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Author Topic: on NPC Minions  (Read 3928 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: September 25, 2002, 01:04:18 PM »

Hey Mike,

BTW, I mentioned to Josh that I thought that we should work up the other minions. I've mentioned this before. I felt during our test that it was odd having no idea how many other minions were about the house. There was one other homunculus that I ran into, and others were implied. But were there dozens? Or just one other? And any other minions? Just how crowded was the Master's demense? These are questions that I would have felt better knowing the answers to. My personal opinion is to keep them few (none in some cases), so as to emphasize the Player Minions (PMs?).

Is this something that you think should be addressed in Master/Setting creation, or are my Sim sensibilities just showing? Now that I think about it, how much thought should be given to other parts of the setting? Is this something that should be created by the players with the GM? I just sort of assumed that it was when we did it, but looking back did I overstep my bounds? It seemed almost necessary because without a discussion of the surrounding stuff, the Masster we chose wouldn't have made as much sense, IMO.

What do you think? (Should this be split off into a new thread?)


Yep...right here into a new thread...

On the question of the number of non-player Minions, my personal guideline has been that they shouldn't equal or outnumber the player Minions, for the exact reason you cite, that of reserving significance for the player Minions. In my current playtest there is exactly one NPC Minion, a masochist named Ludwig.

At the same time, I can see an "Island of Dr. Moreau" situation where the minions are legion. But, actually, I don't think sheer numbers is the key issue. I think the real concern is that NPC minions not eclipse the significance of the player Minions...

Which is why I have so far chosen to not stat NPC Minions. I absolutely did not want the chance of an NPC Minion as the one to engage the Master in Endgame. It would seem too eminently deprotagonizing to the other player Minions were that to happen. So, in my current game, without stats, Ludwig is treated in conflict resolution just like a Townsperson, which means player character Minions can kill him, the way they could kill a Townsperson were they so inclined, though they're incapable of killing each other. Ludwig is strengthened by Reason and weakened by Fear, and incapable of harming a player character's Connections, or the Master, for lack of Self-Loathing and Love.

So, thought he's effectively neutered in his ability to present other than roleplayed threat, and Weariness reductions were he engaged in violent conflict, I haven't heard any criticism. Far from it, in fact. Scott just named Ludwig as a Connection in the last scene of our last session.

What do you think? I've idly toyed with a rule allowing Townspeople to attack each other by rolling Fear minus Reason vs. Fear minus Reason. It would apply to NPC minions like Ludwig as well, and position them to be more actively threatening. Sound like a good idea? Or does a cadre of NPC Minions with real ability to kill among the Townspeople threaten the significance of player character Minions?

Paul
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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Mike Holmes
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« Reply #1 on: September 25, 2002, 01:54:06 PM »

I like what you have. I would just do townspeople conflicts via drama, personally, no rolls whatsoever. Whatever makes sense at the time should be the rule. Contacts, of course, have plot immunity to all but minions (as extensions of the PCs themselves).

Hmmm. I assume this mean that NPC minions cannot refuse commands from the master? Or is that by drama as well (the choice to issue an order certainly is)? Refusing could steal a bit of PC thunder.

I was thinking that the master definition would be the most indicative part of the decision on how many minions to have. For example, the minions in our playtest are surround a Master who owns a restaurant. My thought was that all the employees will have to be minions. Else they would get too suspicious of the goings on. As my character is the maitre'd, that means if the other player plays a member of the waitstaff, that this would leave us somewhat short on staff (we could only have one or two more NPCs and that means no kitchen staff..). Makes for a very small establishment. I had imagined larger, and my character concept goes that way.

So, here we have me a player trying to influence the number of minions based on a character concept that I like. Did I overstep? Should we have determined the number of other minions prior to CharGen so that my concept woudn't conflict? Certainly he would be just as good as the Waiter,  or something.

Should these things be determined in a certain order (master creation, setting creation, Minion creation), or should it just all remain a freeform gelling process until eveyone is satisfied?

Do you see where I'm going with this? What influences should affect what in terms of setting stuff like NPC minions?

I am not too worried about the number of NPCs, personally. As you point out, Dr. Moreau had lots of minions, but only a few that could be considered PCs. As such I'd find it just fine to define them as "Many deformed animal/men" and leave it at that, allowing players to create other minions at will in framing. OTOH, I can see just defining a small set all better defined.

My only need was to have this potential gap in player knowledge filled before play. As long as you agree that it should be worked out before play in some fashion, the rest of how is just details.

Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: September 26, 2002, 01:15:51 PM »

Hey Mike,

My only need was to have this potential gap in player knowledge filled before play. As long as you agree that it should be worked out before play in some fashion, the rest of how is just details.

Ah...I'm not sure I do agree. Ludwig is entirely my invention. The group did not discuss other minions, or whether there would even be any, during our Master + chargen session. I think the game gives the players quite a bit of power to create and determine situation, setting, and conflict, through pre-play invention of Connections, and the Master himself, his Needs, Wants, and demesne. My strong inclination is that any other NPC's should fall under the creative purview of the GM. Were the group to have suggested the existence of specific NPC minions during pre-play conversation, I would almost certainly have responded by saying I'd consider them, but would not have made any guarantees of ultimately using them.

Of course, the players craftily implied the existence of specific NPC's by embedding NPC relationships in their Connections. "Is fascinated by the son of the Magistrate" creates one NPC directly and another through implication. And were it to become obvious to them during play that I did not intend to use a suggested NPC minion, there is nothing preventing a player from naming that heretofore immaterial NPC as a Connection, thereby inventing the character into existence.

So, speaking to your specific game situation, I don't see any reason to Sim out a complete staff of minions for the restaurant. A restaurant probably needs a couple of busboys, but I can't see that the same requirement cascades to the narrative that will be produced by your gameplay. One of my frustrations with traditional RPG's is that creativity during gameplay is often dramatically limited by the pregame work done to preconcieve all relevant trappings. My recommendation is to give yourself and the GM some room to create trappings, including NPC's, during gameplay. Everyone knows restaurants probably have busboys. It's a shared understanding. And there is a joy that comes from shared expectations being satisfied spontaneously through creative play. As players, allow yourself the possibility of that joy. The GM may frame you into a scene with a busboy. Or another player may invent a Connection to one. And you'll smile when it happens, I think. And why should all the restaurant staff be minions? The GM may invent a newly hired waitress NPC, who's still unaware of what's up. Don't pregame these decisions. It's way more fun that way.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #3 on: September 27, 2002, 11:13:15 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
Don't pregame these decisions. It's way more fun that way.


Bullshit. Pervy popycock. Why not develop the Master in play as well, then?

Oh, I'm not saying that it can't be fun to develop things in game. I wouldn't play Universalis if it weren't fun to create in play. But it's not "way more fun" or even "more fun" for me. At best it's "as fun" and often it's "a big hairy pain in the ass". That is, it's always fun for the GM, but it's not always as fun as a player.

I'm certain that this is my Simulationist side speaking, most notably what I call my Immersionist side. But, while I had no problem with creation of things that were important to my character in play, I felt no comfort at all in creating things that were closely related to the Master. Including his NPC Minions. Heck if it's important to define the Master's place of residence, how can it not be important to create his Minions?

The Master is way too central to be left so undefined. I need to have some details of him to know how to react. The Master is played by the GM. To an extent I think that the GM is the Master in the game, and certainly seems to advocate for his side of the fight (he rolls the opposing dice, for instance; again not encoded, but that's how we played).

And the Master is central to all the PCs. In a way isn't he sort of part of each PC (a huge negative Contact)? And as such, isn't it true that if I mess with him using director stance that I threaten to damage the other PC's protagonism? Even if it's just messing with his Minions (I certainly hope you don't intend for players to be able to use, say, scene framing on the Master himself)?

You yourself point out that if players control both sides of a conflict that a system fails to be dramatic. Well, what would such control of the Master by a player be if not control of both sides of the Conflict? I'd strongly suggest that the Master be inviolable by the players. And even his minions and demenses. I personally saw player control as extending to the "outside" (plenty enough control for Director Stance joy). If you really want to go with more player control of that, I think that you'll have to specifically state in the text just how far that control goes.

Anyhow, for anything that is not controlled by the player, there should be an objective answer. Even if the GM makes it up on the spot. Just so that I as the player can make decisions that will make sense with that objective game reality.

As I said, this is probably just my Sim side coming out. But if I wanted to create everything in play, well, I've got a game for that. Reacting to pre-created parts of the world is just as rewarding as creating.

Remember, Michelangelo, I'm a Columbus.

Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: September 30, 2002, 05:25:39 AM »

Hey Chris,

Oh, I'm not saying that it can't be fun to develop things in game....But....often it's "a big hairy pain in the ass". That is, it's always fun for the GM, but it's not always as fun as a player.

It might surprise you...but I agree. In fact, I agree so much that the mechanics for My Life with Master carefully apportion and regulate the use of in-game creative power by the players and the GM. And in fact, my response to you about pre-creating NPC minions reflects my agreement.

