The Buddy System

Robert Bohl posted this in the Demihumans development circle on G+ today:

Ensure the Company shares meaningful time on the stage together. You have the power to frame the scenes you’ll be playing, but that also puts the burden on you to make sure people are not abandoned. When you ask how someone starts her day, try to bring her character on the stage with one or more others, or to quickly introduce another member of the Company. Look for the immediately-evident connections, but also explore the unexpected ones. Some strategies to achieve this:

  • Build upon the implications from Company member introductions and Gnosis: Mek the Troll has said they fit hand-in-glove with Gamil the Dwarf, so I will make sure he is in Mek’s opening scene.
  • Create tidings for one Company member to deliver to another: Grishnakh the Orc’s clan lives near Stargrove, the elfshrine. I will have the “adventurers” threat implicated by the commonweal roll harass the noncombatant members of her clan, and allow Galdor the Elf to witness the affront from his window as he puts on his makeup in the morning.
  • Choose a pairing—or grouping—of Company members, and hand off the reins by asking someone why they’re together: We’re running out of time and I want to make sure that Pimpernel the Halfling, Tantony the Gnome, and Dmitri the Traitor to have a scene together. So I hand off the reins to Jesse, Mek’s player, and ask them to explain why these three would be together.

And I posted this in Roll20:

I can only speak for myself, but I think it’s due to two factors.

  1. We had fewer supporting NPCs to start with, so there were fewer characters to interact with.
  2. Probably bigger in my opinion, I feel like a lot of some of our sessions was “one PC interacts with one NPC for about 30-45 minutes”.

I can’t find it now, but I read a post about how other groups have handled this. One group introduced the “buddy system”: the majority of scenes must contain two or more PCs. Solo PC scenes ought to be the exception. I’d love to see something like that made into a principle for further games, if people agreed that it would be worth trying.

I know that it’d be great if this emerged organically in play, but in a year of Masks, a lot of the time it didn’t. As an alternative, I’d like to ask that we make something like the buddy system a principle of whatever game(s) get played next.

As a player, I’m happy to do the work of finding connections to other PCs during play. I’m also happy to come up with general suggestions, like Robert did, for how a specific game can make that work.

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As I said at the time, I think this is an excellent idea and will keep it in mind going forward.

As for connections for whatever we play next, I think during character creation I’m going to go with my normal “instant bond” question: “hey, who wants to be related to my character?” I don’t really care how (siblings, cousins, once was a nephew) but no matter what it does lead to some fairly immediate connections (and a lot of PC-NPC-PC triangles).

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I thought the mechanism that @doyce walked us through last night worked well for this, and was enjoyable both to let players get their character into a scene and letting the rest of the group pull together characters they hadn’t seen lately.

I’ll confess that I have a tendency to more-than-occasionally generate aloof, self-contained characters who don’t work and play well with others, which does not make any of this easier. However we work the next go-around or three, I’ll try to avoid that trope.

Yeah, last night was the sort of thing I’d love to see as a full-time thing.

I think Alycia is the definition of “aloof” and “self-contained” and still managed to be one of the most socially active characters in the game, so it can work out. I think it’s all about the scene framing.

And just to riff off of a previously discussed theme, one of the advantages of a team-on-a-ship model is that it sort of forces that interaction in a hothouse fashion.

There’s clearly a balancing act involved. That said, I’m glad we went with Alycia crashing at Summer’s place, rather than with Parker. Both would be really interesting in a novel form (and I may combine aspects of each with what I do there), but for game purposes, it’s more fun having the two PCs watching movies and cleaning dishes, esp. as both characters serve as part of the “what does it mean to be human?” arc for each other.

I regret not spending more time with Alycia (or Jason) hanging with / bouncing against the other PCs.

I want to think that this was mostly due to session time (we’re typically busy for a lot of it, or in a position where that casual social can’t happen) vs. forum time (where you and I are the most active), but hopefully a buddy system will correct for that.

In a lot of pbta a games, one of the gm moves is Separate the Party. In masks, one of the GM moves is Bring the Heroes Back Together, because the writer notes that in a game like this it’s really really easy for people to split up, so pushing them together is the more potent and necessary maneuver.

Having a meta rule in place like the buddy system or just being more cognizant of it amongst all the people at the table is, I think, just an extension of that, and a good one.

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There’s also this, from Running the first Session:

Your opening scene is definitely going to include multiple characters—the whole team should be in that initial fight. But as the fight ends, continue to frame scenes with at least two PCs in them, if not more. Try not to have the PCs splinter into solo scenes. If the Protégé’s mentor berates them, do it in front of another PC! It’s the first session, and you want to give them a chance to interact with each other and trigger moves like defend someone or comfort or support someone.

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