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[Nine Worlds] Creating NPCs (for real)

Started by Alan, May 05, 2007, 09:28:54 AM

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Hi, I have the pdf version of Nine Worlds and I have the same problem as Stefan. I got real excited to see his thread, then it fizzled without an answer. Can anyone give me advice on how to set NPC Power, Force, and Urge levels in Nine Worlds?

- Alan

Quote from: Stefan / 1of3 on February 22, 2007, 07:29:09 PM
I'm thinking about running a game in the Nine Worlds. It's just... I have no idea about how much Power, how much Force and how many points for Urges an NPC should receive. There is no guideline in the book neither in a point distribution type of manner (Distribute x points!) nor in the form of game world physics (Chaos x means...).
- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Eero Tuovinen

Did you read the original thread? Might or might not be helpful.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.

Matt Snyder

Hello! This is an excellent question, and picking up on this ability is very helpful to running a tight game of Nine Worlds.

The thread that Eero linked to should be very, very helpful. My reply to Alexander remains the best advice I have on the subject. I'll try to recap here:

Ok, now on to the guts of your question.


Archons, especially starting Archons (which is to say the other players!) will usually draw around 6 cards from their Arete OR their Hubris.
Therefore, I typically set Power ratings close to that number. If I think the opposition isn't especialy powerful, I give them a 5 (for example, a group of Mercury Customs Agents). If I think the opposition is pretty tough, I give them a 6 or a 7 (for example, a rival Archon or maybe an Atlantean captain). Bigger characters -- monsters, gods, very tough mortals or groups, get bigger numbers like 8 and higher.

The preceding paragraph is specific advice most appropriate to starting characters/Archons. The quick and easy lesson here is that setting supporting characters' Power ratings should come close to the highest Virtue rating the players are using, plus or minus a point or two depending on how challenging you want to make the Supporing Character.

Now, in addition to that starting number of 6 cards, players should also be drawing Muses. My experience is that, particularly for starting Archons, players will draw from about two different Muses and pull around 4 or 5 additional cards.

To counter, I try to give supporting characters I control at least one relevant Muse with a rating of 3. And, fairly frequently, I add to that another relevant Muse of rating 2. Creating these relevant Muses, particularly "on the fly" during the game can require some thinking. Sometimes it stalls the game for a minute or two. It is something that you can get better at, I've found. You'll start to see really fun and nasty developments to turn into Muses, often set in direct opposition to the players' Muse goals. The overall story starts to come alive, and you and the players will start to holler out ideas to make things more fun. That has been my experience repeatedly when playing. It's one of the most fun parts of the game for me.


Now, setting Urge ratings gets a little more tricky. Even supporting characters with low Power can sneak in a big win so long as they have at least one really good Urge rating. Really good is usually 4 or higher (although this can change later in the game when the players' Archons get tougher and tougher).

Starting Archons frequently have Urge ratings around 2 or 3. So, most supporting characters will have similar values. Again, it all depends on how challenging the opposition is meant to be. For example, here would be an average, not-very-tough challenge (maybe the Mercury Customs Officials again):

Chaos: 2
Cosmos: 3
Metamorphosis: 3
Stasis: 2

But, more significant challenges start to ramp up those Urge values. A good way to set up a tougher challenge is to give a supporting character or maybe even two exceptional Urge scores. This means they'll be a tough fight for the players, BUT if the players can use Trump or get lucky, they'll win. Here's a tougher challenge example (say, the Atlantean pirate captain:

Chaos: 5
Cosmos: 2
Metamorphosis: 4
Stasis: 2

See that Chaos 5? That means that even if this guy only gets, say, two Spades cards, his Fate value will be 7. That's pretty good for many average situations. But, it's also probably low for him! He shouldn't have much trouble pulling in a Fate value of 9 or higher, especially if his Muses are in play.

Really tough opposition -- like a nasty Titan spawn, for example -- should have consistently high Urge values, like this:

Chaos: 6
Cosmos: 4
Metamorphosis: 4
Stasis: 5

With a high power and some Muses, this monster will pose a challenge for even moderately experienced Archons. Throw in a relevant Muse or two, and ESPECIALLY some Force (to help him overcome player bids for Trump) and this bad boy will be a serious fight.

Obviously, the sky's the limit with these scores. As the Archons become more powerful through play, you'll need to keep ramping up the values in relation. And, remember, that Supporting Characters can get tougher with increased Muses and by spending Force to increase Power and Urges.

Ok! I really hope that helps. Does this answer your questions? Let me know! I'm happy to clarify more, or talk about other aspects to help you out.

Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Eero Tuovinen

Alan, don't mind me hijacking your thread here...

Matt, if you would, check out my thinking on the topic, whether I'm spouting nonsense:

You see, I never really liked the idea of building my opposition to match the player characters. That seems false to me in almost any game; if I'm going to follow a challenge rating guideline to ensure that characters lose 20% of their resources per encounter, we might as well skip the conflict resolution and deduct that 20% without risking the dice messing with that plan. If my plan for the game is for all conflicts to be "close", then I need to fiddle with the character progression, not try to counteract the rising power curve by constantly adjusting the opposition.

