As a spin-off from last week’s thoughts – one element that works well with antagonistic PCs is the concept of ‘temporary’ characters. If you kill off my 12th level D&D elf wizard who I’ve levelled up from 1st, that’s a big thing. If you kill off the elf wizard I came up with ten minutes ago, using something like Over the Edge where his stats are ‘Elf Wizard 5d6′, it’s not as big a blow to me. I don’t have as much time and effort invested in that character.
Future project: A semi-adversarial game where all the players have a high-level main PC, and scads of temporary ones. Your main PC is sacrosanct, but the temporary ones are fair game. (I’ve a Traveller variant based on this idea, where you’re all playing interstellar empires, and game turns are decades apart, but anyway…)
Temporary characters also solve the spotlight time problem. If PC#1 is going to be away from the rest of the group for a long time, then any time the GM spends with him is time spent ignoring the rest of the group. If, however, the GM can give the other players temporary PCs to go along with PC#1, then everyone’s still involved. It skirts the edges of collaborative play without actually growing its hair out and going full hippy. One potential problem: In my experience, temporary characters tend to be played for laughs more than long-running PCs. If I’m only going to be playing Bob the Redshirt for a scene or two, then I’m instinctively going to give Bob some absurd personality quirk or accent to give me something to hang on to.
To drag this tangent in the direction of Grognardia, have I just partially recreated the whole concept of Hirelings? How often did players roleplay their hirelings back in the day?