Getting your players to care about each other

Group unity is one of the most important things in a RP game.  Without it the party spends more of their time arguing amongst each other then actually playing.  Players quit games because of too much stress in a party so spending a bit of extra time focusing on keeping your party on good terms is time well spent.  This is a follow up to what I wrote last week about how to get your characters to work together in the first session of a game.  I’d like to expound a bit on that along with talking about how to keep them together.

You’re not always afforded the time to have a full session dedicated to character creation, but no matter how you do it it is good to keep the players talking to each other throughout the process.  Encourage them to have pre-existing relationships.  I’ve found a lot of players enjoy this and it adds to the roleplaying within the session.  It’s hard for your PC’s to trust the others if they don’t know them.  Sometimes though PC’s either don’t try or can’t think of anything.  This is a good time to remind them, as the GM, that they remember this other PC from that one job they did a few years ago.  Some GM’s try to be purist and not interfere with the PC at all, this is a good thing, but little suggestions like this can usually be good.  Maybe the characters end up not getting along, but the fact they know each other and have semi-good memories of each other will facilitate the starting of the game.

The other big way to hook in players at the beginning of a campaign is to arrange a unifying event.  Maybe they all witness some terrible event or they happen to be the strongest people to catch some curse they need to get rid of.  I once had them all have died before the campaign even started and some elderly cleric chose to resurrect them at the beginning of the campaign to help fight a scourge of undead.  Obviously you really can only use any one of these ideas once with any group but you can use various forms of each of these ideas to promote party unity.  I, personally, try to let the PC’s do whatever they want in my campaigns.  I feel it’s my job to create the playground and that’s it, rather then force them to play with any one toy.  The only place where I feel like it’s almost always better to be a bit more controlling is the start of the game.  Too many campaign’s fall apart because of a lack of party unity.

So now we’ve thought about how to get them started, but what about keeping them together?  There are a lot of normal people I don’t get along with in real life, with the flashier characters that come out of a fantasy/sci-fi world you’re bound to have even more conflicts.  PC’s can feel too good for each other or they have conflicting moral standards.  This is when it helps to get them to feel like they owe the group their allegiance.  Upon start up I always ask my PC’s to come up with a semi-detailed back story.  Specifically I want to know where they came from, a bit about the culture there (if it’s not from a predefined country), who their family and friends are and any major figures in their young life.  I then use this information along with things that come out during the game play to create hooks throughout the game.

Some examples are an Eladrin that comes from a land called Nagarythe.  He’s well liked and trusted by the party already and when he finds out his homeland has ceased all contact with nearby countries the party rushes to his aid to help figure out what is wrong.  Or another party member whose sister disappeared long ago being helped to find and bring justice to her kidnappers.  Both these characters ended up feeling a huge debt of gratitude to their fellow party members, the trust level went up extremely, and the storyline ended up being something the PC’s felt strongly about.

Sometimes you can even work in a character mid-campaign in some way that creates better trust.  Like the Gnome that was trapped in another dimension until the party rescued her or the Wookie slave freed by party members.  You really have to look at any party as a relationship.  You need to promote trust in it.  Sometimes intrigue within a party is a good thing, but generally if you’re going to be fighting side by side with people, you’ll want a basic level of unity and for that you’re going to need to encourage situations that breed it.  I’ve seen PC’s attack each other, in game, because of strife within the party.  This might seem interesting, and it was for a short bit, but pretty quickly the disunity would just bring down every campaign.  It became both characters (who had very different ideas about what chaotic good meant) arguing over what would be done.  It got to the point where one of the characters chose to leave the party.  This ended up as a good thing though since character that player introduced next had less conflicting moral views, but isn’t usually a good place to end up.

So, it’s important to always be on your toes as a GM thinking about party unity.  Don’t force it, obviously, but set up situations that encourage it.  Sometimes nothing can be done, but I’ve found, at least in my own mistakes, that you can usually do a lot more than you think to help a group play together.  Another group I was in that had conflicting characters (that also came to blows in game) that ended up working out without any change of cast.  The GM, wisely, set up a situation that he knew all three characters would feel strongly about and then put them in a situation where they all had to work together closely to achieve their goal.  So they all went off to save a mutual mentor, nearly died in the process, but ended up realizing that despite their differences they had some commonality.  It didn’t fix all the problems, but that along with a few other “team building” encounters helped those characters develop a passive respect for each other, even if they frequently disagreed.

[tags] Role Playing Games, geeks, Dungeons and Dragons, Game Mastering[/tags]

3 thoughts on “Getting your players to care about each other

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  1. Interesting post, but I think you’re conflating two things: player trust and character trust. A game with high player trust but low character trust will work because the players know not to take in-game actions personally. e.g. A group of close friends can play a face-stabbing free-for-all game and reminisce about it later because of the strength of their friendship. On the other hand, a game with low player trust but high character trust will work only if the players learn to trust each other. e.g. A group where two of the members are sworn enemies playing a game where the characters are declared to all be best buddies will fall apart as the players bring their enmity into the game.


  2. I agree that you should really unify your players in order to make them care for each other. But like what you’ve said, it should not be forced. Instead of using force, just create an activity that would call forth unity among the characters.


  3. Good article. My old GM always started the campaign out with a story, and then usually we (the party) would be the strongest guys around.
    We also had a guy join us mid-campaign, he came in as a slave (yeah, the party leader bought him) and then used as a human shield – which was hilarious for us, but the player was pretty sad about it (since he liked his character).. So we had a oog-discussion about it, and agreed that we’d loosen up on him, and when his character proceeded to save the party leaders life, things became better..

    I’ve once joined a mid-campaign party with a Druid sitting at the edge of a burned down forest. The party felt sad for the druid losing his home, and the druid wanted to get revenge.. The fact that the party was hunting a group of evil npc’s that happened to be the ones who burned down the forest was just a coincidence… 😛


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