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Dungeon Master Assistance

A place to share thoughts and ideas about Dungeons and Dragons

D&D 5E – Creating the Party

How do the PCs Come Together and Stay Together?

After watching this video “The coming revolution in role-play games? ” I started thinking that, when I begin a new Fifth Edition Dungeon and Dragons game I could do my character creation in a similar method. The reason that I might want to do this is that in many games the PCs don’t seem to have any good reason to be together, much else to function as a group. I have tried different things to encourage this, but borrowing some ideas from “Hillfolk” (a DramaSystem game) might work out well.

 The idea behind DramaSystem is to build a varied and nuanced character with connections to other characters. This is not the sort of game that you go into with a preconceived notion of your character. Your character will change as you intuit the group’s overall build and decide that you would fit better in a different way. Then play takes place as a series of scenes. Each scene is determined by a player and may or may not include all of the other players. As you see, this is definitely not D&D.

 DramaSystem is a true “role playing game”. D&D says that it is a role playing game, but it is primarily a “fight the monsters, get the treasure, save the world and get out alive” kind of game. I have no desire to turn it into an “explore your character’s true motivations and come to grips with your inner conflicts” kind of game. That being said, it wouldn’t hurt to start the game with the PCs having closer relationships with one another. So I borrowed heavily from DramaSystem to come up with this idea for running a session zero.

 What is a Session Zero?

This is simply getting the group together before the first gaming session to roll characters together and talk about what kind of game it will be. It is not required and many DMs skip it altogether, or simply include it at the beginning of the first session.

Session zero usually involves the group meeting to discuss and establish the following.

  • Game rules set to be played
  • Table rules (table etiquette, behavior expectations, bringing up topics that players feel uncomfortable with, etc)
  • House rules (changes from the core rules set, home-brew material, etc)
  • Campaign expectations (Do we want to play an intrigue campaign? Dungeon crawler? An epic campaign?)
  • Setting
  • Character creation

What I am suggesting here only addresses the last bullet point, Character creation.

 Running Session Zero

Here is how I suggest that you as the DM might run a session zero.

The players may want to decide on their character’s race and class beforehand but otherwise they should not create their characters before they come to session zero.

You should start by describing the Campaign that you have in mind. Among the things you should explain to the players will be the level of magic and the overall theme of the campaign. Will it be mostly Gothic horror, nautical adventures, airships, a traditional dungeon crawl, or what? Then tell the players that they already know each other and have come together to form an adventuring party to rid the world of evil (or to explore ancient dungeons and get rich, or to find out what is causing all of the cattle to die, or to rescue the princess, or whatever the overarching theme is for your campaign).

 1) PC’s Roles

Read aloud to the players, or paraphrase everything in maroon below, starting with:

You are not only creating your individual characters, but also their relationships with each other in order to create a group that can better function as a team. As you develop your PC each other player will build on that to develop his PC.

Have each player roll a d20. This will be a special initiative roll, but with no modifiers. Let ties be resolved by another roll between the tied players.

In initiative order describe your character including name, race, sex, class and what role your character will play in the group. Feel free to ask other players for ideas or suggestions. You should stop at that and not describe your character any further at this time. Specifically, you should not give your character any background information. That will come later. [Some examples of possible character roles are listed at the end of this page.]

Group participation is encouraged. By default, the first character to select a role to take in the group should get it, however if two characters both want to fill the same role, the other players can chime in and you can work it out as a group to everyone’s satisfaction.

If you are sitting around a battlemat; Write your character’s name in front of you on the mat, in large letters so everyone can see.

 2) PC’s relationships.

Still in initiative order, explain your character’s relationship to one of the other characters of your choice. If possible, you should select a character that has not yet been selected, and that hasn’t selected you. How do you know that character? How did you meet? How long have you known each other? Tell us of some interesting event in your past that the two of you shared. [Some examples of possible character relationships are listed at the end of this page.]

