Groups with theme... anyone ever had it happen?


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Back in 1st edition, my group all played a clan of ninja when Oriental Adventures first came out, and all of us were brothers, except for our one cousin . . . the traitor!

We also played an all dwarven group at one time, as well as a group that consisted as temple agents hailing from the Theocracy of the Pale (paladin, cleric, cavalier).

Can't say that back in the 1E/2E days that came up much. We were all too different and loved playing different, sometimes even opposing characters. Yes, when one looks back the question should've alwasy come up that there's no reason we should've been adventuring together. In the end it didn't matter, as long as we were all having fun.

Fast forward to 3E/3.5E and I still haven't played such a game though it sounds cool. I'm in an Eberron campaign that's going to be starting soon and our DM wants all our backstories so he can write up a campaign intro that'll include why we're all together. Sounds like a bit of a task but I think as long as all the players give a detailed enough backstory he'll be able to do it. Then we'll at least have a cohesive reason for adventuring together.

You know, I do remember a short-lived Star Wars campaign (back in the West End Games days) where we were all smuggler-types. At some point we screwed something up and had the local constabulary chasing us into a crowded plaza. One of the players yells that we should just try to blend into the crowd, since we're all humans...right? "No.", I pipe up, "I've got jet-black hair, deep-blue, shiny skin and blood-red eyes, nails and teeth." A room full of staring eyes and I swear I heard a cricket chirping. "So, yea, I'm kinda not going to blend." So instead we stole a speeder and got the hell out of there.

- Chris Shadowens

Just last night, played a group of Aerenal elves (or at least it looked that way). 2 players, each controlling 2 characters. I had the fighter and the cleric, the other player had the warlock and the changeling rogue (not that any of the other characters knew this). The fighter left Aerenal years ago and wants to return, the cleric was sent by the Aerenal Embassy to keep an eye on him, the warlock is the cleric's friend (trained in the dark arts in Stormreach), and the rogue (whom the fighter once knew as a tall dwarf in an entertaining troupe) is interested in the fighter and has decided, for not much reason beyond simple boredom, to become best friends with him (in a different guise, of course). They're currently drinking buddies.

Scarab Sages

A friend of mine ran a complete Greyhawk campaign where the players decided that their characters were all part of a travelling minstrel show. They all took a different Perform skill and pooled their starting money for a cart and horses. He ran that campaign for several years until they were all levels 16-18 and then ran the Githyanki Incursion adventure from Dragon/Dungeon to wrap up the campaign.

If the party doesn't really have a theme, I think you should let characters enter and exit the group as things work out (or don't). As DM, I will also work with players who want to try "something different for a while" and develop in game reasons to transition a switch in characters. Sometimes this works smoothly, sometimes it doesn't. You learn by doing.

That said, asking the players to work out links between their characters before the game starts seems to work best for us and helps me as the DM - sometimes the backstory the players come up with is better than what I had and I steal it like the pirate DM I am. Arrr! Re-flag this plotline and set sail for adventure, Mister Christian! Arrr!

Robert Head wrote:
Definitely bugs me that in most campaigns I've played in, we're asking ourselves, "Why, again, are we travelling together?"

I like the theme idea a lot. My particular group of players often comes to the "why are we together" after a couple months of gaming.

I think I may make them create their party togehter this time, generating a combined back history and reason to be "committed to each other" in the game setting. I'm intrigued to see what they'd come up with.

I think it could challange me as a DM more to, because they would be a tight group. I often have had an easy time making them break the team concept during crucial situations.

Scarab Sages

With my original gaming group, I think the theme was something like, "oh yeah, we're good guys, but that doesn't mean we can't torture the bad guys for info."

Been DMing over 20 years and I've ALWAYS required the players to come up with a valid reason to be adventuring together. I'm shocked that this has "never come up" in other groups!
The simplest and most common reason we generally play under is familial relationships - brothers, sisters, cousins. All from the same small town is fairly simple too (and works particularly well in the new AOW adv. path). The ex-members of a traveling circus is a good one which allows greater variety in classes. All worked together on a merchant vessel... Whatever. I think the question of social relationships amongst members of the party is incredibly important to the storyline, character development, and role-playing in general. But I'm a logic hound (possibly Vulcan in another life) and constantly demand logical explanations for every level of game-play both from the players and myself. Based on these posts, perhaps I'm a rarer breed than I originally suspected!

