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Solving the "How Does the Party Come Together" Question

Jojiro

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Some people here have rather ambitious projects that are entire systems with combat, classes, the works.

I, on the other hand, set out to solve a simple problem: I was GM, and my players would create these backstories that didn't allow them to interact at all. Furthermore, it was hard for them to create backstories that I could quickly relate to within a campaign, or they would dramatically change the world I had planned. Even if I as a GM solved these problems, they were also unsure how to roleplay in the beginning. Sure, they could do quests I laid out before them, but they also wanted to be faithful to their backstories without crowding the other players. It ended up being rather awkward.

I tried using the "Same Page Tool" resource, but since most of my players were new to the game, I got a lot of "we're fine trying whatever". So that was a bust.

I needed some sort of step during character creation that brought the party together, and also served as a springboard for explaining world lore to them.

So...I made a system. Instead of Google Doc-ing it, I'll just post it here in the forums. It's small, but for a forum post quite long, I suppose. If you want to take ideas from it, feel free. I'm quite obviously hacking together the Origin Paths from Rogue Trader with the chaos from Fiasco. The fact is, for us, it works really well. It has a zany feel to it, so it might not work for everyone. YMMV.

~~~~~
Character Weaving


The stated objective of weaving a character is to link characters to each other in meaningful and possibly complicated ways, while simultaneously giving them a place in the world. By clarifying character relationships in the CharGen process and clarifying questions about the world that come up during weaving, players get an opportunity to start roleplaying during character creation, while also contributing meaningfully to the game narrative. Ideally, they also understand enough about the lore through asking questions without feeling overwhelmed by new information.


Weaving works as follows: a player is selected to start the weaving process. Since all weaving must come full-circle, the starting player doesn't have any advantage over other players - they just get the ball rolling.


There are two types of threads: Relationship Threads, which exist for flavor and roleplaying purposes, and Plot Threads, which mechanically benefit players.


Firstly, players define their relationship threads to each other. This is before they create anything of their character, by the way. No race, no class, just threads.


The first player selects a second player to have a relationship with, and furthermore chooses to be Tied by Accord or Tied by Conflict. Having done so, they roll 2d10. The second player can now choose one of the rolls for their relationship from the appropriate table.


Example:
Bob: I would like to start by tying my character to Jenny's character in-game. I think I'll select Tied by Accord, since I want to be on reasonably good terms with her. *rolls a 1 and an 8*
Jenny: Well, on the table, 1 says we are fellow servants of the Faith, one devout, one for money. Hm, what's the Faith?
GM: In this setting, the Faith represents the central religion of the continent. The Church has a lot of power here, and the Faith reflects that.
Jenny: Hm, I'm not sure I want to be devout, what about you, Bob? *Bob shakes his head* 8 says that we're the orphan and the one who gave them a chance...is that like a caretaker?
GM: It's your call to interpret it however you like. These are guidelines, it's your story.
Jenny: Alright, in that case I'd rather be the caretaker, if you're ok with being an orphan, Bob?


The second player then continues by selecting a third player to have a relationship with, choosing a tie and rolling. The third player gets to choose between the 2 options again. The element of choice gives players agency, but the binary provides focus. Of course, if neither player is comfortable playing with either option, you can allow a re-roll, but ideally your list is vetted by all players at the table. This continues until it comes full circle, so that each player has 2 Relationship Threads.


For example, here are my standard Relationship Threads tables for when I run D&D or Dungeon World:


Relationship Threads​
Tied by Accord
1. Servants of the Faith, one devout, one for money
2. You both consented to a mind-wipe from the Faith
3. Worked joint mercenary jobs for years; same squad
4. One of wavering confidence, one a strong advocate
5. Siblings with an uncomfortable relationship
6. Twins, separated by storm or subterfuge
7. You think you are/aren’t kin, but you aren’t/are
8. An orphan and the one who gave them a chance
9. Strong friendship somehow made entirely of misunderstandings
10. Bitter, stubborn ex-lovers who secretly want each other again


Tied by Conflict
1. Inquisitor and heretic
2. Spent one drunken night together, making mistakes
3. Spouses in a loveless marriage
4. You got each other expelled from the Academy
5. Moneylender and debtor
6. Partners in a failed venture due to mutual incompetence
7. Established court artisan and competing star
8. One tried to kill the other, but failed
9. The one undercover and the one who knows
10. Addict to violence and pacifist handler


~~~~~


So, once Relationship Threads are woven, all characters are tied to one another, and have to reconcile their stories somewhat.