We are just making stuff up here. The story you are telling about your character’s past is also helping to define the background of other characters in the group. If another player objects to what you say about his character’s background, he will say why he objects and suggest an alternative story. The group will decide what story they like best. I (the DM) will be the final arbitrator and can veto any story that I feel doesn’t fit into the campaign that I have in mind.

If you are sitting around a battlemat; Draw a line connecting your character’s name to the name of the character that you have a relationship with. Write a word or two along the line as a reminder to everyone as to what that relationship is.

If every character has a relationship with every other character or has a relationship with someone that does, you can continue on to step 3. In other words, if you can trace a path from everyone to everyone else that connects directly or goes through no more than one other character. If not, repeat step 2. Only add; This time you can select any other character that you want. It is okay if some characters are picked more than others.

 3) PC’s Conflicts [Optional]

After step 2, you can quit this and have everyone finish creating his or her character as you normally would. Or for a little more interaction between PCs, continue on with this final step.

Re-roll initiative.

On your turn in the new initiative order, select someone else’s character. This does not have to be a character that you have a relationship with. Come up with one thing that your character doesn’t like about that character, or that makes your character uneasy. This can be something that he has done in the past, or some mannerism or personality trait. [Some examples are listed at the end of this page.]

Again, if the other character’s player objects, the group gets to decide if this would be fun for the group and the DM gets the final verdict.

 4) Roll-up the characters

Have everyone roll-up his character as you normally would, but they should use the partial background just created as a jumping off place to assign ability scores and to fill in their character’s background. If there are backgrounds in the Player’s Handbook (PHB) that fit with what was discussed, he can choose one of those. If not, work with him to create a background that is unique to his character. Refer to “Customizing A Background” on page 126 of the PHB.

 5) Play D&D


The idea here is to produce a Player Character Party where the individual members know each other better. Hopefully it will result in more personal interaction and cooperation between PCs than the typical “My character is an orphan. I just met these other guys. I couldn’t care less about them. I just thought I would have a better chance to survive if I wasn’t alone.”

EXAMPLES of CHARACTER ROLES

Some examples of what your character’s role in the group might be include:

the blaster
the brains
the comic
the communicator
the dealer with undead
the guide
the healer
the hunter
the leader
the magical blaster
the magical buffer
the moral compass
the protector
the ranged support
the scout
the skill monkey
the sneak
the spell caster
the tactician
the talker
the tank
the thief
the trap finder

EXAMPLES of CHARACTER RELATIONSHIPS

This can be a family relationship such as wife, husband, father, mother, son, daughter, brother, sister, cousin, etc. Or it can be a longtime friend. Some examples using the name “Fred” as the PC you have a relationship with:

“I am from a large family. We lived just outside of a large city (the DM can insert the name of a big city here). When I was just a lad, we were attacked by goblins and they almost wiped out my entire family. My brother Fred and I were the only survivors.”

“I met Fred when I as a temple guard. He was a raw recruit and I taught him everything I know about enforcing the law.”

“Fred is several years older than I am. He caught me stealing fruit off an apple cart. He took me in and taught me everything I know about being a thief in the big city.”

“Fred and I just happened to be at the same bar when we were both impressed into the navy. We served on the same ship for three years and became fast friends.”

EXAMPLES of OBJECTIONABLE CHARACTER TRAITS or PAST ACTIONS

I don’t like the way he:

Looks down on people that are of a higher (or lower) class than he is.
Laughs.
Snores.
Looks at me.
Thinks he is smarter than everyone else.
Eats his food.
Is never around when there is work to be done.
Smells.
Treats (one of the PC’s).
Drinks too much.
Eats too much.
Is always primping.
Is always daydreaming.
Can never sit still.
Is always sharpening his weapon.
Talks too much.

He once:

Stole something from me.
Beat me in a contest.
Saved my life.
Stole the love of my life.
Played a practical joke on me.
Watched while I almost died.
Wouldn’t share his food when I was starving.
Borrowed money from me and has never paid his debt.
Broke my heart.
Nearly killed me.
Saved someone I love.

Whatever trait you choose, fill in some specific details like who, what, when and where?

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