Tuesday, January 18, 2011

So, You Guys Are In This Inn...

Welcome to the Adjective Animal...

So, yesterday I spent the day doing actual work to avoid blogging. Doing actual work to get out of doing fake work, what has become of me? Anyway, since I need to write about something to justify calling myself a writer, howsabout we talk about starting campaigns?

Without a specific, organic means of making your characters a cohesive group right out of the gate, such as the Kill Team in Deathwatch or a Destroid squadron in Robotech, bringing a bunch of disparate party members together at the beginning of a new game can be every bit as fun, easy, and rewarding as herding cats. Players are, largely, anarchic and prone to do whatever the hell they want despite all your best planning. Hell, I've been in games that haven't gotten past the second session due to someone being an asshole playing in "character" and attacking/killing/knocking out and selling into slavery a new party member. Game Masters can, however, make life easier on themselves by setting up their games in such a way that the characters, alignments or quirks aside, have to work together.

  • The Military Unit: This one's easy enough. The players are all members of some sort of military (or police/paramilitary/superteam) organization and are forced to work together because, well, it's their job. Deathwatch, the Space Marine RPG by Fantasy Flight does this extremely well, and reinforces it through game mechanics. In Deathwatch, players are members of a squad-sized unit of Astartes called a Kill Team. Since The Deathwatch is an essentially special forces branch of the ultimate special forces unit, the Adeptus Astartes, and its members come from all the scattered Space Marine Chapters in the Imperium, many of which can't stand one another due to personality or doctrinal differences. What's cool about the Kill Team idea is that it not only gives the GM an amount of narrative control over how and why the players are together, but it also rewards the players for cooperating, and consequently (and obviously my favorite) punishes them for not playing well together. Giving the Game Master the ability to punish players for bad behavior with narrative and rules-based backup (You done fucked up, son. The CO is going to have your ass), is a good means of keeping the game on track and the party together without it looking like the GM is being "unfair" or singling anyone out. Players in a game where they're playing mercenaries, cops, firefighters, or other roles that require a certain amount of cohesion and esprit de corps fall squarely into this category. Game Masters should never be afraid of invoking Internal Affairs/Captain's Mast/Article 15 on their players if they get truly out of line.
  • The Crime Family: "We must hang together, gentlemen...else, we shall most assuredly hang separately." While this is obviously excellent advice for eighteenth century political radicals, it's also quite good advice for players living a life of crime. I know I talk about our Harn game a lot, but its the perfect example of needing to hang together. Players in a crime kind of game, and this includes more "heroic" kinds of criminals like Smugglers in Star Wars and 'Runners in Shadowrun, are largely at the mercy of their peers. One stray word, one disgruntled contact, one vengeful ex, and the cops will be all over the players like white on rice. Hell, the problem could even come from within the party itself. I myself have played a traitorous plant in the middle of a party, although I eventually "went native", came clean, and worked to bring down my old employers. Being too obviously criminal, not heeding warnings, not paying bribes on time, these are all excellent ways for players to get themselves in over their heads, and should not be overlooked by a Game Master. 
  • Answering a Want Ad: This is one of those games that a GM can feel good about starting off in a bar, which is the laziest cliche in a hobby infamous for lazy writing and hackneyed cliches. The players are in the employ of some unknown entity, who may or may not have dirt on them, and are forced to work together because, well, because I said so. While this probably isn't the most elegant way of getting players to work together, it is certainly effective. A set-up like this can lend itself to nearly any setting or game style, from a group of Pathfinder do-gooders to a pack of bleeding edge, hard-hearted Solos in Night City. 
Welp, I appear to have run out of ideas/steam, which means I should probably go back to doing real work again. As usual, you all are free to disregard anything we've talked about here today, but you never know. There may be some gems you can mine there. Let me know how you've gone about getting players to work together when they aren't interested in doing so.


Lonnie said...

My Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay game has been interesting. With 2 Dwarves (Pitfighter and Ironbreaker), a Human Bright Wizard (Fire mage), a High Elf Swordmaster, and a Wood Elf Waywatcher. That's alot of 'untrusting' parties there.

In the beginning, I deemed it probably for the two Elves to have met and working together, same as the Dwarves and Human. So what builds instant comraderie? A small army of Beastmen, that's what! A good fight always seems to bring people together.

Now, granted, my Ironbreaker has a constant hate/distrust of the two Elves to go as far as almost attacking one of them over a simple map, but that's good roleplay and general fun from the dynamic.

Sam said...

One thing my groups have tended to do (especially more recently) is insisted on a pre-game character building session. Once everyone's together and building their character in the same room, the party and the GM can work together to craft a narrative for why the group's together in the first place.

Sometimes it works better than others, to be sure. I think this makes me a complete shill, but that's why I like Rogue Trader's Origin Path. My latest Rogue Trader game ended up with one player being the mentor of the Rogue Trader, another being the cousin, and a third being the trusted retainer (and a forth being hired on because of "emergency circumstances), thanks to the origin path and the pre-game meeting.

It can also help with motivation. We had one game where we got together and said "let's all play good guys, people who want to do the right thing." Surprising how refreshingly fun that was!