While I make the players come up with something at the begining of the campaign I don't worry to much about it being all that detailed. What I am more interested in is something along the lines of a name and purpose of the adventuring party once its created. The important thing for me is to be able to recruit and incorperate new adventurers into the party when one of them dies. Essentially my major reason for shying away from too much back story is that the players backstory can become the reason d'etre for the party and its especialy problematic if the adventure starts revolving around one or two characters since the party has a tendency to break up when these critical characters die.


On a side note I wanted to mention a DMing tip I think is the cats pajama's. What you do is you buy yourself some kind of favoured treats (any tidbit you happen to especially like will do) and everytime one of your NPCs manages to screw the party over in some manner, by stealing their treasure, killing one of them, escaping with its life AND its treasure etc. reward yourself with a treat. After all the monsters deserve an even break and they have no one to look out for their interests but you.

(rolls through)

Cosmo's Wandering Eye wrote:
(rolls through)

(pauses, but continues on)

That's some thread necromancy you've got going.

There are a multitude of methods to create group cohesion, so you can start with the obvious like race, country, common set of skills or professions, shared experience (war, famine, oppression), etc. or have each create detailed backgrounds that the DM and players can weave together over time. All you have to do is start to link different experiences together towards a common goal, just take it one step at a time. I do believe the DM has overall control to bring this together, but it can not be one sided as to the players or DMs sole responsiblity.

It is beneficial to test, or otherwise demonstrate the strength of keeping the party cohesion in tact.

In the campaign I was playing in before it turned into a TPK( Age of Worms) there was no theme. After I begged and pleaded to have the campaign put back in the realms The theme is were all guardians of nature.
I'm a druid with a homebrewed 1/4 celestial template(take out everything from the 1/2 celestial template except stat bumps and reduce ECL from 4 to 2) Then we have a ranger/scout,a sorcerer(elemental theme),a scout/diviner,a centaur(no class till 6lvls of centaur)and we just added a barbarian/scout.
So far we are doing ok. The module is called The Redwood Scar and it was originally in Blackmoor but my DM had no trouble adapting it for the realms. The nasty part is the feindish undead, without the sorcerer and my shileghly spell we would have been done for because no other weapons could get past thir DR except blud/magic or straight magic.
He's changed a few things around by includeing Talona the lady of poisions in the mix as she is the enemy of all that is natural but it makes sense.

The other themed group I had before this one was we were all clerics nof evil deities and since we wern't in competion with onanother we had a blast. I was a half-vampire/deathknight cleric of Velsharoon(deathknight was added much later, The we had a half dragon cleric of Tiamat that had the earth and fire domains so he could handle anything natural, the last guy was a kobold monster of legend template. Between my gold dragon zombie steeds and a hat of disguise all NPC's thought we were champions of goodness and light.

Themes can be alot of fun but they shouldn't be forced on players.

Silver Crusade

Pathfinder Adventure Path, Starfinder Adventure Path Subscriber

I created a bunch of themed origins based on alignment for my Kingmaker campaign. My players chose to be a bunch of slaves in Cheliax escaping to their freedom in the River Kingdoms.
How they came to be enslaved, their future goals, all of that was up to the players to decide. They chose the origin and seem pretty happy about it.

I think the best way to get this to happen is to

  • 1. work up your characters in one big group.
  • 2 suggest coming up with a group back ground and theme.

  • 3 (if they are still hesitant, bait the hook. give them a reason to want to collaborate, 5 or 10 extra gold per character that is from a simular background, it won't break the game but it is aenough to up grade to silk rope from hemp, and we all know how important it is to buy the good stuff.

Personally I have been in a couple of groups that were really organized in their back ground, the most organized however was a group of blade singers that each had their own element. fire, water, earth and wind. it was really fun.

I would think the most common collaborations happen from being from the same small town, or being family.

Couple years ago i ran a themed party through a 3.x update of the old 1e Ravager of Time adventure. The PC's were all from an Illmatari monestary (forgotten realms) and as such had a common religion as a tie in. Almost all party members had level in monk, i think the group ended up being...

Cleric/Monk/Sacred Fist
Monk/Sorcerer/Enlightened Fist

The party was very fun to GM, and they had some great concepts/traits that helped them really get into the roles and made it one of the more fun adventures i have had.

