Unit Level: Small Group as Character

In Monday’s post, I talked about the idea of a small group of characters so closely associated that they might as well be a single character. So how does a small group as a character work?

Before we can discuss why they work that way, we need to understand what kind of group can serve as a character in and of itself, since not all of them can. The group needs to be tight-knit and hard to separate—if you can have people just wandering in and out, and there’s no real sense of identification, expressed or implied, then it’s probably not the right kind of group. It needs a clear purpose and modus operandi, even if the individual characters might vary depending on how they implement it. And there has to be some way of being able to tell if a character is in or out. Of course, a group that’s being written to fill the role of one character will almost invariably count, at least until they start spending more time on their own than showing up together and sometimes even then.

Now let’s get into how this works on specific groups.

Individual characters generally have the same set of things in common: an appearance, a motivation, a set of skills, resources they can draw on, and connections to the people and places around them. The main difference with groups is that rather than being the province of one character, they’re spread out over several different ones. Most often, motivation is a shared trait, as the motivation is presumably what keeps the group together; sometimes, connections and resources might serve as a shared trait, but not always. Appearance is usually (but not always or completely; think about redshirts) individual; skills are usually individual, though in some groups some might be shared; a high school band will probably share some level of musical knowledge, for instance, though its individual members might be better at things like advertising, logistics, sight-reading, keeping the beat, playing other people’s parts, or annoying the band director.

In the example I used yesterday on character roles within the group, there were two NPCs known for gathering information, mostly facts and sifted rumors, and offering it to those around them for a small price. They shared motivation, resources and connections (particularly tightly, as both were former familiars to the same person and currently living in the same co-op); both of them were working to acquire enough resources to function and enough political influence and resources to help and support the co-op they were part of, and as they were generally inseparable, they knew all the same people and frequented all the same places. They shared a few skills, primarily information acquisition and shrewd bargaining senses, but also had some of their own; one had a talent for making people laugh or otherwise getting them to feel strongly, and a tendency to look more socially harmless than he actually was, while the other had better restraint and a stronger sense of how whoever they were talking to was feeling at any given time—and what might offend people past reasonable limits.

When designing a group at the unit level, then, we need to look into several things. One, how many features do they share, and how closely do they share them? Not every group is as tightly knit as my example group, and neither should they all be. Two, what are the sums of each of the sets of features? In the case of my duo, you have a definite appearance, a role as a slightly silly but generally accurate information source, a combination of incisiveness, humor and tact, and a little bit of small-scale political protection because the organization they were semi-outsiders to found them useful. In short—treat them as characters, and then figure out which of, and how, the character traits parcel out to the individuals.

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