Critical Party Roles, Part 5: The Party Lip Man
We return to our series on critical roles filled by the players in your adventuring party (not the characters), today discussing the Party Lip Man. A term used among unsavory crowds, the "lip man" refers to a con artist in a heist crew, but is used here to refer to the "Charm Cannon" or talking person in the party. If we come across someone new, this person is the person who speaks for us. If we need to make a distraction, this guy is up to bat.
This role is a bit more circumstantial, as you may not find you need it for some adventures (if you are doing a zombie apocalypse campaign and everyone you come across is a zombie, you probably don't need a party Lip Man). But if the game master has built a good adventure, you'll likely find that there is someone worth talking to, and this is where your Lip Man begins to fill his role.
I. The Party Lip Man: Impressions and Distraction
The Lip Man is the "Party Talker," and often this means that the Lip Man is the "Party Charm Cannon," as it's come to be known in the Zurn community. They take first crack at it when it comes to interacting with new people, be they friend, foe, or neutral.
Here's the critical thing the group needs to remember, though, when they designate a Lip Man (and how you know if the party doesn't actually have one): when the Lip Man is doing the talking thing, don't talk over the Lip Man. So many conversations that could have gone so well have gone down the tubes because the Lip Man wasn't allowed to do his/her thing.
It is worth noting that this is both a hard role to accept (as it means a lot of split-second thinking while rolling with the punches from the GM in conversation), but can also be a lot of fun. I've played the Lip Man in several groups, and I think my GMs enjoyed it (I'm pretty sure), and I'd like to think that the party was better off for the scrapes I got them out of in those campaigns. But I'll also be honest: I'm an introvert, and it uses up a lot of energy to be the party spokesperson in an extended discussion. So keep this in mind as you consider whether you want to accept this mantle.
II. Examples of Party Lip Men: Merry, Bodhi, and Ben Gates
The Fellowship of the Ring really had three Lip Men: Aragorn (for most people they interacted with, but most notably men and elves), Gandalf (which, to some extent, he also fills this role when in Thorin's Company for some of the people they encounter), and Meriadoc Brandybuck, or "Merry." It is the last of these that we want to examine, as he embodies all of the elements of a true Lip Man.
Most people forget this: Merry is the one who volunteers to talk to Fredegar Bolger and by that discussion hatches the plan of using the Buckleberry Ferry to quickly cover distance to avoid being found by the Nazgul. So like any good Lip Man, Merry makes friends for the fledgling party.
This also stems from something that you may need to discuss with your game master, and that is whether your character would have connections in the local area that they could draw on. Lip Men make friends, but they also introduce their party to past friends to help meet needs.
Second, Merry fills the role of distraction: when sneaking needs to happen and the Lip Man is not built to fight his way through the enemy, he attempts to distract attention so that their allies can sneak past the enemy. This may apply to custom patrol officers boarding your ship, sneaking into town past the guards, or leading a band of orcs away from the Ringbearer.
This is something that Bodhi Rook from Rogue One: A Star Wars Story does really well with a twist: he does distraction through redirection. Whether he is faking the code name of the ship to buy time for the engines to spool up, redirecting Imperial troops to Pad 2 or Pad 5 instead of where the Rebels actually are, and making new connections for the Rebellion, Bodhi makes for an amazing Lip Man for the team in Rogue One.
Bodhi's connections also come out in a unique way: he knows where to find the secret base where Gaelan Erso is, where the shuttles at the base are located, and how to access them to steal one of them because he's a defector: these are his old ally contacts that are now his enemies, and thus the fitting line by K2SO when he steals the shuttle and opens fire on the stormtroopers pursuing them: "You're a rebel now."
But just because your character is good at Charm/Charisma/Whatever-Your-Social-Stat-Is doesn't mean you're a good Lip Man. You have to actually have the right thing to say/do, which is why this is a player role, not just a character role. Consider Ben Gates from National Treasure: the character has a lot of natural charisma, but he doesn't always have the right things to say (ergo the continued romantic drama in the sequel). When he tries to redirect against Sean Bean's Ian Howe it doesn't work time and again.
And this brings up one of Ian's quotes that's critical for any Lip Man to remember: "You have everything to make a good bluff. But sometimes you have to be holding the cards." You can't talk yourself past everyone in the universe: some people are going to call the bluff. So a good Lip Man also has discernment: is now a time for a bluff or redirect, or is combat/facing the problem head-on the better option? And this, I'd contend, is what makes the difference between a decent Lip Man and a good one: discerning what is best for the situation.
I've been the Lip Man for several parties (and in the group I'm a player in on Thursday nights we typically trade off who is the Lip Man based on the situation), and I've really enjoyed filling that role. You're not pitting your character's roles against the game master's NPC's rolls: you are pitting your strategic and situational wits against the obstacles created by the GM, and thus creativity is a critical element to being a good Lip Man.
Until next time,