View Full Version : Bringing a Party Together

2012-06-13, 10:31 PM
This topic concerns the very beginning of a campaign, before the first die has been rolled: why are these people working together? I'm planning a campaign right now and need to figure this out.

We've all played in games where the GM just said that you're all part of an established adventuring party, or you all just met in a tavern looking for work. This is boring. I guess it can be done well, and it fits okay for one-shots and such, but not for an extended campaign. It has nothing to do with the characters

The best game I ever played in started with the PCs as orphans just about to "graduate" from their home/school in Waterdeep. That's when everything went to hell for them. But we had a good hour of roleplay to establish our character's personalities and relationships with each other; we were exteremely emotionally invested in the story, and the year-long campaign was much stronger for it. That's an example of a great way to bring the party together.

The game I'm planning to run now (my first time DMing in a while) starts in a large city, Sharn (Eberron), and I want the PCs to definitely know each other beforehand so we don't have a game of mistrust and backstabbing, but I'm not sure how to do it. I was going to just have them be some mercenary company (which has the added advantage of giving them a "home base" they can always go back to), but it's a cliché and doesn't involve the characters very much.

So I need some pointers. What are some ways you've opened campaigns that helped make it memorable?

2012-06-13, 10:39 PM
To get the party, all you need is a shared goal between them. Whether meet on the road to discover that they're going to the same place (Possibly for the same reason), or happen to be in the same place when something catastrophic happens. The trouble with beginnings much more complex than 'you meet in a tavern' is that they actually require a fair amount of PC input to make them believable, which can be difficult when the DM already has a fair idea of how he wants the campaign to work out.

2012-06-13, 11:21 PM
You can if you have an initial plot hook just ask players to make PCs that have some connection that's relevant in their backstories. For example, there's a certain noble family in my campaign world that is somewhat relevant. I've asked all the players to have some connection to that House, and gave them a fair bit of backstory and details about the House so they could make characters which had a connection. I've also adjusted bits of the world to help fit some of their concepts in.

2012-06-13, 11:24 PM
One technique I've used multiple times is a sort of "introductory session," where there is very little dice rolling involved. I individually introduce characters to a basic narrative, then introduce the characters to each other, until they actually get to be together.

So, for instance, I had a campaign setting where all humans in the world were slaves. Two of my players decided to be humans, which I wasn't expecting. It ended up with one of them creating a backstory where he was a human smuggled away from the Yuan-ti (those who ruled over the humans) because he had magical talent. He was my first character, whose master literally teleported him into the outskirts of the Yuan-ti lands as a rite of passage.

Next came another character who was a Yuan-ti. He had fallen in love with a human and had a child with her, but the child had been kidnapped and he was on the look out for the child. He was also royalty, giving him a bit more money than usual. In any case, he met up with the wizard human (who had no idea of the yuan-ti/human relations because of his very isolated training) and became the yuan-ti's "slave."

From there, the second human came into the mix, an escapee from a human camp where she was tortured and kept as a sex slave. She hated being around the yuan-ti, but accepted it because she was stuck as she was.

Finally, the fourth character was a crazy little kid. Her mother went nuts and killed his brother, and his father helped him escape. He was raised in a large city by a guy who just went by Mr. Pocket. He was not just a crazy like "I do random things!," but crazy like "My brother isn't dead, he's right here; what are you talking about?" He thought his brother was alive and with him (and he eventually brought his brother back to "life," but that is a different story).

Point is, I introduced all of these characters in a slow, narrative way, so they came to know more about each other, their situations, and why they were together. It's a way to approach it, for sure.

2012-06-14, 01:14 AM
If you want an established history between the characters, the Fate system has a fun way of doing just that as part of it's character creation process. Without going into too much detail about the Fate system and whatnot, here's the gist.

Have each character write down a couple of sentences or maybe a whole paragraph outlining their introductory adventure, whatever it was that caused them to leave home and take up adventuring.

Then, have all the players randomly assigned to another character, and have them add a sentence or two about how that character 'guest starred' in the main characters intro adventure. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate, they may not even have met formally, but it gives them a reason to know each others faces, and something to relate about.

Do that twice, without any repeats and while everyone won't necessarily know everyone else, everyone will know someone who knows everyone else. It makes for early party cohesion and anywhere from a vague, interrelated back ground for each character, or quite possibly a complete, comprehensive back story which gives every character a reason to know and be in the same place as any other.

2012-06-14, 12:22 PM
The main issue with getting the group together is that you're trying to get everyone to meet at the same time, it's like the awkward team-building exercises some work places (and at times) schools put people through every so often, and from a narrative point of view IT DOESN'T WORK. Seriously, pick up and book you like with multiple main characters in it, they either knew each other before the story started or meet gradually.

