Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fostering Familiarity

"So, now that we all completely trust one another with our lives..."

Party dynamics is always a factor in any of these games we play.  It's important for the sustained suspension of disbelief that the player characters are as comfortable with each other as the players' depict around the table.  Yet, often the subject of a given character backstory is glossed over when creating a party at the outset of a new game.  Even worse is "don't mind the orc" syndrome created when a very different party member joins during a game in progress - either it's the player's replacement for a dead character or it's a new player joining the game.

When starting a new game, it's fun to have everyone roleplay their meetings and come to know each other's character exclusively through gaming.  Sure one or two characters might be familiar with one another, but it's a standard trope to start a game with "You begin in the tavern..."  I encourage new groups to use this method, since players might not necessarily know each other well in real life.  New characters can be introduced in the same way...sort of a "cold intro".  Hello, I'm Seamus the Half Orc and I use an axe.  Here's my dungeon cart, where's the lair of evil at?

When your group meets a lot and you play many campaigns, this sort of intro can get old.  Instead of being interested in roleplaying this sort of party formation, veteran players gloss it over a lot.  In my own games, the core PC group tends to be the same ones every time, plus or minus an equal number of potential players depending on the weather and the season and the rest of life's crazy conditions.  I prefer to foster a familiarity among the player characters as part of the creation of the party and prior to the group's first adventure.

Sometimes, the "meet in a tavern" this is cool, but for me it dredges up all sorts of questions as to the nature of such a group.  It's not really credible that a bunch of Neutrals meet in a liquor bar and decide to go fight evil or whatever, and then fight to the death protecting one another.  Not only is that out of alignment (for the most part) but it's also incredulous if you think "hey, these people don't know each other that well."

For me, I have a new standing rule that's been sorta unspoken for a couple of years.  This rule is the Party Familiarity principle, and it has two parts.
  1. All player characters in a given campaign must have serious connections to other members of the party to represent their decision to risk their lives together. (e.g. they are family;  members of the same community;  sent on a magical quest by the warlock Charlie Sheen, etc...)
  2. New characters created and joining during the course of the campaign must likewise have a familiarity and relation to the party except under special circumstances.  (The story permits the entrance of an unfamiliar character.)
It's not as unfair as it seems.  It exists solely to keep the him-hawing to a minimum when creating backstories and making sure everyone fits together in what we see as the "party unit".  Obviously, I'm not precluding any character types and for sure, if you want to play a "loner outcast" that's fine - we're going to talk about it though, since to my mind loner outcasts don't hang out with other people in a paramilitary squad / militia.

For us at the Wargate, this will save a lot of time.  Already our new campaign in Greyhawk has used this to mostly good effect - though we did let a half orc join the party for no apparent reason.  It's that kind of hinky stuff that can throw off the track of an otherwise cohesive story.  Next time you're rolling a character at the Wargate, think about how he fits in with the rest of the group, even if he's radically different in background and ability.  Surely, someone else in the party lived near the tower of the Warlock Charlie Sheen, where you grew up and learned magic spells.