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Author Topic: Renouncing the agenda-driven NPC  (Read 3850 times)
johnzo
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« on: May 11, 2005, 06:01:08 PM »

From http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=15356">this thread:

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I've encountered this very situation with many instances of Sorcerer and HeroQuest, in which playing an agenda-driven NPC has resulted in very clear cues from players that they feel the hand of The Force ... even when my intention was only to add Color to their choice.


Like the subject says, as a GM, I've been lately renouncing the agenda-driven NPC.  My reasons go deeper than Ron's, though.  I'm not only concerned with the perception that my NPC's are sheepdogging the players, but I'm also concerned that they might overshadow the players.  

When I started out GMing, my NPC's would have epic stories all their own, and they were often the driving force behind games.  My guys spoke to me constantly during the week between play sessions, laying grand schemes and inventing tortures for those pesky PC's.  Years later, I can remember many of them better than I can my PC's of that era.  Having NPC's like that allowed me to indulge in "my guy" mode while still having overall control of the game.  Sometimes it worked okay, if I used my illusion well enough.  Sometimes it didn't--the potential for abuses are pretty obvious.  After a couple dysfunctional games, I decided to quit cold turkey, to leave the playing to the players, and to only focus on NPC's motivations and agendas when the story draws a really sharp bead on them.

So, onto my question:  How do people reconcile "my guy" mode with gamemastering?  Are they fundamentally incompatible?  I can see that "my guy" play on the GM's behalf might be desirable in a purely simulationist game, where it's a world-breaker if everyone isn't operating at maximum capacity, but what about other play styles?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: May 11, 2005, 06:08:23 PM »

An NPC whose agenda is fulfilled by the NPC taking action... that's a problem.  It makes someone other than the players the center of attention.

An NPC whose agenda can only be fulfilled by convincing the PCs of something... that's an opportunity.  It accentuates the degree to which the world revolves around the choices of the players.

Dogs in the Vineyard will teach you this straight up, right out the gate.  All you have to do to run a game in DitV is to make three or more NPCs who have a strong agenda of what they want the Dogs to do.  Make those agendas contradictory.  Make each and every one of them justified in the eyes of the NPC holding them.  Then stand back and watch as the players are forced, without any possibility of recourse or guidance, to judge people.
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Domhnall
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« Reply #2 on: May 11, 2005, 10:17:20 PM »

This issue depends on the style of play.  For my group, NPCs with agendas of the own fulfilled on their own accord is not a problem.  We strive for a “real world” feeling, where the actions of NPCs only hinge on the PCs when it is logical to do so.  Always forcing the connection with NPC agenda to PC volition would generate a feeling of artificiality for us.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: May 11, 2005, 11:07:59 PM »

NPC's are a different expression of directorial control. While a GM can place a racing river in front of the players, those players can often navigate this conceptually static obstacle. The rivers waters don't change to lava if the players make a raft.

However, NPC's are typically accepted as being very changable. The river was an obstacle rather than force technique because it was static rather than changable. NPC's can change at will, which can easily forfil whats needed for a force technique.

Just thinking on this, it'd be interesting to concentrate on the empowering the players to use force techniques on NPC's. This would require a certain amount of player empowerment in regards to resources "My PC would have picked up some dynamite in town...I'll just write off the cash and here we go" and allow similar retroactive changes.
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Troy_Costisick
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« Reply #4 on: May 12, 2005, 06:02:48 AM »

Heya,

Quote
Just thinking on this, it'd be interesting to concentrate on the empowering the players to use force techniques on NPC's. This would require a certain amount of player empowerment in regards to resources "My PC would have picked up some dynamite in town...I'll just write off the cash and here we go" and allow similar retroactive changes.


Perhaps using some kind of meta-game currency, players could alter facets of the SIS (including NPCs) to better suit their needs/agendas.  Probably, some games allow this already.  Code of Unaris, maybe?

Peace,

-Troy
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Danny_K
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« Reply #5 on: May 12, 2005, 07:43:27 AM »

I've found it helpful to make any important recurring NPC's to be very flawed and to have strong, even exaggerated personalities.  That helps both decrease the temptation to have fun gaming vicariously through your NPC's, and helps keep the focus on the PC's.  

If it's not too pretentious to say this, I try to take some inspiration from Shakespeare: his minor characters are beautifully painted and have their own goals, but none of them is half as alive as the main characters. I'm thinking Rosencrantz and Guildenstern here, or Mercutio.  

Also like Shakespeare, I try to kill them off before they take over the scene.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #6 on: May 12, 2005, 11:28:15 AM »

The thought that occurs to me is to question my role as Game Master. As a GM most RPG rules give me GREAT POWERS!!! but also saddle me with incredible responsibilities.

Epic NPCs an kill the players when ever they like. GM acn make up new hordes to throw at them till this happen. But it is not fair. It's like shooting fish in a barrel. It ignores the GMs responsibility as a host.

Before the game begins, the host of the event needs to provide a pleasant environment to play in. A greedy host who hogs the chips and won't share the soda is not being a good host. Making "My guy" beat the players is another version of this.

I'm not saying that the GM can't make games hard for the players. Some players like being beat up but at the back of the GMs mind should be a desire for the players to succeed. The best games I've been in have had us win on one level but hook us with a solid loss on another level. We got the treasure but learned our boss was the bad guy that we now can't touch. Argh! This leads to new stories that eventually lead back to that hook and allow us to resolve it. I love those GMs for giving me a great story to remember the rest of my life and for making a great evenings play. I don't have the same memories of games where the GM tortured my guys and never let us have any victory.

So to quote Ron "It's social contract."

Chris Engle
Hamster Press
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: May 12, 2005, 03:41:07 PM »

Hi Troy,

Yes, but even more directly influencing would be to reward the GM when his NPC's have force applied to them. Most often participationism/illusionism is where the players have learnt to be 'good players', ie they accept they are just there to add color. Here it'll reward and teach the GM to take on that role.

Of course at this time someone says you can't mechanically reward the GM, he has everything he wants. Which makes me go mad face, since the forge knows you don't have to have a combat system in a game. And in just the same way, the game doesn't have to give the GM everything. Keep something from him and then use it as a carrot.

Something I worked up from discussions on RPG.net was to give the GM scene framing points. A limmited number of points to frame the PC's in whatever horrid scene he likes, without the usual restrictions to such a scene (like the players having to walk into it...instead the GM just says they did). Normally I'd hate to accept this in a social contract, but if I know the GM can only do it a limited number of times and can't continually control me with it, it's cool. It even becomes a challenge "hey, you spent a point on that scene, and I got out alive! Yay for me!". A bit gamist in this example, but I think the technique is actually CA neutral.


Heya Chris,
Quote
I don't have the same memories of games where the GM tortured my guys and never let us have any victory.

Emphasis mine.

I think there may even be a stage after that, which doesn't involve the GM doesn't letting the players win. After all, the GM can still control players actions by defining the winning condition exactly enough that they would have to do just as he wishes, to win. The GM letting the players have victory sometimes sounds more like illusionism.
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Philosopher Gamer
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johnzo
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« Reply #8 on: May 12, 2005, 04:05:44 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
An NPC whose agenda is fulfilled by the NPC taking action... that's a problem.  It makes someone other than the players the center of attention.

An NPC whose agenda can only be fulfilled by convincing the PCs of something... that's an opportunity.  It accentuates the degree to which the world revolves around the choices of the players.

Dogs in the Vineyard will teach you this straight up, right out the gate.


This is the awesomist of insights, both obvious and (to me) elusive.  Thanks, Tony.  guess I gotta get me some Dogs.

zo.
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