Thursday, April 19, 2012

Dungeonspiration: Group Gestalt

Player dynamics in role playing games have always fascinated me.  Often, a group is made of individualistic players whose goals and modis operandi don't sync up at all.  But sometimes, a gaggle of gamers morphs into a group with a capital 'G.'  I love those times.

Not like this at all.  Really.
At the beginning of our Stars Without Number campaign, the PCs were a group of loners who just happened to be travelling in the same general direction and had a tendency of taking the same two bit, mostly illegal jobs from various criminal syndicates and interstellar corporations.  Then they became involved with a bizarre alien race called the Methans and took a job from them at a backwater mining space station around a extremely radioactive star in the Hard Light system.

The Hard Light system is the subject of Kevin Crawford's Stars Without Number module Hard Light.  The setting has a great claustrophobic feel to it, with cramped space stations and asteroid exploration.  It really reminds me of what would happen if you crammed Keep on the Borderlands into the Sean Connery movie Outland.

For some reason, the group seemed to change at Hard Light.  The characters were sent there to investigate and deal with a mysterious production issue plaguing the station.  Perhaps it was the focus of the mission, the claustrophobic setting, the fact that the group was basically stranded in the system for four months, or perhaps that EVERYONE but the group members themselves were suspects - but the group began to gain cohesion.  They started acting as a unit, investigating the mystery secretly while they pretended to be ordinary workers.  I was really amazed by how they cooperated and quickly put the pieces of the mystery together while actually taking an interest in the setting and the NPCs.

Another strange, and completely unexpected moment of cohesion happened soon after.  The party was working on infiltrating a small pirate base.  They had met a completely inconsequential pilot for the pirates and had convinced him (with force) to smuggle them into the base.  I decided that the pilot should be a blond Rastafarian with dreadlocks named Kingston who said 'Mon' a lot.  They immediately took a dislike to poor old Kingston.

At the base, they met another blond Rastafarian pirate named Pierre.  This further enraged the group.  I still don't quite understand why.

They started calling the pirates 'Franco Aryan Jamaican Nazi Pirates.'

It was deemed that the Franco Aryan Jamaican Nazi Pirates should not be allowed to live and breath in the same universe in which the PCs existed.  Pirate genocide began seconds after that decision.

"Dere be no reason to be shooting at me with your raggedy laser gun, Mon!"

Eventually, the group got their hands on a pirate ship named the Fat Tuesday and re-purposed it to hunt down and kill pirates.  One of the characters declared himself the captain.  The other players didn't argue with this coup d'état, since the new captain offered to pay the NPC's salaries out of his own pocket.  The group suddenly had a leader - Captain Reginald Goodnight.  Now, I've never seen a leader arise in a group without a lot of trouble - but this one grew organically, and oddly enough, helped to solidify the group even more.

The party still has disagreements about their goals, and exactly how to obtain them.  They can be horribly scattered during combat.  But this group - the crew of the Fat Tuesday, really clicks.  It's a group with a capital 'G,' and it's quite fun to watch the hive mind churn.

Case in point - during the last game the group encountered a starship captain named Biff Thadderson.  I modelled Captain Biff's mannerisms and speech off of Captain Zapp Brannigan from Futurama.  I felt this would be a death knell for Captain Biff, especially since I gave the party the opportunity to kill Biff off without lifting a finger.  I mean, the dude is annoying and I designed him specifically to be annoying.

Um . . . not like this, either.  Really.

But the players fell in LOVE with Captain Biff.  Simultaneously.  Like - WHAM!  I mean, I wouldn't be surprised if they go and marry him as a group or something.  And now I am stuck having to talk in an excited radio announcer's voice half the time.

It's an evil plot against me, I tell you.

But that's what happens when a group forges together in that peculiar was that seems to only happen around a table with dice clinking and the swilling of mass quantities of Diet Coke.  It's really inspiring.

- Ark

6 comments:

  1. Oh, I totally agree. Part of my joy in DMing is watching the group emerge and grow.

    Strangely, though, most of my group experiences have been pretty painless. Leaders always just sort of happen, and the groups typically get along pretty well.

    The variable always seems to be whether they're effective as a group or not. Although the games always seem to be more entertaining for all involved if they're not terribly effective.

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    1. With the group I play with, players killing each other is not at all uncommon. It usually take three or four sessions to know whether the campaign has any legs - or will just continue to be a PVP murderfest. The emergence of a leader - well, that's something special. :)

      - Ark

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  2. Awesome campaign you've got going there!

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    1. @Bill - Thanks - I'll have to post more on it.

      - Ark

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  3. I couldn't resist your picture of the Ghost Twins on a post about Stars Without Number prompted me to stat them up for SWN. : )

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    1. Well hot diggity dog. I'll have to go take a gander . . .

      - Ark

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