As my Friday group transitions into my friend's Friday group and we switch gears from L5R to Star Wars we're all deep in the midst of Character Creation. This is a new game for us, and that means new characters. We're starting fresh at low level, and that means that not all of our characters know each other coming out the gate. Not all of us, but some of us do know each other.
It's an old trick to help bring characters into a game, or get groups to gel. Two, or more, PCs start with a pre-existing relationship. Today I want to talk about that, how they can do some good, and some pitfalls to watch out for.
Siblings....Lots of Siblings
Whether its Caramen and Raistlin in DragonLance Chronicles, or Vex and Vax in Critical Role, siblings is a common way to bring people into a game with a pre-existing condition. Siblings works well because while you have the pre-set relationship, and it is one that helps work towards the group, nothing says that you have to like your sibling, right? I mean, lots of people don't get along with their brothers or sisters, or have aspects of their siblings they don't like. They still can work together, and neither wishes the other ill, but they're not friends. In a lot of ways this is the easiest to pre-establish without having to worry about consequences. However, one thing a lot of people forget is that siblings have a shared background, and that casual thing you want to inject into your backstory also has to make sense for the other character involved.
Beyond that, I don't have much to say. There's a reason people keep going for siblings with pre-existing relationships. It works, and it works well.
Friends, Business Partners, Etc
This is the second most common that I've seen, and also works well with one caveat. You, in general, want to know how the person you're coming in tied to works as a player. Are there characters - their normal characters - someone you can play someone that gets along with? Remember, this isn't family. Your character chooses to assosciate with their friends. They choose to be with this person. In effect, they like this character. It can be really awkward to come in with a back story of being good friends with a character, only to find that you don't get along in character at all. It can also be hurtful when the other player tries to play into a relationship that you're not feeling.
The other complication here is you and your IC friend's player need to agree on how the characters met, how their relationship works, prominent shared experiences, and things like that. You don't have to, I suppose, but you want to have an idea. It will make things easier. The more you work out pre-game, the more likely you'll bump into areas where the characters don't gel, and thus the easier it will be to buff those things out before the game!
If you can't guess as we're working towards more complex, this one can be pretty rough. In general, I would recommend against starting the game in a pre-existing relationship unless you're very familiar with the player and know you can bring characters in that works. Trust me, little can be as harmful to a character concept than a pre-existing romantic relationship that doesn't pan out as desired in character. We don't call our partners our significant other because they're not vital to who we are as a person.
Beyond this there are Out Of Character complications to consider as well. Yes, the game is just a game, but sitting around pretending to be in love with the avatar of another player - especially if the players can be expected to be attracted to each other on some level - can cause echoes of emotions, or real emotions to deal with. I know several couples that have gotten together starting with an In Character relationship that bloomed. Conversely, I've seen in game relationships complely ruined by in game actions.
More important, if you're in a game relationship with another character you want any real life significant others to be ok with it. Jealousy can rear up - again, especially if the players could believably be attracted to each other. Either way, it might be a courtesy that isn't needed, but better to have it out in the open then not. And if a SO isn't comfortable, maybe don't do it. Comfort is important, and a game shouldn't make people uncomfortable.
In general, I recommend leaving romantic entanglements until after the game has begun. This way you both get to see the characters and how they work together. You want their to be chemistry in character, not forced. From there, you can just go with the flow.
Above all, do what you think you can pull off and nothing more. The more entangled or complex the relationship, the more you want to know going in. The more dependent your character is on the other character, the more you need to know. Effectively, the stronger the relationship, the more you plan for. It's a bit more work, but it can pay off.