“You Seem Trustworthy!” – Bringing the Party Together

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This is one of those topics that every GM has run into at one point in time or another. You’re stating a new campaign, your players have their characters all drawn up, you’ve got the opening adventure planned, and this phrase comes blithely tumbling out of your mouth:

“You all find yourselves in a Tavern called the Blue Money.”

Depending on how long your players have been playing, saying something along those lines might elicit some groans. Getting your party together for the first adventure is not always the most fun task in the world. But if handled properly, it can really enhance your game and give you a good jumping-off point for the entire campaign.

How In-Depth to Get

Some groups know each other so well and have been gaming together for so long that they’ll take care of how the characters know each other. When the dice are being rolled and Skill Points are being assigned, you’ll hear the players start talking about how their characters grew up together, or how they’ve run into each other before. If that’s happening, I usually try to let it happen; after all, one of the best parts of being a GM is letting the players do your job for you.

Some groups won’t want to even worry about it. All they want to do is get together, roll some dice and kill some monsters. If I’ve just described your group, then you likely find yourself in one of two positions. Your either right in the same boat with them, or you wish that they would put more effort into the roleplaying and working with the plot you’ve created. Unfortunately, the second of those tow positions is beyond the scope of this post. Just hang in there, it’ll be okay.

Simple Tropes

If you want to avoid the cliche “You’re all in a tavern” method of beginning the campaign, there are a bunch of different ways that you can take the same idea and tweak it so it doesn’t feel like the same thing you’ve done for the last 5 campaigns. Maybe all of the characters are in the army together, or share the same mentor (a la Keep on the Shadowfell). Perhaps they’re all mercenaries hired to guard the same caravan, or they’re all in jail for some reason. You could also go the route of “You all wake up and remember…. nothing!” If you decide to do that, may whatever gods you believe in have mercy on your soul. I’ve heard tales of groups revolting and casting the GM into the stocks for using that intro. Whichever route you choose, just make sure that it works with your plot and doesn’t screw over any of your characters.

In my own games, the best “bring the Party together” hook that I ever used was probably in my Pathfinder Zombie Game: All That Remains (link to the Actual Play recordings). The party all lived in the same town, and were all going about their own business when the zombie apocalypse began. I used an initiative count to go around the table, having each player interact with the city and the hazards that were cropping up as they individually tried to make their way to the keep in the middle of town. Jumping from player to player, asking them to act quickly, it all kept the tension up while giving each player a chance to explore how their characters react to certain situations. I had a lot of fun running it, and I think the players enjoyed it.

Force them to Know Each Other

If you really want your characters to have ties to one another, there are some way to go about doing that, my favorite of which is a character creation method lifted from the game Spirit of the Century. The basic premise is this: character creation takes place collaboratively during the first session, and it takes place over five phases. In the first two phases, you outline your character’s youth and adolescence, assigning Complications, which act as story hooks and give you role-playing depth, and Motivations, which provide you the reasons for why you do what you do. In the third phase, you write a catchy book title to represent your first adventure. Something like “Torger the Barbarian and the Cave Women!” Think 50s pulp Sci-Fi/Fantasy and you’ll have the right idea. You also write a quick blurb about the adventure, which would be the back cover of the book if it were printed.

What happens next is the collaborative part. In phase four, the book titles  are shuffled and passed out to the group. You’ll get someone else’s title, and your job is to work with them to see how your character figured into their story as a guest-star, or in an assisting role. Once you do that, the cards are re-shuffled and passed out again, allowing a second person to have had a role in your story. What this does is create a web of plausible connections between all of the characters so you’ve got a history to draw upon. Even your “I was raised by wolves and my family was killed by vampires” character has to have connections, thus solving that problem very neatly.

The Wrap-up

However you decide to get your characters together, just make sure it’s appropriate for your group and your story. Give it some thought, and have some fun.

[tags]rpg, rpgs, GMing[/tags]

8 thoughts on ““You Seem Trustworthy!” – Bringing the Party Together

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  1. It’s actually become something of a challenge for me, lately to start my campaign in or near a tavern, or some other group meeting place (a church, for example) but to do it in a way that is interesting and goes beyond “someone offers you a job while you’re all together”.

    I usually do this by spurring them into action with a violent event, a situation where heroes must rise up.


  2. With some groups I’ve simply asked the group straight up front. “Do you want to all know each other already? Or meet up in the first session?” If they answer that they already know each other, then all it takes is just a quick minute or two to figure out how they know each other and you’re good to go.

    I’ve seen games start with the players all being drafted into a military. Or all individually hired by the same person to do some deed (watch the first episode of Leverage for a good way to pull this off).

    As far as the ship/amnesia one. A good modification for it is “You all wake up on a ship. You don’t remember how you got here. But your last memory is X” where X is different for each PC. This gives them a mystery to solve together, as well as their full memories aside from how they go from A to C without remembering B.


  3. In our current campaign, the party were all members of the Royal Guard for the human king and queen. In one of my favorite old 3.x campaigns, I gave the party no guidelines other than “each of you must have some kind of tie to one other character.”

    In our upcoming Dark Sun campaign, we are going to begin with a group execution of the player characters…and hope they can fight their way out of it!


  4. Yes, we have done various means of drawing characters together: raised in the same village, from the same family, servants of the same house, and so on. But a lot of it depends on the style of campaign and the desires of the players.


  5. I’m having a bit of an issue in actually keeping them together. I told my group to have some sort of connection to each other, but I’m only now discovering how thin they made those connections. With one of my players switching out his character at level 2, they’re close to departing on separate paths, their characters monologuing about how they seem sidetracked from their goals while being in the group. The new character is right now the only thing really tying them together; his personality is almost an antithesis to that tie. It’s kinda ticking me off how stuff worked out this way.


  6. @Zero_Amanda This topic is probably good fodder for a post all of its own, but I’ll see if I can help you out. It may be a bit contrived, but if you want to keep the party together, give them something that makes them want to stay together. Personal goals and plots are wonderful, wonderful things to have, but not at the expense of the game.

    If you have to, address the issue out of game. I did something like this when I ran an “all-evil” campaign with my players. I laid an out-of-game groundrule that the characters, though evil and immoral, could not mess with one another. In-game, they were part of a group founding a new colony far away from their original lands (a 3rd Ed adaptation of RPPR’s New World setting). I made it clear that if they did not work towards the goal of helping the colony survive, then they would be lost in the wilderness. They could let the colony fail if they chose to, but they decided that their ends were better served by having people around whom they could exploit.

    Find a carrot, preferably one that has multiple aspects so it appeals to everyone, and use it. Out of game, make it clear that if the group doesn’t work towards at least somewhat similar goals, then there won’t be a campaign within which the characters can exist.


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