Authentic Blind

Today’s stuff is on NPC’s. Most sources will break down aspects of NPC’s into these categories, I thought it might be fun to try and work out some numerical stats to represent it, which can still be done.. but I’m feeling a bit lazy.

 

Appearance, Quirks, Personality, Ties, Resources, Skills, Goals, History

 

Keep in mind we are not listing everything about an NPC in these categories, only the most important ones, and ones most likely to interface with the PC’s. We can add things to the categories as an NPC’s importance in the game rises. A similar kind of system can be used for simply managing/fleshing out particular Factions of your game. A lot of this was inspired by Johnn Four’s ebook NPC Essentials, which I got from the Worldbuilding +3 Bundle of Holding. Note I said inspired by not borrowed from. There’s a lot of good stuff in the book, but he seems to assume that you should do things like roll stats for every NPC, and that NPC creation should be a lengthy process. We’re too lazy for all that ain’t we? Let’s try to distill down NPC’s into the essential aspects that leaves enough to build upon later.

 

About Appearance – Most people look unique, even people who look much alike have unique aspects to them. RPG’s typically take place in a science fiction or fantasy world, so feel free to play up some very strange appearances indeed. Appearance can also involve their state of dress, which can be informed by other aspects such as their ties and resources.

About Quirks – Quirks are little things your NPC’s do that perhaps they are the only person in the world who does that thing. Or it can be things an NPC is sensitive about, phobias they have, things they are obsessed with.

About Personality – Pick a few words to describe this character. Keep in mind that human beings are complex and contradictory creatures so feel free to mash together personality traits that clash. They also behave one way with some people and another way with others.

About Ties – Ties are affiliations your NPC has. Not all NPC’s have ties, but most do. (the friendly wandering ogre might have no family, but it’s more fun if he does if you ask me.) Decide the organizations or enterprises the NPC is involved with and at what level is he. If the NPC is the King of Dorkland then his tie is to the “Hegemony of Dorkland: the King:” The King of Dorkland might also know the local Assassins Guild. We need not describe this relationship in detail until it becomes necessary.

Or if he is a low level cat burglar in the Thieves Guild then we might put, “Dorkland Thieves Guild, Cat Burglar.” These ties also might inform what kinds of skills he has. Additionally the NPC probably has ties to people that are not within his direct influence, extended family members. the King of Dorkland might have the tie “Brother to the King of Nerdom”

About Resources – This plays directly off the Ties section. What resources does the NPC have at their disposal? This is meant to be abstract. The King doesn’t have 10,000000 gold pieces. He has “Wealth of the Kingdom.” He probably also has “The Knights of Dorkland”. Depending on the circumstances he might have other things like “Printing Press.” for mass producing propaganda, or if he has ties to the local assassination guild as we suggested before then we might say he has the resource “Paid Assassins.”

About Skills – Skills are what the character is good at OR knowledgable about. Even the local drunk has skills. His skills are probably “Alcoholism” and “Knows the streets”. Maybe before he was the local drunk he used to be a soldier, so he also has “Swordsmanship, Soldiering” as skills, even if they are not readily apparent

Our King of Dorkland has skills too, he might have been born into his position but he maintains it with something (probably.) the King’s skills might be “Navigating bureaucracy.” or “Throwing fancy parties.” It’s important to keep the skills an aspect of the NPC themselves, it’s not something they put into action because of their position in society, that’s Ties and Resources.

About Goals – Goals, everyones got them. The goal can be big or small. It can be from “Does their day to day to feed their family.” to “Wants to incite rebellion against the King.” There can be multiple ones as well. Keep the goals in line with the NPC’s status in the world and in the narrative. The local drunk probably doesn’t want to actually incite rebellion against the King, even if he may hate him. (Constantly saying how he hates/blames the King could be a quirk.) Goals are the same as when you are making your PC, they are actionable things that are within the realm of reason that can be accomplished. Fleshing out the NPC’s skills, resources and ties can help inform the goals.

About History – For goodness sake do not write a history to each and every NPC, not even to the King of Dorkland. Only bother writing a history for an NPC if the history of the NPC becomes important to the game as determined by the goals of the player characters, or if the players somehow express an interest. Do the player characters wants to overthrow the king? Then it might be important to establish his history, who his rivals are, who knows his secrets, who raised him. What his political track record is..etc. Don’t waste time writing stuff your players won’t care about and won’t have a chance to discover.

 

Using this Let’s make some NPC’s.

The King of Dorkland

Appearance: round, wrinkly, bald, light skin

Quirks: Eye twitch, paces when irritated, drinks at inappropriate times

Personality: mirthful, compassionate, forgiving, deceitful.

Ties: Patron of the Assassins Guild, King of the Hegemony of Dorkland, brother to the Queen of Nerdom

Resources: Wealth of the Kingdom, Knights of Dorkland, Paid Assassins, Mass propaganda

Skills: Bureaucracy, Throwing Parties, Painting  

Goals: Maintain stability by any means necessary, ensure the future of the dynasty.

