Home > Inspiration for writing > Should a character’s “thing” be unique?

Should a character’s “thing” be unique?

September 23, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

Jack Harkness in Torchwood Miracle dayI just finished watching the latest series of Torchwood. Despite its many flaws, it’s a fun series. The final cliffhanger of the series though has left me asking a question that applies to other TV series, roleplaying games, and any ongoing stories.

Spoiler warning!

Rex Matheson, one of the main characters of this series was shot and killed. Unlike Captain Jack Harkness, the series’ long-term protagonist, Rex isn’t immortal; that’s Jack’s “thing”. An overdose of TARDIS energy left Jack unable to die, which despite making him a bit of a godmodder it’s actually given them a lot of interesting things to do with this character, so I don’t mind. But now it seems, Jack’s passed this immortality onto Rex after a blood transfusion. Rex’s gunshot heals and he regains consciousness.

I don’t like this, I don’t like that there’s now two characters that are immortal. I don’t think you should have two people with the same special ability in the same TV show. Whenever a special ability is duplicated, it’s not original, and it’s no longer Jack’s “thing”.

Obviously I can’t expect never to double up on special abilities, the Marvel universe for example has many of characters that can fly, and many characters that are invincible. But at least they try to be a little but unique about each character’s abilities.

So within a roleplaying game, do you think it’s okay to have two characters share the same special ability, or is that boring? What do you think would happen if a new character was introduced with exactly the same special abilities as your character? Would you be happy about it? Use the comments at the bottom to answer.

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  1. September 23, 2011 at 4:37 pm

    Yes. A character’s thing should be unique. If I were to come across another character who had the exact same abilities I’d be a bit pissed off, no matter how good the backstory of said character. In fact, it has happened to me a few times already and each time I feel like the other RP’er has cheated. I mean, come on, be creative, and don’t go leeching on someone else’s carefully thought-out ‘thing’!
    Oh, and… About Rex: Hate it. Hate it, hate it, hate it! I agree with you, it was the worst possible thing they could’ve done to the show, because now Jack is not unique any longer. And I hate them for doing that.

    • September 23, 2011 at 4:44 pm

      Thanks for commenting James. Do you think they’ve done this so that Jack doesn’t have to be in the next series? It still seems too much of a cheat. What will happen next, will Gwen be immortal too? The entire team can’t die, so there’ll be literally no drama because you know they’ll always survive!

  2. SMAndy
    September 27, 2011 at 12:06 pm

    Don’t forget that even though someone is “immortal” doesn’t mean they can’t be got rid of. Who’s to say they can’t lock someone in a metal chest, chain it up, and drop it to the bottom of the ocean? They may not be dead, but they’re close enough.

    Or what if you’ve got a weakness? Superman is essentially invincible, but kryptonite renders that useless. There’s also Red kryptonite, which makes him not care. In smallville (silly idea) they had even more different kinds, which made the whole thing stupid, because in “the new adventures of superman” they only just discovered red kryptonite, even though they know all about it in smallville.

    A characters “thing” doesn’t have to be unique. As you say, you can make it different in some small way that makes the application totally different. So two people can fly? big deal if one of them flies by force of mind, and the other one flies because they can control the air around them. you can take air away by putting them in a vacuum, they might be in a space suit, but that’ll still stop them from being able to control the non existent. the guy who does it with his mind could be stopped by someone playing a loud noise so he can’t concentrate. Same ability, different people.

    • September 27, 2011 at 11:07 pm

      That’s very true, immortal doesn’t mean they can’t be disposed of in different ways. Encased in concrete, buried underground, chopped up into little tiny pieces and scattered across the globe… there’s ways for the characters to die. But what I started to think about was how much it cheapens the original character when you introduce another with the exact same superpower.
      Like your superman example, each of the characters have different superpowers. Like you’ve said two people might be able to fly but in different ways. What if they introduced a new character who had exactly the same powers as Clark? It would be odd wouldn’t it? In the Torchwood example it seems (to me anyway) that Rex has now gained exactly the same sort of power as Jack. It’s no different at all. So it seems boring now, like it’s too common… Jack’s not the special one any more. As there’s only 3 of them left in the team, over half of them are immortal. Gwen’s actually the odd one out because she doesn’t have any special abilities (other than her Welsh fiestyness and ability to kick ass!!)

  3. Tigra
    September 28, 2011 at 7:16 pm

    There are times when two characters do have the same or similar powers though take a look at Marvel Comics Wolverine, Sabertooth, Wild Child, and X-23, they all have a healing factor and claws. True, the argument could be made that there are limited changes such as the type of claws and placement, but they do happen to have the same powers. While yes in RPGs you want to keep players from having characters who have the same powers just for the simple fact that other wise things will get boring. If a player would come with the same powers as I had if I was on that type of game, there would be a fight, maybe even causing a Wolverine/Sabertooth type relationship.

    • September 28, 2011 at 10:11 pm

      If a new member joined one of your roleplaying games with exactly the same superpower or special ability as an existing established character, what would you do? Would you recommend they change it, or recommend they give it a unique angle or new ‘spin’ that hasn’t been done before? Or would you be totally okay with it?

      • Tigra
        September 29, 2011 at 4:31 am

        Having been a GM for a Mutant X game once I have experienced the issue first hand and as such my answer then which I would still use is that it depends on the player both the player who is bringing in the new character and the player with the existing character. The rule was at the very least it must be discussed between the two players and some new spin is used. Twice did the issue happen one was a new player and an established player, as the discussion never happened I advised the new player to change his character, the other was two established players who were both bringing in new characters as double up players (this means that they each had two characters) where the spin for the characters with the same powers were the new ones for each player and they were identacle twins.

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