One thing that has been a problem in some games I’ve experienced is when there is too little group cohesion. Different people have different tastes as to how tight they need their characters to be, but I tend to prefer there to be strong bonds between the characters that set up meaningful interactions when they are all in life-threatening situations together. There are several sources of this problem and various ramifications in the game. I will lay them out briefly.
Source #1 – Players come to the game wedded to fully developed character concepts without consulting the other players or GM.
Ramifications: Character concepts can be wildly divergent with no ability to gel together. Because the concept is conceived in isolation it tends to play in isolation. I have even seen games where players arrived with characters that were so opposite they were like magnesium and water – the ended up self destructing.
Source #2 – The GM has too loose of a concept for the campaign or doesn’t communicate it clearly to the players.
Ramifications: This kind of situation can create a cast of characters who don’t really know what their job or role is so players end up pushing their characters in divergent directions toward whatever interests each of them the most. When this happens you get players all jostling for GM attention and inevitably a few people are sitting bored while others play.
Source #3 – The GM and Players put too little thought into each character’s “role” in the party or the GM designs sessions which don’t play to each character’s strengths.
Ramifications: It is almost inevitable that not every character will be useful in every situation, but some care and thought should go into making every character helpful in the great majority of situations. Otherwise you end up with bored diplomats, waiting for the fight to end, or bored fighters waiting for the negotiations to go south. The GM should make clear what types of situations are likely to come up and every character should be able to address those situations in some fashion.
There are two main ways I see to address these problems:
They can be addressed in an autocratic fashion by the GM who simply declares campaign requirements for who the characters will be and how they will relate or at the furthest extreme even creates the characters the players will use. This works best in short games or one-offs (in fact it’s almost a necessity). Most players will be dissatisfied (and rightfully so!) if they don’t at least have a hand in creating the character they will play for longer campaigns. Even in very democratic games and long-running campaigns, the GM usually sets some guidelines however even if it’s only which source books will be permitted..
The other option is to get together as a group before the campaign and produce a group template. I’m looking forward to trying this for the first time in an upcoming BESM campaign. The idea for the template came from Fear the Boot, and it is essentially a simple worksheet that the players and GM fill out together before creating individual characters. It sets up some guidelines for the players when building their character concepts. I’m going to go one step farther and have the players create their characters together as well, discussing ideas and sharing how they imagine each character will fit into the party. I’ve thought up some novel ways to make the experience more narrative and less number-crunching, which I will share in another post. Then, for those players who want to have a bit of secrecy in their background we can always add skeletons in the closet privately later.
For now, look at this example of a group template to see how it works (click to enlarge):