Example:
Bob is an orphan, and Jenny is the orphan's caretaker. (For simplicity I will just use player names)
Jenny and Li are siblings with an uncomfortable relationship. (Accord 5)
Li and Bob, in turn, are the one undercover and the one who knows (Conflict 9)
With this much information, you can already see some complex themes emerging that might be explored over a campaign. The three players talk it over, and decide that Bob knows Li is doing some shady undercover work, with an as-of-yet undecided organization. Jenny wants to believe in her sister Li, but Bob is an orphan she has voluntarily taken in under her wing, and she is starting to suspect Li. This is what is creating the tension between them, causing mild but ever-present discomfort.


~~~~~
We repeat the weaving process, but now players are rolling for Plot Threads. Again, these link the players to one another, but instead of relationships being in Accord or in Conflict, they choose if they are tied by Need or Background.


Players with the "Tied by Need" tag can play towards those needs, and if they do so can earn bonus XP that way. It is made for players more comfortable with narrative gameplay, and means that they are mechanically helped out and rewarded for playing the game they want to play. They level up quickly, but are less competent at the start of the game.


Players with the "Tied by Background" tag, on the other hand, can use those Backgrounds as skill sets. Players who select this get to create more immediately competent characters, so they don't have to go 'from zero to hero' so to speak. A person who selects a background like "sailor" gets to add that background to their rolls for anything that is reasonably attributed to a sailor. In Dungeon World, it's a +1 bonus. In D&D, I lay out certain skill proficiencies and starting items for each background, but more generously than the PHB does it. They start more competent, but their growth is not accelerated by bonus XP.


Since each player has two such tags again (once everyone goes full circle), and agency is shared among the team, it again serves as a meta-narrative between gamers on how they want to play.


Here are my standard Plot Threads when I run Dungeon World or D&D in my setting:


Plot Threads​
Tied by Need
1. You need to get rich to make the world a better place
2. You need to get rich through fraud and duplicity
3. You need to defend the nation even as it destroys you
4. You need to defend the nation from its own corruption
5. You need to get out of the life your family arranged for you
6. You need to get out of a conspiracy to save a life
7. You need to get high on the good stuff
8. You need to get high on something real for a change
9. You need to get your name back
10. You need to get to the bottom of a death and a betrayal


Tied by Background
1. Interns at one of the Academies
2. Refugees of some unspeakable horror
3. Zealots of a church or cult
4. Heretical leaders of a failed revolution
5. Traveling entertainers with friends in odd places
6. Involved with the torture and/or trading of slaves
7. Press-ganged into an organization
8. Financiers to the same trading company
9. Shiplorn sailors from the Nethersea
10. Estranged nobles far down in the line of inheritance


As you can see, as players select things relevant to them, they will also learn about the world they inhabit.


Once Plot Weaving is complete, players once again have to adjust their backstory to make everything fit. Jenny and Li may be sisters with a strained relationship, but now it turns out Li and Bob were former zealots of a cult, while Jenny and Li were also interns at one of the Academies. Recalling that Li is "undercover" and Bob is the one who knows, perhaps Li infiltrated the Academy to make more cultists, while Bob had a change of heart, left the cult, and is now trying to warn Jenny?


The resulting backstory ends up being zany and requires some suspension of disbelief, but gives characters plenty of things to interact about from the get-go, and gives the players some laughter.


As players increase, you have to design the lists to be more and more mild, since it becomes harder to incorporate specifics into everyone's backstory and still have it fit. My lists work alright for up to five players, sometimes forming love triangles, other times forcing characters to be a bit older in order to quit one job and move to the next.


~~~~~


After all of the above is said and done, players choose their race and class and proceed with character creation. Based on the Weaving, I create a starting point for their adventure, and I'm able to make it immediately relevant to them, while still using elements from the world I prepared. Despite all the craziness, it's contained within these lists, so I have some element of control and the world rarely gets completely wrecked as it does when they make their own backstories and go crazy with it. It feels like a joint effort while being fun and surprising for everyone involved.
 

Xander

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Seems like a great concept.

