Relationship Maps

What's a Relationship Map?

Relationship Maps (R-maps) are graphical representations of the social dependencies in a given story - how the player characters and non-player characters all relate to each other. Who's in alliance? Who are enemies? Where are the love triangles? This usually takes the form of a simple schematic, with names connected by labeled lines, but the map can be as detailed and elaborate as its creators desire. It's a handy tool for visualizing complex networks of relationships, and extremely useful for indicating possible dynamic responses to the events of the game.

Here's some other ways R-Maps can possibly make gaming more interesting:

  • Put it in the middle of the table for everyone to reference. This makes the social landscape an active element of play. Write it in pencil, so changes can be made in game. This will also help visually-oriented player's remember character's names or what they do.
  • It's great way for a GM to introduce several NPCs at once, such as right at the beginning of a series, presenting 10 or more major antagonists, protagonists or other important characters without making the information overwhelming.
  • Letting the players see changes in the R-Map let's them know that they are having a real influence on the setting.

Appearance in RPGs

Since the 1990s, Japanese RPGs (Tokyo NOVA, Blade of Arcana) have used R-maps to show the relationships between player-characters (usually only the PCs, the "adventuring party"). They were also used in some Vampire the Masquerade supplements, like Chicago By Night, where they showed how the NPCs (and only the NPCs) in the setting background treated and worked with each other.

They later appeared in The Sorcerer's Soul by Ron Edwards: In this game, the original construction of a relationship map included only characters who could be connected through family ties or sexual relationships. This produced a very specific sort of set of characters and their interrelationships, tending towards the incestuous (figuratively and literally) and nepotistic.

Later formulations of the "R-map" have broadened its use to include any characters who are important to the situation presented to the characters. The Town Creation rules in Dogs in the Vineyard produces something very similar to a Relationship Map without referring to it as such. NPCs implicated in the hierarchy of sin are listed off, and applied to Proto-NPC stats through the course of play. Since the hierarchy of sin is a causal progression of the situation, the involved NPCs are related through the situation that the Dogs confront.

Another game with relationship maps is Weapons of the Gods. The GM is expected to craft a social campaign by writing up major NPCs, randomly rolling a series dice to determine how all the PCs and NPCs relate to each other, then writing those results into a relationship map. This tends to create interesting social settings that are ripe for exploration.

Relationship maps need not be restricted to characters, either. Full Light, Full Steam offers a procedure called Engineering the Situation in which NPCs, Sets, and Props are networked together to form a situation.



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