OngoingWorlds blog

News & articles about play-by-post games, for roleplayers & writers


When moderators hog the top positions

Captain Zapp Brannigan from Futurama

Sometimes players who’ve been in a game for a long time occupy the top positions in an RP. When I say top positions I mean the real important characters, the Captains, Admirals, Principals etc. With veterans and moderators taking the best character roles, what about the new members? How can they move up the ladder if all the top positions are filled? If there’s no progression, will they get bored?

There’s a discussion on RPG-D about this, which is worth checking out. They actually talk about the top roles being “canons” which I don’t agree with at all, but that’s another article!

But I do sometimes see moderators or game veterans hogging the top roles in the game. Like the Admiral, Captain, Commander etc if it were a military or Star Trek game. This can lead to dead wood or even in-breeding (as described in this article).

What I actually think should happen is that after a while of being at the top the moderators should play the LOWEST ranking characters, to see what it’s like. They can sill drive the story in a direction, but it allows newer players to get the cool jobs and have some fun. Better that than havng a glass ceiling.

I believe a talented GM can lead the story from any role. Many might disagree of course, but then it depends on how much you trust your fellow players to take the story into an interesting direction. You might not even need to lead the story at all.

What do you think? Comment below.

  • Nefarious N’Dak

    I think from the perspective of running a game, it’s REALLY dangerous for the top people in the chain of command to not also be the top people in charge of the actual game. At least, I think you could only make it work with the right people. In my nearly 13 years of experience now, I can only think of a few situations where I would be comfortable with that alternate arrangement.

    That said, I think one of the challenges GM’s then face is how to pull ourselves out of the story a little. Yes, on the shows, the main characters almost always tend to also be the “captain,” but that makes for a pretty boring roleplay game.

  • Elena

    I agree with Nefarious. If we don’t have the top people in the chain of command (and it happened at the beginning to be half- half), then we’ll have people vanishing mid-plot, or taking a two months hiatus for studies just then. We had captains disappearing, site plots blocked… I think on any site where there is a main plot/ a story to follow, the
    canons/ main characters are to be taken by staff or people the staff
    trusts not to vanish, and have an agreement to be NPC-ed in case of longer absence of the main player.

    If the staff doesn’t push the story forward, then who will? Most of the members won’t, unfortunately.

    There is progression for others too. Promotions have been done based on the writers’ initiative and dedication (shown in the characters’ bravery and initiative). And if there were staff members who couldn’t do their jobs anymore, were demoted.

    I also don’t believe in in-breeding and inflation as defined in the link above. If people can take the roles and remain active, it doesn’t matter how many characters has each person. It matters only to be active when needed in the story. If not, indeed, it is a problem which has to be dealt with.

    There are stories written by 2-3 people which encompass lots of characters and can last for several years.

    • Nefarious N’Dak

      I have always been a little leery of people playing multiple roles (as a disclosure, I mostly think in terms of chat-based games because that’s what I’ve almost exclusively hosted for 10 years), but over the last couple years, particularly as we see the number of players dwindle, I’ve become far more comfortable with the notion, not just because it helps story telling in a numerical sense, but because you can flesh out stories a lot better. On my own game, I have a fighter wing and a marine corps attachement, but neither of them are ever, ever part of the A plot, but what I often do is allow players to play with those elements to fleshout something, or in the case of say, a bridge player (literally one of the hardest roles to play well) something else to do with their time.

      But to the main point, yeah. I’ve always viewed the “top roles” in a game as the “drivers” of the bus, but the driver’s have to make sure that the camera stays focused on what’s going on behind them.

  • Angfaulith

    I think it is actually important to have that glass ceiling in place and for the people who run the game to hold the highest posisions. I have seen examples of where everyone could fight for top position and it killed the game. I dont beleve that new players should ever have the option to play the king of the nation or become the captain of the starship everyone is on. They are after all new and they havent shown what they can do for the game. Some people come to you with amasing character consepts and grand ideas, but then two weeks later they are gone and you dont hear from them again.

    The right way to reach the top is to show comitment over time and adding content to the game. Such players can then be awarded appropriatly with the option to bring more responsibility to their characters and even promoting them to mods.

  • Leon Benjamin Archer

    For me, I feel it’s important as a level of control to my games. It stops people from doing whatever they feel like with a simple boss telling them that they cannot do that, or simply directing their characters in a meaningful and realistic way.

    Although, to play devils’ advocate I feel the power that the higher ranked character’s wield mean you can’t have them interact as fully as someone of equal status, so I usually reserve these characters and rarely include them into storyline other then the occasional plot-pointing.

  • Mrxanadu

    Sometimes, it’s for the best, but to an extent. In a Star Trek game, for example, it’s important for the GM to be the captain, and maybe any admirals presiding over them, because they can easily drive the story and keep it going in the right direction. I actually have experience with new people playing important characters (it was a Star Trek game, so they were admirals, with one guy even acting as the Stafleet Chief of Staff, and having no knowledge of ST past early TNG) and either not knowing enough to do it right, or trying to do something that grates against the current flow.

    However, it is definitely a good idea to let people play in ancillary command positions, like department heads or XO’s. That way you have organic interactions between the different officers/leaders. NEVER should a GM hog every single position of leadership, because you will have some pretty pissed off players.

  • Johnson

    I couldn’t agree more. I often thought it was bizarre that in ST rpgs, for example, the GM is ALWAYS the Captain. This creates as many problems as it solves. For one, the Captain’s job is now to set up the conflict in the story and then stand aside while his subordinates solve it. However, in the ST canon, a Captain is just as integral to the solution as the rest of the crew and is often rushing to solve problems with the best of them. The problem, of course, is that if a GM/Captain DOESN’T stand aside and let his/her crew solve the problem then there’s really nothing left for the players to do. Meanwhile, it makes the position of Captain look pretty worthless to be constantly reacting to problems instead of working to solve them. Whew! It’s an unsolvable paradox! Except that it isn’t. I believe that the best thing a GM can do is to take on a minor role i.e. Barry the robot janitor instead of Admiral Bashir, Commander of the 7th Fleet. That way, the GM can introduce problems and even interact with the crew without having to feel that they have to solve every problem for themselves and allow another player, perhaps one with proven leadership and writing skill, to take on the role as captain of the ship. Just one idea.