How to Create Party Cohesion and Group Immersion

Or… Investing in Your Players So That They Invest in the Story

One of the biggest keys to understand playing a tabletop roleplaying game and specifically, the Cypher System, is the fact that it’s a collaboration between players and GM. In a previous post we discussed Character Arcs and how to use them to increase how you roleplay. In this post I’m going to discuss how a tool you can use to help you to create a cohesive group of players, and then discuss immersion.

Party Cohesion

Your Best Game Ever by Monte Cook talks about the concept of Player Character Bonds, which are pre-conceived, intentional story links between Player Characters. This is one way to create cohesion among Player Characters with buy-in from each player.

“Working with the GM, players can choose any bond they wish. PC bonds should be developed in character creation, but with each respective player involved. Obviously, players should agree on their characters’ relationships with one another. Character bonds assume that the PCs have known each other since well before the first session. Most bonds are intended for two characters, but most befit a group of more. Three or more characters could be linked with the Close Friends bond, for example. Most characters should have only one PC bond to start the game. It’s possible to develop a bond later in the narrative using the Develop a Bond character arc.”

Your Best Game Ever, page 86

Every bond offers a benefit and a drawback, but that’s part of the charm of working together. Players and player characters along with the GM should be focused on working and having fun together. A group that has fun together will stay together more than a group that becomes a chore for people to play in. Party cohesion by design also helps with maintaining a forward movement in a campaign. 

There will come times where issues rear their heads while you are gaming together. Sometimes someone’s character will do something somebody else doesn’t like. When that happens, it’s important to clearly communicate. Not just what they did and that you didn’t like it, but also why you didn’t like it. Sometimes people do things in the heat of the moment without thinking about it. “Hey, you attacked this really important NPC for no apparent reason… why did you attack them?” Clear communication is always important.

Creating Immersion

Creating Immersion with props and handouts can be difficult, particularly on a Virtual Tabletop, however it can be done to a certain extent. Handouts can be created and uploaded digitally on Roll20 to give your players something to read or look at. Images of NPCs or monsters can give them visual cues. Maps help them remember where they are, where they’ve been, and what they’re doing. Many VTT’s allow you to create audio playlists which can be music (which I don’t personally recommend) or ambient sounds (which can be excellent to set a mood as long as the volume level is kept under control). Whispers, or direct messages between the GM and the player can give the illusion that they’re by themselves when they’re separate from the party, gathering information for example.

If you are playing in person, you have a much wider range of choices. There are other props, many of which I can remember from our D&D days. The faded letters written with a fountain pen, or printed on a printer with aged parchment, then water glasses dripped on them to give that blotched look. Fancy invitations, and bottles filled with red or green liquid with wax seals (don’t actually drink the liquid, unless it’s deemed safe) or if you’re a big LARPer full costume. One of the recent excellent examples of this is the included handout packet (and supplementary purchasable one) from Invisible Sun. Immersion is about letting the story take you, letting your mind believe, for a little while anyway, that you are inside the world of the story. There’s a reason why so many videos, games and tv shows focus so much on the little details, because if they don’t, then it’s lost. 

Recently (or… within the past year or so), several memes have gone around about the Game of Thrones scene in the final season where you see a Starbucks cup in front of Daenerys Targaryen. Many television shows and movies have had things, seemingly little things, cause people to come back to reality as their brain questions – the story is no longer believable. Having things out of place in a game setting, unless it’s also part of the setting means that immersion gets broken. Make sure, no matter what game you’re playing, you take the time to think of what the setting is, the time period and what is happening both to the players and around them. This is just as important for the players as the GMs as players can and do break the immersion for other players.

Your session zero should include plans to build in both party cohesion and immersion in the story, by getting everyone at the table to agree on expectations and buy in to the basic premises of the game. The more you take the time to do so up front, the smoother your storytelling will go in-game, and the more vivid and memorable your sessions and stories will be. I hope this information was helpful and that you enjoyed it. Happy gaming!

  • Joann Walles

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