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Author Topic: NPCs and GM  (Read 8243 times)
Uncle Dark
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« on: September 19, 2001, 11:15:00 AM »

I've been following the updates and discussion of The Pool for some time.  I have a couple of questions which are, for me , theoretical (at this point), but I ask here 'cause I want to see examples of "this is how we handled it when I ran it" as  well as (hopefully) word form on high from James.

Basically, it's this: If I read the rules correctly, NPCs do not roll dice.  They don't have pools.  They may not have descriptions or traits.  Does this mean, then, that NPCs operate on pure Drama, by GM fiat?  How have NPCs been run by people who have actually played The Pool?

I understand how The Pool is supposed to be a game which encourages/supports a lot of player protagonism and other Narrativist goodies.  But something seems out of balance, on paper at least.

That is, how does a GM create and run NPCs which are effective antagonists when any roll of 1 can allow a PC to (temporarily) dictate that NPC's action, or even neutralize the NPC?

The game balnce issue here is a balance between player protagonism and GM antagonism.  ("Antagonism" is here meant as "ability to have NPCs vital to the PCs' stories make effective action," not in the sense of mere opposition to PC goals.)

One of the things that I like to do as a GM is create powerful, effective NPCs whose actions define the environment the PCs work within.  Think of them, if you will, as the people at the heart of a Relationship Map, the Prime Movers of the backstory.   Traditionally, this is done by defining NPCs the same way PCs are defined, rolling dice for them, and so on.However, If I'm reading The Pool correctly, there is nothing set up to maintian their antagonism once play begins.  They, and the GM, are at the mercy of the players and their die rolls.

Again, I'd really like to hear actual play examples of how (or if it needs to be) handled at the table.

Lon

[ This Message was edited by: Uncle Dark on 2001-09-19 15:16 ]
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #1 on: September 19, 2001, 07:51:00 PM »

Hey Lon,

...NPCs do not roll dice. They don't have pools....Does this mean, then, that NPCs operate on pure Drama, by GM fiat? How have NPCs been run by people who have actually played The Pool?
 
I run them pure Drama. And it's one of the features of The Pool that caused me to choose it as the mechanics for my current scenario. One of my personal goals with the scenario was to really push my Narrativist technique, to prep loose, so I could easily reconfigure the scenario on the fly in response to the actions of the player characters, and to make aggressive use of cutting and scene framing to drive protagonism at them. I wanted a system where I didn't have to ever roll the dice, where I could create NPC's on the fly, without worrying about their stats. It would free me up to focus on keeping the premise of the scenario and the goal of player character protagonism in the forefront of everything I did.

And I'm super happy with how well it's working.

...how does a GM create and run NPCs which are effective antagonists when any roll of 1 can allow a PC to (temporarily) dictate that NPC's action, or even neutralize the NPC?....If I'm reading The Pool correctly, there is nothing set up to maintain their antagonism once play begins. They, and the GM, are at the mercy of the players and their die rolls.

This is an excellent question. Let me quote Lon Sarver:

Uncle Dark (Lon Sarver) 02/06/01 2:02 AM

Sebastian Warfield is a character who has appeared in a few of my games. He is an assassin, but an assassin with style. He is a dandy, Oscar Wilde with a Big Ass Gun and no scruples.

The characters all had various reasons not to kill him, but all the players had the same reason: he was fun. He was low camp melodrama, self-consciously playing Iago for laughs while he stalked his prey. Having him around made the story more fun for the gamers.

This may be a key element in dickweeds that work. If the Players love having him around, the characters will come up with justifications for letting him live.


It's mostly a theoretical position on my part, because I've only run one session of my scenario so far, but I think the key to having NPC's who successfully function as antagonists is that Narrativism is collaborative. Narrativist players understand that their protagonism is established by adversity and antagonism, and they'll come up with justifications for allowing that antagonism to live and fester and grow monstrous. Always remember that you're collaborating with the players to create the story.