The closest I'd ever gotten was a group I ran last year, where all the party members started out as commoners (well, two commoners and an expert) from the same village then got tossed into the adventuring life.

I've wanted for some time to run a campaign based on the CastleVania games, meaning that all the players would need to be vampire hunters and thus probably closely allied, but I haven't gotten around to doing it yet - my original intent to do so got usurped by Savage Tide.

Otherwise no, most of my players come up with differing and unrelated backgrounds and end up working together through temporary convenience that may or may not eventually become friendship and alliance. Occasionally we'll have a couple whose backgrounds are related, but rarely more than that.

Dark Archive

In earlier editions, we had a few all-elf groups, or all-monster groups. (The most distinctive had a Wemic, a Krynn Minotaur, a 1/2 Ogre Mage and a Xixchil.)

In 3rd edition, not so much, although we've talked about making all-Cleric or all-Druid groups from time to time, or an all Psychic group, or an all-necromancer group (with a 'death Cleric,' a Specialist Necromancer, a Dread Necromancer and perhaps some of the 3rd party classes, such as from Secret College of Necromancy).

In games other than D&D, we've done this quite a bit, making superheroes with a common origin, or all vampires of a particular Clan. MMOs are the most common place where this occurs, with all Necromancer, Druid or Paladin guilds in EQ or Warcraft, or all Robotics Masterminds or Arachnos archetype supergroups in City of Villains or all-Fire Controllers or Radiation Defenders groups in City of Heroes. We even had an all-Vampire the Masquerade inspired supervillain group in City of Villains (my character was a Zombie-summoning Mastermind, and represented the Samedi bloodline).

Dark Archive

Throwing together a party of monsters is interesting.

My players once decided to play Elves. Man, was that annoying!

I've played in several high-level parties who carried around a Deck of Many Things... New characters always had to draw from the deck as "initiation".

Never come to this group without several back-up characters ready.

During the Shackled City Campaign the group I play with used the theme of Evil Necromancers.

It was an interesting campaign, probably the most interesting I've played with. There was no in-fighting as many people would suspect. We had incredible team work, and our goal was a common one. We didn't terrorize the city, we helped and many did not know or maybe didn't want to know how we saved them.

We maintained a "Heroes of Cauldron" appearance when in public. In private we handled the enemies the campaign put forth with cold and brutal violence. Our reason for doing this was that we felt the villains in the main plot line of the campaign were infringing on our territory. Cauldron was ours, and woe be to anyone who thought otherwise.

We had:

Cleric of Weejas
Dread Necromancer
Warlock with some Necromancy powers
Wizard Necromancy Specialty
Dwarf Fighter (We used him as a proof against Golems)

All of us took the feat Tomb Tainted Soul, so we all healed off of Negative Energy. Fun times. :D

Set wrote:
In games other than D&D, we've done this quite a bit, making superheroes with a common origin, or all vampires of a particular Clan.

In the last superhero game I played in, all eight players created their characters separately. Four of them ended up with telepathy and the other four had super strength!

hogarth wrote:
Set wrote:
In games other than D&D, we've done this quite a bit, making superheroes with a common origin, or all vampires of a particular Clan.
In the last superhero game I played in, all eight players created their characters separately. Four of them ended up with telepathy and the other four had super strength!

I've been in a Red Hand of Doom game with 3 cold-themed dwarves (blaster-wizard, cleric and beguiler) and a human ranger (so they can get stuff off the top shelf). The dwarves are a noble and his entourage. We spent money to have a carriage tricked out for us, resembling one of the cars from a ZZTop video. Aaaaand now I've dated myself.

Dark Archive

Lee Hanna wrote:
We spent money to have a carriage tricked out for us, resembling one of the cars from a ZZTop video. Aaaaand now I've dated myself.

That rocks. We had some elven brothers in 2nd edition who had their own wagon, claiming that they got tired easier than humans (low Con, doncha know) and needed their rest for spell-preparation (mage / thief and cleric / mage). Sadly, we didn't think of glamming it up to look like the Eliminator (then again, ZZ Top are a uniquely dwarven band...).

Liberty's Edge

6 players, all playing Dwarven Clerics. This was 2nd ed., however, still very funny campaign.

And no we couldn't find a 7th dwarf before you ask...


