Initiative! Teams

I like the "niche protection" ideas of games like Old School Hack and Leverage, where each player fills a clearly-defined role on the team and the roles are all designed so that each hero has abilities that only they can use. Everyone gets their share of "spotlight time," which is a great thing at any table.

But a lot of the games I run don't have those sorts of ready-made niches that you can easily carve out. DINO-PIRATES OF NINJA ISLAND, for example, ends up handling parties made entirely of swashbucklers competing to out-buckle each other's swashes. That's kind of part of the fun.

And niche protection is different from relationships, and relationships are much more interesting to me than niches. I want a game where the relationships between party members can be as important as the skills and abilities of the individuals who make up the party. I found Apocalypse World really interesting this way, and successful at generating interesting and playable relationships between PCs.

Initiative! encourages strong relationships between characters, and using those in play, and investing in them as much as you would your character's abilities. Indeed, those relationships can actually BE a character's abilities. In Initiative! those relationships are called Connections.


Connections are the second kind of Tag in Initiative! -- the fundamental characteristics that you use to flesh out your character. We talked last time about Stunts, but Connections are a little more complicated. When you create a Connection, you benefit at least TWO characters (you and the character you're connected to), so you each get a benefit at a lower cost than if you'd each invested the same in your own characters. Further investment in that Connection is likewise cost-effective.

Making Connections

In addition to the usual character sheet most role-playing games require, Initiative! also has a GROUP sheet, where all the Connections are noted. Every Connection has three elements: a quick one-line description, a Rank and a list of the characters connected.

The description is how you decide when a Connection is relevant. Stunts have exactly the same thing. So for example, you can create a Connection with another character and call it "To The Emperor!" -- perhaps thinking this is a toast you and the other character always use as a signal between you. So any time that toast (or any other implication of the description) comes into play, you can apply the Connection.

Playing Connections

Applying the Connection allows you to add the bonus associated with the Connection's Rank to your roll. Higher Ranks mean higher bonuses, so it's worthwhile to spend some energy building up your Connections. Connections are even more potent when used to aid one of the connected character's rolls. When you use a Connection that way, its Rank is increased by one for that roll.

All the connected characters share the Connection's Rank, so if any one of you increases it, that's an increase you all get to share in. Being a good team player is its own reward!

There are some limits to all this goodness. A Connection is tied to a Trait, and you can only have one Connection per Trait. In addition, you can only have one Connection per team member. Finally, a single Connection can only connect a maximum of three characters.

The goal is a network of Connections that draw all the group members together, and encourage coordinated action. Of course this needs lots of playtesting, so it will probably undergo lots of change, but I'm hoping the basic idea will get a lot of use in play.

Are there other games with great relationship-building mechanics?