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Some D&D parties are Murder Hobos, moving from monster-slaying to monster-slaying, and bearing no fixed address or loyalties. Some parties are composed of friends and family members who would gladly take a sword thrust for one of their team mates, or who have romances within the group.

I have played with both sorts in the past, but my current group falls somewhere in the middle. I would like them to move more toward being friends, rather than just four adventurers thrown together by fate. This is something that could easily have been set up during character creation, but this is an existing party that just doesn't seem to click. Shared adversity and enemies don't seem to be a key here. What sorts of tools or techniques can I use to foster friendship, camaraderie and self-sacrifice among existing characters?

This campaign uses dnd-5e and I'd certainly appreciate any system-specific tools I can use. But the answer doesn't have to come from any particular system.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ I would certainly suggest that having both a system tag and system-agnostic usually doesn't make any sense \$\endgroup\$ – Wibbs Jun 8 '16 at 14:44
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    \$\begingroup\$ I went ahead and pulled off the system-agnostic tag, too. In reading that tag's wiki it seems more directed at "I want things applicable across systems, so system-specific need not apply" where your situation doesn't seem as... hostile (?) to system-specific solutions. \$\endgroup\$ – nitsua60 Jun 8 '16 at 15:11
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    \$\begingroup\$ Have you talked to your players about this? \$\endgroup\$ – Ladifas Jun 8 '16 at 18:21
  • \$\begingroup\$ Not yet. It's just something I've noticed lately, and it's not really a problem per se, just something I feel vaguely dissatisfied with. I'd much rather try a behind-the-scenes approach, so that any change feels organic to them, and not something imposed or required by the DM. If any of the solutions suggested below don't nudge them in that direction, I might bring it up to them. They are all great role-players and good friends, and would be fine with any request I make, but if I can make it feel as if it's coming from inside the game, rather than out, I'd prefer to approach it that way. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 8 '16 at 18:56
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    \$\begingroup\$ I applaud your wish to solve the problem inside the game. In fact, I think it would work better that way - if the players feel their characters have naturally become friends, the bonds will be stronger than if they do it because they were told to. The party I'm in still talks about the moments where friendships like that were made (or broken) years afterwards. \$\endgroup\$ – anaximander Jun 9 '16 at 11:54
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The core of the issue

As far as I can see, the most common cause of this issue is that the players don't feel the need to roleplay the sort of relationships you're after, because as far as they can tell, their characters have little reason to feel that way about each other. As DM, you can't tell the characters how to feel, but you can put them in situations that give rise to the feelings you want. In my experience, the strongest bonds are the ones the players build themselves. Here's a few ways to get them to do that.

Mutual debt

Having a common enemy is a start, but the real trick is to guide the players and their characters to see their allies as valuable. A simple way to do this is to put the characters in situations that some of the party members are particularly equipped to deal with, so that those few really shine. Obviously, you'll want to have a few of these scenarios so that everyone gets their time in the spotlight. For example (using D&D 5e classes), one session you might have an enemy who inflicts a curse, and the paladin with the ability to remove curses can gain the gratitude of the barbarian who gets hit by the curse. The next session, you might have an enemy who can use mind control, and the barbarian who's immune to mind control while raging can come to the rescue and free the paladin from the spell. Both of them have now saved each other from something unpleasant, and therefore (hopefully) recognise each other's value and have some mutual gratitude and respect.

How to set this up depends on the party makeup, but in general you're looking for reasons for a player to turn to someone else's character for help, rather than their own - and put the spotlight on that character for a moment. Not so much that they feel like their own character is useless, but enough that they recognise the value of having friends.

Pieces of a puzzle

If your players like to build characters with a little backstory, then as a DM you can weave the world around these stories in ways that pull them all together. In D&D 5e, a character's Bond can be great for this - they're designed to act as built-in plot hooks. For example, the party cleric may be searching for a long-lost relic related to their deity, the rogue might aspire to be the greatest thief of all time, and the fighter may have stood up to the wrong person in the past who holds a grudge against them (all actual 5e Bonds). So, what if the lost relic was stolen by the thieves' guild, and the fighter angered a corrupt noble who was actually trying to assist the thieves' guild at the time? The rogue can use his criminal contacts to get them into the guild, and then prove he's the best of them all by stealing the relic from under their noses. The fighter can get his revenge on the corrupt noble by setting him up to take the blame for it and suffer the anger of the guild, and the cleric gets to keep the relic and return it to his monastery.

Depending on your setting, players, and story, this may be easier or harder to set up, but in general what you're looking for is ways to get the characters' individual stories to all point in the same direction, so that each character succeeds by helping to further someone else's story, which in turn furthers their own. Players are naturally attached to their own characters and stories. By giving characters a chance to play important parts in each other's stories, you can help your players to become attached to each other's characters as well.

