A Cold Dawn
Party Building System
Parties are characters too: In most tabletop RPGs each player has a character, maybe more than one, and everyone is in a party traveling and adventuring together. In the best of these good players will have interesting backstories, motives, and characterization in general, but the party is just the sum of all the characters thrown together.
Parties need backstories too, almost more than individual characters. The adventures and quests being undertaken are those of the party. Characters are members of the larger whole. If desired a GM can build a party themselves, but if possible it is nice to have the players go through the process of party creation.
Forbidden and Included Ideas and Themes:
Party creation is a collaborative effort. Start with all the players at the table, including the GM and starting with the GM, everyone chooses an element or theme that is either on the white or black list. That is items that are either encouraged or undesirable. For every item put in either list, the player placing it should give an explanation of why they want that element included or excluded from the party concept.
Excluded items are things that the player would like removed from consideration as a party concept or theme while Included items would be things that should be possible or included in all later suggested concepts. Everyone should go at least once, but as long as everyone still has ideas just keep going around and adding them in as long as each time around everyone adds an element. Anyone may pass, but this signifies the last round. Examples of items for inclusion or exclusion are things like ‘single species’, ‘mercenaries’, ‘survivors’, ‘simple farmers’ or more specific things like, ‘only uses blessed scimitars in combat’ or even ‘vegetarian’.
These should not be focusing in on what the party is or what it does, but rather just identifying attributes of the party in general that players want to have or exclude from play.
Now given all the elements of what attributes the party has, it is time to brainstorm ideas about what the party specifically ‘is’. This is much more specific. Each player should, on a scrap of paper or notecard write a one or two sentence description of an idea what the party might be. These should include the black and whitelist elements listed, or at least imply them. As long as nothing on the blacklist is included, and everything in the whitelist is or could be included, any idea is fine. Good short and partial examples are: ‘shipwreck survivors’, ‘members of the holy order of Vim’, ‘courtiers secretly supporting the claim of the Blue Prince, Swainon for the throne of Vordain’, etc.
When everyone is finished go around the table, read and explain each concept. If everyone would like, this step may be repeated several times. After everyone has gone and explained their concept, everyone gets to vote on all the concepts presented in the round, which is simply a ‘like/don’t like’ vote. Everyone votes on each idea. When voting, though the vote is a simple up or down the player should give a short explanation of their vote. Importantly, this is a simple gateway saying if everyone would find the scenario presented as fun to play.
A player giving an up vote should understand that only those scenarios getting unanimous votes can go to the next round. This way any player can effectively veto a scenario they don’t like or don’t wish to play for any reason. Scenarios may also effectively limit or eliminate some or many character ideas. As long as everyone agrees that it would be fun to play, this is totally fine.
Everyone should go at least once, submitting an idea no matter if it is voted up or down. If desired, multiple rounds are certainly possible, and in any case, it is important to keep going until there are several ideas which everyone has unanimously ‘up’ voted in the first round.
Once the collection of unanimously accepted ideas is collected, deciding between them is simple head to head elimination. Pick any two at random, everyone can choose one or the other and the winner of these two is kept and the loser retired. Keep doing pair votes until there is one idea left, this is what the party is, unanimously decided by the players as an idea they like and voted as better than the other accepted ideas.
Next is to figure out the goals of the party. This is the why of the party’s existence, and is quite important later, particular for earning XP. Again everyone should write down an idea for a goal. Everyone should suggest a couple and when submitting a suggestion, take some time to explain it to the table. These are things like, ‘always fight in an honorable manner’, ‘destroy all demons’, ‘survive the shipwreck and make it back home’. When done, again vote on the goals, however, this time there should be 1 primary and 3 secondary goals. To ensure broad consensus around the table as to what these should be, the ultimate winner of the head to head voting becomes the primary goal and the last 3 eliminated become the secondary goals.
Creating parties is different than most games. It may be helpful for the players to spend the first session creating several potential parties and then deciding which they like best and which sound most interesting to play. Don’t always settle for the first party concept. Some will work better than others and some may not actually work at all. Also, the GM should keep track of parties not used as they make good fodder for NPC groups.
When all is said and done you should have a longer party description, which mentions how the included and excluded elements are used in the party concept, and a list of the one primary and 3 secondary goals decided. If the players want to get more elaborate and descriptive that is fine, but this should get everyone started on a central focus for all the characters to have.
With a party definition and goals, it is now time to build the characters themselves. First thing is to create the relationships between the characters. This can be done in several ways, but in the end each character should have a single word definition of the starting relationship between them and each other character in the party.
To do this randomly, have each player write down on an index card a single word adjective describing a relationship. Examples would be: ‘sibling’, ‘mentor’, ‘rival’, ‘cousin’, ‘trusted confidant’, ‘spouse’ etc. Everyone should make 2 or 3 more cards than there are other players, and the relationship cards made should match the already selected theme or goals, e.g. ‘spouse’ is difficult when the theme is a party as a military unit etc. Then put all the cards in a pile, shuffle it and deal out each player a hand equal to the number of other players plus the decided overflow.
Next staring with one player, they select one of the relationships in their hand and ‘plays’ it as the relationship between them and the character of the player to their right. Next, the player to the right plays a ‘counter’ to that relationship. At this point the two players can decide to accept one, the other or both (some relationships self-evidently allow this , some do not). Next, the second player starts the cycle over with the player to their right. Continue this for all possible relationships between all characters.
Now that the party and relationships between the characters is decided and agreed on, the players should create characters as normal. Note, that the characters made should naturally use the theme, goals and relationships already defined, and these may, and probably will eliminate some character options while emphasizing others. Provided that everyone has agreed to these themes and limits, this is perfectly fine.
Last, as each player makes a character the backstory should include how they got into the party, which may be complex or simple depending on both the character and party concept. Each character should also at least sketch out how they relate and feel about the goals of the party.