Hmm... we don't often use themes. Had a pair of brothers (a rogue/wizard and a fighter/ranger 1) for a long while. We've also successfully used the 'monster party' theme before; had a ghoul sorcerer, earth elemental half-ogre crusader, and pixie fighter/rogue with spiked chain. The problem with the 'family' theme is that it severely restricts race, while the monster theme is really too broad to give any necessity of cooperation. Themes based on class or type of class ('sneaky', 'all specialist wizards', etc) look entertaining, but I don't think they'd work for my group because we tend to find one or two classes that we really like to play and then we just play those - imposing a theme would almost certainly push someone out of the type of character they enjoy playing, thereby increasing verisimilitude at the expense of fun.

Way, way back, in the days of OD&D, we played in the Mystara setting and had several themed groups thanks to the influence of the Gazetteer series of books.

In particular, we did Elves belonging to the same clan (keeping in mind there was little class diversity in the old rules). The campaign was geared toward a secret infiltration of elven society by long exiled Drow-like elves.

We did a few 3.5 conversion campaigns in the same world including one where we were all members of a gypsy-like clan that was overthrowing an oppressive baron of foreign blood.

Sometimes you have a player that loves to play irritating, oddball characters and they may have to shelve their super-genius kobold librarian for another game, but it tends to make a better story.

I've never played in or ran a game that was only one race or class, but most of them the GM restricted background to 2-3 races and from 2-3 areas, so everyone was either local to the start point or from less than 4 weeks away.

In 2nd ed I ran a Royal campaign, a prince-warrior, with his two royal cousins (assassin and wizard) and the princes bodyguard-warrior. The royal bodyguards were a family and long friends of the royal family.

The group still did quests for cash or favours, but half of the missions were given by the King or were taken up by the group 'in defence of the kingdom!'. There was even some drama with the assassin becoming a really good cook, the wizard becoming an alcoholic and the bodyguard becoming smitten with the princes' aunty.

During character creation I ask the PCs if they have any motivation to adventure, and try to tie in their PC with one other PC. Eg a fighter may want revenge for his father, and his father fell to some demons in ruins a week away. In these ruins is rumoured to be a book that the PC mage is looking for. But the fighter and mage need allies and coin, so they help the cleric and rogue with their mission first.

It's best to space out events and background tie ins otherwise you wrap up everyones goals in the first five levels.

We had a game where nearly everyone died around 5th level, so the survivor went back to his homeloand and hired the mercs-the new PCs, and got them to do some patrol missions in the area before travelling with them back to avenge his original comrades. So that groups theme was mercenaries and only ever did missions for good pay, but none of them were evil or monster races.

One other thing, I tell the players not to play lone wolves.

If people want to quest and kill stuff on their own then they can fire up a computer game not waste everyone else's time.

None of my groups are contrived in the way they are tied in, but they do find reasons In Character to not go too far away from the others, especially after they've been travelling together for awhile.

If people do something stupid on their own and I can't realistically throw them a lifeline by another PC or NPC, or if they keep going against the rest of the party for no real reason then they are written out of the plot.

If a player is having trouble getting his PC to work with the group then I can throw some suggestions or even changes in, or allow him to be written out of the plot in a nice way so they can use that character with another campaign group.

I hated 3.5 for its sourcebook-itis. I gamed with a guy who constantly wanted to reinvent his character whenever a new sourcebook came out. Themed groups help cut this down a little.

Well, it's not a full party, but my gaming group is starting Age of Worms this Friday and three of the five party members are Illumians from the same cabal, effectively siblings. I'd consider that counting :)

I had a gaming experience where for once, just a strange coincidence; nobody played a caster of any kind; was 6 fighters; two theives. I forget what our group called itself; might come to me later; but this was a fun group that acted like a military unit; we were all soilders anyhow in RL; and we had cohesion and a great time. Only time ever, you would think without even a healer we would do poorly; but not so; with skills and binding and lots of hps and sheer muscle; was great; though sometimes we had to hire some specialist npc from time to time.

Silver Crusade

I was in a group once that was all specialist wizards from the same magic academy. Early levels felt like Degrassi meets Hogwarts, until we all graduated (made 5th level.) and started multiclassing. This was still 3.0, so a lot of the obvious prestige classes weren't available yet. A druidic Mystic Theurge, a Dread Necromancer, an Arcane Trickster, and an Eldritch Knight would have been so cool.

