After getting through the first few months of play, many groups become well-oiled machines. Everyone is having fun but as time goes on, this functionality almost seems to make the group stagnate—not in a bad way that inhibits fun, but Jim is always a caster of some type and Roberto persistently plays the paramour. In essence this isn’t a negative thing or even something that requires tampering, but as with the rest of the game, the GM can toss a wrench in the works of this part of game design to make things rattle and roll now and again.
Note that these aren't for every group, but if the players are all familiar with one another and typically switch GMs, there are some suggestions below to shake things up. If everyone involved is still getting to know one another and you’re looking for some advice, browse through the AaWBlog’s other Meta Thursday articles—this is definitely advanced design territory.
One “good” means to do this is for one or more player to be truly evil. Not just greedy or following an evil deity, but a believable character that can function without overt malice. Maybe the PC didn’t start that way, but had a change of heart after watching their paladin ally slay someone dear to them, or the adventurer lived through a horrific upbringing that set them down a path of civilized malevolence. However this may happen, it can be a fine thing! As a GM your job is to help this conflicted antagonist/protagonist, keeping them engaged with the group and making the player act out their corrupted motives and deeds in secret. This may be difficult to do without watching the adventurers devolve into backstabbing or assassination, but a dynamic storyline and the promise of a resolution (like winning that dead friend back or true vengeance) should be sufficient to keep that evil PC in line and willing to operate within the ideologies of a good-aligned group. This is one of the ideas that is a bit harder to pull off and is not recommended for newer groups.
Most groups sit down before a campaign begins and lay out what characters are going to be played, sometimes focusing on this or that aspect to complement one another—this is great for new groups and helps make a solid adventuring party. However, getting players to communicate their roles indirectly (both in action during combat or through roleplay) can lead to a more varied team and encourages acting in character. Moreover, now Roberto (who’s always wanted to play a mage) can make a wizard without knowing that Jim is doing the same—now the group has two arcane spellcasters, which changes the dynamics of the game but can be a fun time all the same because now everyone is really doing what they want to with their PCs. This option can lead to a hazardous set up though, so letting a player know the roles of their allies ahead of time isn’t a bad idea (and most campaigns have someone that prefers a “fill in” design anyway). Sometimes this means there’s no healer, and in these cases a few rerolls each game can help fill the gap left by cure spells.
The last suggestion is an abstract concept but simple to implement, and one that can be a source of great fun in any game but take note: it is definitely for advanced groups only. After each session or story arc (be it the defeat of a main antagonist or the clearing of a dungeon), let the players vote on one PC that they think did the most killing, provided the greatest aid, solved the toughest puzzle, or performed the best roleplay. Whomever they pick gets a reward related directly that PC or how they are played—if the character has red hair or a flaring temper, for a number of rounds per day they can add +1d6 fire damage to weapon attacks as a swift action. For a more complex approach, the GM could grant movement (like a burrow or flight speed) or modify existing class and monster abilities. To keep things from getting out of hand, limit the ability’s use to a week, and rule that no PC can receive such a reward if they’re still benefiting from one.
These are, of course, only general guidelines to shake things up, or get a group ready to change from one system or campaign to another. Even though they can be a great time, you don’t always want one player to be evil or to hand out magical abilities each week, but if a little rattle and roll seems to be called for, definitely give them a try.
[Submitted by Tim Snow!]