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I'm still looking to be ready to GM an Anima: Beyond Fantasy game and, while my previous problem has still not been solved (shameless plug here), I've run into another one: how to GM for characters of massively different power levels and interests. I've done this before without issue in D&D, FATE (in which it was much easier), etc. but the difference in power I'm expecting from my players is really large. In Little-Black-Book Traveller and Secrets of Korvorn, the only other systems in which I have experienced a power gap large enough to be divisive in the same way, this has killed campaigns for me because the characters, even if they theoretically interact regularly, can't form a close relationship.

In Traveller one of the players rolled up a military dictator with more Social and Leadership than anybody ever, and another player rolled up a barely-alive homeless bum (drifter who failed basically every check except the ones that would have killed him outright), and the other players were similarly diverse. Party formation failed and we gave up on the game.

In Anima and with more experience I expect I can do better, but other than starting the players with established relationships designed to give the useful characters reason to pretend like the useless ones have a role to fill I'm not sure what to do, and that doesn't seem like much of a party.

Things I want:

The characters should be a party. This means that they characters regularly operate as a group in which every member contributes and that this group constitutes the people they spend most of their time around. All members of the group should be roughly equal in value/respect in terms of intra-group conversation, though externally the group may have a party leader.

The characters should be good characters. They should have beliefs, desires, flaws, favorite foods, cultural mannerisms, etc and they should make actions consistent with the same except when they exercise their radical freedom. They should not be forced to be a party, and they should especially not be forced, encouraged, or, possibly, allowed to take any action which would be grossly out-of-character for the sake of the party.

In fact, they should, ideally, never realize the contrived nature of the party at all or have any reason to do so. The party should be an emergent feature of the world, the characters, and their lives.

The players should be allowed the greatest amount of control over the creation of their characters possible that is consistent with GM control of the setting and an openness to GM suggestions in the interest of better game-quality.

An amount of subjective time as experienced by the most-aged member of the party over the interval which is greater than one day should be able to pass without the above ceasing to be the case.

The party must contain at least two persons of vastly different ability, the more able of which is able to do everything and anything the less able person can do, but the reverse is not true.


Please note: When I refer to ability or power level, I do not mean in-game level or attribute totals or anything like that. I mean the ability to do things. When I say that one character can do everything another can, I mean that the first character is equally as good at being the second character as the second character is. Specifically, a 'more powerful character', in this context, is more able to talk to persons of all kinds, is more likely to be positively received by every person, is more likely to be negatively received if they so choose, is more patient when patience is a virtue, etc. They also would have higher stats, but that's not the point, and if having lower stats would be useful for some reason they can do that, too. This is a slight exaggeration of how bad the power disparity is likely to actually be, but if I can solve my GMing problems in this case I can solve them a slightly less severe case.

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closed as too broad by doppelgreener, Miniman, DuckTapeAl, Wibbs, Ernir Nov 8 '14 at 23:39

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\$ This seems too broad, or it's hard to know where to advise you. You're asking about significant power gaps, a lack of background ties, and skill differences all at once, and the last one is not even necessarily a problem depending on your system. You're also asking us to solve these issues for you, and teach you about creating good characters and parties (multiple big topics), for either a broad swathe of many systems (all very different to each other), or in a system-independent manner. I wouldn't know where to begin answering this, or where to end. You're asking too much at once. \$\endgroup\$ – doppelgreener Nov 8 '14 at 12:16
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    \$\begingroup\$ @doppelgreener Yah, that's fair. This being an overly-broad/impossible question is really all the answer I need; I plan on resolving these issues through a combination of character relationships and social manipulation of the players but also probably getting rid of some of the requirements in this post. I mostly wanted to make sure there isn't some obvious, industry standard way of doing this. A lot of the terms used in my question seem to have been misinterpreted but the bulk of the logic behind one of the answers is also good, so I'm done here. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 9 '14 at 8:06
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You Don't

You are asking impossible, contradictory things. In essence, this question asks How do I get an impossibly rare and delicate social structure to occur spontaneously and persist in inhospitable conditions?

Let's talk contradictory first:

All members of the group should be roughly equal in value/respect

The party must contain at least two persons of vastly different ability, the more able of which is able to do everything and anything the less able person can do, but the reverse is not true

Any one individual that can do everything another can do and more is going to command more respect and be more valuable than another. That's just the way people are. The members of the pair will recognize the disparity and members of the party will recognize it too. So between the two of them and within the party, there is going to be a disparity of value of respect. Can you imagine a scenario in which this is not the case?

Your Traveller anecdote goes a long way to explaining why random character generation is so vastly out of favor with recent designs. It used to be possible to roll a character that died before play. But such an outcome has no point in a character creation process - a process that is designed to create characters for play.

I can see that while A:BF has random stat generation, you are free to assign the values rolled and then boost them during character creation. Random stats can be a problem - but there are point-buy methods already available for the game. The rest of character creation is all point-buy anyhow, so why bother rollings stats? Point buy systems tend to encourage specialization and therefore, niche protection. In fact, the mantra around my table when making characters that way is, "Remember, it's easy to suck at everything."

