Loners in fictional works are often among the coolest and most popular characters in the stories we consume. Whether it be Batman, Superman, or just the newest character being played by Will Smith who knows that they can get things done, faster and better, on their own. However, RPGs and advice columns for them are full of horror stories of the damage this can do to a game. Why? Because an RPG isn't a TV show, movie, or comic book, and because of that change in venue it is not something welcome. Today I want to talk about where the middle ground is.
Why Is It A Problem?
Before we can talk about how to work around the problem, we have to address why something is a problem. In the case of the RPG Loner, the problem comes down to Audience. See, in a movie or comic book the audience is all still on the adventure when the loner cuts loose and goes off to do their own thing. In an RPG however, the audience is the players (including the GM) and the enjoyment comes from working together on a collaborative thing.
Because of this, when a character goes off on their own only one player (and the GM) is engaged by the game. Also, because of the nature of RPGs, the other players can't even really do anything in the background while the loner is off being a lone. Effectively, the problem is that when a loner character in an RPG goes off alone, you cut almost everyone else out of the game.
Wolverine in the X-Men, Batman in the Avengers
The funny thing about this is that comic books have dealt with this problem already in a different way. Wolverine and Batman are two of the most famous loners in comic history, and yet when they're in a team book they act differently. Don't believe me? Well, for one you ever notice how batman smiles in Justice League but never in his own books?
See, in the solo books Wolverine and Batman are the whole show. Because of this they're free to go off on their own, do their own thing, and be the loner badasses that we all think they are. In the team books though, they're team players. Wolverine may gripe about doing things on his own, but he sticks with the group. He's there to help them.
How Do I Do Both?
Doing both in an RPG takes compromise, however it's not like there isn't opportunity in most games. The first thing you want to do is talk to your GM about the character. You should probably talk to your group too. Let them know that your character likes to work alone, but that you're going to keep them a team player.
When talking with your GM you want to, above all else, make sure that you establish a solid reason for your character to stay with the group. Remember, this needs to be a very good reason. It can't be something that is briefly or easily attainable, you want to be with the group for the long haul. Also, remember, that "I like the group and want to protect my friends" is a damn good reason.
Yeah, But How Is That Alone?
The opportunity to do things alone will be in the game. What is important is when you take those opportunities. When the group is trying to do something big is not the time to go off and be alone. Trail behind a little, scout ahead a little sure, but stick with the group. After all, going alone is going to likely just get you killed if it is something set up for the group and you hit it alone. However, there are lots of chances where you can do stuff on your own.
Almost every RPG includes R&D time for the plots. Go alone for some of that. The group will be better suited split up anyhow, and you can take the dark and angry loner path. Where the mage or bard go hit the books, maybe you go rough up some local tavern folks for it.
It's Not Truly a Loner Then...
This is true. I'm not going to lie about that. Your character will likely never be able to go the full Wolverine unless you have a good GM and group who are willing to work with you. However, you can still grab some of the character.
Your character history can be full of being a lone wolf, only with the group you have to stick with them because the group is stronger than the sum of its parts. When between adventures you can do that too.
Remember, characters who are loners do enjoy time alone, but they can also work in groups. You need to focus on the group when at the table. Worry about the character getting alone time in the quiet moments.