The charts are a little specific, though - maybe you would want to make these broader stories or concepts.

Like Servants of the Faith could be "Share a common faith" which doesn't have to be a specific belief, only that the characters have some philosophy or religion in common.
 

cryptc

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Yeah I agree that making the relationship threads be more generic would be helpful... while the plot threads could be specific more campaign-bound things.
 

Bruno Carvalho de Paula

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During my own FFRPG 4th character creation (link in the signature), before you create the individual characters, you must create the group. When creating the group, you select three Traits from a list: broad motivations that will grant some insight on the group's backstory and goals.

Then, when creating each character, he must select two traits from the Group's list and add it to his character. After that, he selects one extra trait from the general list. These traits give players more options when interacting with the world (for example, a "Monster Hunter" gains knowledge about monsters, while a "People's Hero" can earn help and shelter from the common man) and also direct how the character earn experience (the aforementioned "Monster Hunter" gains XP by killing monsters, while the "People's Hero" gains XP by fighting tyranny and helping the poor and weak).

By having each character choose 2 traits from the group's selected three, it means that all character have overlapping motivations and reasons to stick together. By letting the players choose one trait from the general list, it opens the possibility for double agents, intra-party conflict, personal drama or simply for a character to be even more integrated (he may choose the Group's third trait, if he wants).
 

mats

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This is a great concept with traits. Picking two and joining players together through them - I like it a lot.

As for weaving part I like it as well but I'm instantly looking how to make it generic. I'd like to have such tool for any campaign, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever I'm into. Otherwise it's a neat approach. For more than several players it might have too many connections to grasp from the start but that's easily solvable by skipping few connections or adding blank connections to be determined later...

Oh, yeah, and depending on the length of the campaign there will be a better choice between need and background. Short campaigns - choose background. Long ones - choose need. I might be looking too much into it and it might not be an issue at all...
 

Jojiro

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Validated User
Seems like a great concept.

The charts are a little specific, though - maybe you would want to make these broader stories or concepts.

Like Servants of the Faith could be "Share a common faith" which doesn't have to be a specific belief, only that the characters have some philosophy or religion in common.
Yeah I agree that making the relationship threads be more generic would be helpful... while the plot threads could be specific more campaign-bound things.
The charts are meant to be specific, though maybe I didn't explain why very clearly. Before a given campaign, the GM makes the charts, and gets it OK'd by the players at session 0. If you have a Warhammer 40k setting, make your points based on that. If you are in Forgotten Realms, make your points based on that. The idea is that you can place setting into the character creation.

Want to run something with factions? Each background is also a faction. Want the entire party to be a family? All Accord ties are now familial relationships. Want Icons without 13th Age rules, for some reason? 10 Icons are backgrounds. Want something like Dungeon World's motivations, without necessarily the same mechanics? You can replace each Need with something from alignment resolution mechanics.

Admittedly the relationships depicted in my example can create an uncomfortable level of intimacy at times, but that was part of what we were going for as a group.

This is a great concept with traits. Picking two and joining players together through them - I like it a lot.


As for weaving part I like it as well but I'm instantly looking how to make it generic. I'd like to have such tool for any campaign, sci-fi, fantasy, whatever I'm into. Otherwise it's a neat approach. For more than several players it might have too many connections to grasp from the start but that's easily solvable by skipping few connections or adding blank connections to be determined later...


Oh, yeah, and depending on the length of the campaign there will be a better choice between need and background. Short campaigns - choose background. Long ones - choose need. I might be looking too much into it and it might not be an issue at all...
I think, like the folks above, you are misreading my lists. They are examples, not set in stone. The "system" is essentially a blank set of 40 slots, 10 allotted to Accord, 10 to Conflict, 10 to Need, 10 to Background. Personally, as I stated above, I think making the actual sentences generic tends to make the system more boring. However, if you are running a game with more people (6-8) more generic may be needed for all of the backstories to still make sense.

So yeah, it's definitely supposed to be adaptable. My setting happens to have a Nethersea, so I include that. It happens to have a Faith, so I include that. You could replace those points with "expert duelists at the card game of Yugioh" or "Storm Troopers questioning their loyalties", and are in fact meant to.

