A couple of days ago I went through the process I'd follow when creating a relationship map for a game. This was specifically done for the Dispatch Guide for "The Law" which I've been working on.
The development of this relationship was done on my electronic whiteboard, with board captures done at a few intervals to explain the process and why certain design decisions were made.
After posting a few photographs of the board, it became obvious that a lot of people were familiar with the concept of relationship maps, but quite a number of people either hadn't completely grasped how useful they could be, or how to make them work for their own games.
One of the more interesting comments repeated by a few people linked back to the idea of "I have too many NPCs in my games, my relationship maps would be too complicated, therefore I don't bother with them."
Honestly, if you have that many NPCs in your games, how do you keep track of them? If you don't keep track of them, how do you make sure they don't get forgotten? If they do get forgotten, wouldn't you like a way to remind you of them and how they connect in to the network of relationships around them? If you don't care whether they get forgotten, why write them up in the first place?
I'll answer a few of those questions in this series of posts. But the general gist is that I write enough of a relationship map to cover a specific situation, maybe a specific session or scenario, maybe the interactions within a faction, or the interplay between characters in a pair of factions...if it gets more complicated than that I'll break the relationship map into a number of separate maps. The aim is to make a tool that improves and streamlines the play experience with quickly accessible reference materials, not to bog things down.
I start with a simple concept that links a few people or ideas. In this example I'm using a bar. I start by giving it a name and a vague location.
The first people indicated on the map are linked to the bar in some way. I cluster them around the point where the bar is marked. The majority of detail about these characters would be found on their respective character sheets so there isn't much need to provide everything about the characters here, just a name, a two word (adjective and noun) description of them, and because this is for "The Law", and indication of their caste/cultural background, and maybe an extra word that gives a bit of a reminder on how they are intended to be played
Another person is added a bit further away, because they aren't as closely linked to the bar.
Next, I'll add the lines that link distinct elements of the map with relationships. Not every character needs to be linked to every other, they all get linked to the core element (in this case, the bar). But it's actually more interesting to have some of the people in the map unlinked. They may still know each other (after all they're all connected to the bar), but they don't know everyone well enough to justify a distinct relationship within the narrative (or impacting the game mechanisms).
(To be continued)