Reward co-operation

When players work together, they're often more powerful than just the sum of the individuals in the party. Many systems give characters abilities that are designed to support or strengthen others - in D&D 5e, there are loads of spells designed to be cast on someone else to help them, and classes like the cleric, bard, paladin, and battle master fighter are built around mechanics that heal, strengthen, or support. Put your players in situations where simply fighting as a bunch of individuals isn't enough. This can be tricky, and in some cases can risk killing characters (or the whole party) if the players don't cotton on fast enough, but it's very rewarding for all involved when it works. When the fighter realises he's taking too much damage, you want him to turn to the cleric and ask for healing, and then next time they're gearing up for a fight he might ask the druid to cast stoneskin on him. A bard is particularly good at this, bestowing their bardic inspiration on allies in key spots to shift the tide of battle. If the players don't have to work together to overcome challenges, then the challenges aren't challenging enough.

In D&D 5e, you also have the inspiration mechanic to aid you. When a player goes above and beyond to help another, or puts themselves at risk to set someone else up for victory, award them inspiration. This reduces the perceived penalty in not just looking out for themselves - by helping someone else to succeed now, they get inspiration to help themself succeed later. Also, remind players that they can give their inspiration dice to another player if they see fit. Next time they're all willing one of the party to succeed and save them all, they'll be scrambling to give away their inspiration dice to boost their chances.

Summary

All in all, the central theme is that the party should be parts of a whole, not just several parties of one that happen to be going the same way. Between the plot, the characters' abilities and the party's resources, you have a good set of tools to build a campaign in which no player can succeed alone, but the party can, by joining forces, become more than they were apart. Do that, and your players will value each others' characters as much as they do their own. The roleplay of inter-character relationships will grow naturally from that.

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I've got a buddy at work... we watch Game of Thrones together. My lasting college friends were all on our Ultimate Frisbee team together. 5e's got this too...

Downtime Activities.

The one tool I've best used to encourage the growth of PC-PC relationships is those characters' downtime activities. In one group there's a pair that like to run Three-Card Monty and other card scams in every town they hit. Another trio have a budding shipping business going on the side.

The players work together away from the table to come up with these little vignettes, which are presented to the table at the beginning of each session. In doing this they're helping me flesh out the town/region, they're fleshing out their own characters, and they usually make a little money on the side.

I liberally "advantage" their pursuits whenever they're working together--my interpretation of the "help an ally" rules. But I don't even feel this is necessary to motivate the players: they're all coming to the table to play the game, and in participating in downtime they're seeing that the game doesn't have to be confined to the table/session. (And I get to harvest their ideas for setting, plots, hooks, &c.) Win-win-win!

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    \$\begingroup\$ I've been a player in both sorts of groups and gmed both sorts, and this definitely seems to be the case. most of the time, when there's actual friendship between characters, there's interaction during downtime because it fosters RP from players and fleshes out characters through play rather than on paper. \$\endgroup\$ – Gnomejon Jun 8 '16 at 14:46
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I have run a number of variously successful campaigns in D&D and Pathfinder that fall into that same middle area you described. A few times I ran into similar trouble as you, where the characters were having serious trouble bonding and forming connections beyond "we have to work together right now."

I think that one of the most important things to do when this happens is to really consider the situation and try to isolate the root of the problem: is it that characters are not clicking? Or is it that the players are not connecting with each other or some aspect of the game.

Some players tend to disengage with others when they want to pursue their own character concepts but feel that the concept is in conflict with the other characters. Others players may feel somewhat disengaged by the game's story or action and not feel an incentive to commit to role playing. Still others may just not be interested in role playing their own characters and feel trapped or bored with the role they play in the group.

If it is indeed purely the in-game characters that are the ones struggling to connect and you really want them to grow closer, you can help create the space for them to bond by giving them things to connect over during breaks in the action, making sure that they are seldom competing for the limelight against each other, and thinking of ways for them to directly support one another while adventuring.

If you determine that the lack of connection is rooted out of the game world and have found the source of the problem there, do your best to minimize it.

If character concepts seem to be in conflict, help them to find the common ground by putting them in situations on the same side (often against an NPC). Player A is an alienated elven exile. Player B is a grumpy dwarven warrior who dislikes elves. Perhaps the two can connect by siding together against one of Player B's old elven rivals when one shows up in town.

If players feel disengaged by the action or story, figure out what they do like and spice up the game with some of that. Asking them directly in an open way never hurts.

The most difficult situation in my experience is when players do not feel drawn in to their own characters. Try giving the character a chance or two to really shine and see if that changes the player's attitude. If that still does not work, try working with the player to help adjust his or her character concept to something more enjoyable for everyone. Trapping a player in a situation (this includes in-game friendships) or character concepts, even if it serves the story, can easily backfire. So if all else fails, make sure the player sees the option to roll up a new character.

