Connecting Characters in D&D 5E
Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition has a great new system that encourages roleplaying right from the start: namely the system of defining personal characteristics during character creation and how those personal characteristics tie into the generation of Inspiration. A character's personal characteristics are defined in four different categories: personality traits, ideals, bonds, and flaws. As players roleplay using these characteristics as guidelines, the DM can (and should!) grant them Inspiration points to use.
Bonds are one of the four types of characteristics and they define the character's relationship to the world. For instance, a character with a criminal background may be striving to become renown for pulling off the greatest heist. A character with the guild artisan background may have a bond to get revenge on people who destroyed his business and ruined his livelihood. Bonds are great for figuring out a character's place in the world and creating an adventure hook that the DM can exploit to link the character to the campaign. But what they don't do is link one player character to another in the same adventuring party.
Numenera has a system for this it calls Connections. Each player character forges a connection to another player character based on the character's Focus. If a Numenera PC has the focus "Commands Mental Powers", the game suggests that they pick another PC with whom they share short-ranged telepathic contact. A Numenera PC with the focus "Fuses Flesh And Steel" chooses another PC who may know a secret command word that can shut down the cyborg character for ten minutes. When each one of the characters in a group has these connections with each other, the framework of an adventuring party is born without the forced, awkward "you all meet in a tavern" introduction. Further, it creates an ongoing dynamic between player characters that the gamemaster can use in the future or the players can roleplay themselves in the course of the campaign.
In my Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition games, I will be introducing a fifth personal characteristic called a Relationship. This isn't a relationship in the romantic sense (though it certainly can be) but is a bond between two characters in the adventuring party. Sample Relationships will be connected to a character's Background, but those are just examples. One player is free to work with another player to develop their own unique relationship that may not be related to their Backgrounds at all.
More examples will be available in a future post, but here are some starter Relationships for each Background in the Dungeons and Dragons 5th Edition Players Handbook. As with other personal characteristics, if a PC roleplays a Relationship in-game, the DM should be encouraged to reward them with Inspiration.
- Your character believes another PC is particularly blessed by your deity, even if the PC isn't a follower of your deity.
- Your character feels the need to convert another PC to your religion. It is for their own good, even if they don't agree.
- Another PC in the party sees right through your games, no matter how good they are. They may play along or they may not, but they are never fooled.
- One of your fellow PCs is an unwitting part in a long con that you have devised. They may not know the true you at all and what will happen if they find out?
- You owe another PC in your adventuring party and you must pay them back, whether because you have some honor or because they have threatened you if you do not. Your debt may be as simple as money or it may be something grander, perhaps even a favor owed.
- Another PC in your party knows the crimes you are guilty of and has some proof. They have not turned you in to the authorities yet, but they could if it suited them.
- One of your fellow adventurers is a huge fan of your work. It is nice to be idolized, but sometimes it is hard to break away from their adoration.
- Another PC in your party is your muse, whether they know it or not. You yearn to be around them because it inspires your art, but they may not understand or welcome the distraction.
- One of the PCs in your party looks down on you for your rustic ways. Perhaps they are noble-born or from a successful merchant pedigree, or maybe they hail from someplace more cosmopolitan than where you are from.
- One of your fellow adventurers comes from the same village as you do, but lives in the shadow of your local heroics. They may resent that they have the same origin as you, but you get all the credit.
- You have crafted a masterpiece for another PC out of love, admiration, or a drive to honor them. But this other PC does not return the sentiment, which breaks your heart. Someday you will convince them.
- One of the other PCs has asked you to craft something for them of great skill and value because it means a great deal to them. It requires so much skill, however, that you are not yet capable of crafting it. But still you try and someday you will succeed.
- During your time as a hermit, you made a great discovery. One of your fellow adventurers is tied to this discovery in an important way. The secret is precious, so you have not told them of their central role, but you must protect and watch over them.
- When you became a hermit, you left one of your fellow adventurers behind to seek your enlightenment. You have returned, but they still have not forgiven you for abandoning them.
- One of the other PCs is from a common lineage and feels that you lord your priviledge over them. They resent your nobility, even though you don't feel you've done anything wrong.
- Another PC is a political rival, either noble-born or perhaps representing some other rising power. You adventure together and may even be friends, but someday your differing ambitions will come to a head.
- The spirits have shown you visions that indicate that another PC in your party has an important role to play in the future. They may not believe in your worldview at all, but the spirits cannot possibly be wrong. You must help guide them to their destiny.
- Another PC finds it difficult to deal with you and your wild ways. They are a creature of civilization and are never entirely comfortable around you and may actively try to get you to embrace a civilized lifestyle against your wishes.
- One of the other PCs constantly teases you for your endless academic study and makes a concerted effort to get you away from your books and out into the world.
- You find one of your fellow adventurers fascinating from an academic standpoint. Perhaps they have an unusual background or a unique way of doing things that you have not seen before. You will need to observe them to learn more, but they may not be too keen with you always studying them.
- One of your fellow adventurers is a complete landlubber, whose guts get queasy even when crossing a river. You never let them live this down, but you also take every opportunity to help them when you're on the water.
- You have sailed to many shores and dozens of ports, but one of your fellow adventurers always brings you back. It may be due to love or friendship, but your close bond is like a lighthouse in a storm, always guiding you home.
- War has cost one of your fellow PCs a great deal. They may have lost their livelihood, their family, or their home. You have seen the cost of war up close and so you do everything you can to help them and watch over them.
- Your love of direct action is at odds with another member of your party. They don't appreciate your brash decisions and blunt solutions, even though they have always served you well.
- One of the other PCs in your party feels pity for your life on the streets, even if you do not appreciate being pitied. This PC is charitable to you, but you may reject their efforts. You are just fine without their handouts.
- One of the other adventurers comes from a much more priviledged upbringing and never had to face the hardships you did. They will hardly miss the things you steal or hide from them, but to you they can make a real difference. Of course, they may not agree.