Trinity: Planning and running the game~ pt 6

Why can’t we all just get along?

Over the years, I have tried many ways to get groups of players, new to gaming or not, or new to each other or not, or some combination in between, to design the group of characters in the same way as they design their own characters. While I do not carry this as far as some with whom I have gamed, or as far as some games would have a person do, I do think that a little forethought and planning on the group level will prevent certain problems later. I think you know the problems I mean:

  • Characters who on paper seem to fit the genre and theme of the game at hand, but do not
  • Characters who become irrelevant or too relevant in play, despite their player
  • Character groups who have no reason to ‘adventure/investigate/whatever’ together

While we all know that character approval and setting the stage are both the province of the GM, you can’t catch all the details all the time – at least not at that stage of play. Lots of factors interfere. I think few character concepts stay static once play begins, I think the understanding of what certain traits, backgrounds, or qualifiers do changes for everyone as they manifest in play the first few times and so can contribute to changes in character, and ultimately the flow of the plot itself will be modified once it comes into contact with the characters. What this all means is, that you need more than one set of eyes to consider all of these details. In other words, the group needs to be created as a team effort.

The simplest approach to this, and I suppose the approach least prone to flaws, is to have each character take on a particular skill set or occupy a certain niche in the group which is clear and distinct from the others, while each character in the group maintains a predetermined core of necessary skills at a functional level. Most heist films go this route, as do military films although it can seem less obvious. The most obvious weakness to this approach is that should the character with the niche skill needed at any particular moment in a scene be unavailable, disaster ensues. This can be used to the story’s advantage, of course – as a plot device, but when it just happens just seems to bring failure raining down unpleasantly on the heads of the players. Failure can have its place at the fun table sometimes, but it tends to be an extra seat for a temporary stay, don’t you think? A less obvious weakness in this approach, but one that has some significance in my opinion, is that it greatly impacts on the ability of some players to connect with their character.

A common alternate approach is to have everyone have the same skills. I suppose this does not have to mean that resistance is futile and that all characters will be assimilated…

Having each character be entirely distinct is the next permutation. I think this has a lot of value in troupe style play, especially when the players and the scenes are flexible enough to allow characters to flow back and forth between their cast of characters. I think it is prone to many of the problems cited at the beginning of this post in regular play.

So then… if each of these approaches is flawed, and together they comprise all the options of setting up a group, what can be done?

In my opinion, the type of story being told will dictate which of the above group formats will work best, but if there is no communication between the referee and the players about the type of story being told, and about the sort of group which is desired, it won’t matter.

We are all in this to have fun. It shouldn’t always have to fall on the GM’s shoulders to explain to a player that their character does not fit, please try another. Nor should they have to remind players that this month’s game is for angst-laden conspiracies, so please do not generate a pun-spewing clown full of joie de vivre. We are all among friends, theoretically, and no one likes to say, “No,” to a friend if they can possibly help it. Communication between all concerned about the type of tale desired, the make-up of the group, and how that group can best serve the type of story desired is, in my mind, the surest way to ensure that… we can all get along.

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