Let's Play...a Lone Wolf!
Welcome back to the Zurn blog! Today we're continuing our #LetsPlay series, today looking at one of the more common character types you see in first-time roleplay characters: the "Lone Wolf." This is the person who is a loner, typically the "dark and silent" type that likes to brood in the corner, go off on their own, and look out for themselves and pretty much no one else. They also tend to put a strain on the party, as the party has to constantly be dragging them along into things because they are only looking out for themselves.
So on the whole, I don't recommend you play a lone wolf. Unless you are playing in a single player game a "lone wolf" will cause far more trouble than its worth, and it will do it with little to no payoff to the player controlling the lone wolf. But if I was to recommend a lone wolf to someone, perhaps because a player really resonates with the feel of the character and wants to use the character as a way to work through their own issues in a safe and encouraging environment, then this is how I'd do it.
I. Why Play a Lone Wolf?
A Lone Wolf is an interesting concept, and does make for a good character. It is very popular in the western genre, and commonly comes up in other literature as well. The one issue with it in a roleplay game is that tabletop roleplaying is a group game, so playing a character whose defining trait is, "I work alone" is not conducive to such a game.
But there's the thing: it can be. If you use it right.
You see, the best uses of the Lone Wolf show the character at a point in their lives when they are looking for a group and/or open to a group, and that is how you need to play a Lone Wolf character. Play someone who works alone because of (fill in the blank reason), but they've learned that this is a dangerous way to live and they really do need people they can rely on. Play someone who is a Lone Wolf because they are afraid they will hurt someone again, but they are willing to step out in courage and faith to give it one more try.
Heck, if you really want something unique, make it literally a lone wolf: a werewolf who is afraid he will literally hurt people, and he needs a group of people who will help him through his trying times, and in exchange he lends them his power.
You play a Lone Wolf because you want to embody and communicate that longing for community, and that can help immensely in forging party cohesion. And that is a good reason to play a Lone Wolf.
II. How would a Lone Wolf Act?
So, we need to again caveat that if you're playing a dark, silent, brooding, "I work alone" character who is not on the brink of reaching out and trying to work with others, you're doing it wrong. That's not what we recommend here, because you will end up causing far more drama and frustration than it's worth. So don't do that.
Instead, think about how a Lone Wolf who is on the brink will act. This is a person who has been hurt by being alone. Perhaps they got bashed up really bad and had no one to help patch them up (as someone who was a "tank" in life for many years with no "healer" to help me out, trust me: the promise of someone to help you out when you are down and out is a great motivator to open up and reach out). Perhaps they have come across enemies they cannot deal with themselves, and they realize now that they need a lifeline to accomplish their goals.
It's also possible that the person became a Lone Wolf because of some kind of trauma that they are trying to escape. Perhaps they were affected by a lycanthropic virus (as we mentioned above), or perhaps they are the lone survivor of their village which was wiped out by raiders, or a plague, or a local wyvern colony, or whatever. The big thing is that the Lone Wolf believes that 1) they could not have stopped it, and 2) they don't deserve to be the lone survivor.
I work with a non-profit that helps veterans, and one of the most common things we have to address is what we call, "Survivor's Guilt," which is where a veteran lost friends in battle, and they don't know why they were the ones who got to survive. So even though they came home alive, they wish that they had died. That's a deep place, and it's something that you can't really deal with on your own. You need friends. And that could drive a Lone Wolf to join a group.
Sometimes a Lone Wolf is on their own because they are running from something or possibly someone, and that gives them a reason to 1) fall in with other people, and 2) seek their help in dealing with something that they couldn't handle on their own. It is, again, another way of building party cohesion, even though the person is a loner.
So think through why your person is alone, and before you ask, no: your parents dying when you were young and you not working through those issues and coming to catharsis about the fact that you were a kid and couldn't have stopped their murder is not a good reason for a tabletop roleplay character to be a Lone Wolf. Save that for a single player roleplay game, comic book, or movie, but don't use it here. All it does is add angst and drama and doesn't give actionable steps that you and the party can take to foster party cohesion.
III. Mechanics for Lone Wolves
There are a few things you should think about when it comes to mechanics for a Lone Wolf character. Much like in our last post on playing a child (and I suspect all of the posts in this series), we will go through the five elements of character creation: stats, class, equipment, skills, and magic.
For your stats, keep in mind that you've been on your own for at least a short while if not a good long while. This means that you will have had to do a variety of things to stay alive. So while you can have a "dump stat" (being on your own doesn't make everyone smart, strong, agile, etc.), keep in mind the four things you'd need to survive on your own: ways to gather food, keep watch for threats, find and secure work, and defend yourself. You need to be able to do all of these, so inasmuch as your stats are involved, plan accordingly.
For your class, virtually any class of character will work, though some work better than others. If you play a priest, for example, is there a reason that you are on your own instead of caring for a flock? Is there a reason that you seek solitude? You might be more of a European monk or holy warrior than a priest, but keep this in mind if you want to play a priestly character. Naturally more nature-minded and rugged classes (like Barbarian, Druid, and Ranger) come to mind as you can readily see them being off on their own, but it could also be true of any other class.
For equipment, remember that you have been on your own. How do you do shelter at night, whether in a town or in the wilderness? How do you protect yourself from harm (be that weapons, armor, a fast mount, etc.)? Are you relying on stealth to deal with vast numbers arrayed against you, or do you rely on surpassing strength or control magic? Think through how you deal with numbers, as you are a loner, and thus have probably been outnumbered often (if not always) in a fight.
Also keep in mind the repair of your equipment. As a loner are you more of a "fend for yourself" person who makes your own gear? What condition is it in? Do you prize high-end guns or swords or armor, or do you scavenge whatever you can find? This can lend a lot more complexity and character to the concept as you imagine it in your mind.
For skills, again, remember that you have been alone, so that will determine your skills. If you are not a perceptive person who is good at detecting pickpockets or threats, there's a legitimate question as to how you lived this long (aka, if I was your game master and you gave me a character with virtually no Search/Detect abilities and said you were a Lone Wolf, I'd hand it back to you and say, "Try again: your character would have been dead or broke by this point," and I would not feel bad for doing it).
If your character does not rely on stealth, how do they handle large numbers of opponents? Are they light on their feet, using proper form to minimizing incoming attacks? Do you use control magic and hexes to disrupt opponents? Thinking about how you've handled mobs of enemies in the past may help in the adjective selection process, skill selection process, etc.
How do you deal with social interactions? If you're just a dark, brooding person how in the blazes did you get jobs that fed you, clothed you, and outfitted you (Batman can do it because he blinks and he makes money - you don't)? Did you learn about plants, languages, cultures, or other relevant skills in your journeys? All of this will help you to craft the "why" and the "how" behind your Lone Wolf.
And finally, if you system uses magic and if you want to play a magic character, take a moment to think about how your theme of being a Lone Wolf shaped your use of magic. Do you use magic to keep enemies at bay? Thin the horde? Illuminate your path at night? Hide you in daylight? Heal you from the inevitable arrow that hits you as you run along the rooftops? What does your magic do, and how does it help to fill the needs that you developed from your time alone?
And as I hope you can see, there is a lot of good stuff behind the making of a Lone Wolf character, and rightly so: it is an evocative and interesting character concept. The issue with the Lone Wolf is that it so often goes against the spirit and energy of a group game, so if you can make one in a way that adds to the energy of the group instead of taking away from it, you can have a pretty cool character.
In our next post we'll be examining a character concept that is very unique and may have severe limitations on how you can play it based on your game system: a mute character who cannot speak.
Until next time,