No doubt you’ve heard of the Six Degrees by which everyone is purported separated. But in role-playing, you can use that idea to create more complex relationships and increase your investment in the character. At the table, it makes for some pretty hilarious or moving scenes, while in “massive” contexts, it’s essentially required in order to get more than random RP. Here are some tips for tying your characters to others in both platforms, and even some “homework” for you to make your characters more connected to their world.
When players create characters for my campaigns I usually hand them The “Ten-Minute” Background sheet, which seems to always end up taking the better part of an hour. A bit of a misnomer, that. What I like about it, though, is it gets them to think about just enough to make for an interesting character background. Traits, goals, secrets, oh, and that sneaky thing called connections.
Because I house-rule it a little and tell them they need at least one of the following:
The third bit is by far the most essential, in my view. It makes for a more cohesive party and sets up role-play antics. It works best if you don’t double-up on each other, but sometimes that’s unavoidable. In those cases, you may want to opt for–gasp–two, count ’em, two connections!
For instance, in my Marrakesh game, the Tiefling Assassin (who now can transform into a powerful devil when he enrages, fun fun) and Halfling rogue have tied themselves together, not just because they’ll compete to see who can cut the most purses in a night at the tavern, but “because they’re the two shortest people in the Party.” Praise players for going beyond the obvious, with more “huh, I wouldn’t have thought of that immediately,” connections that go beyond simple race/class similarities.
Now, the Halfling tends to stick around the Elven Ranger, perhaps because of OOC reasons, but IC’ly it comes off as the him being drawn by her remarkable beauty and grace. More complicated is that the Elf herself flirts with the Tiefling, who is perhaps the most “handsome” of the group at least in terms of behavior–he’s protective of the elf, charming and flirtatious, but this may yet complicate the Rogue and Assassin’s relationship. And I oh-so look forward to that time bomb going off.
See how we’ve already got a triangle going? Add in the Tiefling’s antagonistic relationship with the Dragonborn Paladin, that by default makes him also somewhat at odds with the Paladin’s cousin, a Warlord. Now we’ve a pentagon at least, and still two other party members to account for…
And that’s just from one character’s perspective.
Sure, these relationships might have sprung up over time, but most of my gaming group didn’t know each other well before they started playing together. Forcing them to reach out broke the ice and gave them game-related reason to be buddying up with someone, when us introverts would be otherwise uncomfortable.
If and when character deaths do occur, I’ll be asking them to make a bond with a different player, so they get to know someone else and tangle the relationship webs further.
Role-playing guilds and forum games, though, are another story. Due to the sheer size of them, you have to zoom out a little bit, making Affiliations by Country, Caste, House, College, Company, Division, et cetera the primary method of association. Giving your character a place to belong is important, even necessary, to establishing contexts for role-playing.
But in smaller guilds or forums, these entities might be sparsely populated, requiring you to go the interpersonal route. Even in larger situations, you’ll want a smaller group of RP buddies. Regardless, I recommend at least three connections, mostly to be determined at character creation/incorporation, but secret/unknown possibilities exist for older characters as well. Potential relationships include:
Certainly, Affiliations might cover some of these, but I invite you to go further and define the specifics of the relationship. Some guilds aren’t that organized as to have subdivisions and groups, instead having only general member ranks, or are already especially distinguished (e.g. Trading Companies, Military Orders).
This makes the Priest’s relationship with the Warrior’s all the more important. Who knew they were childhood playmates? But that bond is strained by the healer’s pacifistic, only-in-self-defense attitude, while the Warrior has learned she has to be ruthless in order to survive. Here you have a dual relationship–they were effectively siblings growing up, but now they’re comrades-in-arms with opposing views.
Moreover, just because you’re in one group doesn’t exclude you from having relationships related to the others. If you’re in a Military Order, you likely still have familiar and educational connections, and maybe even business, too, if you’re not a professional soldier, or had a life before you joined the organization.
Make sure that you don’t get over-specific in your requests/parameters. This turns others off and stifles creativity. Sure you might have thought that having a bastard brother would be fun, but don’t discount the other player’s suggestion for an undead one! Try to get three relationships from the above list to start. I guarantee your role-playing will be the richer for it.
Writers and Gamemasters can also implement the Six Degrees concept in their stories and plots. For a look at this in depth, I recommend Campaign Mastery’s “Sophisticated Links: Degrees of Separation in RPGs.”