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As a GM you cannot and should not force, coerce, and manipulate your players to satisfy your needs even if it is for their own good. Of course, OP are not doing that (as OP pointed out in a comment), so that is good.

You need to talk to the players and raise your concerns. Ask them if they share those concerns and if so, what you all should do about it. I have been in too many games that died because this was not addressed in such way.

If this is not a concern, then you and your players want to play different games. It is time to kill the current game. This is fine. To avoid that in the future, use the same page tool or something equivalent.

If this is a concern, then the players themselves need to come up with solutions. Some in-party strife might be wanted, some changes in "my guy syndrome" might be needed, and people from all sort of walks of life do end up being friends. There are just too many ways to fix this and without knowing your player and their characters, it is impossible to give useful advice.

That said, you could delve into friendship and see how the whole psychology behind it works. And to quote wikipedia:

Such characteristics include affection, sympathy, empathy, honesty, altruism, mutual understanding, and compassion, enjoyment of each other's company, trust, and the ability to be oneself, express one's feelings, and make mistakes without fear of judgement from the friend.

Maybe that is a good place to start for your players? See if the characters can do that. It might be best to set up a situtation where one characters provokes some of the above feelings in others. This can take a little time to set up, but the pay off is great.

Anecdotally, one of best role play I saw was at a bar, well past its closing time, when one of the characters asked "So, what scares you the most?"... What followed was three hours of in-character sharing of their pasts, fears, and hopes.

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    \$\begingroup\$ Absolutely I'm not trying to force any relationships. But it is my responsibility as GM to set tone for the campaign, informed by the wishes and actions of the players. It's collaborative. What I'm trying to avoid is "showing the sausage being made" and just overtly stating a social intent. The players themselves are great, and they have different dynamics in different parties (we rotate four GMs/campaigns). Some parties are closer friends than others. What I was seeking here was techniques (outside of outright asking) that can be used to foster those relationships. \$\endgroup\$ – keithcurtis Jun 9 '16 at 14:34
  • \$\begingroup\$ @keithcurtis Ah, I misread your question. My apologies. Is my edit better? \$\endgroup\$ – Sardathrion - Reinstate Monica Jun 9 '16 at 15:03
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The party dynamic itself is in and of itself an adventure. I have been in games and run games where the PCs hate each other but work toward the common goal because if they don't they all will lose. I have had one PC hire assassins to kill part of the party for balancing the representation of all the alignments against the extra-planar incursion, whereas it was disruptive it was nonetheless interesting and totally in the realm of realism for that character and situation.

All that being said... I have got around this in my last two or three campaigns by having them be apart of the same medium level house, thereby instilling that there was something larger than themselves for which they all fought, typically only works with human and halfblooded parties though. My last one was that they were all a part of the same adventuring company which allowed for different races and they all worked for the betterment of themselves and their "employer". The current one is that most are a part of different houses but all the houses are sworn to the same liege lord. The last is an all human party for now since the races are much more separated in my world and racial tensions are high in some aspects.

Now this does make things "easier" but in some aspects the fun is in the challenge and surprise when the unexpected happens.

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  • \$\begingroup\$ AS Sardathrion states you should not force... in my examples I cleared all of this with the players, and even in those situations were was strife and conflict but not overwhelming. \$\endgroup\$ – Slagmoth Jun 15 '16 at 17:28
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Your story is important, but so is the desire of the players to actually 'ROLEPLAY' their characters. This is where knowing your group dynamic is important.

Some groups desire the classic "Hack & Slash" type of dungeon crawl adventure, of killing the dragon and taking the hoard.

Others enjoy the narrative aspect of the adventure, the "why" of the quest and not the "pay off" at the end.

Both of the above can be merged into a campaign, but it is important to KNOW what your group wants, and to be on the 'same page'

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"To be friends" does not mean the same thing for everyone, so it is likely it won't mean the same thing for every PC.

If your group is composed of standard murderhobos, friendship can come from mutual help. You have to show them how they all need each other to do their murderhobo stuff.

For example you can make the warrior being targeted by a curse, let him try to get rid of it by itself and finally guide him so he asks the priest to remove it. Then the priest's cult may got a relic stolen and not to start a war the only way to retrieve it would be to take it back thief's style. The thief could have a bounty on his head the warrior enough influence to remove it, and so on. It may take a long time, but your PC will slowly build recognition toward each other, and maybe become true friends.

To make each of these event count, the best is to make your players remember them. In the previous example the priest can get the right to hold the relic and each time he will use its capacities it will remember that without the thief he would never have been able to. The warrior can have a scar from its curse that will never disappear and give him +1 to its intimidate checks, etc.

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