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I've been searching every combination of words I can think of and can't get a good answer.

All the players at my table know that they're going to be forming an adventuring party, so they throw me a bone and have their characters team up, even though it doesn't really fit. It feels very forced. We all try to get through it as fast as we can to get on with the game.

How can I get characters to want/need to team up?

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closed as too broad by SPavel, NautArch, A_S00, KorvinStarmast, Oblivious Sage Jan 3 '18 at 20:07

Please edit the question to limit it to a specific problem with enough detail to identify an adequate answer. Avoid asking multiple distinct questions at once. See the How to Ask page for help clarifying this question. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Reformulated slightly. Stack exchange works best when you aren't asking "give me some ways/tips/ideas" but instead requesting "I have this problem. Solve this problem." The former formulation encourages people to toss out half-baked partial ideas, which are poor quality and prone to removal. The second demands they provide a comprehensive solution, which is what our formula is designed to provide. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Jan 3 '18 at 19:13
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    \$\begingroup\$ If you can add details of the party, your world, etc. we may be able to give some better guidance. If you're looking for general ideas that fit any situation that may be too broad for SE. \$\endgroup\$ – NautArch Jan 3 '18 at 19:14
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    \$\begingroup\$ I am having trouble figuring out if the problem is your players or their characters. \$\endgroup\$ – KorvinStarmast Jan 3 '18 at 19:55
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    \$\begingroup\$ @KorvinStarmast It's the characters; the players are cooperative, but the results (as I interpret the question) is that the characters team up with no underlying reason except the players' fiat. The results feel forced. \$\endgroup\$ – Novak Jan 3 '18 at 21:32
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    \$\begingroup\$ This duplicate question rpg.stackexchange.com/questions/10195/… got closed because it turned into an “idea laundry list” despite our efforts. I’d welcome it if this question, and community response to the answers, could come up with a good on topic response to this issue. \$\endgroup\$ – mxyzplk Jan 4 '18 at 12:41
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Create characters together

The easiest way to do this is to simply create your characters together, with the mindset that they'll form a party. Encourage the players to come up with bonds connecting their characters - common history, earlier minor adventures, blood ties, stuff like that. The basic principle being that if you want your player characters to have a reason to be together, you remind the players to give these reasons. Be honest and upfront about the expectations you have!

To help your players make up their shared background, you could add some third-party influences too - maybe they are summoned by the wise old sage who has selected them to be a team for their first quest or three. This is easy for your players, but doesn't create as much shared background for roleplaying as the former method does, so I recommend using the first method or both together if the party having history from the get-go is important to you.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ In the FATE system, they have a great character creation element where after basic creation, each player hands their note card to the right, and that person writes a short summary of how their character knows yours, generally as a previous adventure that the two of you were involved in. It doesn't have to be as allies or even particularly heroic; it could be as simple as "We were the last two standing after a bar fight" or "I once stole his horse. Nothing personal." Then everyone hands the cards right AGAIN, so each party member starts with some kind of link to at least four others. \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jan 3 '18 at 20:15
  • \$\begingroup\$ (The four being the two whose cards you wrote on and the two who wrote on your card. If the group has fewer than 5 players you can either do only one trade-around or just accept that you'll have two links to at least one other character.) \$\endgroup\$ – Darth Pseudonym Jan 3 '18 at 20:17
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If you wanna skip not-being-a-party, just skip it

You don't have to know how your PCs met when you start a campaign. Instead of getting player buy-in in the form of everyone making story material they know is bad and ignoring it's problems so as to get to the part of the game they are interested it, just skip to that directly. Start campaigns in media res, or at least with the assumption that the PCs all know each other well and have been working as an adventuring party together for some time. This avoids all the exposition you collectively don't feel like coming up with so long as the players are willing to put in the effort to keep up with things on the fly (which it sounds like your players would be willing to do).

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Even when you skip right to "we're all a party together!" it's still helpful to know WHY. Is that other person your best buddy? Your friendly rival? Your sibling? Your employer? Something. It's good to sort stuff out ahead of time. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Jan 3 '18 at 19:38
  • \$\begingroup\$ @Airk you don't really need that. If the first adventure is fast and successful enough, they will remain together because "they killed the ogre together", or "they saved each other's lives". It is a common human trait to resist change. \$\endgroup\$ – András Jan 3 '18 at 19:59
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    \$\begingroup\$ I think it depends heavily on whether you want to actually roleplay anything during that first adventure or not. \$\endgroup\$ – Airk Jan 3 '18 at 21:48
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Contrive a plot which requires it

If you need a disparate group of individuals to team up and work together, you can devise a plot which requires their co-operation, at least to begin with. This is a common trope of fantasy/sci-fi fiction already, and it works in roleplaying games too. Many published adventures rely on this to hook a party in the first place; for instance, the Skull and Shackles adventure path from the Pathfinder line opens with the party being press-ganged into service on a pirate ship, and does not require them to know each other beforehand at all (and additionally the scenario is such that a character cannot easily just leave, even if they would like to). Once the initial hurdles which force the group to work together are overcome they can find they make an effective team, or have become friends, and they stick together.

Constrain character generation

A step further than forcing the characters together after they are created is to force them together before they are. Rather than offering completely free reign in character generation, constrain your players with some premises. For instance, you could ask that they all create characters who, for whatever individual reasons, are members of a particular mercenary band, or all have reason to seek a specific artifact, etc. One of the games I ran a while ago had the premise that all the characters were from a specific clan of dwarves in the setting, and they were being sent on a mission by their clan elders.

Assume some background

You don't always have to play through the initial getting to know each other phase of a group's lifecycle. If your players create their characters together, they could come up with some shared backstory which explains why the group is working together without having to try and force it during play, when they have possibly already committed to conflicting characters. This is basically just a softer form of constrained character generation - but it may work best if you have the kind of players who would chafe at a much more constrained premise, or grumble about the railroad if you use a plot device to force the group together.

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