This post at Chgowiz's blog about making clerics relevant made me smile - it reminded me of the hoary days of 2E and how the cleric as armour-plated, mace-wielding healer/detector/undead turner with smiting options became something more interesting. Making characters go beyond treasure hunting is something that you can apply to other classes too. This looks relevant to this month's RPG Blog Carnival too!
Beyond the classic trope of the thieves guild (or the order of wizards or knights) not much thought was given to groups the characters belong to beyond membership costs and limited modifiers to reaction rolls without being overly bureaucratic or screwing characters over. Why limit yourself (and your players) when you can give them more interesting things to do?
Affiliation with any group can be fun if it fulfills certain needs - solving problems and providing benefits to it's members. If your game has archetypes, groups may form around these or form complimentary partnerships (e.g. Red Wizard and Thayan Knight prestige classes) based on common ground and develop identities of their own. With sufficient membership, a group has rudimentary character and iconic image.
Imperial stormtroopers in Star Wars are a strong example. Their white uniform, group tactics and bully-boy attitude perfectly fit their minion role. Common elements and uniform identity builds distinction and induces audience interest, particularly if it subverts commonplace tropes. This makes them memorable but overuse erodes any icon. Some variation keeps things fresh.
Designing a group is simple enough - imagine it's a character! Define it's problems and the benefits it offers to reveal attitude, attributes and needs. An order of knights sworn to slay dragons look and feel different to a gang of righteous rogues fighting a tyrant. These differences may have system or aesthetic impacts. Using these generates distinctive attributes and infers methods of operation.
Determine a hierarchy, the further up, the more the group character is exemplified. Three or four layers is enough, each may have it's own benefits or constraints which escalate or diminish. If an individual conflicts with the group, they diverge by inclination, action or consequence. If the conflict contrasts with the group, that builds interest. Some examples will appear in future posts so watch this space.
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