You also have James' modified MoV mechanic that allows the GM to stop the MoV. And beyond that, I don't think there's any reason for the GM not to just disallow a given intent that a player states prior to a dice roll when it conflicts with something significant to the scenario. Is there any reason I couldn't have told Scott, "You can't kill Korg in this scene," if it was important that Korg be alive later?

Paul
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Jeffrey Straszheim
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« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2001, 06:33:00 AM »

I can make a few of suggestions on how I handle things.

1. Don't be afraid to place limits on what happens during a particular MoV, but do so before the player speaks.  This avoid any unfortunate "vetos", which are best avoided.

For instance, if the players are fighting your big-super-bad-guy, just tell them not to kill him now.  Simple.  If they're fighting a werewolf that can only be harmed by silver, say, "This is a werefolf that can only be harmed by silver."  It's up to them to be creative working this fact into their MoV.  Of course, don't be surprised if they "discover" another weakness :smile:

2. Stay flexible.  If your players do something that throws off the relationship map, grab and eraser and change it.  The whole point of using The Pool is so that things like that do happen.

3. Let them decide/discover who the big villian is.

4. If you have in mind that so-and-so should present a big challenge to them, have him show up when they're low on dice (yes, this is an evil GM trick).  This will reduce their chances of the big MoV.

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Jeffrey Straszheim
Uncle Dark
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« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2001, 09:53:00 PM »

Paul,

Sure, go on and beat me over the head with my own wisdom!

Lon
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: September 21, 2001, 06:17:00 AM »

I couldn't resist.

Smiley
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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
Uncle Dark
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« Reply #5 on: September 21, 2001, 08:42:00 AM »

Hurm.

I suppose one of the things (which I had not articulated to myself) that prompted me to ask was that I tend to use rules to organize NPCs and their actions, but not to limit them.  Frex, I never bothered to write down what spells an NPC Magic-User had when I GM'd D&D, but I did use the rules about that class to guide what I improvised when the NPC appeared in the game.

I guess I was missing that in The Pool- rules I could use as guides and nothing more.  I suppose giving major NPCs a 50-word writeup and a trait list might work the same way, if I really felt I needed it.

Lon
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: September 21, 2001, 10:53:00 AM »

Hey Lon,

Perhaps I should apologize for using your own words against you. I don't want to have insulted you or undercut the importance of the issue of preserving NPC antagonism by having written a snarky response. It wasn't my intention for what I wrote to come across as me slapping you with your own words.

I do think, however, that preserving NPC antagonism is actually far less difficult in the context of Narrativism than it is in a Gamist or Simulationist context. In fact, I'd say that antagonism, as a force that drives protagonism, the enaction of a thematic statement, doesn't actually exist naturally in Gamist or Simulationist games. There is nothing in Gamist or Simulationist mechanics or social contracts that harbors and nurtures antagonism.

Like I said, I've only run one session of The Pool, but I don't think you'll have any trouble maintaining NPC antagonism. I've come to think players recognize an antagonist when they see one and play careful with their MoV's in relation to the antagonist, out of an intuition that they'll recognize when in the narrative it's appropriate to really seize the moment.

I tend to use rules to organize NPCs and their actions....to guide what I improvised when the NPC appeared in the game.

I guess I was missing that in The Pool- rules I could use as guides and nothing more.


And one of the main reasons I gravitated to The Pool for my current scenario was because I didn't at all want to have to worry about being consistent to classes, abilities, skills, or powers that might be part of a game's character creation mechanics. The important organizing factors I wanted to focus on were antagonistic actions and situations that elicit protagonistic responses. I never have to roll anything. My NPC's are names and 2 to 5 sentence descriptions. My setting is nothing the players have prior experience with that I would need to be carefully consistent about.

It worked really well for me in that first session. We'll see about next Monday.

Paul
[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-09-21 14:59 ]
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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
James V. West
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« Reply #7 on: September 21, 2001, 01:02:00 PM »

Once again great question.

