Role-playing games tend to have reams of pages dedicated to creating characters. However, very few spend time on creating the dynamics of the character group and establishing existing relationships between the characters. Apocalypse World is a rare exception but even Apocalypse World (which is one of my all time favourites!) doesn’t give as much time to the development of groups and relationships as I would like.
For some games the characters do not know each other at the start of a game and part of the point of the game (either explicitly or implicitly) is to establish a group dynamic . But for those games where the characters already know each other before time-in, isn’t it time we had more game support to help define and express their specific group culture?
There is a huge amount of material available on group culture, team building and organisational theory out there in the world. So why aren’t we using it as part of our character generation systems?
All groups have an internal culture, be it a set of friends who regularly hang-out, a business division, sporting team or military unit. All these groups have shared conventions, language, in-jokes, even little rituals, stories and symbols which bind the group together. I still refer to beating up a monster as “jobbing”, a hangover from an old LARPing group I joined 10 years ago. These little details make a group’s culture and the relationships within it rich and realistic – which is just how I like my games.
It is easy to observe some of these details of our own group interactions, tack on a bit of theory and come up with a quick-start system for generating group culture.
In fact I just wrote one below…
Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing.
All groups go through 4 distinct phases:
Forming – The group are coming together and getting to know each other, creating a leadership hierarchy (possibly implicitly) , a group purpose etc.
As a player group try answering or role-playing a short scene based on questions:
- How did you all meet?
- What happened the first time you met?
Storming – a time of conflict, the members of the group discover areas of friction and tension. They may jostle with each other to assert themselves or even engage in power struggles.
Questions for the group:
- Tell me about a time you fell out over something in the early days?
- Who is the group leader (explicit or implicit) and how did that come about?
Norming – the group establishes its own culture and rules and begins to enforce them.
Questions for the group:
- What symbols, stories or rituals bind you together e.g. we always go to the same bar to drink beer after we finish a job.
- Describe a time that one of you did something the others disagreed with (an unwritten rule of the group) and how the group enforce compliance with the group’s rules? e.g. suggesting taking hostages and the group shaming you into dropping the idea.
Performing – In game terms this is what happens from the time you starting playing.
Didn’t you hear me… go play!
Once your group is generated you can hit the ground running with your game, without the awkward and often unrealistic “getting to know you” moments.
(Based on Brian Tuckman’s theory of Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing from 1965)