The problem is, that approach doesn't work with gaming. People show up for the game and expect to be able to play right away, and rightly so. So what I'd do is encourage people to make backgrounds that tie into each other, and give them some hooks for how the adventure will start so they at least can think of a reason to be there. Also something I as a player support is the recruitment styled opening Person/Organization A is looking for people to solve Mystery B because Official Channel C turned up nothing. The future group just happens to turn up at the same time, and since others have tried before/it's a fair bet that it's dangerous it's suggested that they work together, they'll be compensated accordingly of course.

Yes, it's cliché as heck, but as long as it gets the ball rolling and doesn't open with "So you meet these guys in a tavern..." (Seriously, who meets people they're willing to risk life and limb with in a tavern anyway? No One!)

Jay R
2012-06-14, 04:19 PM
I don't automatically assume that it's the DM's job.

"OK, the first game is next Saturday. Be sure to have your characters finished, and be ready to tell me how they met each other and why they are traveling together."

2012-06-14, 04:21 PM
- PCs are all coming to see the same local NPC, for various reasons (one is an old friend, one wants information in the NPC's area of expertise, etc). They all show up at his house within a couple seconds of each other, and it looks like the door has already been kicked in . . .

- A particular faction is out to get all of the PCs (for different reasons, related or not). They all happen to be in some public place with a small number of exits, when members of the enemy faction start combing the crowd, looking for someone . . .

- It's probably no less of a cliche than the 'you all meet in a tavern,' but there's always 'the PCs are all in jail/enslaved together.' In the course of breaking out, they have to work together, and develop at least one common enemy.

- The PCs all recieve joint stakes in something - a local business, a treasure map, a space ship, etc.

But in general, I'm a fan of either (a) the PCs all know each other, at least by name if not well; (b) the PCs have to work together in a life or death situation immediately; or (c) the PCs are pulled together by outside forces, but have a little time to get to know each other before the bullets start flying.

2012-06-14, 04:40 PM
Doc Standard, you made me do a double-take just now. I opened one of my adventures with a group of players "graduating" from school in Waterdeep. And it worked well for the reasons you indicated.

Another tactic I've used is to give each player a reason for travelling on a particular bit of road. The reasons can be quite unimportant, but the thing is to get them in the same place at the same time. Once there, they run across a crime of some sort. Maybe they are ambushed by bandits, which gives them the motivation to travel together (protection) and a goal (revenge or justice). Or perhaps they come across the scene of an ambush that aleady happened: travellers or a homestead wiped out by minions of the BBEG they will ultimately pursue. Letting an innocent person expire in their arms adds drama and motivation.

Taverns can be used in unusual ways. I was a player in one game where we all went to sleep in our separate rooms ... and woke, groggy and drugged in the hold of a slave ship, chained together. That made for some fast cooperation. In another game, my character picked a fight with another character. In the ensuing brawl we bonded.

Also, while sitting in a tavern, a building across the street could catch fire. As they participate in the Bucket Brigade they get to know each other and work as an unofficial team.

If they have to travel by ship to their destination, they can meet as passengers. Or, as survivors when the ship sinks.

If the locale is in a recession, the players could meet travelling on the way to a city in search of work, or in the city, standing in line to apply for a job (say, on the Watch, or streetsweepers, or whatever). Sounds dull ... but consider all the things security people and janitors witness! This could be used as a plot hook as well as an opportunity to get the players together before the "real" story begins.

Hey, that was fun! Now I want to write an adventure!

@TheThan \/ Good one!


2012-06-14, 04:53 PM
Yeah, it’s always a problem.

The solution I used in my starwars saga campaign, is that the PCs all own a share in a ship, and meet up to get the ship out of the impound yard (the former owner/captain had a run in with the imperials and it didn’t end well.)

Jay R
2012-06-15, 11:35 AM
In the last game I ran, the PCs were all apprentices, acolytes of squires of high-level adventurers, who had once been a party, and who were getting together again decades later for a final quest, to fulfill a final vow.

In the first session, the 1st-level PCs had to stand guard while the older party was conducting an important ritual, which required complete concentration.

In the second episode, the older characters all died as a consequence, and the first-level PCs inherited a quest that had already killed seven high-level characters.

2012-06-15, 11:41 AM
The campaign we're starting shortly has us all joining the military of a city-state and winding up in a special-forces-like team together. Players just need to give their characters a reason to be in the city and joining the military.

