Taking the Foil / Straight-Man Role as the Player

About a year ago, we played Lady Blackbird. Ville ran it, I and Lauri participated, with couple of other players. I was Kale Arkam, the ex-burglar, current mechanic of the Owl. Lauri was Snargle, the goblin pacifist pilot, with problems with risk assessment, to put it politely.

I didn’t choose this approach consciously, but I sort of fell into a role of the straight man. There were some comedic aspects to my character (namely his greed) and I did play up his rogue/low-level wizard/mechanic abilities at times, but mostly I just played against Snargle and Cyrus Vance, the captain. Not in the sense that I tried to kill them or beat them, but when they were doing something outrageous, I’d put a spotlight on it by having my character argue against the idea, roll his eyes, just step back from the situation and stuff like that.

I think it worked. Some of the time I didn’t even know what was happening, but played it out like my character knew exactly what was going to happen. Partly this worked because we had excellent chemistry within the group (although I met the player of the captain for the first – and thusfar only – time). There was a lot of in-character banter and after a couple of hours, I felt the crew of the Owl had a very in-depth history, which was formed through discussion injected into the game.

I enjoyed playing like this. In the past (and often still), I like to have the spotlight at least some of the time, but in this case I enjoyed sharing it with others in a way which probably makes my character look like a supporting character, but we often need the contrast to let certain aspects really shine. I think Ville was at times worried that I wasn’t getting my spotlight, but in this case, I didn’t feel I need it.

I’m not sure this kind of playstyle comes easily. I think pieces just fell into place in this specific case and it worked because of circumstances. On the other hand, this is an age old technique from comedy (although standups don’t do it anymore) and theater. It works in movies. It wouldn’t stick if it didn’t work. Since RPGs have been moving towards more traditional storytelling anyway, its not out of the question to bring this kind of character into RPGs on a more regular basis. I just don’t think you want to proclaim you are doing this.

One thought on “Taking the Foil / Straight-Man Role as the Player

  1. It was certainly one of the most entertaining gaming sessions (and definitely one of my favorite characters of all time)! I agree it had much to do with the chemistry within the group. And by this I mean that I was allowed to shout and fool around as much as I wanted. I was playing a goblin after all.

    What I’ve heard from other sessions Ville has GMed with Lady Blackbird I gather the “straight-man” approach was the thing needed. Otherwise we could still be trying to get out from the first obstacle.

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