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Hi, I’m Magesto. Let’s go kill some kobolds!
Posted By Scott Martin On April 15, 2009 @ 6:28 am In GMing Advice | 19 Comments
Raistlin50201 has a good question:
How do you get your player to meet the first time?
I have been in a few dozen campaigns myself and am GMing one. In most that I played, I was in military situations so we were just ordered together as a unit. I also often hear of the classic “You meet in a tavern and decide to travel together” stuff. For my campaign I tried to instead get everyone caught up in a mystery. Once it was solved, they were together and were familiar with each other and decided to stick as a group.
Do you have any suggestions on what hooks/actions to use to bring together the players realistically? I would prefer to let the players come together on their own than just say, you are a group.
Thanks for any help or suggestions.
I have tried a number of solutions, some quite successful, some much less so. I’ll lay out some of techniques I’ve tried below and we can figure out what works and why.
In one successful D&D game, we created characters but didn’t create a backstory for the characters. Instead, we started on the scene of the adventure, leaving town to solve a problem. Bandits had been ambushing caravans, and kobold raiders were lairing nearby.
This works by deferring the problem. In this case you skip past the “meeting each other” scene and start off assuming the PCs have accepted the job and are on their way to tackle it. This can be very helpful in avoiding some traps that some players build themselves into– like creating characters that never join the group. This also lets you start with something exciting– like combat. It also preserves the character introductions for later, after the players are used to their PCs. (Dragons of Autumn Twilight uses this idea to good effect.)
You can always run a “flashback” scene later, and play out the characters meeting each other for the first time after character concepts and relations are finalized. Much like in a TV show, this has the advantage of skipping past a talky scene with weakly developed characters and coming back to it when everyone has a better grasp of their character.
As you suggested in your question, mandating that the characters are a part of an organization is a great way to logically explain why they hang out. This can work well in any setting; PCs can all be childe of one vampire, members of an elite group of government investigators, police working the same beat. Similarly, in a fantasy game, players can all be members of a secret order, guards of the city, champions of the church, or even members of an “adventuring guild”. If you’re playing in the future, they can be the crew of the one Battlestar left in the universe, part of a group resisting the Empire, members of the same swoop gang, or whatever organization makes sense. (I’m a big fan of Morgan Teams.)
If you run with this style of game, everyone has a good reason for working together– they joined the group for a reason, after all. Some character concepts can be squished a bit trying to fit into the mold. Keep an eye out for player discomfort with the organization and allow exceptions if the player proposes an equally strong bond in its place. (Perhaps the character works for Internal Affairs and is on long term assignment to the branch to root out corruption. Or the PC is the mayor’s liaison to the police. I’m sure many similar ideas come to mind.)
Family is a great kind of group tie, as the Amber book series demonstrates.
A group Geas is a way to bind very different characters together. This is a close variation of being a member of the same group– instead, you have wildly different members bound together by a magic or technology. This usually presupposes an overall organization, but you can come up with other explanations. The PCs might be bound by crippled cyberware (cortex bombs for everyone!), an addiction to a drug with only one source, magic, GPS bracelets, etc. This type of game is particularly liable to fall apart once the underlying geas is solved, so have a backup plan in mind if they do solve the issue that binds them.
A group quest, like heading to a volcano and tossing in a ring, is very similar. If destiny requires everyone survive to save the world, you can probably put up with them even when you’re biting your tongue and wishing for different companions.
If you’re playing a prison drama, the characters are going to interact directly and indirectly. You probably won’t get “party play”, but with a setup like this you’re probably not looking for it. This setup ensures frequent interaction– and even when the characters are separate, their situation probably impacts or reflects on the other characters. This is like “unrelated characters” below, with constraints to ensure they interact. (A murder mystery in a remote area, aboard a train, or on an airship, is another good restricted setting.)
While this isn’t a good technique, I have used it to mixed effect. Basically, the players create their characters in isolation, then play through a prologue where the GM forces them together. This can be great for maximizing the flexibility and preserving the individuality of the characters, but it can break down. The players should agree to “bend” their characters toward working as a group.
This approach is often damaged by players “playing their characters uncompromisingly”. GMs need to be particularly careful about making sure that the PCs won’t conflict (the old Paladin/Assassin problem) and that no character is a loner who will wander away as soon as the first adventure is over. The GM should be clear that it is the player’s responsibility to accept the group, or you’ll spend half your time getting them to go on the adventure! Make sure that they leave you and themselves an out when they say, “But that’s what my character would do,” if they are doing something that will make the game less fun for you and everyone at the table.
One of my favorite campaigns seemed to fall into place naturally, with just a little extra effort during character generation. During character creation, I had each character create two links to other PCs. So the characters knew each other in different degrees, but when the story began (with the murder of an NPC a couple of them knew), their independent investigations got them in trouble and they reached out for support. The group came together organically, in response to a chain of “calling for help” and responses dragging the PCs into hot water together.
Set up a whole session to discuss character concepts and backgrounds. Everyone comes out of the session with a good idea as to what each character is going to be like, and you can work together– without stats to distract you– to come up with common histories. You can also make sure that your characters will work together in the game rules, and won’t step on each other’s toes.
Look out for independent clusters of PCs that only share one or two PCs in common. Murphy’s Law means that the character holding the group together is the one who will die first and the remaining characters will want to break into two independent groups. If you see characters whose interest in the group hinges on only one character, make sure the player has a reason to keep them involved if something happens to the link character.
In Dark Sun, players each create a stable of characters– several apiece, often of different levels. Make them members of a common organization, and each week you pick the most appropriate characters and play the week’s quest. If one player’s missing this week, shift to another set of characters in another city. This works well if the expanation for the stable is flexible and large– say, the military of a country, or most of the ideas listed under Group Assignment above.
Similarly, your stable of characters could just be the adventuring inhabitants of an area. This is a great backdrop for a West Marches style game.
Several games are made to work with characters that rarely share the same scene, but still keep everyone involved. This is typically done by aligning the story so they’re all struggling with the same foe or issue, even if they never join together. This works best if the players all enjoy OOC knowledge and exploring an issue from different sides. You can generate a lot of “aha” moments that the players as audience will appreciate, even though their characters aren’t interacting.
That’s a lot of ways you can get characters together, but I bet you have even better ideas. Please share them with Raistlin and me in comments!
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