A relationship map is a means of visually describing the assorted network of connections between characters. At its simplest, such a map can point out who knows who and how they feel about each other. However, adding complexity can allow not only a layer of character analysis, but can chart important locations, properties, motivations, and goals and how they relate to such characters. In short, a relationship map provides an illustrated depiction of a campaign, its known movers and shakers, how and why they act as they do, and may even hint at where things are going. It is like a massively interconnected web that serves as an excellent tool for GMs who may wonder where to tug and pull to get their players moving or for Players who may wonder what a GM is up to.
Player Characters start at the center of the map. They are the focus and central point of perspective through which all game relationships are being viewed. Write down the Character’s name and surround it with a Hexagon.
We decide to map out a character, Grimm, a dour woodsman who patrols the forests. After drawing a hexagon, we write “Grimm” inside it.
Anything depicted on the Relationship map that is drawn within a geometric shape is called a “Node”. We have just identified our first Node, the Character Node. This Node will be connected to other Nodes of various types by arrows we call “Threads”. The pairing of a Node to a Thread is a “Relationship”.
1. NOTE THE STARTING RELATIONSHIP POINT TOTALS
Regardless of the scope or power level of the game, every character will have at least one relationship link to each of the following Nodes: A Person, a Place, a Thing, and an Idea. These four links form the Core Personal Relationships of the starting character. Each of these relationships begin with a Weak (+0) connection, but will be increased through the expense of available relationship points. If Relationship Points remain after spending at least one point in each of these four Relationships, a character may buy a new Relationship (of any sort except "Person"). New Relationships begin at "Weak +0" and may be increased normally, provided that the starting value of the relationship does not EXCEED the value of the Core Relationship of the same type.
A Character's starting Relationship Point total is determined by the starting rank of the character, and is modified by certain Edges and high Skills.
Novice characters begin play with 4 Relationship points; more experienced characters gain two additional points per rank above Novice.
Grimm starts play as a Novice character. He has 4 Relationship points to spend, and must spend at least one point in each type of relationship.
The following edges grant two additional Relationship Points:
Additionally, any Knowledge Skill at d10 provides an appropriate 1 point Relationship (Weak +0). A Knowledge Skill at d12 provides a 2 point (Normal +1) Relationship.
Klovis, however, enters the game later as a Veteran character with both the Connections and Command Edges. Additionally, he has a d10 Knowledge in the Hidden Trails of Shire Alamen. He begins play with eight (8) relationship points from his Veteran rank, an additional four (4) added points from Edges, and one (1) more point from his high Knowledge Skill.
Any points gained from Edges should reflect the nature of the Edge, but will add to the total number of points a character may spend on Relationships. Buying these Edges in the course of game play should warrant the same addition of new, or the expansion of existing, relationships as if they’d begun the game with the Edges. In short, taking these Edges allows a player to make immediate additions to the relationship map itself. However, like all relationships added after the commencement of the game, the character first must buy the relationship at Weak (+0), unlike with the starting Core Relationships.
2. IDENTIFY CORE RELATIONSHIPS, NOTING NATURE & INTENSITY
Since a character must have at least one of each type of relationship Node, go ahead and write down each one on a sheet. Make sure that the character’s Node remains at the center of the map. Once the relationships are identified, draw the appropriate shapes around what you’ve written to complete the Node.
[Relationship Node Types]
People (Circle): Relationships of this type are generally overtly social ones. They can be with an individual person, a group of people, or even an organization. This type of relationship is noted in the map by the use of a Circle.
Places (Square): Relationships of this type are connections to specified locations, known or unknown. This type of relationship is noted on the map by the use of a Square.
Things (Triangle): Relationships of this type are connections to physical objects. Such objects may or may not be in the possession of the character, or even be owned by them. Additionally, this type of relationship may refer to a general type or category of thing, and not just a specific object. This type of relationship is noted on the map by the use of a Triangle.
