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Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: jburneko on July 18, 2001, 12:04:00 PM
Hello,

Ron and I have been going back and forth about characters emotional motivations.  In his last email he suggested I open up part of the discussion to the rest of the forge.  So here is the relevant parts of the correspondence:

Ron Wrote:

"So the GM's job is to give Sebastian a situation in which, yes, MOST people would walk away or take the easy way out. John McClane could have left the building, in Die Hard. Ellen Ripley could have left Newt to die, in Aliens.  Luke Skywalker could have
joined his father and the two of them could rule the galaxy, in The Empire Strikes Back. What matters is that they didn't do these things, although they could have."

And I replied:

"Hmmm, I guess this is where I start to have problems. In all these situations the stakes are MUCH higher than what I saw in The Chill.  John McClane is worried about the life of his wife of many years.  There's a
deep bond there.  If he fails he'll have to live for the rest of life with the death of his wife.  Ellen Ripley had time to bond with the child.  Ellen and Newt were together for a long long time before the
child's life was at stake.  If she had simply left I CAN believe that she will be experiencing what-if nightmares for the rest of her life.  And finally in the case of Luke Skywalker he knows that MILLIONS will
suffer if he gives into the dark side.

"Now look at Lew Archer in The Chill.  We have the death of one woman he knew for less than 15 minutes and a young couple of whom he is simply an Employee. I guess I just don't see these stakes as high enough
or personal enough to motivate Archer to action and this is why I feel like he's divorced from the REAL story.  It felt like either business or curiosity was motivating him.

"Now to put this all in a role-playing context I have no idea how to bring about this kind of bonding with NPCs.  Think about the scene in Aliens when Ripley goes in to check on Newt and they have that bonding
moment where they fall asleep on the floor together. This scene alone is sufficient to give Ripley a personal stake in preserving that childs life.  It's now emotionally engaging to the character (as well as
the audience, and the player if this were an RPG)

"But in my experience such scenes DO NOT happen during an RPG.  If the PCs talk to an NPC it's to try and get enough information to get to the next major plot point.  Despite giving them AMPLE time and opportunity to do so.  They don't ask about NPC's personal lives or connections.  They aren't trying to get to KNOW the NPC or care about the NPC they're trying to get to the
next 'point of interest' (i.e. where the action is)."

So there you have it.  "How do you facilitate emotional bonding between PC and NPC?" is essencially the question on the table.

Jesse


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: James Holloway on July 18, 2001, 01:14:00 PM
Well, I guess the short answer is that I don't know. And honestly, I don't think *anybody* knows. The old chestnut is to make the NPC part of the PC's background. That sometimes works.

And I've been in games where I've become very attached to the NPCs, typically because they represented or were associated with something that was important to my character. Surely this is what all "Dependant NPCs" and "Codes of Honor" in RPGs were meant to foster.

But as to what techniques GMs use to achieve this effect... clueless.

That wasn't a very helpful post, huh.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: joshua neff on July 18, 2001, 01:44:00 PM
Off the top of my head, I think you get PCs attached to NPCs the same way you hook PCs into the story--through the players.

Of every NPC I can think of, either one I've created or one I've encountered as a player, the one's I or the players have become attached to (instantly or over time) have been one that hooked the players, either because the NPC was just darned likeable (even if the NPC was something of a nogoodnik) or was one of those characters-you-love-to-hate (like one of the NPCs in my renaissance Mage game, based on Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter--my players loved it everytime he appeared, even as the booed & hissed him).

If you've hooked the player, you've hooked the character. (& I don't buy the "hook both" argument, simply because I have never run into someone who was incredibly drawn into a game as a player, but still kept the character from engaging.)

[ This Message was edited by: joshua neff on 2001-07-18 17:45 ]


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: James Holloway on July 18, 2001, 04:34:00 PM
Josh - that's very true.

I guess the question is what kind of the characters would the players like to associate with (or like to be opposed to) but not like to be?

Cos the ones you want to be are player characters...

I guess I haven't spent enough time on the player side of the table, but as a GM I've often been surprised when PCs bonded with characters who weren't meant to be particularly likeable or bond-able. Maybe that was because they were the well-played, interesting ones and atttracted the players...



Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Paul Czege on July 18, 2001, 07:49:00 PM
Hey Jesse,

So there you have it. "How do you facilitate emotional bonding between PC and NPC?"

