CORE RPG RULES
Iconoclast -- RPG -- Understudies
DM: Ok guys, thanks for showing up early for tonight's role-playing
session. Let's get started. When we left off last week, Erkel the thief
was about to check the chest for hidden traps. Erkel, roll to detect
Erkel: All right! I roll... a 2. Damn. A failure.
DM: Erkel rolls a 2, so he fumbles the check. A scything blade swings
up from inside the chest and cuts Erkel neatly in half.
DM: Erkel dies horribly. Go watch television.
DM: And get me a can of cola from the fridge while you're at it.
In a play, if the lead actor or actress gets ill or injured, and becomes unable to perform, there's a backup person called an understudy who can step in and cover things. After all, the show must go on. Unfortunately, with most role-playing games, losing your character halfway through the night either means frantically searching for a spare character you hadn't used in a while, watching television in the other room, noisily rolling up a new character, or the "mysterious appearance" of Jed the warrior's identical twin, named Ned, courtesy of some white-out and a ratty old eraser.
None of these is a particularly appealing option, and so we encourage the use of understudies. Understudy characters can be very helpful, particularly if you're in the business of doing something stupid or deadly (or both). Unlike the theatre, the Iconoclast understudy does not always have to be able to perform the exact same tasks as your main actor. It's just someone to step in and fill the void when your main guy (or gal) is incapacitated or dead. Your emergency backup character, so to speak.
Ex.1: Snyk and his friends are in a bar, drinking and being rowdy. Snyk
foolishly spills a drink on the biker next to him, and when the shouting
turns to shoving, Snyk gets a shotgun blast to the head, which kills
him. Little do the players know that Snyk's distant cousin Charlie, the
ex-Navy SEAL, is sitting in the booth across the room, watching. When he
sees his relative get wasted, he comes over to settle the score.
Ex.2: Breaking into an apartment complex to kidnap the daughter of a
corporate executive, Isis and friends stumble across some unexpected
trouble. They nab the girl, but in dispatching the bodyguards, Isis
takes a slug in the face, and goes critical. They rush her to the
hospital, but she's going to be in a coma for weeks, if she recovers at
all. Returning to their crash pad, the team drowns their sorrows with a
good dose of interrogation. It is only then that their prisoner reveals
a secret... she is Isis' half-sister, and the corporate they are trying
to squeeze money from is Isis' father.
It could be your mother or father; your uncle Louie; your cousin Ralph; that old army buddy; that waitress you always give a good tip to; a ganger friend; or anyone else who might have a reason to come looking for you in the event you suddenly went missing, or to avenge you if you got killed. If you stretch the limits of your imagination, it could also be someone you wouldn't necessarily want around: your parole officer; that motorcycle ganger you spilled a drink on; your "friend" from prison; a corporate agent who thinks you're a spy; or your ex-wife.
Whoever your understudy is, you need not have a detailed background story for them, but you should at least have some basic attributes and skills listed, so you can bring them into play almost immediately. If you're in a campaign where people drop like flies, you might wish to have two or three understudies. Each one, of course, should be approved by the admin running the session, or by a group vote in the event of a shared session. Bringing the understudy in is subject to the same approval process, and if it's a situation where bringing an understudy in is not possible, then so be it.
In all cases, understudies should always have 6 degrees of separation from the character who died. That is, if you have a rager who specializes in pistols and loves cheese, the new understudy should not be a total clone, who also specialized in pistols and loves cheese. There should be at least 6 obvious points of difference between the two.