Saturday, October 17, 2015

Suiting Up

On more than one occasion I've gone into a game only to discover that there are no NPC's. Or rather there ARE, but only on paper.
Look. I get that running a game is an activity that is more than capable of eating up every single minute of your life. I know for a fact that on those occasions when I've run a chat game or run a larp, on those rare occasions when I have an actual opportunity to PLAY, i'm always thinking in the back of my headmeats, "What GM stuff should I be doing right now."
Having said that, I think it is imperative that you give some serious thought to suiting up in one of your NPC's about once or twice and week and taking them out for a spin.
Sure, it's alright to make appointments with various PC's and talk to them one on one, but this hardly serves more than a couple of players at a time. Have someone walk into a public gathering unannounced and you have a chance to make an impression on many players at the same time.
Also: And this is fucking important, so pay close attention. YOUR POWER NPC'S DO NOT EXIST TO MAKE YOUR PLAYERS MISERABLE. Not even in Vampire!
Your NPC's ought to come in all manner of flavors. Too often, on those occasions when an NPC turns up somewhere, they are invariably some kind of Douchebag who seems to live only to lord it over the PC's
This is wrong.
In fact, it's SO wrong that it is one of my major turn-offs. If it seems like an NPC wanders in and can mop the floor with any ten PC's that's one thing. But if it also seems that every single time I encounter an NPC, that not only can they mop the floor with me, but they seem to be parsing every word I speak for any offense they could take, reasonable or otherwise.
Fuck that shit. I've dated that girl already.
Look NPC's. Even old, spooky, and possibly entirely alien NPC's still were human beings once. And most of them didn't get to whatever positions of power they possess within your game by being entirely devoid of people skills. This means even if they have a soul that is as barren as a freshly cleaned deep freeze, they may still realize that young neonates are a finite resource and worth fighting over and poaching. So, on go the party manners and maybe the occasional strained smile. It's good practice, you know?
Cranky old NPC's aren't necessarily crazy. They aren't necessarily rude and they may have uses for younger kindred. Maybe even a desire to take one, (The least stupid one they can find) and mentor them. Granted, this may not be a bed of roses for the Menteeā€¦But it beats a sharp stick in the eye.
You may even have NPC's interact with PC's just because they like it. Or maybe because they are lonely or any number of reason that don't involve intimidation or violence.
You know, even a sheriff or a hound could be like, "Sorry, I'm not going to be very chummy or make friends. I may have to come round and kill you some night. Nothing personal dude."
And you know what, CROWD scenes, Like a formal court, are also not entirely useful for allowing your characters to interact with your NPC's. Odds are good, that your players want some time to interact with your NPC's but they can't because you're playing a dozen of them at once, and they ALL want a piece of someone. On more than one occasion, I've been told, "We'll discuss this in more detail another night." Only to never have that night come.
Look, your NPC's are the best way for your players to come into contact with the history and the texture of your setting. You have to make them available for the players to bounce off of. AND you have to make into something your player WANT to bounce off of, instead of running as soon as they turn up.
Many times, the problem is that NPC's are only dots on a page and maybe a position at court, maybe a little flavor text and that's it. This is not the way that an NPC needs to be written.
A worthwhile NPC is written like a character in a soap opera, or maybe, more applicably, a character in a wrestling saga. They should have the following:
* Secrets (Preferably a few. And these secrets should always come out at some point. Plan on them doing so.
*Grudges (Preferably a few. Some small and petty. Others large and festering.)
* Liaisons (Some Daeva are just not happy unless they've slept with over half of the Court. Some Nosferatu pine and yearn for love they know they cannot have. Sex is ALWAYS going to play a role in politics. It may help a player understand some of the grudge between two NPC's if they come to discover that they were once paramours.)
*Tragedies (No matter who you are, no matter what you've done. No matter how many heinous sins you've committed, you still will have some secret hurt that you carry with you. NPC's are no different. We all deal with grief differently too. Some will respond to a kind word with tears while others will respond with fists. But a personal tragedy is the one thing we must always respond to. No matter what. Some melt down. Some dress up like a bat and beat the shit out of themed criminals. YMMV.
* Interests (Ya, know running a city is a taxing affair. So maybe your prince likes building ships in bottles, or animal vivisection, or golf. In any case, a player wanting to curry favor might give a gift and receive an audience. That's just smart play. And who knows, if the prince likes it, he may decide he likes the cut of your jib.This of course, can be a double edged sword.)
*Rumors (You know, like the Fleetwood Mac album. Not all of the information floating around about the NPC's needs to be true. Lies, smears, disinformation, and garbled communications combine to make a slurry of swirling data that has little or no connection to the truth. Some rumors will make the target laugh to even hear it bandied about. Others will send them into a lathering wall-punching hissy fit.)
* An Ambition ( In wrestling, one guy has the belt, other guys want the belt or want to prevent someone they HATE from getting the belt. All plots flow from here. Even your most powerful NPC's may still have dreams and visions yet unrealized. Or maybe they've bargained their souls for 50 years of peace and now the bill is coming due and all they want is to wiggle out from under the Belt Sander of Destiny. In any case, your NPC's need some place to GO.
And hey, maybe their character arc is to flame out in some fashion, go crazy, seek golconda, ascend into the heavens, join up with the infernalistsā€¦At least if they do so, they will leave behind a power vacuum that players can step into. Not every thing in these games has to be acquired by violence.


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