Some people in my regular RP group were talking today, and specifically we ended up talking about a conversation one of us had had with an old friend about their RP group. Turns out that my friend and the other person had been swapping war stories when they came to the conclusion that our group was very different from theirs. How so? In our group, the nature of the PCs relationships with each other, with the NPCs, and the NPCs relationships with the PCs and other NPCs is the core to a lot of the action while their games were a lot more mechanical in nature. With that in mind, I thought today might be a good time to talk about dynamic character relationships, and why they can be great to have in your game.
It's Role Play, Remember?
Forgive the snarkiness of the title, but the Role in RPG is very important. As a player in this game (and yes, the GM is a player for purposes of this) you are taking on a role, or roles, and playing them in the game. The role you take on? For most players it is on a single fixed character. Now it is up to you whether that character is a simple flat charicature or something more deep and nuanced. I mean that too. There is no wrong answer. Sometimes you just want to play a cardboard cutout and that is fine. Othertimes you want the added complexity that more layers brings to the table.
However, while I say there is nothing wrong with a 2-D charicature character, I would argue that you'll end up in more interesting scenarios with more complex characters. This does not necessarily mean more fun. There is rarely anything as fun as gleefully smashing through all the super complex plans of a villain because your character is just that simple and straight forward. :)
Nothing To Fear
Alright so you're adding those layers to your character - at least to experiment - so what comes next? Play them up. Make your character bold, daring, cowardly, or whatever. Give them strong personality characteristics and don't be afraid to let them shine. What do you have to fear? It is a game, so as long as you - and the other players - are having fun then it is ok. You don't lose points because your character got robbed when out drinking too late at night. The worst repercussion that can happen to you is you have to roll a new character up, and while that isn't something we want to happen it doesn't warrant letting fear hold you back from playing your character out the way you envision them.
So think long and hard about this person you've made. What traits do they exhibit? What do they hide? How do they interact with people? Who do they like hanging out with? Hopefully you made someone with a reason to travel with the group and get along, but knowing why they are doing that is good. There is a difference between the warrior looking for fun and companionship, and the rogue looking to make money and taking advantage of a group of fellow heavily armed and dangerous travelers to help if the town guard comes nosing into his business.
No One Likes Everything About Everyone
Fun fact no one wants to acknowledge: there are traits of the person you love the most that you don't like. No one absolutely likes everything about someone. We may accept those things. We may feel they are not a big enough deal to bring up. We may regret admitting this to anyone (I already regret typing this as several very good friends of mine read this blog ;)) but it is true. It's just not something the human brain is really capable of doing. Hell, you probably don't even like everything about yourself.
Now apply this to your character. What do they like about their companions? What do they dislike about their companions?
To take an example from my game I'm going to talk about two characters whose names I'm changing to Mitsuko and Tanaka. Mitsuko respects Tanaka as a warrior and military leader, finds her attractive as a person/sexual being, but dislikes her lack of spirituality and respect for what is "right" and "correct."
Tanaka on the other hand thinks Mitsuko is a very deadly warrior, but also a bit of a headache when it comes to getting things done but chalks that up to Mitsuko "doing her job" in the group.
Why Does This Matter?
Both these players have depth in their character, and both play their character fearlessly. Every interaction between these two characters triggers on one or more of the levels I described above. There is respect for each other as warriors, but a clash of wills on views of what should be done and how. The characters disagree frequently, but know to listen when the other puts the foot down. Because these two players are willing to do this the interactions between these two characters is always interesting and brings a huge level of depth to my game, especially when you factor in that the other 4 players on the table are also doing the same back (to varying degrees of success depending on the experience and fearlessness of the player.)
This lets us have a group of PCs in the game that are generally headed in the same direction, but don't necessarily tell each other everything - sometimes to detriment - and are very realistically in a situation where the bonds of trust inside the group are being heavily tested as the plot continues and their individual goals and view points begin to clash.
The Little Things Add Up
In the end you have a lot of little things, but if you let them and work with them, they add up into something huge. Even better is that it is a dynamic that springs naturally from the game, and that can only exist for the players who are willing to put the work in to get it. A case where you literally get back out what you put in.