Sunday, March 12, 2017

Remember, The Party is Under No Obligation To Adventure With You

The world was reduced to a wasteland while they slept in a strange stasis. Ever since they'd awoken, and begun exploring the ruined expanse, it had been one life-or-death battle after another. Paranoia had begun taking hold, and the slightest sound made them jump, hands on their weapons.

So they were understandably unnerved when the stranger walked out of the shadows, and into their camp, as if he had every right to be there.

They tried to be as courteous as the savage land allowed them to be. They asked the stranger his name, and he told them a word in a language they could not speak. They asked him his purpose, and he gave them a shrug of his shoulders, and offered a platitude that did not answer any of their questions. Losing patience after going round and round with the interloper and getting nowhere, Brazen Red-Eye thumbed back the hammer on his widowmaker, and asked the stranger a more pointed question.

Why did he think the party should let him live?

Take your time answering. You've got the rest of your life.
This scenario actually happened (though it didn't make its way into Brazen's saga, which began with Why You Should Never Field A One-Eyed Dragon), and it represents a problem that every DM I've ever talked to has run into. Namely, a player who thinks that just because their character is a PC (and thus one of the main characters of the story) that they are automatically a part of the campaign as soon as they walk on the scene.

Consider this post a public service message, because it's important to remember that the party can refuse to adventure with you at any time, for any reason.

But I'm A PC!

Let's say the party took on an NPC cleric to help them in their quest. However, this cleric demands special treatment, lords their powers over the party, is confrontational about every decision they make, and withholds treatment until injured characters have begged them for aid. That's annoying, but it's the sort of behavior the party might be willing to put up with until this particular dungeon is cleared, and they can drop the cleric back off at the town.

Now ask what the party would do if the cleric stole their loot. Or got in party members' faces, and threatened them. How long would it take for the party to cave in that NPC's skull, healer or not?

He won't feel a thing. It will be just like a tent stake, but more satisfying.
If players won't put up with any nonsense from NPCs, why would they do it for another PC? As far as the story is concerned, all characters are created equal (which is to say the party doesn't have big, red arrows over their heads marking them out as player characters, and therefore important). As I mentioned in Let Them Reap What They Sow (Actions and Consequences For PCs in RPGs), player actions have consequences.

Sometimes the consequence is that the rest of the party says, "You're a bigger liability than you are a help. Take your share of the loot, and go on your way."

Whether you brought a kleptomaniac murder machine to a party that would rather not have bounty hunters dogging their tail, you betrayed the party to save your own skin, or you just won't get up from the bar and actually introduce yourself, the party is under no obligation to seek you out, pick you up, or keep you around.

Think of the party as a business. You all agreed to work together to grow this endeavor, and to get the job done. However, that means everyone needs to show up Monday morning with a mug of coffee in their hand, a glint in their eye, and ready to go to work.

A Little Ambition Goes A Long Way

How do you stay in the party, you might ask? Generally speaking, as long as you follow rule one (don't be a dick), you shouldn't have anything to worry about. But if you want to lock in your spot at the table, there are a couple of extra steps you can take.

Assuming, that is, you want to endear yourself to the rest of your crew.
The first, and easiest, thing you can do is to make your PC so that they have a pre-existing relationship with at least a few other people in the party. Maybe you once served together in the army, you went on a previous adventure before you parted ways, or you were childhood friends. You might even be related, if you're going for the low-hanging fruit. This eliminates that awkward, "So, uh, I heard you guys are going into the Kataph Ruins on a secret mission. Got room for a fifth wheel?" conversation that sometimes happens when you try to bring in someone new.

The second thing you could do is remember that you're all co-workers here. Whether you have previous connections or not, establish a rapport with your party members. Figure out common ground, common goals, and find a way to work together to get the job done. Sure, you might be at odds over your methodology, but just because you want to summon a small army of the walking dead, and the knight wants to ride out to meet the dark champion in single combat, you both want to make sure that demon legion doesn't wipe this city off the map. You need to be on the same side, and trying to solve the same problems, instead of fighting each other.

Third, make sure your character is useful. Characters should be interesting, and involving, but when it comes right down to it, becoming part of the party means you're there to do a job. So you need to bring your A game, and hold up your end of the bargain. Whether you're a sworn sword there to keep your allies safe, a gun for hire, a wizard who specializes in bolstering her companions' resistances, or an expert archaeologist whose familiarity with treasure maps and deadly traps is unsurpassed, make sure you do your job, and do it well.

If you can do all of these things, then your allies will go all the way to the wall to keep you as a member of the party.

That's all for this week's Moon Pope Monday post. Hopefully some folks found it interesting, or at least thought-provoking. If you'd like to help me keep Improved Initiative going, then stop by The Literary Mercenary's Patreon page to become a patron today! All it takes is $1 a month to get yourself some sweet swag, and to help me keep making content just like this. Lastly, if you haven't followed me on Facebook, Tumblr, or Twitter yet why not start today?


  1. Excellent read and well thought out.

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  3. I had something of a reverse of this. In an Edge of the Empire game, I felt like the only sane man. The only thing out PC's had in common was that we were on the same prison transport. I found myself wondering how I could rationalize Tresk staying with the group as their stunts get zanier and more dangerous.

    Fortunately, real life intruded and I decided it was a good spot to have him leave. Now I've got colorful stories when I get Tresk into the next group's game, and an upgraded history.