I’ve had quite a few random musings posts recently, and tomorrow’s probably will be too, so I’ll go concrete today. I’m going to talk about a suggestion I came across when I was starting my new campaign a couple of years ago.
5e is much more into character back-story than BECMI ever was, and it seems everyone has to know where they come from and have some fancy reason how they got to the person they are today. So going along with that, it seems reasonable to ask “how are your characters connected?” After all, you’ve allegedly just come together to do something. Why should you work together? Do you have any history?
So in session 0, each character rolled d20 twice, once for how they knew the character of the player on their left, and once for how they knew the character of the player on their right. We ended up with:
- Reed and William were fishing partners, and Reed taught William to swim
- Sergi and Bear served as wagon guards for Clifton Caldwell, survived an ambush and then 3 days caught in a storm
- William and Bear have been orc hunters together and are both members of The Bearskins (whatever that is…)
- Reed beat Jill’s character in the final of the greasy pole at the village fair 2 years ago, and Jill’s character saved Reed’s life
- Jill’s character and Sergi have been love rivals, and Jill’s character seriously injured Sergi
In the end Jill never joined us and William’s player vanished after a couple of sessions. Miroslav joined us, and also rolled up some connections:
- he often gambles with Sergi the The Oaken Tap (and is or was a love rival – neither has so far admitted much detail on this).
- he and Bear are/were both members of the Bearskins and once spent a night together in the cells after a brawl at The Silver Goose (Bear was somewhat reticent about the result, though Miroslav seemed quite pleased…)
These details were used a bit over the first few sessions – mostly being dropped into discussion and character banter – but then faded, and the next new character who joined was from out-of-town so didn’t know anyone. I only remember them because I documented them in the session notes on Obsidian Portal.
After that, joining characters didn’t even develop connections, and the Darokin campaign started with everyone just happening to be passing through the small village of Rennydale on their individual pursuits (all got caught up in helping a merchant whose wagons had been stolen), so it was built into the storyline that they didn’t know each other.
Maybe other people are more fortunate in the membership of their campaigns. Here I seem to have quite a rapidly rotating membership as people’s lives change and they find that they have less time/other commitments, and D&D has to be the sacrifice. This means that I only have Sergi and Reed left from the original campaign (who didn’t have prior connections), and no-one seems to have lasted long enough for their background to actually have had much impact. (You could argue Horace’s background had a huge impact, but only because it made him rush along into a room full of orcs, which brought his story to an unfortunate early end…). This means that so far the effort in developing the character back-stories has been pretty much unused.
Going back to Robin Laws’ types of player, I suppose it is only really relevant to method actors and story-tellers. Power gamers are just interested in what boosts it might give them. Butt-kickers don’t need any help from their back-story to beat things up. Tacticians might be interested, but only if it’s a political game and they can use the contacts to solve problems. Specialists know what their character is, and it’s always the same. And Casual gamers are just along for the ride anyway.
I liked the idea, but maybe I need a different gaming group to make it actually worthwhile. For now I’ll just continue with my epic campaign.
Tomorrow we have, appropriately, “Last”.