Anybody who listens to Fear the Boot knows just how much the guys preach The Group Template (capitalizations are mine). And I absolutely love the idea of the group template. It makes perfect sense – come up with actually good reasons why your characters would be doing anything together. It prevents such things as one party member wanting to kill another, or one party member refusing to join the others on a mission/quest. I’ve heard stories of these things happening in very, very bad ways, and they can be major game killers.
So coming up with an idea for a group sounds awesome. Right?
The problem is that…well, yes. It does sound like an awesome idea. And it really is a great idea. But when put to practice, how well does it stand up?
My local gaming group has tried the group template idea a couple of different times, and we’ve met with varying degrees of success and failure. I’ve found that my players don’t want to feel like they’re stepping on each other’s toes, so they’re hesitant to say, “Well, I met Joe while we were excavating down in Mexico!” It feels like taking over the other person’s character, and that’s an awkward feeling.
The other major problem is that players come up with character ideas completely independent of the group template. Let’s say that your group agrees to play Deadlands. You figure out who’s going to GM…and then everybody else immediately begins to come up with the type of character they want to play. The rest of the group doesn’t figure into it.
I’ve also seen the group template break down during gaming. Again, because everybody wants to play their own character idea, even if they’ve come up with a group template, they’re likely to throw that out the window and play their character the way they want anyway.
How can you fix this problem? That depends on where the problem is. First and foremost you need player buy-in. If your players aren’t willing to create and stick to a group template, don’t bother with it. You as the GM will just get frustrated.
One way to fix the problem is simply by encouraging more in-depth characters. Some settings and systems demand this (see Dresden Files). But you as the GM can demand actual character motivation. My husband says that next time he runs a Star Wars campaign, we’ll be playing rebels and a basic character requirement is that you must give a reason other than money for being part of the rebel alliance. Reward your players for coming up with good characters – and for continuing to play them properly.
Don’t be afraid to say no. If you know that one of your players is planning on playing something that will be so contrary to the rest of the party – say, a straight-laced police officer while the rest of the group wants to play criminals – learn how to tell that player no. It’ll save you a lot of grief in the long run and will make your job as GM much easier.