The alternative, as I see it, is to base the challenge wholly on the negotiated fiction: if a character is going against an encounter that should, according to the fiction, be easy, then let it be easy. And if he wants to go against Zeus, I'm not lowering Zeus' scores just because his character is weak. If a player can't make his character fail because I keep weakening the opposition, there's not much choice or risk for the characters in the story. I like the idea that a character may, by his own choices, end up against overwhelming odds.

OK, so that's my own personal hangup, but it also means that I can't be very satisfied with any GMing method that is based on gauging player characters as a basis for the external fiction. I'd much rather use the NPCs in the book as a basis for my own NPCs. However, it'd all be annoyingly vague in practice if I really tried to measure NPC power in that manner, because it's a bit difficult (at least for me) to say whether a given lyrical metaphysical concept is stronger or weaker than a second such. It's all goobledigoob in RL terms anyway, so asking whether minor god A is "really" stronger, weaker or the same in Cosmos than Ares, say, yelds no interesting answer. "Cosmos" can mean so many things in the setting that there is no concrete in-fiction things to measure.

So, speaking purely as a player with a homebrewing habit, here's what I'd do to gauge NPC power: I would construct a self-limited structure for myself as a GM and stick to it when designing the NPCs. Let me sketch out something quick, to give you an idea of how I might do it:

Eero's Excellent Pyramid of Power

Let's assume that we want the Choice (as in, whether you're a lapdog of the gods) to become a very pertinent and pressing issue in X sessions of play. This will be when a given character roughly matches the power of a typical celestial: when you can belivably win that contest against the gods, you'll soon be finding reasons to do it as well. So we know how long we want it to take, and we presumably have some rough idea of how fast characters gather power. For the sake of the argument, let's say that we want the game to last X sessions and a character will gain roughly Y Power-equivalent per session. Numbers can be estimated, and accordingly we may set a starting number for our power pyramid: the absolutely most powerful NPC in the setting will be Power Z, let's say 20 for the argument's sake. Could be higher, could be lower: the benchmark will affect how soon the player characters overpower the "big players" of the setting.

So let's say Chronos is the strongest NPC in the setting, at 20 Power. Now, let's institute a pyramid of power:

And so on, instituting each NPC on a Power step. You can only have (20-Power) separate entities on any given step, so the ranks up top are pretty crowded. However, you can, and should, leave spots empty for newly defined NPCs; the conceit here is that the pyramid depicts all significant power players of the Nine Worlds before the game starts, so you don't have to worry about newly born divinities or whatever, but there should be room for all folks who "have been in the setting from the start", whether you as a GM have defined them or not.

Now, whenever you have to set up a NPC, you can refer to your Power pyramid: is this guy as strong as Hermes? As strong as the world of Mars? Where in the pyramid do I even have room for this guy? The pyramid proffers you with two "fail-safes" as a GM: you are forced to scatter your NPCs on different power levels as you try to keep the pyramid loose, and the pyramid offers you one, easy place to do all the power comparisons you want when setting up a new NPC, as you have all of your former NPCs in one place, ranked according to significance. A map of the cosmos, if you will.

(By the way: if I wanted to play Dragonball Z with Nine Worlds, I'd start building the pyramid from the bottom, with the presumption that I can always add more folks to the top by widening the base. That's how action adventure anime works after all, with new power-ups every week.)

As for the Urges: I'm a lazy GM who doesn't like doing prep work. When I play Dust Devils, my NPCs only have one score, which is used for everything. Correspondingly I am very tempted to just skip the Urges for NPCs altogether: just assume that they are zero, and up the Power levels correspondingly. The net result is that NPCs do not favor one Urge more than others, but that's the price you pay for simplicity. Might kill the point usage system, though, so not so good in that regard.

Finally, Muses: I like the idea of NPCs having Muses that change and develop during play, but in practice I very much doubt the point of that. After all, a NPC making choices as to which of his Muses to follow is not interesting, and otherwise the Muse is just more cards. So perhaps I'd also skip the Muses and reduce everything to one Power score, like I do in Dust Devils (where I don't have a Devil for the NPCs as well).

Obviously, this is very different from how Matt does it, but then, he doesn't seem to have any particular problem with throwing characters together and tracking them like I do. Also, I haven't actually played 9W very much, so I don't know how annoying I'd find something like the above in actual play. I will find it out soon, though; we're probably playing the game some during the summer months, if only I get the time and the teens do not start without me.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Hi Matt and Eero,

Matt, your post and the link Eero pointed to are very useful.

I think Euro brings up some interesting points. I agree that we should not treat opposition in a game like Nine Worlds as a challenge rating calculated to consume resources -- that's just the wrong idiom for what I understand is the intent of the game.

