Integrating A Character With the Party

Last week I talked about how to integrate a character with the setting, but this week I want to take a bit of a narrower focus and look at the party. I assert that a character who has meaningful relationships with the party members will be more fun to play than one which does not, and as such being integrated with the party is an essential part of making a fun character. As always, there are a few interesting corner cases that I’ll discuss today, as well as how to do it from both a character perspective and a metagame perspective.¬†

The most important question when thinking about party relations is “Why am I hanging out with these jokers?” And not just hanging out, but often trusting them with your life. A character always needs to have a good answer to that in order for their interactions to be believable. There are lots of possible answers, but the first of them starts from the character’s perspective.

 Character

One of the best ways to integrate a character with the party is to establish previous relationships with other party members. I like to do this in a round robin storytelling activity here everyone fills in details about an adventure they’ve been on, and some moments they had with others on that adventure. Whatever the players come up ith becomes true, and the setting reflects that. It also circumvents the whole “Meeting in a tavern” method of getting the party together. Even if they meet in a tavern, they have previous connections. Spirit of the Century has a really interesting way of doing this, by first requiring each player to come up with an idea for a pulp novel their character starred in, and then each character makes a guest appearance in two of the other characters’ novels. Telling these stories can be a fun way of leading into the game and also help tie the characters to the setting, creating possible answers to the “Why am I here” question like “She saved my life,” “We were in the war together,” “We worked together well, and can do so again” or even (not for the faint of heart) “He’s family”. However, there are archetypes that this can’t accommodate, like heroes who come into their own during or because of their relationship with the party. Examples of this are the lone wolf or the reluctant hero, who are shaped in part by beginning estranged from the party. For that, we need the metagame perspective.

Metagame

Approaching party relations from this angle means talking with the GM and players about a character and negotiating some kind of character arc. Maybe the character warms to the party after one of them shows kindness, or that sort of thing. This can be beneficial because it helps the GM and players know what kinds of opportunities you’re looking for, and means they can create them. However, it also creates an agreement that you’ll reach for those opportunities when they come up. If a character shows some kindness, your character needs to warm to them as you described. The relevant thing to be looking for is what conditions you want to see met before your character progresses along their arc.

The methods can certainly work in tandem, by both negotiating character arcs and using character methods to find a common starting point. It can also be tied to each of the other principles. For example, two characters can be connected to each other by being connected to a part of the setting, whether that’s a place, person, or organization. Contributing meaningfully can also lend itself to answering the “Why am I here” question. Why are you here? Because your wizard is the best in the business. Next week I’ll conclude with some principles on contributing meaningfully, and what that can mean irrespective of system. In the meantime, what other ways do you use to connect characters with the party?

3 comments

  • I think also worth noting is to avoid the all too often mistake of pitting the PCs against each other. Lots of people seem to think it’s a great idea at first… the Paladin in charge of heretics, the group watching over a thief, the character sent to spy on the party… but in the end, I think this leads to chaos more than anything. You’ve given the party a reason to be together, but not a reason to work together.

  • You’re right Dave, and I think you raise two good points.

    The first is that it’s not just important merely that a character has a relationship with members of the party, but what the nature of their relationship is. I think there’s a post in that on the different archetypes of relationships one can have in these games. They might be reducible to a reasonable number.

    The second is that you (the GM) shouldn’t attempt to give the party a reason to be together or to work together. If players come up with these themselves, they own it. There’s never a question of how their character fits, because they’ve made all the relevant decisions about how their character fits, and they’re responsible for them.

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