This one wasn't DnD, but it was still a 'theme' group. Years ago oen of my group took a turn at DM'ing, he had come up with a HERO-champions game idea. Told us to make up characters and anything was fine. We the players had a chit-chat the next day, bounced a few ideas around, and lo and behold, we all ended up making martial artists as a 'theme'. The DM had no idea, so he was a bit surprised when our group of black belt theater junkies started his adventure which was an alternate world mashup of the Black company and "What if germany won WW2". To this day i still call that mini campaign "Ninjas and Nazis".

ps, it was awsome.

the only time i've seen this concept work is when the whole party are relatives, and another time we were all soldiers on a side mission from our larger force.

Robert Head wrote:

Personally, I love the idea of all the characters having a common background.

For example:
- We're *all* 1st level clerics of whatever. Maybe a paladin thrown in.
- We're all members of a travelling group of minstrels or circus performers that is suddenly stranded and take up adventuring.

Can't say that it's ever happened for me, but it should!

DMs can certainly encourage this. Hook up your players well in advance of the first session and require them to come up with a shared history.

- rob

I wanted to run a campaign where the world was very religious, and all humanoids would have minimum 1 level of Cleric (PCs start as level 2 Cleric or Level 1 Cleric/Level 1 Something Else).

And by accident at a con special event, we had a table of 4 Bards and 2 Rogues (3.5, somewhere around level 10) and we kicked serious ass. Really.

In the beginning, the D&D enthusists I rolled with pretty much hacked and slashed, and in between smoke breaks we'd muse about absurd campaign themes, like playing a party of rum-running Ranger's who hid the ale under the false hump of our camel Animal Companions or playing a party of Ninja Krusians (turtle people from Sandstorm).

Finally, after a wipe, we decided to go full in and play rum-runners (dropping the camel and Ranger idea). The backdrop created was a strict (Purtian) theocracy of Cuthbert that followed a bloodless coup that deposed a corrupt governor who mine as well of headed up the regions mafia. Besides smuggling hooch, it was agreed that the party would be composed of siblings and cousins with a few unrelated uncles so everybody wouldn't have to be human or demi-human.

Sadly we didn't stick with rum running for long.

In the game I DM, we decided to try a travel campaign where the party simply migrates across the country and rights wrongs (a la the A-Team or Renegade) along the way. The permise is, this island quasi-nation of Isle is ruled by a Gnomish monarchy with strong ties to the Church of Heirenous. The idiot princeling (A Gnome Paladin with an Intelligence and Wisdom both at 8) must travel to the ten other quasi-countries all within the same empire, best the arena in each capitol, before the family curse acrtivates in a year, killing the princes father, and supplementing his greedy, wicked brother as monarch.

The party who isn't part of the monarchy is composed of bodyguards, specialists, and guides arranged by royal degree to baby sit the wandering prince more then anything else.

Scarab Sages

My best foray, as a DM into a themed party campaign: The Servants of the Swift Sword.

A group working for the church of the Swift Sword. It worked pretty well until the group stopped meeting due to personal issues. The Link above is to the chronicled story of their initial exploits.

Scarab Sages

In the Council of Theives game I'm running the players decided to all have high charismas and all be actors (this went well with the infamous Trials of Larazod, which most of them were aware of, OoC)

Even the monk has a high charisma (like, 17) of course, she was considering multi-classing into paladin.

The party originally was going to be:

straight bard
bard/pathfinder chronicler
bard 1/paladin

It has ended up to be

bard considering pathfinder chronicler
bard 1/paladin
monk with a high perform act and intimidate

Themes could be fun, still would like to play a campaign for a group of wizard PCs, but what I generally end up with when making characters for a campaign is half the group wanting to play elves, the other half dwarves. It's so frustrating!

Sissyl wrote:
half the group wanting to play elves, the other half dwarves. It's so frustrating!

That beats my groups... where nearly everyone is Human or a Human subrace (Tiefling, Azurin, Illumian, etc.) with the occasional Elf, Half-Elf, or Dwarf. I want more variety dangit :P

The trio of Illumians theme was too good to pass up in this latest campaign, but all my prior characters intentionally broke up the monotony. Kobold, Killoren, Dwarf, Genasi, all in otherwise all-human/very humanlike parties. :P

I'd love to do a game where the party was a traveling thieves' guild that masqueraded as a troupe of actors. In a flying ship. Yes, I was re-playing a Final Fantasy game.

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