One of the ideas that everyone liked during the intervention that led to The Intervention was having all of the characters not only know each other but having established relationships, good or bad, that can be explored in the game. Katie was the one who brought up the game Panty Explosion, the luridly-named RPG about Japanese high school girls. In that game, as part of character creation, each player picks someone else’s player character to be their character’s best friend, and another to be their rival. The relationships don’t have to be reciprocal, and in fact misalignment leads to some great opportunities for drama.
Our group is fairly large, so I want most of the tension to be between players trying to work out their issues with each other rather than non-player characters. If they can bond while pounding a villain, great. If I can interrupt a romantic interlude with a distress call, fantastic. That’s the game I want to run, and I think it will work well with the existing group dynamic.
What I’m going to do is ask each player to pick two other players and name the relationship between them. Maybe they’re blood relatives. Maybe they’re married, or divorced. Maybe they grew up together, go their powers at the same time, were a duo before they joined the team together. Maybe they get along, maybe they hate each other.* I also want to know why, what that defining moment was, what that incident was that they hang on to as a cherish memory or the burning coal that fuels their resentment.**
Then I’m going to compile a relationship chart between the player characters, and create NPCs to fill in holes. If two characters are mother and daughter, there’s got to be an NPC dad, for example. I’m also going to make as few NPCs as possible; if one character has an ex-wife and another has a girlfriend, I’ll make them the same character to ratchet up the tension.
At the end of each session, as I hand out experience or hero points or whatever mechanic we’re using, I may ask characters to describe the relationship to one character that they haven’t already defined, or how an established relationship has changed. I want the player to write it down, and I’ll add it to my relationship chart.
Something I’m considering, based on what mechanics we end up using, is giving players bonuses for teaming up. I’m talking about creating “fastball special” combinations of powers, but I’m also talking about working with your best buddy and working with your rival. Yes a mechanical bonus to working with the person you most strongly dislike, in order to get you into a scene together and build some tension. I’ll fiddle with that when the mechanics are settled on.
What I’d like to do, if the players are open to it, is hand out NPCs for them to play as secondary characters. If player A and player B both have a relationship to an NPC I’ll try to get player C to play that NPC. I would like to keep the GM job down to “keeper of the metaplot” and “inciter of villainy”. I will, of course, reward players for playing NPCs, but that’s going to be a mechanics issue.
*Arrested Development remains my model. They all have to get along with each other, but that doesn’t mean they don’t annoy each other or have squabbles.
**I’m thinking of the relationship between Tig and Kozik on Sons of Anarchy. If you know the show, you know what I mean. They’re friends, but there’s one stupid thing that will always be a sticking point in their relationship.