Ideas (Diamond): Relationships of this type denote connections to ideals, motivations, goals, and values. Usually, such ideas are a character’s own, though in some instances a character may develop a relationship to another’s set of Ideas over time. This type of relationship is the most abstract and is noted on the map by the use of a Diamond.
Grim notes his starting Core Relationships. For People he chooses his Boss; For Places he choose the Forest where he lives; for things he chooses Scrounged Objects, the means by which he makes money; and for Idea he chooses "Only Nature is Honest", a statement that helps define how he relates to the world.
[Nature of the Relationship]
Thread a connection between the Character Node and Relationship Node by drawing an arrow between them, starting from the character. Identify the nature of the Relationship by writing along the arrow how the character feels about what is named in the Node.
Grimm draws a thread to the Idea "Only Nature is Honest", and notes along the arrow "Hides behind this statement to avoid troubling social relationships".
[Intensity of the Relationship]
Intensity is what impact the relationship may have on a scene in terms of game effects. Once a scene, a character may opt to take a bonus to an applicable roll if the relationship is directly relevant to the events of the scene.
Weak Impact [+0]
Normal Impact [+1]
Strong Impact [+2]
Weak (+0) Relationships, you’ll notice, are quite common yet offer no bonus modifiers. This is because of the final benefit associated with Intensity, the potential to reclaim spent Bennies. At the end of an encounter, a character with an appropriate Relationship may roll a d6 and add their Intensity modifier. If the result is a success, they regain a single Benny. With a raise they may reclaim an additional Benny, but only if that Benny was spent. Thus, no new Bennies can be earned.
A GM may impose penalties to certain rolls if a character’s relationships are being used against him. A Benny may be spent to negate the impact of a relationship during a scene.
In the case of Grimm it is easy enough to assign intensity to his Relationships. Grimm has a "Normal (+1) relationship in each of them since he only has four points to spend. Later on during a game session, Grimm is tracking slavers who’ve entered his home forest. The player and the GM agree that it is appropriate for Grimm to take his bonus from his relationship with this Place and gain a bonus of 1 on his Tracking rolls since he knows very well what is or is not out of place. Even later, Grimm is attempting sell some trinkets at the Great Bazaar. Unfortunately, some antagonistic Knight trampled Grimm’s wares while riding over them. Grimm has a bad temper (Quirk) and the GM decides that Grimm must make a successful Spirit roll to avoid going into a rage. The GM also decides that because of Grimm’s relationship to his scrounged objects, his Spirit roll must be made at a penalty of 1.
The Intensity of a Relationship should be written in brackets alongside the text explaining Nature of the Relationship. Only Nodes connected to Characters or Active NPC’s (see below) need to have an Intensity Listed.
For a starting character, the first Node of each type denotes the character’s Core Relationships. No additional Relationship of a particular type may EXCEED that of the character’s Core Relationship of the same type. Thus, if a character initially defines a connection at +1 to a Person, then no other connection to a Person may exceed that same Intensity. Note that this is true only for starting characters. As campaigns progress, character relationships and their intensities will alter.
3. ADD RELATIONSHIPS FROM EDGES, HINDRANCES, & SKILLS:
Some Edges will add new relationships to a character. These Edges each grant two relationship points of intensity starting with Weak +0/0 and progressing up from there.
As mentioned earlier, these edges are:
If the points gained from an Edge applies to a large group or organization, then the GM may wish to require an increased point cost to improve the relationship.
Grimm is a Warden of Shire Corbie, defined as the Connections Edge. His player and the GM decide that Grimm may add "Wardens of Shire Corbie" as a People Relationship, at Normal (+1), or he may add the same at Weak (+0) and have either another relationship (likely a Place or another Person) also at Weak (+0).
Earning a Knowledge Skill ranked at d10 or higher grants an appropriate Place or Idea relationship at Weak (+0) Intensity. If the skill reaches a d12, then the Relationship may be stepped up to Normal (+1). No additional intensity is gained from improving a skill beyond a d12.