Something I've discovered that I dislike as a player is conflict resolution mechanics that force my creativity. It's quite draining to me to be a player in such games...inventing, inventing, inventing, arrgh! I bet you never thought you'd hear this from the designer of The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, but it's true.

One eminently functional solution to the problem, it seems to me, is mechanics like those in The Pool, or Otherkind, where the player can opt out of creativity if they don't feel inspired. Ron has suggested that Trollbabe delivers a second solution. My Life with Master simply denies the player any power beyond character roleplay to narrate the outcomes of conflict resolution rolls. You saw this in action during our playtest at GenCon. The player has stated what his character is going to do prior to rolling, and if there's any question of intent, it's clarified by questioning from the GM:

GM: "You're hitting him with the fireplace poker? Are you intending to kill him or just wound him?"
Player: "I want to hurt him and drive him off."

When the dice hit the table, the GM gives a sort of thumbnail summation, almost a mini-foreshadowing of the outcome:

"You get the love, because you've demonstrated your humanity, but she's going to recoil from you or something."

And then the player(s) and GM roleplay the details. Other than the fact that it's conflict, rather than task resolution, it's very traditional feeling in play.

You yourself point out that if players control both sides of a conflict that a system fails to be dramatic. Well, what would such control of the Master by a player be if not control of both sides of the Conflict? I'd strongly suggest that the Master be inviolable by the players. And even his minions and demenses.

I think we're in at least 90% agreement about the apportionment of power. Players have absolutely no control over the Master subsequent to creating him, deciding his Wants and Needs, and the nature of his demesne. During actual gameplay, the Master is controlled by the GM, and any details not established when the Master was created are determined by the GM. Players also have no control over scene framing. They can call for scenes with their Connections, but the GM frames the scene and determines all of the circumstances and what other characters or NPC's might be present. The only power the player has is that if he requests a scene with a Connection, the GM must accommodate him.

The issue you refer to of gameplay failing to be dramatic comes from players having control over both the creation of adversity and its resolution. In playtests of My Life with Master, because players don't have power to frame scenes or control the Master, it hasn't been a problem.

Without stats, other Minions can't really represent adversity that differs in any way from what one of the townspeople or outsiders does. That is, they can't kill a PC Minon's Connections, or be the one to kill the Master. They're really just other NPC's. I personally don't see any reason for the group to collectively establish them as characters prior to play. In fact, my thinking that creating them is the GM's responsibility, is a very traditional stance. It is less pervy than letting the players create them. My only concession to perviness is that players could create them, either before or during play, by naming them as Connections. And there's no mandate to do so. There's no forced player creativity. And where they exist, opportunities for player creativity are carefully regulated.

What I expect, is that post-chargen but prior to play the GM will create a host of NPC's that may include some NPC minions. And his purpose is the same for all NPC's, whether minion or not: that they have potential for delivering adversity and protagonizing PC's. At the same time, I've always been a very enthusiastic proponent of player-side game prep. You comment that creating things in-game can often be "a big hairy pain in the ass." I expect actually that the spontaneous in-game creation of NPC minions will be quite rare. I suspect instead that players, knowing they can create Connections during play, will actually give themselves license to prep NPC's...and what might seem to an outside observer like in-game creation will in-fact be in-game revelation.

I am, though, very conscious of wanting to control the naming/creation of Connections. There's a sort of plot protection that being named as a Connection gives to an NPC, in that the GM can no longer kill that NPC offscreen or through Drama. Once named as a Connection, only a PC Minion can kill that NPC. A player abuse of the power, with many named Connections, or Connections named under dire circumstances could lead to a rather stupid story. Imagine a player naming a man on a gallows about to be hung as a connection. So I've been considering requiring a player character to act on a Connection immediately upon naming/creating it. What do you think of that requirement? Can you see my concern?

Mike
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #5 on: October 01, 2002, 10:03:15 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
Hey Chris,
Who's Chris? Did I miss a joke? :-)

Quote
Players also have no control over scene framing. They can call for scenes with their Connections, but the GM frames the scene and determines all of the circumstances and what other characters or NPC's might be present. The only power the player has is that if he requests a scene with a Connection, the GM must accommodate him.
Hmmm. Then I was out of line in play. And so was Josh I believe. I made a whole band of gypsies, and framed myself right to the scene where I made Contact with the gypsy princess. Oops.

