You folks ever hear this one?
A cleric, a fighter, and a halfling all walk into a bar. The fighter asks the cleric...um, you doing anything Saturday? See, there's this dungeon thingy we were thinking of exploring...
Meanwhile the halfling is jumping up and down behind a table, waving his hands and trying to get their attention...
So many times, so many games, there's no reason given as to why a particular group of player characters are together. For good reason...there ain't nothing in the rules about it. The rules give you the ability to create "fantasy character" for your "fantasy game setting." Depending on what game (or edition) you're playing, most rules for the character creation process are fairly ego-centric...meaning they focus on the player making the character and who cares what anyone else is doing, anyway?
I mean, there are certainly SOME games that link player characters (more or less) during the chargen process. The latest Mongoose Traveller has some very wishy-washy links that might be rolled up during the "career phase." Amber requires everyone to be present from the get-go to determine how players relate to each other in their dysfunctional family. And TMNT gave players the option to be a small ninja band of the same species, a la their title characters.
But most games? Simply rely on players to "figure it out together" based on some sort of group consensus. Or worse (to me) rely on the GM/DM to answer the question, 'how and why exactly did these particular characters come together? What's their relationship to each other?'
Even Ars Magica, pioneer of "troupe style play" (whatever the hell that means to you) doesn't do much other than give the group a shared base of operations (the Covenant house) and an over-arching Order/Tribunal (just like the Camarilla!...). It doesn't tell you why these particular magi from different houses decided it would be just fine and dandy to co-exist together...and offers nothing at all as to why the Companions would have any links to these peculiar recluses.
Welp, I'm kind of sick of it all (though maybe I'm just grumpy 'cause it's August and it's been raining all weekend...). Personally, when I sit down at a gaming table (as I'll be doing in a bit less than three hours today), I have two goals in mind:
- I want to start play (i.e. "start having fun") quickly, AND
- I want to have the potential for actual role-playing.
And part of the latter means knowing the relationship of the player characters to each other.
Oh, sure...this can certainly develop IN PLAY, OVER TIME (at least if you're playing a non-4th edition version of D&D)...but why wait? And yet, sitting around the table for 60 minutes before hand kind of cuts into the first and primary objective (i.e. getting to the actual play)...and yet how else is one to do it? There just hasn't been a way for players to get to know each other...well, besides the ubiquitous "oh you all meet in a bar while scrounging for want ads" approach (which might be okay for 1st level characters, but even then it gets old after re-booting three or four times). Wouldn't it be nice if there was a handy little game mechanic or random table one could use? Too bad there hasn't been one.
Once again, ol' JB has a random chart for my faithful readers (and for myself...I plan on using this in today's game). It works like this:
THEN, when your players are all seated around the table, each rolls D% to determine the relationship of their character with the player sitting to their right. The player sitting to the left of the DM rolls for the player sitting to the right of the DM (unless the DM has some prominent NPC in the party, than he might check that as well...it's not necessary since the DM usually creates reasons for NPCs to be around...I hope!).
By doing this, you should create at least two relationships, possibly more (if the guy to my left is my brother, and the gal to his left is my sister, than she's MY sister, too). That's enough to start the ball rolling...everyone else in the party is simply the proverbial "friend-of-a-friend" until you've developed a working relationship in-game.
But at least now you'll care more when the dude with whom you once shared a prison cell falls into a spiked pit. Oh, no!