Five-Man Band: Does it work?

I’ve been wondering about the Five-Man Band trope and how/if one should incorporate this (or other party composition tropes) in a TTRPG/Story Game. It’s a successful cinematic technique, but would it work in a game?

Does anybody have any experience or examples with this? Does it work? Does it fail? What is good about it and what is bad?

These are my thoughts so far, but I have not tested any of them:

* I think it could work in PbtA playbooks with specific moves for specific roles. Like replace the Alignments moves/rewards in Dungeon World with FMB-positions? (Perhaps they could even change, depending on episodes or spin-offs!)
* It might kinda be a bit present in Lady Blackbird, built in, but nothing seems to steer you into playing that way, right?
* I was thinking on restricting the Fate Aspect creation with a position in mind.
* I’ve made a pre-generated sci-fi cast for a stranded spaceship game I want to someday run in RISUS. (It’s in Dutch though, so I’d have to translate it while it’s not finished yet, and most of the names are language based puns) I applied it on this cast and it works very well. I think it creates a nice starting position for play, but I’m not sure if something like this would organically emerge unless it’s written in the character generation rules. (which is easily adjusted in RISUS with a more narrow definition of Hooks and Tales.)


  • I think I understand the basic idea of a “five man band”, but not what kind of gameplay you’re hoping to get out of the idea.

    Maybe we should start with “how does Lady Blackbird fail in this regard, for you?”
  • edited June 2019
    I've messed around with designing around the idea in the past (as well as some of the other Cast Calculus concepts found on TVTropes) but I always end up frustrated.

    I think one of the main problems with the concept is that it isn't completely based on one kind of character delineation.

    The "Big Guy" and the "Smart Guy" are straight-up descriptions of ability/specialization. The sort of thing D&D classes measure. The Smart Guy is going to be good at knowledge skills and tech/magic (depending on genre) and the Big Guy is going to be tough, strong, and good at fighting. Easy to model with traditional RPG stats. They say nothing about personality, relationships, interpersonal conflict, character flaws, etc. The Big guys is probably not very smart and the Smart Guy is probably not very strong, but those are just skills and abilities, not personality traits.

    "The Leader" though. What's that character good at? Maybe social skills, but that's not necessarily intrinsic to the type. They're pretty much just the "Main Protagonist", which can be awkward and clumsy in a group setting where traditionally everyone has their own niche and plot importance. The Leader is defined by his relationship to the rest of the group and the plot, not what he can do. Still, you could probably load him up with inspiration-type mechanics and maybe some social skills. Not an impossible thing to design around.

    The main problem with the Leader is that the archetype is usually kind of boring. Who's favorite Ninja Turtle is Leonardo? NOBODY! He doesn't do anything! If you're looking at it from a more Buffy Summers or Luke Skywalker angle, now you've got one player who the entire game is "about" and everyone else is just supporting characters. Some groups are gonna be fine with that. Others aren't. It's tricky.

    "The Lancer" - This character is entirely based around "not being the Leader". What do you do with that? You could maybe make the Leader player and the Lancer player pick from the same suite of skills or between two packages where neither can pick the same thing, so if the leader picks the "Thief" package the Lancer gets the "Cleric" package and vice versa.

    The main problem with the Lancer is you're going to get the "great, Wolverine is going off on his own again..." problem. If you're designing a "group of heroes works together to solve a problem" kind of game (which is what most 5-man-band stories are about), this is going to end up causing a lot of inter-character conflict, splitting the group, etc.

    "The Chick (Heart)" - Where do I start? It's an archetype entirely based around gender? Entirely based around managing the interpersonal relationships of the group? How do you design around that in a task-oriented game? What do you give "The Heart" that you didn't already give "The Leader?"

    So all of the above is assuming a "group of heroes working together to fight evil or something" scenario where you're focusing on what the characters can do. If you're trying to create a game around interpersonal conflict, or who the characters "are", you get the opposite problem. It becomes much easier to model the Leader and the Lancer and the Heart with bonds or Hx or keys or strings or what have you, but then what do you do with the Big Guy and the Smart Guy? What are they about in this kind of game? What is their conflict with the others? What's their role?

    This is just my first load of thoughts on the subject. I've wanted to make something based on the concept for a while, because obviously it resonates, but I've never really gotten around what the roles "mean" in relationship to the mechanics.

    As far as Lady Blackbird how do they map?

    Lady Blackbird - Leader or Heart?
    Naomi Bishop - Big Guy
    Cyrus Vance - Leader or Lancer?
    Kale Arkham - Smart Guy or Heart or Lancer?
    Snargle - Heart or Smart Guy?

