Family structures provide rich narrative opportunities for any game. So many problems with the traditional party strucuare immediately resolved! How do the players know each other? Why are they together? Why do they stay together? What shared experiences do they have? All solved!
While making the players all part of the same family can “fix” several narrative issues in a game. But it can also be used as the basis for the entire game! So here are a few ideas for building campaigns around family structures!
- The Royal Family – This is a pretty common structure, and I’ve certainly used it enough times. In this setup, the players are all members of the same family, but are members of some ruling class or other form of royalty. These campaigns tend to center around the family drama that comes with leadership essentially passing from person to person based on who marries who and who dies. This can create a fair amount of backstabbing among the players, which isn’t a bad thing, but is something that should be taken into account when building plots.
- The Clan – This is similar to the royal family campaign, but instead of each of the PCs being part of the ruling class, they are merely members of some tight-knit familial group like a Scottish clan. For me, this is the familial strucutre with the most flexibility. There are plenty of options for familial drama and interplay while not encouraging the sort of inter-player conflict that can arise in the royal family scenario. I personally like to take this structure and mix it with a tangible external threat with simultaneous internal threat (something within the clan itself such as a rival family) to create narrative pressure.
- Generations – This campaign centers around a family with multiple generations interacting at the same time. I’ve most often used this setup in games with particularly long-lived characters such as the various versions of Vampire by White Wolf. I tend to find this model creates dramatic tension between immediate members of the family (parent-child), but tends to not force as much familial tension as the previous two.
- Orphans – The orphan campaign is based around PCs that aren’t necessarily bound by blood, but by circumstance, such as orphans. I’ve not used this one personally, but it’s something I’ve seen it used in systems like Blades in the Dark to great effect. A lot of the dramatic tension in this campaign comes from the plot, but clever characters can create powerful scenes by playing off differing priorities between the PCs.
- The Family Secret – Campaigns built around a family secret can be a lot of fun. In this game, the PCs are members of the same family, but share in some secret. The secret might be positive (like super powers) or negative (grandpa is a serial killer). It’s important that the secret binds the characters together against outsiders. If the secret is something that doesn’t create this sort of conflict, the relationship structures created by the family structure tend to take a back seat (a simple example of doing this with a positive secret is to give the characters super powers, but they’re all mutants in a world where mutants are hunted).
I’ve used familial structuers to build campaigns on numerous occasions and it’s always created some memorable moments between players. Try it some time and see what happens with your own group!