I believe niche protection is as important in simple systems as it is in complex ones. To me, niche protection means that each character has a unique role or purpose in a group, and that this unique role provides the character with the spotlight at certain times during the game. D&D does this with Classes. In Centurion and Nefertiti Overdrive, I have left it to the players to devise their own. I’m working on a new game, tentatively called Riggers in which the niches are set. That’s something different for me and it is causing one small headache.
In Riggers, I have six niches: leader, muscle, face, shooter, expert, and sneak. The thing is, my group now has seven players. In general, this is not a problem as we almost never have all the players in attendance. My sweet spot has always been four to six players, which is why I designed six niches for Riggers and six pre-generated characters for Nefertiti Overdrive. Now I have seven players and six niches.
I’ll be dealing with the problem for Riggers through consultation with my players, but I will institute some kind of niche and niche protection for the characters. Sharing out the spotlight is – to me – a very important part of keeping all the players invested. Isn’t that why we play? Don’t we want to develop our characters so they do something cool, something noteworthy? And when that is happening, do we not want everyone to see it? In my opinion, this is the most important reason to include niche protection in an RPG.
For some players, getting the spotlight is easy. Some players are confident or expressive, or have some other personality trait that allows them to dominate when they choose. Not all players are like this, and niche protection ensures that even quiet players will have a chance to show off. Without niche protection, one can’t always guarantee everyone gets a chance at that spotlight. If everyone is a sniper in your modern action game, how do you – as a GM – ensure everyone gets a chance to shine?
With niche protection that’s easy. You have a scene in which someone needs to get punched in the face, then one in which a computer needs to be hacked, and then one in which someone needs to sneak past the guards, etc. Having niches allows the GM to dole out the spotlight evenly and not have to worry about it at the same time as she is running the game. It’s hardwired into the adventure.
I don’t think it will be a problem to create one or two more niches for Riggers. As long as everyone has a clear idea what they want to be and what they want their character to do, niches can follow from that without much effort.
You can find out more about Nefertiti Overdrive here.