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In the beginning of our Pathfinder campaign set in Eberron, I used two gimmicks to bring the party together:

  • An afternoon train wreck with a zombie attack that night, forcing everyone (players and NPCs) to work together to search for survivors and then defend themselves against the low-level necromancer. I required that each player have some backstory and a reason for being on the train.
  • During the disaster, somebody kidnapped the in-game NPC sibling of one of the players. The NPCs were busy and weren't willing to search for the sibling, so the players banded together to search for the sibling for the next several sessions.

15–20 sessions later, the players feel that their characters lack sufficient reason to work together, other than "because we have been working together". They've said they wished they'd put together a better backstory at character creation. As an adventuring party, they do quite well together, and there are no major party conflicts (e.g. different alignments or rivalries). The problem is that if they went back to a large town/city, their characters would be tempted to just split off and do their own thing.

In short, the players want their characters to be more bonded, but the characters lack sufficient back-story reasons to do so.

How can I encourage the party to band together more strongly at this point in the campaign?

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This relates somewhat to My Guy Syndrome. If not a textbook example of it.

The problem is your players are not living up to their side of the unwritten contract between the players and GM. When everyone agrees to play a Tabletop RPG, they agree to do exactly that. Not a beat storywriting session where no one has any obligation to have their characters do anything to keep the group together. That means they must bias their characters to keep them associated by one way or another.

Essentially, it isn't your job as GM to find motivations for the PCs to stick together, it is up to the players. They are essentially writing their side of the story, and they can write it any way that they like. But the GOAL of their input has to be to "play the damn game".

If they decide split up as soon as they get back to town, then there is no game anymore.

You as GM will of course help and facilitate that, but you cannot do even the majority of that yourself. As GM you need to impress on them the responsibility players have to write a story for their PCs that leads somewhere, and where that should be. Players still have a huge amount of freedom in who their characters are and what they do, but it has to be one compatible with the game.

But telling you what the problem is is not an answer, you now have the difficult task of introducing a concept to the players that may seem very alien to them and they may want to resist it. They may very well like the idea that they should have absolute freedom in whatever their PC's motivations or decisions may be and that the GM is 100% responsible for persuading them.

But you need to persuade them that that idea: cannot work.

It may work some of the time. But inevitably, without direction, every PC will turn into a lone wolf.

What this does NOT mean: Players are NOT supposed to treat their PCs as automatons who will blindly and arbitrarily stick with the group for no reason. It is the player's responsibility to find a reason, express that reason and stick with it. They can waver in that decision a little bit, they can say they are done with it and walk away, but make a dramatic return Han Solo style on the Death Star trench run.

Finding a way to do this is what will make you a great GM, and depends on a lifetime of experience, common sense and intuition.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ You're quite right: they have a storytelling responsibility, too. Do you have suggestions for how to persuade them to do this on their own, or general situations that I as GM can give them to facilitate this? \$\endgroup\$ – jvriesem Feb 12 '18 at 19:19
  • \$\begingroup\$ Unfortunately I do not. For the players who couldn't simply accept My Guy Syndrome and adjust their goal once they heard about it, they generally just left the game. My advice is just talk about it openly and plainly. \$\endgroup\$ – TREB Feb 12 '18 at 20:21
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    \$\begingroup\$ Definitely just talk to them outside of the game. Point out that you're doing your job by providing quests to fulfill... but that if you do anything that forces your characters to stick together that's just railroading. Also, ask if there's something that would help them feel more cohesive. They might have ideas and just don't want to tread on your freedom as a GM. You can only 'fix' back stories so much, but there's no reason they can't decide to stick together from here on out. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Feb 12 '18 at 21:23
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This is a system-agnostic answer, but the ideas function the same in a lot of RPGs, including Pathfinder.

You don't: your NPCs do.

It sounds like your party's been together long enough to have developed a reputation as a group, and you can use that to your advantage.

Premise: The local lord, king, innkeeper or even villain has heard stories of your group of adventurers and they have a compelling reason to keep the party together.

Maybe the local lord of the town you stop in needs a group to get rid of some goblins and has heard about them slaying a giant and figures they'll do the job nicely.

Maybe a villain's plans got accidentally foiled by the group and they're now out for revenge and determined to rope the group together and then make them suffer.

The trick here is to have the NPCs expect them to be a single, functioning unit. Whether or not your players currently feel like they are, treating them like a unit will open up more roleplaying scenarios that leave time for bonding.

Speaking of Bonding

It sounds like your players are itching for more of a chance to roleplay in character and bond as a team. While combat and intense gameplay moments are amazing, it often doesn't leave room to let your characters interact freely.

Try putting in some more mundane activities that give them room to metaphorically stretch their legs and - most importantly - express opinions that other characters can agree or disagree with. Have them visit a local fair or carnival, or get falsely detained by the law and need to vouch for each other, or other bonding ideas.

There's not a lot you as a person can do to magically make your players' characters like each other more. However, as a GM you have an opportunity to put the characters in scenarios where they'll need to bond just to get through the experience.

If all else fails...

It may be time for a new campaign. Have them build new characters with more immersive backstories and start out at roughly the character and difficulty level they're at now, and in the same world. Sort of a "fresh start" without actually going back to square one.

It might even be worth it to have a "Session 0: The Second" where you sit down and have a new session O at this point in the campaign. Mention that you know they're dissatisfied with their backstories and see if as a group you all want to rewrite what you have to better suit each other now that you have more gaming experience.