History: Not important (yet.)

 

Beggar Bob from the Slums

Appearance: mangy, gaunt, heavily grayed long hair, peg-legged.

Quirks: spasms of manic yelling, a pet turtle.

Personality: lazy, stubborn, paranoid, sharing.

Ties: Other beggars of the Slums, other low-lifes, Priestess from the Temple of Mercy.

Resources: Secrets of the observed

Skills: Street knowledge, urban survival techniques, cooking, panhandling.

Goals: Get by to the next day as easy as possible, make an easy buck, get drunk.

History: Used to be a Soldier in the army til he lost his leg.

 

If you are like me you have a hard time coming up with names, or personality traits . So use random tables. Google them yourself!

Also I can’t stop listening to this album by Mgla, so check that out. Til next time..

 

 

Authentic Blind

Telling Tales and Making Myths

One of my first posts here was sharing a vignette that I wrote, I’ve repeated that a few more times for my other games and it seems to work well for setting up the mood and working people into the mindset of the game. Additionally I’m going to try something I got from the Friends at the Table podcast where the GM reads off what his agendas for the game are. In my Dungeon World games I’ve run I never considered actually reading them aloud, I just figured them to be little reminders of what you are there to do. For a fun exercise let’s take the framework of the Agenda in Dungeon World and adapt them to my DnD and Stars Without Number game,

Game Agenda

Your agenda makes up the things you aim to do at all times while GMing a game of Dungeon World:

  • Portray a fantastic world
  • Fill the characters’ lives with adventure
  • Play to find out what happens

 

This so far is actually pretty good for most fantasy games, but we’d want to tweak them a little bit so that they can apply to BOTH the GM and the PC’s as well as add unique flavor from the setting involved. Let’s start with my sandbox DnD campaign, which is being run in a homebrew Al-Qadimish setting.

Game Agenda (Eshiin Campaign)

  • Portray a vast, harsh and mysterious desert.
  • Fill the characters lives with adventure and discovery
  • Make the secrets ancient, and the wisdom forgotten.
  • Play to find out what happens.

Usually the last blurb is always “Play to Find out what happens.”, it suggests to the players that they aren’t playing a part in a story. They are playing a character who lives and acts in a world. The story is what we tell each other afterward. Let’s try Stars Without Number

 

Game Agenda (Reynes Omega Sector)

  • Portray a diverse and dangerous universe
  • Make the cultures familiar, but with twists.
  • Fill the characters lives with adventure
  • Make the hard choices, or have them made for you.
  • Play to find out what happens.

Along the same lines perhaps there are some more generic agendas to be used to help remind the GM of techniques to keep in mind to keep a smooth game running. Even if you don’t use these you should come up with your own as you discover what does and doesn’t work for you. I suspect these might be different on a game to game and group to group basis, as they are all different.

 

Game Master’s Toolbox

  • The Three-Clue Rules. For things critical to progress, include 3 potential clues or methods of getting it.
  • Consider failing forward, or success with a drawback instead of “You fail.” 
  • Involve all the characters, bounce back and forth between them to keep them on their toes.
  • When a player says they roll a skill or stat, stop and ask them “Great, but what is your character DOING to make that happen?
  • Start by reading your vignette or introduction scene, (a scene, not an essay.)
  • Read off your Game’s Agenda

Somewhat Related Stuff

As an aside you should be reading The Alexandrian in general, every bit of advice I spew here can be better explained in detail there. In this post he breaks down ways to use partial successes in games which only support binary outcomes in the Rules-As-Written.

 

Til next time..

 

 

 

Telling Tales and Making Myths

Slowin it down

Now’s the season where my schedule at work begins to get a bit crazy. So the posts will slow down a bit until the New Year, and I’m ideally moving after that.

It’s not going anywhere, don’t worry your pretty little head about that.

Til next time..

Slowin it down

We continue to chase the Sun

Last week for my DnD group I ran a marathon of a session, lasting about 6 hours. It was great fun and at the end of it I was extremely happy with the quality of the roleplay from my players, and while I fludged up the combat a little bit (I’m not the best at running 5e combat, especially on Roll20.) it still went really well. It’s inspired me to write about something I’ve seen in the bunch of games I’ve played in and ran myself, the Hammer and Nail Problem.

If you don’t know what I mean, here is an explanation from Wikipedia:

 The concept known as the law of the instrument, Maslow’s hammer, Gavel or a golden hammer[a] is an over-reliance on a familiar tool; as Abraham Maslow said in 1966, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.”[1].”

To see where this crops up, let’s look at the character sheet for DnD 5th Edition.