Quote
I personally don't see any reason for the group to collectively establish them as characters prior to play. In fact, my thinking that creating them is the GM's responsibility, is a very traditional stance. It is less pervy than letting the players create them. My only concession to perviness is that players could create them, either before or during play, by naming them as Connections. And there's no mandate to do so. There's no forced player creativity. And where they exist, opportunities for player creativity are carefully regulated.
OK, now I'm confused. As I've said, I'd be very happy if the GM were to be assigned this task. That would be my optimal solution. But from what you were saying, I was under the impression that the GM could create them in-play. Which would be ther disturbing part to me. "What, there was a Major Domo minion character all along, but we players were not made aware?"

As far as the players creating Minions as Contacts, well, that would fall into their specific purview of power regarding their Contacts, and as such I would be tempted to advocate for allowing it. But I think a better limit would be to say that such can only be created before play. Again so no player is blindsided by the creation of a Minion out of thin air.

Such a character as a Minion seems too central to me to not be stated before play. It's like the PCs are three children in a family, and they suddenly realize that they have a fourth sibling. The family dynamic changes, and previous play would seem to be potentially invalidated to me. I can see myself saying, "But if I had known that there was a maid, I wouldn't have had Hanse try to creep back into the house. I thought everyone was gone. I wanted a scene alone with the master!"

Quote
I expect actually that the spontaneous in-game creation of NPC minions will be quite rare. I suspect instead that players, knowing they can create Connections during play, will actually give themselves license to prep NPC's...and what might seem to an outside observer like in-game creation will in-fact be in-game revelation.
No difference to the third party. I'm still surprised by it. I want to know about the existence of such characters if my character knows. If they are prepped pre-play, what's the harm in introducing the character then? Again, that's all I'm looking for, that I as a player know what Minions exist pre-play, no matter who created them. I objected to Creation in Play not because I am against player empowerment, but rather because I'm against player ignorance of important things that his character would know. Data he needs to portray the character better.

That all said, I've rather made a mountain out of a molehill here. If the game allowed the players or GM to create minions in play, it wouldn't be a breaker or anything like that. Just a personal preference.

Quote
So I've been considering requiring a player character to act on a Connection immediately upon naming/creating it. What do you think of that requirement? Can you see my concern?
Makes total sense. Otherwise a player could create NPCs ad infinitum, and never approach them. Which gives them a power that they were not intended to have, and cheapens the power when used correctly. Creation of Connections should imply risk and weight. Definitely.

Mike
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: October 01, 2002, 11:20:25 AM »

Hey Mike,

Who's Chris?

You're Chris Columbus. I'm Mike Buonarroti.

Then I was out of line in play. And so was Josh I believe. I made a whole band of gypsies, and framed myself right to the scene where I made Contact with the gypsy princess. Oops.

Well, that was the very first playtest of the game, so my notions about the distribution of power were more fluid, less formalized.

Still, I don't think the gypsy princess incident is a violation of the distribution of power, even by my more current thinking on the subject. I think it's perfectly fine, and in fact quite an enjoyable thing, for a group to play around in the blurry area between player and GM authority. By naming a gypsy princess as a Connection, you pretty much implied the existence of a band of gypsies, something that's very much within the power of the player. And there's no reason you can't suggest some of the details of the scene either. What's important to preserving character protagonism from the player creation and resolution of adversity situation is that the power over saying yes or no to those details, suggesting alternatives, or framing something else entirely, resides with the GM. In that particular situation, with the gypsy girl, I liked your details.

If the game allowed the players or GM to create minions in play, it wouldn't be a breaker or anything like that. Just a personal preference.

I have pretty much the same feeling from the other side of the fence. If a group decided to establish the presence of a couple of key minions prior to play, I don't really have a problem with it. It's not even drift, really, because the focus of the game is still the same. It's just a preference, and maybe a personal hyper-cautiousness to preserve the NPC's under the purview of the GM. You absolutely don't want a situation where a player is vetoing NPC behaviors: "The way we discussed Lord Dudley pre-game, I can't see him ever not returning the money to its rightful owner."

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #7 on: October 01, 2002, 12:58:40 PM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
I'm Mike Buonarroti.
You saw "the Agony and the Ecstasy" on the other day, too, didn't you. "When will you make an end of it?!"

Quote
You absolutely don't want a situation where a player is vetoing NPC behaviors: "The way we discussed Lord Dudley pre-game, I can't see him ever not returning the money to its rightful owner."
Oh, not "no", but "hell no". That should be very explicit in the text. Once the Master is complete, he's the GM's as are all NPCs to interperet. Absolutely.

When are we going to get these things written into the text? When's the next version coming?

Mike
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