Cliques as Character Creation

If you’re running a game where personal identity struggles are a key part of the characters’ world, like high school (or any school), you’ve got a fantastic opportunity to add depth to character relationships by looking at them through the lens of cliques. High school cliques are about social status, and social status is something that others impart onto you–though you can influence it with your actions.

You see this technique expertly used in Best Friends character creation, where character creation involves writing down everyone else’s name on your character sheet, in spaces like:

  • I hate _____ because she’s smarter than me.
  • I hate _____ because she’s cooler than me.
  • I hate _____ because she’s prettier than me.

And so on. Then your stats are based on everyone else at the table; if three people say they hate you because you’re smarter than they are, you have Smart at 3.

I did this a bit with the Bad Man scenario for Don’t Rest Your Head (a scenario for first graders in the Mad City), where one of the questions involves asking what others think of you, whether you’re the class clown, teacher’s pet, whatever. Unlike in Best Friends, though, this doesn’t convey stats to your character, just your role in the group dynamic.

This gets into issues of player agency, as others are defining bits about your character, but it’s pretty well representative of life in cliques — others define your role for you. And it’s a hallmark in young adult stories, about overcoming the role others place you in. If you’re looking to experiment with cliquish character dynamics, keep in mind that they aren’t typically chosen, that those on top struggle to stay on top often by bringing others down, that sycophants define themselves by those they support, etc. Those benefitting from cliques do so to reinforce a personal narrative. Those suffering from cliques loathe the personal narrative being told.

– Ryan

P.S. I can’t remember if Monsterhearts has anything like this. It feels like a perfect fit.