For players who get confused, it's a group process, since everyone is tied to someone else. Folks with less improv skill might have a simpler story that is "chunked" - a.k.a. 'first I was a cultist, then I quit. Then I decided I needed money. All this time I also happened to be this guy's lover.' But that's still serviceable, esp with other players and the GM helping out.

You are 100% right about length of campaign. The longer it is, the more disadvantageous backgrounds will be. However, it's hard to optimize when one of your decisions is always made by another character, unless the entire "party" decides to optimize, in which case great, that tells the GM that's the kind of party they are dealing with.

Having said that, a background can still 'feel' competitive if you give it narrative weight. If a character gets an entire story arc dedicated to their background, that can 'balance' things somewhat in the game-space.
 
Last edited:

baakyocalder

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This sounds like a useful concept. Given the issues I've had where players interact sparsely with most of the other players, I might expand it so you roll the Relationship threads for each player.

You also might want to consider discussing how not to give metagame benefits for the plot thread. In some games there is no free lunch, so rolling up a background or need would just be moving the game forward by providing more help with motivations.

Oh, and 'The Faith' doesn't bother me since that's how some religious people refer to their faith. If there is more than one faith in a world, the players can decide which one works. . .
 

mats

How do I change this?
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I think, like the folks above, you are misreading my lists. They are examples, not set in stone. The "system" is essentially a blank set of 40 slots, 10 allotted to Accord, 10 to Conflict, 10 to Need, 10 to Background. Personally, as I stated above, I think making the actual sentences generic tends to make the system more boring. However, if you are running a game with more people (6-8) more generic may be needed for all of the backstories to still make sense.

So yeah, it's definitely supposed to be adaptable. My setting happens to have a Nethersea, so I include that. It happens to have a Faith, so I include that. You could replace those points with "expert duelists at the card game of Yugioh" or "Storm Troopers questioning their loyalties", and are in fact meant to.

For players who get confused, it's a group process, since everyone is tied to someone else. Folks with less improv skill might have a simpler story that is "chunked" - a.k.a. 'first I was a cultist, then I quit. Then I decided I needed money. All this time I also happened to be this guy's lover.' But that's still serviceable, esp with other players and the GM helping out.

You are 100% right about length of campaign. The longer it is, the more disadvantageous backgrounds will be. However, it's hard to optimize when one of your decisions is always made by another character, unless the entire "party" decides to optimize, in which case great, that tells the GM that's the kind of party they are dealing with.

Having said that, a background can still 'feel' competitive if you give it narrative weight. If a character gets an entire story arc dedicated to their background, that can 'balance' things somewhat in the game-space.
Oh, I got it the first time that the lists are campaign-specific, it's just that I would appreciate the concept if it would be generic. Something I can take out anytime and it just works... I know it's different concept and it can't work for every situation ever but it can (I believe) be made to cover 80% of situations. Maybe I'm just megalomaniac :)

I missed that half of the backgrounds/needs is half made by another character. That makes perfect sense and minimizes the problem I mentioned.

All in all it's a good concept, I like it ;)
 

Age_Past

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I think the OP is on to something here. I also agree, that this could be a generic tool fro all games to use, vs being a system to itself or built around a specific system. I typically find I don't have issues like the OP does as a GM. I usually find a way to motivate the party to come together. However, this appears to be a consistent issue that has little focus on solving.

The problem is if you embed something like this into a system you erode player agency. It essentially forces a player to do something he may not want to do. Maybe for the greater good, but that's also fascism. I would like to see this work with different levels of player involvement. That could mean different charts for different player/gm focus or guidelines or a section that involves a deeper (dissertation type) review of the problems that exist and why they exist. Also, there may be problems with some players not wanting to involve themselves with the process and an About section could provide some guidelines to overcome this.
 

Jojiro

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The problem is if you embed something like this into a system you erode player agency. It essentially forces a player to do something he may not want to do. Maybe for the greater good, but that's also fascism. I would like to see this work with different levels of player involvement. That could mean different charts for different player/gm focus or guidelines or a section that involves a deeper (dissertation type) review of the problems that exist and why they exist. Also, there may be problems with some players not wanting to involve themselves with the process and an About section could provide some guidelines to overcome this.
I understand the problem you stated, but don'the quite get the proposed solution. Why should there be a dissertation? Also, what is a dissertation in this context? Typically, Character Creation sections in RPG books don't come with a troubleshooting section.

Or am I missing your point completely?
 
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