Plant a Campaign [5] – Relationship Grid

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  • How I determine relationships between a campaign’s Entities
  • How I set up the appropriate Relationship Grid

6. Relationship Grid

Now, this is a fun bit of work, as creating the Relationship Grid relies entirely on the hidden synergy buried in the material of what you created. This is the part where your material starts to take on a live on its own, and will prompt you to discover connections and dynamics you wouldn’t have thought of otherwise. Through forcing you to connect each and every Entity with the others, you will come up with lots and lots of interesting factors and secrets about your Entities that will greatly enrich and deepen your game, as everything will seem more alive and interconnected. Be aware though that this is an element of the preparation process you can omit if you want – should you feel your ideas are already enough (and you know well enough who knows whom within your setting) you can easily skip this step and go on.

To create a Relationship Grid, just open up your favorite word processor or spreadsheet app or just do it by hand. Your goal is, easy enough, to create an X by X matrix, where X is the number of Entities you have created thus far. Just write the name of each Entity in the top row and in the first column and you are ready to go.

The way to read the matrix is this: The Entity indicated in the first column’s opinion about the Entity in the top row is the content of the cell. For the sake of illustration, let’s start with an easy example:

King Thieves Guild Evil Witch
King
Thieves Guild
Evil Witch

 

Now, starting with the king (in bold), go row by row until you have listed something in every cell. Really think about what the Entity knows and thinks about the other Entity, and how that colors their relationship. Always keep in mind that you are writing this from the perspective of the bold Entity – you will have another chance to illustrate the relationship from the other side later on. Try to keep your cell entry as brief and to the point as possible, as you will probably have to quickly reference the Grid later on.

Once you start this, you will soon notice a special case: What about the cell at the meeting point of the two incarnations of the same Entity? This is a good and important question, and I came up with a pretty valuable procedure to fill the otherwise empty space: Think about internal conflicts within the Entity. Of course, not every Entity needs to be deeply conflicted in itself, but a note about exceptional harmony, doubts, or other introspective feelings that might become relevant are useful as well.

Of course, the different kinds of relationships can be manifold, but here are a few examples:

Inter-Entity

  • Rivals – The Entities can be rivals in a specific area, be it economical, political, or just regarding the prince’s favor. Of course, the rivalry can be a one-sided perception – maybe the rivaling Entity doesn’t know they are rivals, does not actively work against the other, or is not really rivaling the original Entity.
  • Enemies – Maybe the Entities feel a deep hatred towards each other, and want nothing more than to see the other one dead (or run out of town).
  • Practicality – The Entity can view the other more like a resource they can pull off – for example, they could be the source of valuable magic materials, have a powerful position with the cops, or lets them gain access to the Empress.
  • Suspicion – The Entity might suspect the other Entity to be a potential rival, danger, or adversary, and thus keep a watchful eye on them.
  • Friendship – The Entities are (or at least the first Entity thinks they are) friends or allies and would help each other achieve their goals or combat enemies.
  • Romance – The Entities either are in some kind of romantic relationship, one of them fancies the other, or they live some kind of hidden or forbidden love.
  • Control – One Entity controls the other, either through legal or hierarchical means or through blackmailing or bribing them.
  • Ignorance – The Entity does not know the other or does not care for them.
  • Fear – The Entity fears the other and tries to stay out of their business.
  • Business relations – The Entities have some kind of business agreement or cooperate with each other without being friends.
  • Shame – One Entity blames the other for something they might or might not have done, or the Entity is ashamed of what they’ve done to the other.
  • Secret Knowledge – The Entity somehow came to know one of the other’s secrets.

Intra-Entity

  • Unity – The people within the Entity stand as one in their cause, or the person is totally at peace with themselves.
  • Deceived – Someone within the Entity deceives the other, thus lying to them in what they do.
  • Intrigue – The Entity has rivalries within itself.
  • Betrayal – Someone within the Entity betrays all the others and pursues their own goals.
  • Doubts – The Entity doubts their own plans and goals or has some faction inside itself that does.
  • Secret – The Entity has a dark secret that it tries to hide from the world.
  • Deeper Truth – Especially with more incomprehensible Entities, this means that the Entity is not what it seems, but for some reasons is not able or chooses to not disclose it (or probably doesn’t know it). 

These lists are of course far from exhaustive, and often it is easier to directly derive possible relations from your game world and the idea you already have from your Entities.

Once you have filled out every cell in your Grid, you will have a good idea about the dynamics within your campaign world. The good thing about this is that you can easily add-in more Entities later on and dynamically generate more relations and connections to everything that is already there. You will be able to use this grid as a reminder when you try to deduct Consequences from player actions (maybe the company suspects their rival to be responsible for the burglary rather than the PCs and takes action against them), and also whenever you have to improvise Entity reactions regarding their state of knowledge towards other acting Entities.

Coming back to our example, your relationship might now look something like this (probably only more extensive):

What does ↓ think about →? King Thieves Guild Evil Witch
King At peace with himself Main problem for the city’s economy Fears her
Thieves Guild Want the magic scepter stored in the treasure chamber Leader betrays her fosterlings Do not know her
Evil Witch He doesn’t know that she is his daughter Plans to use them to cover up her experiments Has a split personality that is ashamed of her other half’s experiments

 

This is a good basis to work from, but the most important part here is the guided brainstorming the Grid assists you with. It helps you to come up with more material to work with, and prompts you to connect the previously isolated elements to a network of living Entities.

Of course, the Relationship Grid can and should also be used to glance at it during actual play in order to check connections between people, places, and events. To help with that task (and to evaluate the general tone of your campaign’s social network) it has proven extremely useful to color-code the connections.

I try to not get too crazy with the colors, as a completely fractured matrix will be more confusing then helpful. The colors I usually choose are:

  • Red for hostile and antagonistic relations
  • Light red for relations that tend to be or become hostile
  • Gray for neutral or ignorant relations
  • Light green for generally positive relations
  • Green for friendships and alliances
  • Blue for everything else

This brings about a color-grid that lets you easily determine how much hostility or harmony your setting features. Not only does this help you to decide whether you want to change something in order to shift the balance more in favor for what you had in mind for your campaign, it also easily helps you spot Entities that are extremely positive or negative in regards to their connections to the setting. Lastly, the colors are also a nice indicator at the gaming table.

Applied to our example, color-coding changes the grid to this (I was only able to color the text instead of the cells here in WordPress, shame on my CSS skills):

What does ↓ think about →? King Thieves Guild Evil Witch
King At peace with himself Main problem for the city’s economy Fears her
Thieves Guild Want the magic scepter stored in the treasure chamber Leader betrays her fosterlings Do not know her
Evil Witch He doesn’t know that she is his daughter Uses them to cover up her experiments Has a split personality that is ashamed of her other half’s experiments

GO TO PART 6

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