    The Keys give some clues, but they don't really map one-to-one, in my opinion. It might be the closest thing I've seen in an RPG though.
  • @Neurotrash basically has the same views I have. Except that I don't really play skill-based games, but more games based around archetypes (FATE, RISUS, etc.) in which I kind of like to try and use tropes.

    As for Lady Blackbird: I think the genius thing is that it kinda blurs the lines of the archetypes, but it also kind of depends on how they are played.

    In my head Vance is the Leader, most of the time.
    Lancer could be filled by Kale through the lens of a loyal friend challenging his friend out of genuine friendship. It could be Naomi, being protective of Natasha, not trusting Vance.
    It could be Natasha herself, in a healthy, playful rivalry.
    Heart is basically Snargle. Their Key of Compassion seems written explicitly to fill that role.
    Big Guy is also completely what Naomi seems to be built for, though I have people seen playing Snargle like that too. And Natasha with her impressive sorcerous powers could be a candidate as well.
    Smart guy ... well, Kale has his street smarts, which is basically the role smarts will have to play for a smuggler. Snargle could be smart in the wits departement, which is his other strong suit. But Natasha, being an educated noble, might fulfill that role, though I don't think anything on her character sheet points to that...

    Anyway, I don't think it's failing. It's maybe not even designed to represent it, so in that way of thinking there's no success or failure. But yeah, if it would qualify ... I dunno.

    But yeah, I agree with Neurotrash that the Leader role kinda wants to hog the spotlight, which isn't much fun for other players, which is why I've been thinking about making it a role that can switch characters, maybe per story-arc or episode. And I'm not quite sure how yet.

    I'm thinking it might be a reward-based play?
    At the start of the arc/chapter/session everyone chooses a role. They cannot choose a role they've chosen last arc. There then would be story beats that get rewarded in an end of session move, kind of like Dungeon World, but each role has separate built in goals. The Leader makes decisions, the Lancer challenges the leader, the Heart keeps everyone together or is empathic, the Smart Guy suggests a plan, the Big Guy shows of their strength. Kinda like that, but maybe more worked out.

    "When you put the team before yourself, take XP", stuff like that. Maybe it doesn't replace end-of-session, but alignment or something?
  • Overall, I think there’s a danger of putting the cart before the horse here.

    What do we gain by using a structure like this - one that I’m sure the original stories/writers were not thinking of consciously, but was used to label those stories and templates after the fact?

    (Serious question! Maybe I’m just not familiar enough with the trope, but what kinds of cool and exciting things can we get out of following it? Is there, for example, an interview with a screenwriter somewhere that talks about how this trope can be used to develop characters and storylines? Let’s talk about that.)
  • I think that's a great question, @Paul_T

    I mean, the only real reason to try to incorporate it is that it's a pretty regular part of certain kinds of adventure/action stories (lots of old 80's cartoons, for instance) and it's one way to provide a type of niche protection, So...genre emulation?

    And just to address the point about the original writers not thinking about it - I think there's a great deal to be gained from finding tropes (conscious or not) in genre fiction and using them in game design. If your purpose is to create a system that encourages the telling of certain kinds of stories, I think it's logical to look for patterns in those stories and find mechanical ways to incorporate those patterns.

    (That might be a whole other thread)
  • Oh, absolutely: I agree that analysis and experimentation is great. On a general level, I don’t need to be convinced of that.

    I’m asking about real specifics: what particular features can we gain from this model?

    You’ve mentioned niche protection. Ok! But why in this incredibly specific way? How is it better than, say, D&D ‘s classes (or whatever other examples)? What makes it distinct?
  • It's basically a requirement for sentai teams. Think Power Rangers, G-Force, etc.
  • D&D classes are entirely based around ability niche protection. It doesn't really have personality niche protection. Any D&D class could map to pretty much any of the 5-Man-Band archetypes (the Wizard's probably not gonna be the Big Guy, but...)

    So maybe this is a way to combine interpersonal dynamic with ability specialization in one package.

    But as I noted above, there are problems with that...
  • If you could give more concrete personality to the "Guys" archetypes, for instance

    Big Dumb, Innocent Guy


    Smart socially awkward, too curious Guy

    You might have a basic model to hang an interpersonal niche protection system on.
  • Any D&D class could map to pretty much any of the 5-Man-Band archetypes (the Wizard's probably not gonna be the Big Guy, but...)
    You haven't met my friend Rebecca's half-Orc Evoker...
  • edited June 2019
    Nor my halfling half-Myth Blorb Warrior!
  • Nor my halfling half-Myth Blorb Warrior!
    :bawling: :heartbreak: :anguished: :angry: :tired_face:
Sign In or Register to comment.