fine with two paladins?

Niche Stuffing isn’t bad for a sit down game. Absolutely nothing wrong with it happening when a pick-up game occurs. However, I think it can get bad when you are looking for something more. If you are the type of gamer who likes looking at their games as something more akin to ‘story’, I think it can be problematic. Take a look at television series. Generally people on television can be summed up as D&D archetypes. Someone is the warrior, someone the wizard, someone the rogue, and someone is the jester. The movie Cabin in the Woods plays off on this idea with each of the youths representing some aspect of trope-hood. And of course you can’t forget the Five Man Band trope. And while the real world suffers from people filling multiple niches, what makes a story engaging is the ability to easily fall into place with it. Characters are easy to pick out, each major character offering something that makes the audience understand why they are still being a focus point of a tale.

Oh, okay. So Niche Stuffing is always bad? In your example, two paladins are bad to have?

Well, again, that depends. There are stories out there where a group will follow a group of people. An example would be Braveheart. You could easily say that the people in that movie were mostly Warriors. That’s fine! However, you need to then focus on the personality of the character to distinguish it from the other. In the example at the top, if Tom were to say that his Paladin is a calm and devout follower then perhaps you should try to play a Paladin who is all righteous fury?

Ah, I see. So, Niche Stuffing can be okay? Does Fandible try to avoid Niche Stuffing?

I would say that’s the one thing Fandible tries to do the most. It’s incredibly important to our group to allow a person to shine at parts of the story. We try not to play Superman, we try to play X-men. Let’s use Unhallowed Metropolis as an example.

Byron is the talker – simple as that. And I would say he is the jester as well. We then have Charles Israel who is the mad scientist and doctor of the group. When Byron eventually gets shot because he’s running his mouth, he needs the doctor to shine in order to heal. So, these two have two very different roles that they can’t really steal from the other!

But what about Moira and Marcus?

Ah, yes. Moira and Marcus are both warriors who probably know a thing or two about hiding in the shadows. In truth, they could have easily fallen over each other when it came to trying to fill the niche. And yet, they don’t because they made sure to do two things:

  1. They attached themselves to two different characters. Byron is clearly the person who shares more of the story with Miora while Marcus will follow the Doctor. They both aren’t tripping over themselves to outshine each other because they have built a sort of ‘wall’ around each other.
  2. And when they aren’t ‘walled off’ from each other, they have their attitudes and characterization to fall back on. Marcus is full of jovial spirits and superstition while Moira wallows in her mourning and logic. While both of them might be hammers, they view the nails around them in different perspectives.

So, what? You’re telling us that your character needs to be beyond a character class?

Yes. But I think it’s also important to not step too much into people’s scene. And when you are the same character class, it’s very easy to do so. It’s important to give people the ability to work past a situation differently than how you envision it. And if that means that their way is a failure then perhaps that’s just a better avenue to explore within the narrative?

Right. Okay. So, if you wanna be like the great and powerful Fandible, then you should do what you said and try to avoid niche stuffing?

When you say it like that, it makes me sound sort of condescending…

No, it’s cool. I mean, you’re not even a published author but please tell me more on how to tell a story.

I didn’t say I was telling you how to –

Seriously, are you a professor of media? ‘Cause your insights are amazing!

Listen, I don’t know where this is coming from but I’m just giving my suggestion on what makes a great narrative. And since Fandible has been around for nearly five years, maybe you should take some notes?

It always comes back to five years with you, doesn’t it?

I’m not having this fight here.

Of course not. Cause then people would see what type of person you really are! Someone who is incapable of love on the most rudimentary of levels!

…. Anyways, now I’m looking to you commenters. Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve been niche-stuffed before? How did you make yourself unique to the story without stepping over everyone else?

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About the Author
Billy started out his roots like many roleplayers - D&D. Playing it and then Vampire all through highschool and college, Billy picked it all up again when he made the move from Michigan to New York. Now working in publishing, Billy does what he can to view roleplaying games through a narrative's lens. Does that sound classy as balls? It should.

6 comments on “Niche Stuffing – How To Balance the Party

  1. Megan says:

    My first character I ever played was an Explorator in Rogue Trader. Khan was amazing and the greatest Explorator who ever lived. Shortly after I joined the group, another player’s character died…and she built an Explorator. Her character was really into breast augmentation and mine was more strict about her service to the Machine God, so we at least had different personalities. Then another PC died, and the psyker he built had the same motivations as my Explorator. I keep making changes to my character so she could have her own space to shine, but it was really hard and incredibly frustrating. So now going into a game I’m pretty flexible about what I want to play so that won’t happen again.

  2. Basher Da Barsher says:

    Gah! That doesn’t sound fun. Whenever Fandible rerolls characters or try a new game, we try to not get in each other’s way. This hasn’t always been the case – Barsher occasionally stepped over David’s Tech Priest which wasn’t the plan but it happened enough that made me want to decide to retire him (along with a million other reasons!). Flexibility is key! Awareness about niche stuffing is also good too so hopefully your group reads this article! Or maybe I’m just egotistical. I dunno.

  3. Megan says:

    Oh that group collapsed when the guy who played the psyker tried to get one of the other players drunk so she would sleep with him. I’ve moved on to much more awesome people 🙂 I will definitely point people this way when I see it becoming a problem though

  4. Basher Da Barsher says:

    Well, I’m very happy to hear you found a new group made of wonderful people!

  5. Warren says:

    Wow, Billy. That inner voice sounds like a jerk. You need to kick that guy to the curb. 5 years!

  6. Syren says:

    Glad Laura of EotW could join us for today’s blogging with Billy.

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