In my continuing quest for a campaign, my group has recently picked a Savage Worlds super hero game with a home-brewed setting. As we started working on the characters, I wanted the players to not only have a background, but to have NPC’s that I could use during the sessions. Sounds plenty reasonable, and something that I have done in a number of games before. Rather than doing the normal list of NPC’s, or pulling them from their backgrounds, I wanted to do something a little different…

More Than Leaping Tall Buildings

When one thinks about a supers game, their first thoughts are all about super battles with costume heroes and villains duking it out in a downtown city, with energy beams, and cars being thrown around. A supers setting is far more than that, otherwise combats would be the only thing in comic books, and we know they are not.

Supers stories are about relationships; the ones that the person has and the one that their alter ego has. The drama of a supers game comes from the struggle a person has managing their relationships, the responsibility to use their powers for the greater good, and the consequences of the actions taken and not taken.

There are a number of different kinds of relationships a character can have. Just looking through comics we can see many examples: Peter Parker and Aunt May, Bruce Wayne and Alfred, Clark Kent and Lois Lane, and the list goes on.

I want my players to have some of these relationships, but I wanted to make sure that my players were thinking outside of their comfort zones. Too often players (and GM’s) only create in the places where they are the most comfortable, and that can lead to a lack of inspiration. For this I would need something visual…

A Map Perhaps

Inspired by a number of recent story games, I wanted to have the players create a relationship map, a visual representation showing the different types of relationships a player could have. I like visual representations because they are easy for me to grasp, and easier to see patterns in.

To construct my map, I needed to come up with the various components that would go into the map. The first part was easy, it would center on two parts: the character and their alternate identity. Next, there are the general types of people with which the character could have a relationship. These could be grouped into some large generalizations:

  • Family- A character is always related to someone: parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, etc.
  • Friends- A character has friends either in their normal lives and as their alter egos.
  • Enemies- There are people that do not like the character or their alter ego.
  • Acquaintances- There are people that are not quite friends, and for sure not enemies, but that are still part of the characters lives.
  • Loved Ones- There are people that the character loves and may love them. These are significant others, spouses, crushes, etc. People that are not family.

There are also different types of relationships that people can have. These relationships can be symmetrical (equal between both people) or asymmetrical (one direction). These too had some general categories:

  • Hatred- some people do not like each other, be it for personal or professional reasons.
  • Love – a person can be in love with another person.
  • Support – there are people who help us, or call for help.
  • Compatibility- there are people who we get along with easily, and others where much more work is required.
  • Identity – this one was specific to the supers game. There are people who know a character’s identity, and those who do not.
  • Miscellaneous- there were a few other relationships that did not fit in with any of the above categories, but I thought would be fun to add.

Laying Out The Map

I could have made this exercise as a series of lists or in a narrative form, but again I wanted this to be more graphical. I am a big fan of the graphical setup of Fiasco, and wanted this to have something similar. My first thought was to do something handwritten, but was worried about how legible the maps would be when they were filled out. I decided to create the map in Google Drawings. The starting relationship map looks like this…

The players can then take the relationship boxes on the right, and drag them over to the groups on left. The names in the boxes can then be edited to the NPC’s that players define. Because the map focuses on both the character and their alter ego, each one gets a different color, and the color of the box is changed to reflect which person the relationship is connected to. A filled out map looks something like this…

From the completed map, here are a few interesting things:

  • An NPC relationship can have more than one facet (Linda Balor).
  • Negative relationships are not just for Enemies (Uncle James, Cindy).
  • You don’t need to balance between the character and his alter ego, but it does make things more interesting.

Picturing Relationships

The Relationshp Map is a method to diagram relationships for a character. The map shows at a glance not only the relationships, but based on distribution of the relationships within the groups, gives an indication of what groups have more meaning for the player/character.

For those that are interested in this map, I have made a copy of the map available for viewing on Google Drive.

Make a copy if you like, alter it to your own needs. Feel free to change out the relationship types, etc.

Do you have your players go through a process for creating relationships for their characters? If so, how do you document the relationships? Is it in a text format or a graphical format?