Beyond the Wall: More Ideas About Relationships

Here’s a quick update rules whatever on the Relationships idea from this post. Previously I discussed how random village NPCs could become entabgled in PCs’ lives; however the playbooks already provide several ties to significant NPCs, so the mechanics that follow assume each PC will have a handful of NPCs (say, three) who will be their significant interactions.

The base markers in OSR games are the six attributes, so I’m going to use those rather than . During the Adventure portion these function as you would expect — defaults for skill checks, etc. But during the Community phase, these form the basis for Relationships.

Relationships work like this:

  • Each one is tied to a stat, and that’s the basis for the relationship between PC and NPC. See below.
  • It doesn’t matter if that stat is high or low — there’s no advantage, it just indicates whether the character has the initiative in that relationship. If you have a relationship based on Strength and it’s low, it means the person you have a relationship with is stronger than you in some way — and even that can be taken to be a positive or negative relationship.
  • While most (if not all) relationships can be viewed positively, it would be interesting for the PCs to have at least one negative relationship.
  • From the playbooks several relationships are generated (mentors, other teenagers, etc.). At the time they’re generated you could look at the stat gains and pick one if inspiration doesn’t strike.
  • At the start of a game the PCs will be in the Village (or other community) and will be interacting with the villagers. Some or all of the PCs may have a scene with an NPC of their choice. Depending on the number of players and how often they return to the village you may only choose half the players this week and the other half next week, or you may run through one scene each depending on how much time you have.
  • Relationships mostly just happen in the village — out in the wilderness should an NPC be encountered the sense of community should override any personal animosity or drama. That doesn’t stop them being swept up into the adventure, of course.

Relationship Types

Here are some relationship types to work on:

STR based

  • physical confrontation / rivalry
  • caregiving or protection
  • idolising
  • abuse

INT based

  • shared ideology
  • something to teach
  • a problem to solve

WIS based

  • shared experience
  • shared belief
  • trust
  • mentoring

DEX based

  • a technical skill
  • getting into trouble together

CON based

  • a dangerous experience
  • working together
  • a sickness (caregiving, etc.)

CHA based

  • friendship
  • love or attraction
  • political rivalry

Note that at least one of those above (abuse) is very negative and might not set the right tone. Suggest you have a lines and veils discussion to check anything you might want to veto or at least not explore in detail.

The numbers can provide 2 things:

  • the stat bonus can be used to modify the roll to see if the encounter is negative or positive (that’s assuming you don’t just roleplay through it)
  • for each relationship roll a d20 against your stat. If you roll equal or higher then you’re subordinate in that relationship; if you’re lower, you’re superior. Or you could just roll different dice (e.g. 2d10 or 3d6), or pick which makes sense for your character.

Being subordinate in a protecting role means you’re being protected (even if you don’t feel you need it), and being superior means you have an obligation to protect. Work with those in the scenes.

Scenes and Relationship Arcs

The purpose of the relationship is to provide an arc that runs alongside the adventures, much the way that characters in a TV series will both participate in the adventure plot and relationship-based sub-plots. And the reason we target specific NPCs is to make them recurrant characters in our little drama.

Here’s how the relationship arc works:

  1. At the start of the game, work out who is getting a scene (if it’s everyone, just go around the table)
  2. The GM picks a NPC linked to a character, thinks of something they want from the PC (use the relationship type to direct what they want) and runs the PC through the scene. What they want can be pretty loosely defined — it could be help, obedience, affirmation of friendship. It could put the PC in an awkward situation, force an obligation on them, etc.
  3. Whatever the interaction, the outcome should be The Promise. This is a thing that should be fulfilled in the near future, otherwise it’s broken. If Promises are kept, then the relationship is kept positive (or even strengthened). But if the Promise is broken, the relationship should suffer.

E.g. at the start of the adventure, one character’s girlfriend indicates she wants them to dress up at the May Ball (that’s the Promise). If they keep it their relationship with their sweetheart doesn’t change, but if they break their promise perhaps she steps out with another? There are all kinds of reasons the character may not want to attend — humiliation, they’re investigating something and cannot be distracted, they’re off exploring, etc.

You’d think that an adventurer’s relations would cut them some slack when they’re out saving the village from external threats, but it doesn’t work like that — if the Promise is broken for whatever reason, the relationship should suffer.

Keeping Track of the Relationships

If you want to apply dice to the system, keep a relationship track for each NPC. At the start it should be equal to the stat it’s based on (so probably around +1). If there’s something that causes the relationship to deteriorate (such as a broken promise) then drop it down by 1; if something unusual happens to strengthen it (should be more than just keeping a fairly small promise) it can go up.

If the relationship goes negative, then the interactions should be negative.

You could roll dice against these numbers if you wanted, e.g. Apocalypse World style:

When you test your friendship, roll +friends.

  • On a 10+, they give you a gift or boon that can help your adventure (GM decides)  On a 7-9, they give you something for a Promise  On a 6 or less, they force you to Promise something; if you break it, decrease +friends by one.*  That probably needs a bit more work. I probably won’t bother with any “moves” or other mechanics, and just see how the system works freeform.

Number of Relationships

I would say, not more than four relationships including the PCs relationship with another PC (as developed in their Ordeal during the playbook generation). But this is just a guess. More will lead to more variety but NPCs showing up less often.

You should be able to add new relationships with villagers, external characters and even enemies (or Threats). If you do that, you have a choice

  • add the new relationship, job done
  • add the relationship and retire the old relationship somehow

The latter could be more interesting from a community dynamic. It could also be dramatic (i.e. a death or exile).


Incidentally the goal here is not to be like Hillfolk, though it could be. Sure, these drama scenes should be freeform and result in a relationship imbalance but mostly they’re between PC and NPC, so they create a relationship arc.