Group Dynamics: Three Types of Connections

We often find ourselves creating groups of people who are together for some reason or purpose. Protagonists, antagonists, neutral characters, potential allies, combinations of the above: these groups are all over the place. In order to make them interesting, we can’t just look at them as groups moving in lockstep, nor as sets of individuals who happen to all be moving in the same direction. The really interesting ones are the ones that connect to each other, presenting web of group dynamics. To get really in-depth group dynamics, we need to track the major connections within a group. I find that there are three types of connections that we need to keep a close eye on.

First, there are connections between the individual characters; I find this the easiest component of group dynamics. If you’ve got characters A, B, C, D and E pushed into working in a group, each one’s probably going to have some sort of connection to all of the others (rather like one of those handshake problems where each person shakes each other person’s hand once, and you’re trying to figure out how many handshakes there are total). Some of these are obvious bonds or dividing forces between the characters: A and B are lovers, C and D do scholarly research together in their spare time, E is the group’s Johnny-come-lately replacement for Q whom C was very much attached to (awkward!), C is getting really sick of patching up B whenever he gets in a fight, A and D have an exceedingly synergistic fighting style, you get the idea. But they don’t always have to be definite relationships; many can be summarized as “[Character1] is in this group with [Character2], and thinks that’s [adjective] because [reason].”

Then there are connections between each character and the other characters’ relationships. These aren’t as ubiquitous as character-character relationships, but they can’t exactly be discounted, either. Take the connection I detailed between E and C, for instance. Whatever the dynamic between them is, it’s going to be affected by Q, whether she’s physically present or not; if someone mentions her, if E does something that really resembles or really contrasts with her, if her particular skillset is needed and E either can or can’t measure up, that’s going to make a difference.

The third kind of connection to keep in mind is the connection between each group’s member and the group as a whole. This is often a combination of factors: the member and the group’s purpose, the member and the group’s ability to take care of him, the member and his ranking within the group, the member and how thoroughly he considers himself a necessary part of the group… there’s a lot out there. Fortunately for us, most people are going to be focused on one or two of these, and the others will have only minor effects.

Designing a really good group (or, for that matter, predicting the behavior of a group of characters outside your own control, such as a PC mob) requires an understanding of all three of these varieties of connection. Try to keep from using just one!

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