Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Party Time - Voltron as Inspiration and other recent Party Building & Character Creation

Or how can a GM trick his players into forming a party that is both this
 and occasionally this...

Thomas insisted that I give the new Netflix reboot of Voltron, Voltron: Legendary Defender, a try, and I'm incredibly glad I did. I have very few memories of the Voltron TV series that aired on American TV in the 80s. I'm certain I saw re-runs in syndication and I had the Voltron figure that combined all 5 lions, though I lost the sword and paladin figures before I started elementary school. Which is to say, I knew Voltron, but didn't have many definite and concrete memories and went into Voltron: Legendary Defender with only hazy memories of what came before.

Now, I won't try to claim that V:LD is high art or ground-breaking for a 'kids show' in the way that I might for Adventure Time, Steven Universe or Over the Garden Wall, but I did find it enjoyable and I'm looking forward to the second season. There's a slow bit in the middle of the series with some rock people and a friend remarked to me that there's a lot of it that revolves around them not being able to or wanting to form Voltron, but what I keep going back too as I think about the show is how it could be an excellent model for a D&D style adventuring party.

What do I mean? Well, not only do the paladins have some individual motivations, but they also have some good intra-party interactions. Minor Spoilers follow, but I've tried not to give away all the surprises.

  • Shiro - The oldest of the paladins and default leader, Shiro serves as a role-model for the others, though he's haunted by the time he spent as a captive of the Galra Empire. Shiro was the pilot on the mission to Kerberos where Pidge's father and brother disappeared. Serves as a surrogate older brother figure to the other paladins.
  • Keith - Sullen, temperamental and over-confident, Keith is also the blandest of the paladins in my opinion, but does serve as a more serious foil to Lance. He generally follows Shiro's lead but his arrogance leads him to act alone sometimes. He and Lance have a rivalry that balances nicely on always seeking to one-up the other but also being willing to work together when the need arises.
  • Lance - Enthusiastic but sometimes lazy, with a mixture of goofiness and teenage lust. Lance is best buds with Hunk and seems to see Pidge as a slightly annoying younger sibling. Always seeking to one-up Keith, but when push comes to shove the 
  • Hunk - Initially reluctant to be a hero, Hunk comes around to defending the universe through the first series, in a kind of arc I realize I don't see often in my D&D games. Perhaps the next long term PC I'm able to play in a game will need to be reluctant hero who comes to embrace it.
  • Pidge - The youngest of the team, Pidge wants to find his brother and father and sometimes let's that goal override other considerations. Pidge also has a secret that he initially keeps from the group. Pidge looks up to Shiro as a kind of mentor, but also doesn't trust him at points since he can't remember much about his captivity or what happed to Pidge's family.
There's a nice mix of relationships, with friendships and rivalries, mentor and student, as well as a mix of personal goals, tendencies and arcs that intertwine with the paladins learning to use Voltron and serving as Defenders of the Universe. If I thought I could get away with it, I'd make all my players watch the first season, but my darling wife has already developed an antipathy to the show (she doesn't understand why there are psychic mice or Space Australians). Still, I think it's a good example of a well done party and it certainly got me thinking of other D&D parties and party inspirations.

The last few ongoing games I've run, it hasn't felt like the party has come together the way I like, but instead it felt more like a group of PCs all made to be individually interesting or awesome for the players to play but without many ties between them or intra-party interaction. Additionally, I feel like recent parties had some issues with party cohesion, motivation and tactics/cooperation. With my two new games, keeping Voltron in mind has definitely guided how I worked with the players on building parties. Here's what I wrote up for my Numenera for the players to consider when forming their party

  • Discuss how the party will work and its organization. 
  • Does anyone want to be the leader? 
  • How will the party make decisions? 
  • Which PCs want to know each other? 
  • Is the party all “good heroes” or are they morally ambiguous. 
  • What will keep the party together? 
For my 5e Planescape game, I'm running the Eternal Boundary module, and due to scheduling issues, I ended up providing mostly pre-made PCs, where the players chose a PC based of a sentence long pitch and then I provided a questionnaire of options for them to complete so I knew what their PCs would broadly be, but the player still gets to make choices so the character feels like it's their PC. I've done this a few times now, drawing inspiration from the playbooks of Powered By the Apocalypse games and I think it works pretty well for one-shots and short mini-campaigns. For this game, I chose the Bleak Cabal as the primary faction and let the players know that the Bleak Cabal PCs would be the "leaders" of the party and that non-Bleaker PCs would need solid ties to the Bleaker PCs to explain why they'd be helping on a factional mission. Which ended up working well for the first session, where the Bleakers took the lead and the Indeps followed along, but also made things more complicated. Here are the PCs and the questionnaires that I actually ended up producing for them.

Bleak Cabal


I'm also running a new Apocalypse World 2nd Edition game, but I let the HX rules handle party creation and I'll have a separate post out in the next few days on that to show off my latest Love Letters...

PS. It's that time of year again, where I start spamming for support as I participate Extra Life. As I said last year, If you're a regular reader, please consider making a donation, even if it's only a few dollars. It goes to a good cause and the sooner I start getting a few donations, the less I'll need to spam my blog with pitches over the next month. You can find my donation page here (and also at the top right of my blog) and you can read all about what I ran last year here: Running True Tomb of Isidore Philokrates - Extra Life and True Tomb of Isidore Philokrates - Notes and Loot.


  1. I'm basically in love with your planescape pseudo-pre-gens. And not just because of all the awesome class archetypes...

    1. I have some more from when I ran a one shot where the PCs were tasked by an elderly Bariaur named Gunda to locate her stuffed squirrel Wulfgang, who served as her soup cart mascot and the gate key she needed to get leeks to make her leek soup. They traced the theft to the dastardly Herzou chef High Fury and had to battle him to retrieve it

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.


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