2012-06-15, 11:59 AM
In my current campaign the characters are all caravan guards for a massive wedding party. They're just coworkers, you know? Granted, they're the only competent guards, but some narrative conceit had to be maintained.

We role-played the application, ran a few contests to prove they weren't incompetents (memorably the sorcerer won the archery contest by magic missiling the crap out of the targets). And boom - everyone's together in one place with a set goal.


2012-06-15, 01:14 PM
I'd do two things:

1) Get each player to write down a bit of background story about their characters. tell them to write a basic overview of where their character comes from, and you will link it into the world and the story, then sit down with all of the stories and work them together, adding in links to the threads and characters that you plan to use as part of your campaign. that way the players and their backgrounds will be intrinsically linked to the unfolding adventure, and to each other from the start, prehaps in ways that none of them expected when they made the characters.

2) sit down with the entire group in the first session and get them to discuss their ideas for the above, and to actively try to link things together. for example in one memorable game I was playing a knight, when asked why I was part of the party I looked pointedly at the player playing a noblewoman, Signed and said through gritted teeth "The Feudal system".
if there are two dwarves in the party, maybe they come from the same clan and share background and plot. If a character is looking for his lost brother then why not reveal that it may actually be one of the other characters?

I probably shouldn't have numbered those points, as you shouldn't do one then the other, but rather treat it as an iterative process. discussing backgrounds at a low level of detail, getting a few connections, giving the players time to flesh out the story, then meet up and work it all together as a group, then fill in the blancks with lots of secret connections that the players won't know about... yet.

2012-06-16, 08:45 PM
The characters might be the only survivors of a tragic/violent event. Plague in a city, attack on a village, raid on a caravan, whatever.

The characters might be magically transported someplace, or drugged (love the slaveship idea above) and carted off.

The characters might all be imprisoned together, justly or unjustly.

And the characters might suddenly find out they all have the same father, who had some master plan that involved all of them.

2012-06-16, 09:55 PM
We often use a mechanic stolen wholesale from Spirit of the Century: shared stories.

Everyone creates some kind of flashback moment, a snapshot of their previous adventuring career. Write it down on a sheet of paper, then pass it to another player. That player then writes in their character's role in the story. Once you've got that figured out, pass them off another player.

It can get a little chaotic trying to figure out who still needs to feature in a story unless we just pass to the left, but the end result is that everyone in the group has at least met two other characters, and we have a coherent party complete with some history. If we start out having been a party for a while, it feels much more believable if we can say 'Hey, you remember that time in the Fire Swamps?'

Also, it's just a lot of fun.

2012-06-16, 10:19 PM
I've done a few different introduction scenarios with each of them being more or less a success.

I had a campaign that the captain of the guard was informed to contact certain people by the priest-king of the city. Some people were specifically chosen based on their merits (The wizard had recently come out at the top of his academy and was chosen, the cleric was of the same temple as the priest king and was chosen, while the captain was able to choose the others based on merits he felt useful. (the rogue was pulled from jail after an unsuccessfully robbery and told he would be pardoned if he succeeded the quest, and the fighter was pulled out of a drunken brawl he won and was told basically the same) They were all brought to a meeting hall and given their instructions by the captain of the guard.

I've had all the party members as guests of a wedding of an NPC, when a group of monsters attacked and the PCs went to defend the wedding party and later to investigate the attack.

My current campaign I started began with all the party trapped in a slave pit, and they had to orchestrate their escape and then proceed to discover why they were enslaved and end the plots of their former captor. The arcane casters in particular were being used as fuel for some sort of strange device, and had to be released by the others before they could unload their arsenal on the slavers.

2012-06-17, 08:32 PM
I've found that when the players can't think of anything to bring their characters together, I like to use By'tche Furr's Hire, a mercenary company run by a shifter with few scruples and no care about who he accepts into his company. An intercontinental company, most people who need something done hire a group from Furr's company, as true adventurers are quite rare in most of my settings involving the company. As such, more than a few campaigns have started out with PCs each separately getting a notice for a new group assignment, with the place the client is located included, so the PCs end up as a part of a random team of merenaries to do a task. It's also a useful tool for getting groups with opposing alignments within to stay together, because it's all just a job, at least for the beginning of the campaign.

Jack of Spades
2012-06-18, 07:59 AM
A quick suggestion: Have everyone make characters in the same room, at the same time. And encourage them to talk about what they're making. this worked like a charm in a World of Darkness game I played recently-- we started out with vague ideas of what we were building, and soon every person's character knew someone else in the group for one reason or another. Of course, said game didn't rely on having a cohesive party very much, but it was good for character building.

2012-06-18, 08:57 AM
My best one was making every member of the party part of the same noble family.