Sunday, April 26, 2009

PC Group

Hello, and welcome to another fun-filled week of the Game Dork's gaming corner! This week, I'm going to talk about the adventuring party.

You all know the scenario: "You're in a tavern. There's a mysterious stranger sitting alone in a corner." Or, perhaps, "Someone comes over to your table." And before long, this character is recruited to join a party of people he has never met before to go off on some whirlwind adventure of killing monsters and taking their treasure, with the added benefit of some extra prize at the end of the story.

I used to run stories like that. That was all my gaming group would ever do, when we started a game. We'd each write up our individual characters, and then the GM would have to scramble to find some way to get the characters together. Often, he'd fail, and the characters would realise they have no reason to work together, and the game would fall apart.

The first time we tried to do it differently was our failed experiment in actually using the pack rules from Werewolf. But later, I decided to try a more cohesive approach, and it worked very well, actually. Now I do it every time.
What I do is I sit the gaming group down before chargen and say, "Before you write up your characters, decide how your characters know each other. I don't care why you're all friends, but you're all part of some group that has been together for a while and is likely to stay together."

A few memorable ones:
  • the PCs were all actors in a performance troupe.
  • The PCs were soldiers in the same unit, still together years after their enlistment ended.
  • One PC ran a boarding house, and the others were all tenants in that house.
Once the players know how their characters are connected, they are free to write up whatever character they want. But having this pre-existing bond enabled me, as a storyteller, to skip the "You're going on a quest with these other people that you've never met before" stage and get right to the first plot hook.

As if that weren't incentive enough (and if you don't think it is, you've obviously never GMed for a typical gaming group), there's the added incentive that intra-party conflict is much less likely. I once tried to GM a game of The Whispering Vault (in which the characters are spirits who form teams to seek, capture, and return rogue spirits who are plaguing the world). The very nature of this game involves groups of people working together. The first player writes up a character who he describes as a loner, as someone who prefers to work on his own.

How am I supposed to deal with that? I'm not running two games at the same time, here. You're either in the party or you're not. It's bad enough when the characters split up and you have some players sittling idly aside while the rest get to have all the fun. But to start the game that way and expect it to continue in that manner is just wrong.

I ended up starting that character by saying, "Normally, you like to work on your own, but you get the feeling that this adventure may be just a bit too big to handle by yourself." The player complained about me co-opting his character concept, but seriously, I've got a game to run here, and I don't need your maverick loose-cannon loner making it more difficult.

The advantage to the pre-existing party concept is that if you want to write up a loner character, you can. But you'll still have a connection to the other PCs, and a reason to work with them without it being out of character. Even real-life loners have some friends.

But that's my suggestion. Have the players define their own group before they even write up characters, so that they'll know their characters will work together (at least to an extent). It will make things so much easier in the long run.

And that's it for this week. Tune in again next week for more of the Gaming Corner! Until then, 

Game on!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One game I've been involved with had a really good one. The characters are worked for the same travel magazine--thus there was a reason for the characters to travel to any location that the story required.