29 September, 2017

A Foxes Guide to Relationship Maps (Part 2)

I think that one of the reasons I don't like certain crunchy styles of game is the fact that I like to keep the flow of a story happening. I don't mind looking up a reference if two minutes of page flipping will stop five minutes of arguing later... I don't even mind ten minutes of page flipping during the early stages of a game, before the atmosphere has been established and the intensity of play begins. It might even be feasible to look up books when characters are engaging on shopping expeditions (reflecting their exploration of the local markets and seeing what might be available)...or during those phases of the game when investigation is occurring and the characters have their heads in books or staring into computer screens as they work out how to proceed... But as soon as things get good, I don't like taking a break from the continuity to look up a table with results which get me to roll on a variety of second tables. Especially in the middle of a combat, or a chase scene, or some other instance where the immersion is key.

This idea informs most of my game design and game running. Start slow, ramp up as the session continues. It's not so much a case that the game needs to be simple, just simple enough that confusion can be generally avoided. So my relationship maps follow the same general principles.

At the end of the first installment, we had a very basic relationship map consisting of a few people and the central element that they revolve around.

But this doesn't really tell us very much beyond the fact that relationships exist, and therefore isn't really that useful for referencing purposes. That means we need to start adding some of the details that actually become useful during play.

The first of these that I add is simply to add a tick to certain relationship lines to indicate a positive connection between the two parties, or a cross to indicate a negative relationship. If you're using coloured pens for your maps, you might make the positives green lines and the negatives red.

To add a bit more dynamism to this map, I've also thrown in a second faction of connected characters. Perhaps this relationship map reflects a pair of opposing character groups involved in a gang war or some other kind of conflict. 

Then we connect the two clusters of characters, reinforcing the fact that they are in tension with one another by applying negative markers to most of the relationship lines connecting members of the groups. Again, because it makes things a bit more interesting, you'll note that I've added a positive relationship between Gwenivere and Spider (arcing over the top). We don;t know why that relationship is positive, but there's probably some good story to be explored there. 

Next, I like to make different degrees of relationship. Not everyone knows each other to the same degree. Some relationships are vague connections, some are very close and intimate. I've made the strongest relationship connection into a triple line, in this map it's the relationship linking the bartender with the bar. Other strong relationships have been turned into double lines, with typical relationships retaining the single line. I've also added a few dotted lines to represent some loose relationships that might not mean anything, but could possibly be used as avenues of story exploration as a session unfolds. 

If I was in a hurry, this is typically where I'd leave a relationship map. There are degrees of intimacy, and a general idea of where the conflicts and alliances might lie.

The map doesn't cover dozens of people, it's more specific to a single story or session. A few of these people might appear in a completely different relationship map fr a different session. For example the rivalry between Percival Cho and Mephisto Green (at the bottom of the map) might appear in a completely different relationship map where these two characters are linked to elements that might play a central role in a completely different session. You don't need to map all the variables and all the characters on a relationship map, just the ones that you'll be using now. 

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