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The Re-Gathering of Heroes

Gathering the party, even a party of veteran characters, is a standard literary trope. One or two protagonists learn of a threat and seek out old friends. Often they are shocked and surprised to discover what their friends have been up to in the meantime. The clever thief may now be a legitimate business man with a family, the paladin may now be an alcoholic mercenary, and the wandering bard may not have changed at all, still reveling in past glories.  Gathering the group can be almost as interesting as dealing with the threat.

I recently started a Pathfinder (Rise of the Runelords) campaign. It reminded me that some of my most fun moments in any campaign is that initial session, where the player characters arrive from all walks of life and meet each other for the first time. Character descriptions and personalities are established and the party begins to gel during the initial adventure.

Unfortunately I tend to lose those sparks as my fantasy campaigns progress. No matter what the PCs’ backgrounds, they are soon known only as “adventurers” that have a tendency to travel around with their adventuring friends. And while they may collect titles, fame and fortune during those adventures, most characters never get a description, personality or background update beyond the context of those adventures.

As a result, character subplots and hooks not directly related to the adventures tend to be stillborn. Sure, you may be an exiled noble who hopes to someday retake the throne from your heartless aunt, but what does that have to do with the ruins of Tinar Morg two continents away? Maybe the son of the duke whose castle you spent the night in had romantic possibilities, but you’ve got to go defeat the draco-lich triad!

It occurred to me that I don’t seem to have this problem in other games, especially those that revolve around a home base. Once the current threat is defeated, the PCs return to their normal lives until the next threat surfaces. One PC usually gets hooked in and then recruits her buddies. In the interrim, I’m able to advance subplots and allow the player to resculpt his character.

With that in mind, why not do something similar in traditional fantasy campaigns? Instead of having the PCs march from adventure to adventure, give them some real downtime between adventures (and not just to go shopping). Ask the players what their characters do after the adventure is over. Flesh out hooks from their background. Advance subplots. Believe it or not, all of this can be done effectively within an hour or so of a single session. After spending a few minutes with each PC, start with the new adventure proper. Only this time, choose one or two PCs to get initially involved and then have them recruit the others. You can now have the character descriptions all over again, taking note of the changes since last time around.

It’s important as the GM to be very reactive when it comes to these “between adventures” cut scenes. One of the reasons why the initial session is so much fun is because the players are enthusiastic about describing their new characters. Let them continue to flesh them out. After asking the player what her character does when the previous adventure is over ask more questions to flesh it out. Build off of what the player gives you and you’ll find that they are more enthusiastic about playing it and showing off how their character has grown and changed.

 So give it a try (I know I will in my current campaign)! And if you already do this, drop a comment and let me know how it’s been working for you.

Good Gaming!

7 Comments (Open | Close)

7 Comments To "The Re-Gathering of Heroes"

#1 Comment By Swordgleam On September 14, 2008 @ 9:15 am

That sounds like fun. I know some of my players aren’t as excited about that kind of play as others, though, so I’m not sure if I could get them all on board with spending a combat or two’s worth of time talking about what happened when there wasn’t much happening.

I’ve often wondered why it is that TV show characters have a strange, grisly case every week or save the world from demons on a daily basis. Then I listened more closely, and realized the characters were saying things that indicated there were a few weeks or even months between each episode, during which everyone lived fairly normal lives. You don’t have episodes about that time, because it’s not exciting.

Which makes me wonder if it would be possible to skip the hour spent going over everyone’s between-adventure lives, and just jump right in to reassembling for the new threat. I know my players like to improv, so they’d be fine with, “Do you really need me right now? I’m in the middle of negotiating a major deal” even without having explicitely established beforehand that the PC had gotten involved in her father’s business interests since the last adventure.

What do you think?

#2 Comment By Walt Ciechanowski On September 14, 2008 @ 10:23 am

Swordgleam- As always, it depends on your players. The “about an hour” is an estimation that includes reintroducing the PC with an updated description. In most cases, a few minutes of “so what is your PC up to lately?” is enough to get the ball rolling, followed by a knock on the door by another PC to goad her into the next adventure.

It’s not necessary to pre-plan anything; your “major deal” example is a perfect illustration of what I’m talking about.

That said, you could use the information as plot seeds for the future 😉

#3 Comment By Kurt “Telas” Schneider On September 14, 2008 @ 11:47 am

I’ve been lucky enough to have a GM that does just this. In between adventure arcs, we would all advance a level or two, and then spend some time with the GM, RPing out what we did in the interim. He rolled it all together into a verbal montage at the beginning of the next campaign arc.

Hey, even Rocky had a montage…

#4 Comment By Scott On September 14, 2008 @ 6:07 pm

I’ve done this in the past. If in-session time is short, though, this is an excellent use for a group mailing list, blog, or wiki — players can post between sessions, updating the group on their characters’ doings.

#5 Comment By Scott Martin On September 15, 2008 @ 9:50 am

I like the idea, and it helps fix one of the complaints about various flavors of D&D; the zero to demigod in a year and a half of adventuring. If you follow the advice above, it lets the players with skills practice, gives you some time to master new feats, and makes it all come together more plausibly.

(A drawback, though, is that some players try to micromanage their time off, which works against the quick summary/one hour time table. Have you ever had a problem keeping the players to broad sweeps, not itemizing exactly which scrolls they scribe each day?)

#6 Comment By Lee Hanna On September 17, 2008 @ 11:44 am

I’ve enjoyed this kind of thing, when it happens. Some players don’t want to, but I will.
An useful tool mentioned above is the group email list, where those who want to carry out the in-between things can do so.

#7 Comment By tman On September 19, 2008 @ 11:14 am

Cool idea! I’m just about to start an urban campaign and I’ve been thinking about ways to keep the ‘city’ the characters live in alive and vibrant all while the campaign progresses. I was thinking of having little snippets of rumors and sideline activities for each character between sessions, so this is definitely a cool way to add to that.