An arrow should be drawn from the character to the Place or Idea and the nature of the relationship defined normally.
Locke’s Knowledge (Ruins of Dragoneye City) is at a value of d10. He may add those Ruins as a new Place to which he is related at a Weak (+0) Intensity. He notes that he often makes money from selling trinkets he collects from inside.
Unlike Edges and Skills, Hindrances do not necessarily grant additional Relationship Points (though they can, see below). Instead, Hindrances are a roleplayer’s gold mine for expanding or clarifying a character's map of Relationships. Since many of these relationships are partially or even fully out of the character's control, a player should be mindful of a character’s disadvantages when defining initial and core relationships. Indeed, those choices often may be informed by the character’s own reactions to what Hindrances were selected.
Grimm, though he has a quirk that he is distrustful of authority, has taken his boss, Rudo Sackbridge, the Sheriff of Shire Corbie, as his core relationship to a Person. He notes the Nature of the relationship as “Respects… But also Resents”, illustrating the conflicted feelings he has about the man and his social position. Thus Grim resents Sheriff Sackbridge’s authority, though he also knows he can count on the Sheriff if he really needs him.
Some Hindrances are standout choices for illustrating relationships that are not always positive in nature. Hindrances can provide a lot of added flavor, especially if incorporating interconnections and influences (see below). The mostly likely candidates among Hindrances include:
- Code of Honor
The list above is by no means all inclusive. While some types of Hindrances are more obvious choices than others, it is important not to forget the impact of more abstract relationships. Ask how a Hindrance fits into one of the following dramatic oppositions: Man versus Man; Man versus Nature; Man versus Self. If that opposition is a key part of who the character is (or what the character must overcome), then it may be important enough to be mapped. A heroin addicted hacker desperately struggling to regain control of his life might have the Drug or his addiction listed on the map, but a chain smoker probably won’t.
Not all Hindrances should define or even have an impact upon a character’s mapped relationships. It is up to the GM and the players whether or not noting a relationship is warranted. Ideally, this decision should be based on its potential impact on the character, his outlook, demeanor, and likely actions. Thus, while two characters may have the same Hindrance, only one character may find it warrants inclusion on the Relationship Map. Similarly, Major Hindrances are more likely to be listed than minor ones; something casual is less likely to have serious personal impact.
Some relationships are just so important that they need to be included on the map, even if they offer no positive benefit to the character. Obviously, such a relationship is drawn from a character’s own Hindrances in such a way that they are more than simply helping to define or clarify another relationship – they are, in and of themselves – a relationship all their own.
If a player wishes, he may use one of his character’s Hindrances to define a new, negative relationship. In any scene where that relationship is involved, the character may not spend any of his own Bennies, except to save his own life.
Grimm’s player and the GM decided that Grimm has a custom Minor Hindrance listed as a Negative Reputation among the Regional Knighthood, and he suffers -4 on all Social Interactions with them. In terms of back-story, it was decided that appointing a Wildman like Grimm to the position of Warden was believed to be a direct attempt by the Sheriff to insult the local Knighthood. Grimm’s player writes “Knights of County Corbie” as a People Node, but notes it as a Negative Relationship. Now, in any Social Interactions with them, he may not spend a Benny to re-roll any failed trait rolls.
Where the relationship is a purely negative one, the line threading between a Character and a Node should be marked in RED (or in a similar manner to distinguish it from normal relationships).
4. DEFINE INTERCONNECTIONS
This is where things get interesting. Once the players have all made their initial maps, check for any overlapping relationships. If the players agree that they have common relationships then redraw the map so that the characters both have threads connecting them to the same node. If they do not agree, at least one of those characters should change the relationship so they differ.
Not all games will begin with the same levels of interconnectivity. A general guideline for how to link characters depends on how interconnected characters will be at the start of the game. We have four general types: Unconnected, Casually Familiar, Connected, and Heavily Connected. Each type determines how many of the characters know one another, share common Nodes, and may adjust or influence existing relationships.