This is something I have been rolling over in my head as well. On one had, I like the fact that NPCs don't have rules. The GM doesn't need to roll dice for his own joy, he just narrates. Players have full power to call on their character's Traits and get dice rolling if the GM doesn't offer.

On the other hand, I really like the idea of having important NPCs or items or places with Traits. Not bonuses, since they won't be rolling any dice, but Traits. What would they be used for? I guess it would be pointless since really all you need is what Paul said: a few descriptive sentences. Perhaps this is more of a GM preference. If I have a really cool NPC, I'll write down his Traits for reference during play.

From Uncle Dark:

"That is, how does a GM create and run NPCs which are effective antagonists when any roll of 1 can allow a PC to (temporarily) dictate that NPC's action, or even neutralize the NPC?"

I don't know. Mostly I'm with Paul on this. In the games I've ran so far, I noticed that when a major NPC was intimately linked to a character (or several), the players did not actually try to kill him in their MoVs even in bloody mortal combat. They were curious, and they were into the story. They wanted to find out more and they wanted to really squeeze it for all it was worth.

So, my suggestion is to trust your players. In the much quoted Korg (Horg? Borg?) game, Moose was acting on instinct and in the best interest of the story. Obviously this bastard's actions offended his character so much that he wanted to kill him. If Moose went around killing every NPC immediately, I'd consider never playing with him again. Or switching to DnD.

But this is a serious question. In the setting I'm working on now I have to deal with this issue. I describe many major NPCs and I'm wondering if I need any sort of rules to deal with them. My gut tells me no. The descriptions and the tone of the setting ought to give people plenty to go on.

From Paul:

"You also have James' modified MoV mechanic that allows the GM to stop the MoV. And beyond that, I don't think there's any reason for the GM not to just disallow a given intent that a player states prior to a dice roll when it conflicts with something significant to the scenario. Is there any reason I couldn't have told Scott, "You can't kill Korg in this scene," if it was important that Korg be alive later?"

And don't forget that I added the no-kill rule. You can't state that someone dies in your MoV unless it is implicit from the GM that its ok to do so. I don't believe there needs to be a hard-and-fast rule on when you can kill someone in the MoV, but I felt the need for a simple statement that you can't do it anytime you wish. If the GM wants to let you know its ok to toast someone, I think there are plenty of ways to do it.

Stimuli:

"1. Don't be afraid to place limits on what happens during a particular MoV, but do so before the player speaks. This avoid any unfortunate "vetos", which are best avoided."

I ousted the veto rule long ago. Now the GM can simply stop the MoV when it starts to go too far. Again, if your players are cool, you'll probably rarely need to do this.

Stimuli:

"2. Stay flexible. If your players do something that throws off the relationship map, grab and eraser and change it. The whole point of using The Pool is so that things like that do happen."

Amen, my brother. I love that kind of edge-of-chaos emergent gaming. Love it, mind you. Its very gratifying when someone understands something I've created. Helps me to believe that I'm not full of crap.

Stimuli again:

"4. If you have in mind that so-and-so should present a big challenge to them, have him show up when they're low on dice (yes, this is an evil GM trick). This will reduce their chances of the big MoV."

Wicked, evil, twisted...perfect! I will use this over and over and over and--well, the players will probably catch on, won't they? "Hmm...I have only one die left..get ready for a major encounter guys!"

Great question! I will be pondering this for days. However, as it stands, I have no plans for adding rules for dealing with NPCs or giving them anything resembling stats.