5E D&D Basic – Character Sheet (Form)

Notice anything? Most of the sheet is dedicated to things that are used in combat, with a section dedicated to skills and a space on the top-right for your Personality/Ideals/Bonds/Flaws. It is nice those things are there to keep players referencing character traits to help roleplay, but in my experience it rarely comes up. Stats come into play in combat, as do saves, HP, AC, the space to put your attacks. In fact most spells in the game are tailored towards a combat use.

“So what? Isn’t that what Dungeons and Dragons is about, hitting monsters with swords and spells?” you might say, and to that I say…you’re right. DnD is absolutely about those things. It works best when the game is mostly about dungeon crawling and using the pointy-end on monsters. But unless all your players are strict wargamers then the game shouldn’t JUST be about those things, and if you aren’t careful the game can drift in that direction. When it looks like all you have is hammer, everything starts to look like a nail. Compounding that is the fact that human beings are creatures that crave variety. Unless you are on the spectrum you probably don’t enjoy literally doing the same thing over and over and over and over and over and over again, it gets stale. Spice up your game and invite your players to think about what they can do besides clubbing things on the head each time. Here’s some tricks to doing so.

Let a player get away with a stupid plan that (probably) should not work

 

In my last session, a character wanted to use their animal handling skill to defuse some aggressive tigers. Now, combat had already started, but this person was driven by the fact that she didn’t want to harm cute kitties (I empathize.) So she rolled her animal handling skill, got a 23! In my version of the fiction this totally should not work, given that the tigers were raised and taught to be man-eaters. However in the spirit this post I met her in the middle. I allowed it to work but only for a certain amount of rounds, and the other tigers were still oncoming. On the other players turns they took cues from the first and decided to try their hand at it. Some of them failed, but now this combat has turned from using their swords to stab tigers, to surviving an onslaught of beasts in order to calm them down and avoid killing them if possible. It says something about the characters that they’d be willing to sustain major injury in order to solve the situation this way, it’d be much easier to Use Sword on Kitten. Alternatively if the players come up with an articulate a well thought out plan..let it work with minimal rolling. This concept is basically the tried and true GM-advice of saying “Yes, and..” but I prefer it phrased the other way if a player’s idea is a little too stupid. The “No…but.”. Then again if I feel like it will shake up the experience a little bit I might even let a hyper-stupid plan work.

Present situations that cannot be solved by using swords.

 

This one simply involves baking in some variety in your campaign and/or dungeon. The Five Room Dungeon method is a quick and easy way of doing this. Once you’ve done it a few times you will see that you can really do any combination of the item’s listed here and even expand on them. Avoid a Door Kickers scenario, where every room has bad guys sitting in it waiting for the party to open the door. That particular scenario can be fun, but not when it’s all you’re doing for 3+ hours.

One thing I particularly hate though is outright puzzles. Often times it plays out in the same way as it does in adventure games, “Guess exactly what the designer was thinking or you can’t progress”. So heed the advice in the Five Room Dungeon method, “puzzles” don’t mean to solve a riddle necessarily, or a block puzzle. It means any challenge that cannot be overcome with combat. Along the same lines as using encounters that can’t be overcome with combat necessarily the other thing is to have the goal of the party in a combat to not simply slay the opponent. Grab the MacGuffin and run out of the room before the overpowering threat kills you. Defend an NPC/PC as they try to complete a ritual against a horde of weaklings. Run through a gauntlet of bad guys to escape a crumbling tower. If you are playing with players who are slow to adapt to this kind of stuff then it’s best if you make liberal use of foreshadowing or telegraph what is going to happen. If they don’t…well I guess the rocks fall on their head.

Give the antagonists a sense of self-preservation.

 

Unless the antagonists the PC’s are struggling against are actually mindless (gelatinous cubes, golems, robots, most undead.) they probably will not fight to the absolute bitter end and will try to plead with the party, run away,  pay them off, beg forgiveness or opt for being taken prisoner as opposed to an immediate death sentence. This might not work if the party has already killed multiple people who have tried this tactic on them. Then it’s reasonable to say that their bloody reputation has caused almost every enemy they come across to fight to the death because they know they won’t be spared. Hopefully it never gets to that point.

Not only does this make the conclusions of combat more exciting due to unpredictability, it also adds some dimensions to the bad guys. He might be the leader of the cultists who has gone around kidnapping people and sacrificing them..but he’s still rational. He would prefer imprisonment and the chance of escape rather than the surefire death should he fight til the bitter end.

The TL;DR version

 

  • If the plan is stupid but might have some remote chance of success, let them try it.
  • If the plan is sound and well articulated, let them try it with minimal rolling.
  • Present scenarios and threats that can’t be solved with swords
  • Puzzles suck.
  • Help the party establish goals that might include not simply killing stuff. Short or long term.
  • Give combat itself alternative “win” conditions other than dropping Baddies to 0 HP.
  • Make Antagonists somewhat intelligent or at least self-preserving, unless fictionally it makes sense for them not to be.

Til next time..

 

We continue to chase the Sun