Unconnected games assume that the characters have no common connections (aside from may have been decided from their initial relationships) and do not know one another before the start of the game. They gain no additional threads.
Casually Familiar games assume that characters are at least generally familiar with one another as a group, though not everyone will know everyone else. A Player in a Casually Familiar game may thread a relationship between their Character to any one other Node on another character’s map, including a Character Node itself. Any relationships defined with non-character Nodes begin at Weak (+0) Intensity.
Connected games assume that characters are, you guessed it, somewhat connected with one another and quite possibly may know each other. A Player in a Connected game may thread a relationship between his Character and any two other Nodes on a character’s map not his own, so long as at least one is a Character Node. Any relationships defined with non-character Nodes begin at Weak (+0) Intensity.
Heavily Connected games assume the characters have strong links to one another and almost assuredly know each other. A Player in a Heavily Connected game may thread a relationship between his Character and a number of Nodes on other players’ character maps equal to the total number of player characters. Every character must be linked to at least one other Character. Any relationships defined with non-character Nodes begin at Weak (+0) Intensity, but with the GM’s permission may be increased to as high as Normal (+1) by allocating an additional point to the thread.
[Linking to NPCs / Static and Active NPCs]
NPCs that stay where they are and do not do much aside from a narrow function are considered Static.
NPCs that may show up anywhere, have a broad array of abilities, and generally could become part of the action and drama should be considered Active NPCs.
If more than one character is linked to a Person, it’s quite likely that person may become an important NPC, and may also be noted as Active, even if they don’t move around a lot or have any significant power.
Active NPCs are noted by a second circle being drawn around the first one that denotes them as a People Node. Any Active NPC should be given at least one, if not more, threads connecting them to other non-Character nodes if they do not have them already.
5. DETERMINE INFLUENCES & MAKE ADJUSTMENTS
Role Playing Game campaigns run the full spectrum from the railroading of autocratic Game Masters, to the hostile, often combat laden games where Players and Game Masters are adversaries, to more cooperative, narrative campaigns where everyone works together to propel the story in exciting and interesting directions. No matter the style of play, a simple question can be asked: How much power do the PLAYERS have to control the events of the game? This inquiry is not speaking of character actions, or the choices of how to play the game, but instead seeks an answer in terms of direct input. Do the players help define the world, or is that the sole province of the Game Master?
In games where Player input has more meaning, it may be interesting to allow a certain number of Influences on the Relationship map. This allows Players to tweak the starting map and possibly establish interesting threads and relationships that may not otherwise of have existed. In general, most games should fall into one of three types, which determine how the map may be adjusted.
No changes are made to the relationship map.
Every player may make a single change to the relationship map, so long as the change follows certain guidelines. They may thread any existing Node to any other Node, provided the link does not connect to or from a Character Node. The player may then define the nature of the relationship as they desire.
Every player may make up to two changes to the relationship map, provided those changes follow certain guidelines. First, they may thread any existing non-Character Node to any other Node, except for their own Character. Second, they may create a new Node and link it to any Node that isn’t a Player Character. The player should define the nature of these relationships as they desire (if an Intensity is warranted, it should be considered Normal +1), unless threading to a character. In this case, the relationship should be listed as Weak (+0) and defined normally. Lastly, no Negative Relationships may be added unless all players agree to it.
Influences that affect Character Nodes should not reach the power of Edges or Hindrances, both of which require advancement earned from the acquisition of Experience Points.
6. MAKE FINAL ADJUSTMENTS
Once the Maps are just about complete, Players and Game Masters alike should check them to see if there are any relationships that SHOULD be present, but have not been threaded. For example, if “Holy Order of the Crow” exists as a Node, and “Carlos, Acolyte of the Holy Order of the Crow” also exists as a Node, then those two Nodes logically should have a thread drawn between them to define their relationship.