PC groups – how PCs meet in RPGs

A human thief, dwarf fighter, and an elven mage walk into a bar. The barman goes: “What the hell is this – a cliché?”

I was recently asked by an ORC member about how I thought groups of PCs (Player Characters) should get together. To be honest, it is a lot easier than people think. Consider your own situation: how many people do you know (let’s leave Facebook out of this, OK!) and how did you meet them?

Anyway, here’s a few suggestions for how a group of PCs may get together. It is perfectly possible for some of the PCs to be acquainted with one another using these methods, but at the end of the day it is down to your players. Note that some of these suggestions place the PCs in a hierarchy – these can also be used to springboard the PCs into adventures as well – they’re ordered to reconnoitre a nearby cave system for instance.

  • Defence – maybe the PCs are part of the local militia, or even a military unit, fresh out of basic training.
  • We are the law – the PCs are part of the city watch/local law enforcement, perhaps all based in the same station, fort, etc.
  • School friends – the PCs know each other from school or university or an orphanage.
  • Faithful retainers – the PCs work for a sponsor or employer (an NPC, or even a PC), as bodyguards, servants or similar. Whether or not they are still employed is up to the player.
  • Street gang. The PCs are part of some group that has banded together for mutual protection – they may also have come from rival gangs (which can make for some interesting situations).
  • Guild members – the PCs belong to the same guild, be they merchants, thieves, or similar. Remember that magic users and fighters are also valued in Thieves Guilds as muscle and magic, so they may not necessarily need to be members of a rogue character class.
  • Secret society – the PCs are members of the same cult or society, e.g Knights Templar. This can either be openly admitted to, or something darker. Such details are best worked out between the players and the GM.
  • Conscripts/press-ganged – the PCs have been forced into service, possibly as part of a levy or local navy recruitment drive. It is also possible that some of the other PCs may have been responsible for their indenture.
  • Prisoners – the PCs have been imprisoned together. Their escape may make an adventure in itself. I used this myself  in the first few games of Against the Odds.
  • Friends through adversity. The PCs face a common threat: the place they are staying comes under attack, e.g. the dead rise and lay siege to the manor; the Orcish forces attack the city, etc.
  • Employees – rather than faithful retainers, the group is employed to carry out something, such as a specific task. This works well in games like Shadowrun, but can easily apply to fantasy RPGs. It’s also one of easiest ways to get a group together: be it assassination, theft, or simply mapping a dungeon
  • Meet in an Inn. Possibly one of the more clichéd ways of getting a group together: the group meets for the first time in a pub, possibly during a brawl. However, it can be used with any of the other methods given here.
  • Relatives – the PCs are members of the same family. This can work well in intrigue-intense games. The PCs may be part of a criminal family e.g. the Corleones in the Godfather series, or the nobility e.g. Borgias or the Medicis. If the PCs are non-human, they may belong to the same clan or Noble House e.g. the Drow in Menzoberranzan, for example.
  • The enemy of my enemy is my friend – while some of the PCs may be of different and opposing viewpoints (or even alignments), they work together to a common end, usually the defeat of a specific enemy.

To summarise: as a GM, your best plan is probably to let your players come up with some ideas before the game starts: it might save you some work but can actually give you some ideas for adventures!

Published by Bill Heron

Wannabe game designer and would-be author. I've been playing RPGs for over 25 years and have recently started creating my own RPG called Mandragora: Ashes of Freedom. I also run a number of RPGs: Cthulhutech, Call of Cthulhu, WFRP, and D&D. I'm active in the Edinburgh RPG community at http://orcedinburgh.co.uk and regularly play RPGs.

One reply on “PC groups – how PCs meet in RPGs”

  1. I kind of stolen the Star Wars Character Connections idea for my games. I force each player to pick at least one other player’s character that they’ve encountered in the past before the game begins. Creative players will come up with something good. I’ll be introducing three new characters to the X campaign and they’ve gone with: the Acolyte of Life has finished his training at the Shrine to the Healing God and has encountered the party on one or two occasions when they come back from adventures. The necromancer was being trained in the mage’s guild when the sorcerer visited on two occasions. The assassin decided that she previously knew the fortune hunter, meeting up at a fund raiser and a little bit of a flirt.

    In the other game we’ve got going on just now, my character is the half-brother of my real life sister’s character. Her real-life partner’s character is in love with her character. Not very imaginative but you can use real life relationships as a template for the in-character relationships. In-character sibling rivalry can be quite amusing with real life siblings.

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