Wednesday, March 30, 2011

In Which The Warlock Muses on Thread Necromancy and Group Building...

For those of you that aren't frequenters of rpg-forums and the like, "thread necromancy" refers to the act of bringing back a "dead" thread, months or even years after its last response.  I was somewhat shocked, recently, to find that a thread that I'd started over at had been necro-ed, dealing specifically with the idea of "allowing" items in a campaign.

If you're interested, the thread still exists--just poke around and you'll find it under "Allowing Things in a Campaign", but that's not what I'd like to talk about today.  Rather, I'd like to focus on one of my responses.

Has no business in a pirate game...
One of the biggest problems that I had in starting the first "Pirates of the Underdark" game was that...well, no one wanted to be a pirate!  In the wild and chaotic days of 3.5e, I ended up with almost every combination you could think of, but not one was even remotely piratical or linked to the Underdark.  I ended up with an anime-style sorcerer girl, a modron swordmage, and a "gelatinous orc", but nary a pirate in sight!  Needless to say, this campaign imploded nearly from the start.

You see, friends and neighbors, I've become a bigger and bigger fan of "group" character building, the longer that I've been gaming.  This isn't to say that people shouldn't generate characters as individuals--that's half the fun!--but rather that some degree of communication has to occur when a group sits down to plan an extended campaign. 

Our current Dark Sun group suffered from that, as half of the group were planning on playing amoral desert survivors, while others planned on being active agents of the Veiled Alliance.  As you might have seen in previous entries, such did not turn out well.  Had we managed to be honest with one another at the start, expressing what we wanted out of character development and plot points, a compromise could have been reached, but we just didn't think that far ahead.
Equally, has no business
in a Call of Cthulhu game...

Honestly, this is also one of the issues that I have with Call of Cthulhu.  Don't get me wrong:  I love CoC in all its various incarnations.  But, the disparity that exists when you bring together a history professor, a private detective, a teppanyaki chef, a college student, and a half-crazed journalist makes for a group that is ultimately unskilled in necessary areas, while are masters at items that may only come up in one session or as a group-joke.  That takes the inherent horror of CoC and degenerates it into slapstick comedy.  It's a fine line to walk, believe it or not...

For extended campaigns of all sorts, I've taken to spending an entire session for group-building and, as ChaoticFrederick calls it, "theorycrafting".  While this has met with mixed results--particularly in the "Tear of Ioun" game last year (heavy on the 'theory', light on the actual 'crafting')--it's helped to explain how the group got together in the first place, as well as what tactics they use when in combat or in investigations.

Madness encouraged!
But, on the other end of the spectrum, there's The Laundry...which takes the exact opposite approach, and hits it out of the park.  The Laundry encourages offbeat, especially nerdy professionals, with totally disparate skill sets.  However, it rectifies this by providing each character with a baseline of "Laundry Basic Training" as well as a set of skills that come as part of their directory assignment.  While characters are free to individualize their skills based on their own former profession and their preference, it becomes almost impossible to create an "ineffective" character or, for that matter, a character that overlaps or does not fit within the group as a whole.

Have you encountered another system that rewards diversity or group character-building?  Or, do you have your own methodology that works?  By all means, do tell!


  1. Thunderforge8:22 PM

    In Traveller, character creation is a game in and of itself as you determine (mostly randomly) your character's past, which may include connections with the other characters. The "reward" to this group character building is a strong sense of knowing who the characters are and feeling connected to them. To keep the party mechanically effective, one of the last pieces of character generation is "skill packages" where everyone gets to pick one or two skills from a group to ensure that the group as a whole has the necessary skills for the type of campaign being run. All in all, the result is a character creation process that encourages team building and has a system to make sure that group diversity doesn't hinder the campaign.

    When I'm playing most RPGs, I typically pick a concept that I would like to play, then modify if it sounds too similar to others, allowing for some diversity, but trying to work well as a group. I usually encourage my players do the same: first deciding what they want to play and pointing out any similarities or areas they might want to cover. Although I haven't had to, I would veto a concept with too much diversity if it is a hindering block to the tone of the campaign or the cohesiveness of the party.

  2. I find that the longer I've been gaming, the less I like random character generation.

    While it can work for limited-length games (one-shots or the like) or for non-serious games (WEGS and ICONS come immediately to mind), it becomes an exercise in frustration dealing with a set of stats that really may not represent what you, as a player, want to do with the character. That's one of the reasons that I haven't been too big a fan of Traveller.

    To be honest, it's because of this that I've been using the "4d6, drop lowest, arrange to taste" method of character generation for D&D since 2e.

    I'd love to actually be in a D&D group where we did some honest-to-Moradin tactical planning--one where we coordinate our feat and power choices to compliment each other and bring out choices for great effectiveness. Sad to say, I haven't had such a group...well, ever, really.