James V. West
http://www.geocities.com/randomordercreations/index.html
 
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Tim C Koppang
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« Reply #8 on: September 21, 2001, 01:31:00 PM »

Quote
For instance, if the players are fighting your big-super-bad-guy, just tell them not to kill him now.  Simple.  If they're fighting a werewolf that can only be harmed by silver, say, "This is a werefolf that can only be harmed by silver."  It's up to them to be creative working this fact into their MoV.  Of course, don't be surprised if they "discover" another weakness :smile:

I think that this is great advice.  As a GM you won't have to tell them to stop--a sometimes akward situation.  You can really work with the players to create the story instead of coming off as "the stict GM who never lets me have any fun."  The players know when you would stop them in their MOV ahead of time, and work around the details.  It's a whole lot more fluid than saying STOP and then convincing them that they've gone too far.  There's a question: has anyone had problems with players that don't want to give up their newfound directorial power once they get the hang of it and get on a roll?
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2001, 10:41:00 PM »

Paul,

Please don't think I was offended- I wasn't.  Here, have a spare smiley, and stick it in the appropriate place on my post: :smile:.

James,

I would like to see suggestions on how to handle NPCs without rules for them in the next ed of The Pool.  Running major NPCs with little or no prep/writeup is going to be strange to a lot of people.

Everybody,
So how did the major NPCs exist in your minds as you ran your games?  Did you think of them as entities unto themselves, or as aspects of the PCs they were antagonistic to?  How much liberty do you take with an NPC introduced by a player?

Lon

[ This Message was edited by: Uncle Dark on 2001-09-22 02:42 ]
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James V. West
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« Reply #10 on: September 22, 2001, 04:22:00 PM »

In the first game I ran I found myself creating a very important NPC and virtually tayloring him to a specific character as the game progressed. This was pure instinct. The player was really interested in the NPC and seemed to suspect from the beginning that there was a much deeper connection between them than what I was actually thinking. By the end of the session it had been suggested in play that the characters were brothers.

Taking that, I can develop more intimate details about that NPC for future games. In fact, I want to do a complete write-up of the character with Traits and all (but no bonuses, since I won't be rolling for him). The Traits should help me keep a focus on him during play at times when I might otherwise slip up and forget something important. The initial intro of the character is easy--I just made him up on the fly while playing. But once established it requires more detailed record-keeping to make sure he stays "in character".

You're right, I need some discussion of this in the rules. I believe that this is a part of the game that really has only one rule: NPCs don't roll dice. Other than that, I think its a matter of playing style whether you write the NPC in detail beforehand, or wing it.

You mentioned players who don't want to give up their director power. Did you mean a situation in which someone simply refuses to end their MoV? Seems to me that if a player did that, I wouldn't want to play with that person anymore. Wouldn't that be very juvenile of them? If you're meaning something more like they just argue a lot over their MoV, I think those problems creep up in any game. But no, I haven't had that problem yet. Hope I don't :wink:.

later

James V. West
http://www.geocities.com/randomordercreations/index.html
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HMT
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« Reply #11 on: June 30, 2003, 05:35:13 AM »

This quote gives me an idea:

Quote from: Uncle Dark
... Traditionally, this is done by defining NPCs the same way PCs are defined ...


What do you think of the following pool variant? Each major NPC (and certain locales) are assigned motifs.  A player would then invoke one of these motifs instead of recieving GM dice.

I think of it this way. Stories involving certain NPCs/places tend to take on certain themes. A story that takes place in the fringe of Fangorn has a different character than one that takes place in the finges of any old forest. Stories involving Dr Doom are different from stories involving Magneto even when the basic plotlines are the same. Combat with Fezzik is very different from combat with Inigo (and would still be different if one was wrestling Inigo).

Has this idea been hashed out on some other thread?
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James V. West
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« Reply #12 on: July 04, 2003, 03:31:13 PM »

I'm not sure if there has been a discussion about this or not, but it's interesting.

What exactly do you mean by:

"Each major NPC (and certain locales) are assigned motifs. A player would then invoke one of these motifs instead of recieving GM dice."
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 on: July 07, 2003, 12:07:54 PM »

Seems straightforward. Instead of you, the GM giving me the GM dice, I could instead opt to invoke an NPC Motif, and add that many dice to my roll pool.

Mike
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