This can be difficult if players are very, very attached to playing their characters exactly as-is, but if everyone's willing to be flexible it could be a fun way to get them involved in your campaign and re-involved in working together.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ One idea that comes to mind is to kidnap the NPC sister again. Make it a recurring trope, and OOC suggest that the characters 'realize' that they care about each other and want to stick together for this adventuring stuff. Also, it sounds like a longer story arc might help them by giving a long-term goal that they all want to succeed at. I've seen numerous campaigns that has people only staying together because the BBEG needs some smackdown and none of them could do it alone. \$\endgroup\$ – Ifusaso Feb 12 '18 at 21:26
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Bringing the players together. Three ways I can think of. One is a riff on Alex's excellent answer using what I know of the setting, and I have used the other two.

  • Mysterious invitation/NPCs treat them like a group Maybe in their down time they have seperated, but they get all get an invite to...something. In the Eberron setting this can be a party like the 60. Each month, the 60 important families of Sharn have a party, and the organizer might like to have an adventuring party there to tell their tales. Something interesting can happen at this party. Alternatively, you can go with Alex's idea--wherein quest givers call the party together for a mission.
  • They can't go it alone. So your party wants to split and do their own things. Let them and USE it. Find out what each wants to do, and use that to generate missions where they might ask the rest of the party to help. For example, in my Eberron campaign, our Warforged decided to open a forge. He ended up in Godsgate AKA Fallen. This is a bad, bad neighborhood--plenty to explore and the Warforged ended up wanting to clean up the 'hood. There were two problems--prisoners kept getting dumped there, and then they went mad from being in the haunted zone there overnight, and two, for most of the place to be habitable, they needed a cleric to bless each area. Seriously, research this neighborhood...There are many, many options using this general idea--one of your characters might work security and find that they need help or that their employer might ask them to hire more adventurers. One might be into art or charity or whatever, so arrange for a theft that effects that. If a player is gambler have them call the party together to settle a debt they've gotten themselves into. If they like a good party and a drink, endanger their favorite watering hole (note: this doesn't have to be the standard protection racket--you can do something like the rent is being raised by local lord, barkeep asks for player to talk to said lord, lord offers lower rent for several years in return for a quest where they need others. If they offer money to the NPC have them refuse it--the mission is more valuable to the lord and the barkeep NPC won't take charity) Ask what they want to do, and build your missions out of it! Use that downtime separation! Bottom line, you need to do a downtime session or talk with each of the players to find out what they would be doing in Sharn after the group breaks up, and use that as your inspiration to get the band back together!
  • You've got backstory, you just don't know it There's character creation backstory, but there's also in-game backstory...When they first got together, you had their low-level-necromancer-on-a-train storyline. What if he/she's not the whole story? Have one player recognize a symbol or something that calls back to the necromancer. Or have each character in their separate lives attacked by the minions of a higher-level boss lady who isn't happy they messed up her ultimate plan/killed her apprentice. They can uncover the larger conspiracy. Or with the NPC sister--why was she kidnapped? Can you build on that? Look at every original mission, story or even NPCs they actually all like, and use those to your advantage.
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One idea you could do is if there is a one character (Player) that speaks a certain language (or another thing that brings them together, your game) that others in the group meet an NPC that has a skill that you'll need to Survive a certain situation I.E. an ambush and then have that NPC have a skill that makes them useful person in the group

this will only work if you make it so the NPC has some reason to want to work with them (since you make the NPC I bet you can knock that out of the ballpark)

Good Luck ;)

I hope this helps if you'd like help brainstorming just comment on this and I'll respond

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  • \$\begingroup\$ Welcome to RPG StackExchange! Good idea! One thing that might be useful if you like brainstorming is having a few, general, conceptual ideas and putting them in categories. \$\endgroup\$ – jvriesem Feb 12 '18 at 19:11
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It's all about building natural bonds

I'm a bit late to the party here, but that situation isn't necessarily a bad thing. To me, this loose cohesion presents an excellent opportunity for a good story and a good end to that particular story!

Your players' characters aren't particularly close to each other yet, but that's fine! Find ways to keep them together for now, give them common goals that are more urgent than, or tie into, their personal goals, and force them to rely on the other characters! Confront each character with their own weaknesses and vulnerabilities, so that they must rely on the others to help them out.

Bonding doesn't happen when we see each other's strengths, but when we show others our own weaknesses.

If a character's weaknesses are exposed, and that character discovers that s/he can rely on the other characters in those times of weakness, it brings those characters closer and gives them a real connection to each other, regardless of their written backstories and motives. Now, instead of being "that guy whose kid got kidnapped that one time", the other character becomes "that guy who helped me out when I really needed a friend. I owe him a lot." And BOOM! Now these characters care about each other, at least a little bit!

Present opportunities like this, so each character can visibly demonstrate that the others can rely on them to help and to be there for each other, and the party will naturally become a more cohesive unit.

And if, when the Big Bad is dead, and everything is made right again, the player characters decide that they don't have a good enough reason to stick together, then they don't have to! They can now part ways, but they do so sound in the knowledge that somewhere out in the world is a group of friends that they can rely on! And should these characters ever appear in another campaign down the road, now they have all the back-story they need to be a cohesive group!

But you need player buy-in

My advice here depends entirely on your players taking these opportunities to help each other out and to be helped by each other. Since your players have expressed concern about group cohesiveness, they will probably jump on these chances to help each other. If you don't think they will, then it might be good to tell them that that's what you're doing and get player buy-in. Then, if the players take those opportunities, the party will almost certainly become more cohesive, forging new bonds as they go, with no need to rewrite their backgrounds!

Just, try to be careful to not make it look contrived.

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