After reading these posts, I lean toward basing the NPCs power on his role in the fiction. However, I think Eero got carried away trying to systematize the numbers. I don't think it's wise to set up a barracks of NPCs -- I'd be tempted to view them as cannon fodder that the players much go through to get their goals. Instead, I'd prefer to look at this from the point of view of a fiction author. Supporting characters serve a couple of functions that I think crossover into roleplaying:

1) Contagonist -- a character who pushes the protagonist to pursue a different goal. (Darth Vader in Star Wars IV is a contagonist -- his primary goal is pulling Luke off course, not saving the Death Star).
A Contagonist can vary greatly in power relative to the players, as long as he or she has some kind of pull on at least one PC.

2) Antagonist -- a character who opposes the protagonist's goal. (Moff Tarkin and the Empire forces in SWIV).
An Antogonist has to be more powerful in some way than the player-characters. If he or she is enormously powerful, then there must be some lever that the PCs can use -- even if it's destroying his support of even inducing betrayal (a la Return of the Jedi).

3) Consequences -- costs and rewards (Greedo gets burned; Stormtrooper shot up; Biggs crashes; Leia awards the medals, etc.)
These are mostly less powerful than the PCs.

4) Setting -- Rebel leaders, Moff Tarkin, Stormtroopers, the Emperor (in New Hope -- later he's the antagonist), etc.
These can range for mooks to gods far beyond the PCs power level. [In Nine Worlds I see the God level as important top establishing setting -- it's what the PC's are ultimately challenging.]

Thematic function is another way to look at NPCs. If we look at what the PC is trying to do and how he or she is pursuing it, we can make NPCs who are pursuing alternative approaches to the problem -- sometimes in opposition to the PC, sometimes tangentially. It might be interesting to introduce NPCs based on a PC's most active Muse -- the NPC would have a Muse that reflects the PC's.

I would love to test that one!

I guess I'm saying I lean toward Matt's approach. While I haven't played yet, I see the GM's role as identifying or emphasizing these elements as they emerge from play events and Muses.

- Alan

A Writer's Blog:

Matt Snyder

My guidelines above and in the link referenced are for creating supporting characters on the fly. This is a very useful, perhaps necessary skill for a Nine Worlds game master.

I'm definitely not suggested opposition acting universally as some kind of challenge rating scaled to the players.

There are score values for many of Nine Worlds' denizens in the book. They're there for two reasons:

1) Showing readers how to construct supporting characters and their Muses as they relate to a specific world

2) Acting as out-of-the-book scores to be used in actual play.

For example, we played a pretty short game of Nine Worlds at Forge Midwest. The players wanted to tackle the Titans. I obliged them. They did manage to defeat Atlas with some effort. Then they confronted Prometheus who obliterated them completely. It was the ugliest, most hubristic-avenging destruction I've ever seen in the game. I was using the scores right out of the book.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Matt Snyder

QuoteFinally, Muses: I like the idea of NPCs having Muses that change and develop during play, but in practice I very much doubt the point of that. After all, a NPC making choices as to which of his Muses to follow is not interesting, and otherwise the Muse is just more cards. So perhaps I'd also skip the Muses and reduce everything to one Power score, like I do in Dust Devils (where I don't have a Devil for the NPCs as well).

Eero, you're discounting major portions of the game with over-simplifications based on too little actual play. You're obviously welcome to do whatever you like when you play the game. But, I have already stated in this thread one important, rewarding reason for giving supporting characters Muses, and shaping those Muses over the course of play. Reducing them to absurd Power ratings is apocryphal from my perspective, particularly so when it's not backed up by reliable play.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Eero Tuovinen

Of course these thoughts are apocryphal, I'm not trying to claim any backing from the text. I'm just discoursing on some techniques I might be trying out soon in regards to 9W, drawn from experience with other games, with no implied warranty. It's not like there's any rules for NPC creation in the book, after all.

Which reminds me, here's an angle that I've found useful when playing The Shadow of Yesterday, another game with similar themes and relationship to NPCs: while I often enough go with much simplified NPCs in that game as well, if I have to create full statistics for a NPC (as you have to from time to time, if you want to be proactive about the crunch of the campaign), I will go with campaign-specific benchmark tables for Pool and Ability ratings. Translated to 9W you might get something like this:

Has an office?+1
Is a group?+1
Is huge?+1
Important to GM?+1
Is nonliving?-1

... this is essentially the same technique Burning Wheel uses in several places to set scores, most notably in determining the initial Steel score of a character. The idea is that it's much easier to answer clear questions about concrete things in the backstory rather than try to quantify complex character facets into a single score in your head without any benchmarks. You also get to control meme thematics in a way, when you determine which things in your campaign "symbolize" the scores. In this case, for instance, I'm apparently going with the idea that soldiers have inherently high Chaos scores. And the general Power level of a NPC relates strongly to the historical "genealogy" of the NPC, with mythical characters being consistently more powerful than "invented" individuals. You could have different tables, of course, to depict your understanding of the setting.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.