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Monday, November 4, 2013

What's My Motivation: Unit Cohesion

We are about to start our new game--in this game we are members of a family headed by a mad scientist who lives in Holiday City. He has a machine--the Originator--which creates origins. So we wind up being 4 family members who got run through the machine.

Our guidelines were:

  1. Read the 4pg write up and PDF of family relationships
  2. Make a 50pt family member
  3. They'll get super powers ...
  4. Away we go ...
So, we each went away and made characters. We got:
  • Gothy spoiled brat artist
  • Young Republican like Michael J. Fox in Family Ties
  • Older son who races cars
  • Older son who has a gambling problem / mad gambling skills
Now, we all do have family ties--we have other siblings with super powers and there are things about the "family name" and what-have-you--but in terms of motivation we're all over the map. Only the Young Republican character (who took a Trait 'Obnoxious: Republican') has any direct relationship with one of the other super characters--they don't like each other for some reason.

This is all kind of chaotic. I don't doubt we can make it work--but I want to talk a minute about party cohesion.

Two Kinds Of Cohesion
Party cohesion requires either a shared goal or some kind of narrative structure (even if it's just agreement of the PCs) that organizes the action. There are three kinds of shared goals:
  1. Internal shared goals. In this case it's the Scooby Doo gang. Everyone wants to find ghosts--but why is up to each of them. Still, they're all in one place and what do they all have the burning desire to do? Bust ghosts.
  2. External shared goals. Members of a Special Forces Group. Each might have their own real interests -- or their own reasons for joining up with the service--but when command gives them a mission they all do the same things.
  3. A variety on the External Goal is one where it's enforced on the characters against their wills. This is the "you're all stranded on the jungle island" game. Character's goals may shift over time--but they are heavily influnced by external events the character did not sign up for.
These might sound the same and the end result is very similar but the internal effects are quite distinct. If you ask me to make a Navy SEAL I'll make someone who's, I dunno, a patriot or whatever. Doesn't matter. I might not even nail it down until play starts so better to fit in with whatever the tone of the game is.

Tell me to make a ghost buster character and I might make anything--but you can be sure I'll want to see some ghost--and bust them.

In the third case, probably the less internal drive I have the better: it'll either dovetail with the scenario if I'm lucky (my character is a frustrated survivalists who lives to prove himself) or suck (my character is in love with a girl he financially can't afford who is back on the mainland).

All of these have good-cases (where everything works) and degenerate cases (where something goes wrong with play).

What's the best?

Being A Team? Or Kidnapped By Aliens
One of the easiest ways to generate a shared cause is #2 or #3--my problem is it's not my preferred way of playing (and I've done games like this for years). We even had a game structure where we'd have a "major story line" and then 1:1 sessions with each group member to keep track of their individual stories. Sometimes those would overlap. Sometimes not. Back in high school we had time for this--but today we don't.

I'd rather have my character's motivation be created so as to align with the action in the game. Doesn't have to be 100%--or perfect--but I'd like some hand-holds to grasp on to. How do you do that?

Tom Petty And The  ... Uhhhhhh?
Long, long ago--in a two player game--we were going to be a music act that would be thrust into an imaginary world. I was dithering around and the other guy made 'Alan Sky and the Heartbreakers.' His character was Alan Sky. If I were someone else I might have demanded a change to the band-name. After all, can you name a member of Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers whose name doesn't start with 'Tom'?

If you can, props to you--I can't. But I went with it. I just changed Heartbreakers to Demigods and figured what the hell, that sounds okay. And it was an absolutely rocking campaign. Our characters were built to work together. We could shift our goals at the same time, in the same way, organically. It wasn't "My guy goes out street racing" while "I have to attend a city hall meeting" and "Whaaaa I'm stuck in 5th period Algebra!!"

Clearly having a shared link with the character is often an unambiguous good (our characters went through fantasy land playing various venues).

But here's the learning:
Left to their own devices, almost everyone makes 'the hero.'
I was good enough not to care about the name of our band--but if the racer guy had made his character first in the game we're currently going into? I'd have to think before making "One of Vin Diesel's sidekicks." I mean, it might work out--it might not--but it's not an obvious choice. And if that's what the other two players were also doing? It'd be an even tougher choice.

I remember once when playing GURPS we were allowed to buy however levels of Military Rank we wanted. Two players got into a bidding war. We wound up being an X-Files group (small off-the books paranormal investigation) with a four-star general.

So the one thing you can't do is make "the hero."

And think about it, in Scooby Doo, who really is "the leader" or "the hero" anyway? I mean, it's not Shaggy--but he gets most of the lines and Scooby Doo gets title credit. 

So you can't reliably just take one player, have them make something, and then build the game around that.

Shared Background?
In the ghost-hunters game we were diverse--but we had all had an encounter with the paranormal which was why we were recruited by a large insurance company dealing with ghosts. This was fine--we knew from the character-design phase that we would be part of a team chasing ghosts--but none of us, really, had a drive to chase ghosts. We were motivated to be part of the team--but once the agency abandoned us we could have gone home.

We also ran into an actual ghost-hunting group and I realized that we'd left money on the table. If we'd all had a similar origin and had been told to make a ghost hunting team we'd all have actual internal motivations to chase spirits. We might also have had a van and a big dog.

This (the potential dog) would not necessarily have improved things. But the key here is:
Motivations that are organic to the characters don't come from shared backgrounds alone.
Clear Campaign Direction
The most surefire method is the one that D&D pioneered: you know what you're gonna be doing--going in a dungeon. This is simple, brilliant, and beautiful. It works wonderfully. Our two-year Have-Not game was easy: make adventurers. Sure, we were students in a school--but we knew adventure was in there / down there--and we were ready for it. We knew we were going up in level. We knew there was treasure and we wanted it.

This works very well for adventurers. It does, in fact, work okay for military teams--so long as you make someone whose motivation is to go out and kick ass ... for the country. If you know what you're going to be doing, though, play someone who is dedicated to doing that.

Clarity is good. The more you know about direction the better you can prepare for it.
What Now?
I think the plan we have now--the shared familial background is actually pretty strong. Despite being diverse we have reasons to work together (questioned during the first hour and 15 minutes of gaming no less). We don't have a clear direction for the game--but that's okay. I think our characters are "in motion" enough and the GM has certainly taken some time (even if only a little) to think situation hooks that each of them might be interested in.

Even better, each of us have enough goals or drives to pretty much indicate that something will get us into motion. Some of us are in motion already.

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