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Campaign Mastery was asked,

GM Izzy: “I am a very green GM running a pulpy run around campaign set in modern day London, everyone has a laugh each session but it is impossible to progress with any major plot points because the party stoically refuses to coalesce into, well, a party!

I have tried throwing in threats to their safety alone, NPCs hinting they may want to stick together, bonding them through their crimes and even casually asking them out of character if they ever intend to work together.

Put simply, I am at the end of my tether trying to make them work together without being a mad fascist dictator about it.  Any advice?

I have a party of 6. I gave the group a character brief ‘someone who would live/or be in London’. So I have: a member of the house of Lords, a merchant banker, a stunning russian socialite, a theatre critic, an MI5 agent, an office peon and a theatre critic.

After the opening session, the theatre critic, MI5 agent, peon and socialist all sat in a cafe together and bonded, then went their separate ways.

The Lord stole the bag of clues the party had been given and drove off and the merchant banker after being stabbed by an NPC went alone to A&E.  I had given them the act of murder against an NPC along with an important set of clues and another NPC who told them to stick together – but they ignored that.  Then the next day I managed to contrive to get them in the same place at the same time, where they all discovered what they had in common (semi possession by a mythical god), and then still managed to decide to go their separate ways rather then working together.

I left them at the end of the last session in their separate places with only their God’s for company, we are taking a few weeks off because of exams, and I said I would work on character development via email for the 2 weeks. But I am stumped, I left England on the brink of economic meltdown because of the Gods and the party still doesn’t seem to want to coalesce.”

Ask the GMs - Mike

Mike’s Answer:

Thanks for the kind words, Izzy. I’ve never come across a group so unwilling to work together except in one case where the players had conspired together because the GM was always foisting plot trains on them and never listened to their input, so I’ve never been in your exact situation. As a result, my advice will be fairly generic, I’m afraid, and at the moment is limited to a couple of thoughts:

1. They don’t seem to be feeling threatened by events personally, so they have no stake in mutual cooperation. Have bad things happen to all of them as a result of the problem that they are not confronting. The banker gets accused of misappropriating funds, the theatre critic gets fired from his job, the MI5 agent gets accused of being in the employ of a foreign power (and the socialite of being his contact) out to destabalise the currency, and so on. If they aren’t working to stop it, then they can easily be misperceived as part of the problem – so have some NPCs jump to conclusions about the ‘perty’ members.

2. They are obviously weaker as individuals than they would be as a group. Take advantage of this. Have them all arrested as accomplices to the murder, for example. Interrogate them individually, let the police suggest that another of them is cooperating and has given evidence against the rest – then let them compare notes in the cells (where they CAN’T go their separate ways). They can be released eventually, pending a hearing, if one of them puts up the bail for all. That gives one of them a vested interest in holding the group together as a party, but make it clear to the characters that they must all stick together or they will all be hung separately!

3. Have their Gods weigh in on the subject of cooperation, in their own styles of course. Remember the scene in Ghost with the singing of “I’m Henry The Eight I Am” 24 hours a day until the psychic gives in?

4. Let the bad things happen, then let the characters go hunting for a 13th-hour solution to the problem. Players and PCs should never be protected from their own stupidity. It may be metagaming, but they should have been looking for reasons to team up and coorperate in the first place.

5. Rework the scenario so that they can solve the problem piecemeal at first, each handling their own little piece of the puzzle.

Ask the Game Masters - Johnn

Johnn’s Answer:

Mike has provided some awesome in-game suggestions, so I’ll focus on the meta game angle with my reply.

6. Ask them out of character to cooperate. I’ve done this for my last 4 campaigns. When the players made their characters, one of the initial PC creation requirements was that the PCs all had a desire to work together.

This fends off typical alignment clashes, player grudges from previous campaigns, and gives players a parameter to get creative with. In my new campaign, for example, some PCs knew each other beforehand, some had common quests, but they decided the unifying element would be an inn they all owned.

It’s not too late for you to have a chat with your players and ask them directly that they give their PCs a reason to cooperate and join forces. Let your group decide what that is and whether it needs to be gamed out, or if it’s a background element that has just now come to the surface.

7. A divided party costs spotlight time. Make the cost of being split up known to your players. If everybody is always in their own exclusive scenes, then players will need to wait up to 5x as long (fill in your own number here where it equals # of players -1; 4 players = 3x, 5 players = 4x).

This is because each player will go their turn to do their actions, but no one is sharing the scene, so no one else can participate or even feel present. So it’s complete isolation.

8. Ask your players why they are not cooperating. The answer might surprsie you. Perhaps they are waiting for you to produce a heavy-handed plot-driven unifying moment. Or perhaps the players have created characters who do not cooperate, and they feel like they’re roleplaying their PCs perfectly. Could be your players think this is what the game is supposed to be like – the old board game mentality.

You won’t know until you ask. Do not superimpose your own thoughts while listening to their answers. This is difficult, but try to hear their answers objectively. You need to understand their viewpoints so you can get to the bottom of things. Making assumptions and leaping to conclusions, as we are all wont to do, will end up leaving the root of the problem undiscovered.

9. As Mike has suggested, change the structure of your game. Let everyone do their own thing as seperate citizens, but plan sessions to have big encounters that result in everyone rallying together. This is a Hollywood style campaign where the audience is treated to just the big moments in a couple hours.

10. Similar to point #6, ask players never to do anything alone in the game, if possible. This is a directive I’ve given in my current campaign. I want players to share scenes as much as possible.

In my game world though, it would be unusual, and sometimes tactically undersirable, to walk around as a large group. That’s just asking for trouble in Riddleport. So the PCs often pair off or go in groups of three, except for key actions where the entire group’s resources are needed.

In-game, this makes sense because the PCs are weak and will likely get assaulted or worse if caught out in the dangerous pirate city alone. My players are fine with this and try to comply wherever possible.

I hope all these suggestions help, Izzy. Please let us know how your campaign progresses.

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