But none of this matters outside the context of creating characters in this game - the point is that anyone totally outclassed by someone else is going to command less respect and be valued less on a team. Your two requirements contradict one another and cannot both be satisfied.

Now impossible:

In fact, they should, ideally, never realize the contrived nature of the party at all or have any reason to do so. The party should be an emergent feature of the world, the characters, and their lives.

They should not be forced to be a party, and they should especially not be forced, encouraged, or, possibly, allowed to take any action which would be grossly out-of-character for the sake of the party.

Do you imagine that ensembles for movies and TV shows just happen automatically or by accident? Do you think that the crew in Guardians of the Galaxy came together by chance? Only in the movie! Fictional ensembles are designed with intention, just as you will need to do putting this party together. They need to be different enough to be interesting, but united enough to work together.

A group that works well together is crafted carefully - in fiction and in reality! When groups form spontaneously in real life, millions of other permutations and combinations of members have already been rejected. You hung out with someone once and never again, because you didn't gel. So every group that person could have been included in was excluded from your possibilities. When groups in reality are built, it is by careful selection, and with tremendous effort. Winning sports teams cost millions to build. Even your team at work was the result of probably hundreds or thousands of hours of effort. The amount of time and effort that goes into a viable police or military unit? I can't even guess.

Furthermore, members of teams know they are on a team. And because they know that, they will do things they don't like for the sake of the team and their common goals. People make sacrifices. Even a functional family has people in it doing things that are grossly out of character for the sake of other family members. A mom who hates dirt and messes has a petting zoo party for her child who loves animals? She's acting grossly out of character.

They Don't All Meet at a Tavern

There is a reason that building a party is part of character creation for so many games now - because the old cliche that they all ran into each other by chance while drinking one night didn't hold up under anything but the most cursory examination.

You are of course, free to play however you want. But you are asking for impossible, contradictory things and are pretty much doomed to be disappointed. So I encourage you to consider your goals and then readjust your priorities and expectations for this game.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I disagree with everything in the section titled "Now Impossible" but the rest of this is fairly compelling. \$\endgroup\$ – the dark wanderer Nov 9 '14 at 8:08
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Without using established relationships to do the job? Heavens, why? That's always the answer. Relationships—personal or professional, healthy or harmful—are why any two humans associate closely and preferentially over a long period of time.

They don't have to be relationships dictated by the GM, but the existence of "ties that bind" can be dictated. Let the players decide why their PCs are together. The more unlikely the group, the stronger these ties must bind (in your case, the dictator must need the bum for some reason, else they would quickly drift apart—maybe they're siblings?). When you see an "odd couple" party, you have to hand them back to the players and ask them to tell you why they're a party that will last a whole campaign, else there's no party—which as you've learned, means no game.

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You have two questions here, but I'll cover both.

1. How to form a party that feels natural?

In real life, disparate people gather together mostly because they work together. A police force. A military unit. A rescue team in a disaster. Etc.

Notice that this is the opposite of most adventure fiction, where really random people gather together on the most tenuous of reasons and then decide to entrust their lives to strangers. Pulp fiction usually used some kind of secret organization as the reason to do this, but I mostly look to Lord of the Rings as setting up the trope and fantasy fiction following it over and over. These are extremely contrived.

Within this you can either declare that the players must make characters that are part of some socially coherent group (a team, a noble house, etc.) or that there is an objective that the characters must be built around seeking AND that they players will look to establish reasons the characters know each other and will team up within a session or two.

Communication works, mind reading doesn't

If what you want is the players to "just happen" to make a random assortment of characters and "just happen" to form a party that works well together? What you want is mind control. There is no real world mind control power you can use to make the players do what you want without you telling them to do it. There is no telepathy that gets them to read your mind.

"Just make a character and be true to your character" doesn't create a coherent story without an organizing force - established either as group communication and agreement or within the mechanics itself. So decide how you want to set it up, establish it for your players, so they can make a party that works.

2. How do I run an adventure for characters of vastly different power levels?

This is pretty easy to do for many games - but games built on the idea of party mechanics usually don't do it well. That is, if the game depends on group combat, and one person is very powerful and everyone else isn't - that person usually gets to do everything. If the game has magic powers and one person can solve most of the problems with magic, then the rest of the group doesn't feel valuable.

Other media leaps this problem simply by shifting camera focus - either the camera stays on the most powerful character(s) and the other characters become sidekicks, or the camera stays on the less powerful character(s) and the heavy hitters become supporting cast.

For roleplaying games, this is usually resolved when you can easily run multiple conflicts and scenes that do not use a party based setup - that is, the characters can be part of a team or a group, but the expectation is that most of the scenes do not involve the whole group at the same time. Everyone gets to deal with problems appropriate to their ability level and feel like protagonists relative to their situation.

The Reward Cycle disparity

The other issue is that if the mechanics reward success in facing a conflict, and divvies out the reward to the primary actor, then the person who is most powerful at resolving conflicts gets the most advancement/xp and becomes even MORE powerful...

Some games resolve this by changing up the division scheme ("The whole party gets a cut of the XP, even if the mage just firebombed everything before anyone else can act."). Some make sure to change the rate of advancement so lower powered characters advance much faster than higher powered characters.

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