I think the question you want to be asking is, "How do you facilitate emotional bonding between the player and NPC's?"

Take a look at my description of the scene between my girlfriend's character Leah and an NPC named Marla in the "I think my girlfriend is a...simulationist" thread. Marla is currently the most compelling NPC in Scott's Sorcerer scenario solely because of her strong contribution to a protagonizing scene for Leah. Guaranteed that when Marla comes on camera in the future, the players will notice with high interest.

Paul


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: jburneko on July 18, 2001, 08:59:00 PM
Quote

On 2001-07-18 17:44, joshua neff wrote:

Of every NPC I can think of, either one I've created or one I've encountered as a player, the one's I or the players have become attached to (instantly or over time) have been one that hooked the players, either because the NPC was just darned likeable (even if the NPC was something of a nogoodnik) or was one of those characters-you-love-to-hate (like one of the NPCs in my renaissance Mage game, based on Draco Malfoy from Harry Potter--my players loved it everytime he appeared, even as the booed & hissed him).


Hmmmm.... So, this seems to be coming back (and a lot of my GMing problems come back to this) to the fact that I can't write characters.  Christopher Kubasik wrote in his Interactive Toolkit essays about distinguishing between characterization and character.  I have a very very hard time with this.

I once asked a playwrite, whos work I am very fond of, how she constructed her plays.  She replied, "I think of a group of characters.  I then, throw those characters into a situation and from there the play writes itself."  To this day I can't imagine how this works.  But I'm beginning to believe that my failure to understand how this works is the key to alot of my disappointment and frustration with RPGs.

In the past I've viewed characters as simply a means to move the plot.  My story ideas (both static and interactive) start usually with some kind of logistical idea.  I might develop an interesting way for a villain to take over the world.  Or I might come up with clever way to kill someone.  And then I extrapolate the characters I need to achieve that effect.  Generally I randomly assign a sex to them.  And finally I color with some personality quirks to make them 'memorable.'

The result is that I can't improvize actions for the character very well because I don't KNOW the character.  I know how to characterize the character but I don't know what the character would do in a given situation.

So here's my question:  How do you think about your characters?  What brings a character to life for you and helps you to better improvize actions and reactions for that character?

Jesse


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Blake Hutchins on July 19, 2001, 09:02:00 AM
Goals. Fears. Motives. Passions. Secrets. Interesting quirks or hobbies. A life outside the orbit of the player characters. Of these, goals and motives are, in my opinion, the most important. Every NPC of note should have something that steers him in an interesting way. He should have something at stake, a goal or desire or passion that puts him in motion and doesn't make him a static prop tossed in the path of the PCs.

Examples:

- The smart-mouthed punk barista chick with the green mohawk who wants to be a boxer.

- The chain-smoking magician pool shark with a gambling compulsion and a grudge against his ex-wife.

- The blacksmith who loves his family and will do anything to shield them from his secret: he's a werewolf.

- The well-heeled cyborg art dealer who's running out of money due to his drug addiction and is being blackmailed by a rival.


Create a character who harbors an internal conflict or who  is pointed in a definite direction, add some interesting characteristics, and you're more likely going to make someone who will stick in the players' minds and affections.

Best,

Blake

[ This Message was edited by: Blake Hutchins on 2001-07-19 13:02 ]


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: mikeryan on July 19, 2001, 09:32:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-07-19 00:59, jburneko wrote:

I once asked a playwrite, whos work I am very fond of, how she constructed her plays.  She replied, "I think of a group of characters.  I then, throw those characters into a situation and from there the play writes itself."  To this day I can't imagine how this works.  But I'm beginning to believe that my failure to understand how this works is the key to alot of my disappointment and frustration with RPGs.


Try this approach to understand it.  Think of a group of people that you know fairly well.  Then, throw them into a situation and work out the sequence of events that will follow.  The process is the same.  The only difference is that you need to make up the characters.

Quote

The result is that I can't improvize actions for the character very well because I don't KNOW the character.  I know how to characterize the character but I don't know what the character would do in a given situation.


I would also expect that you run into improvization problems because your plot is already figured out.  I think the main difficulty, though, lies in you're not getting to know your characters well enough.

Quote

So here's my question:  How do you think about your characters?  What brings a character to life for you and helps you to better improvize actions and reactions for that character?


I have to admit, I'm good on the theory of this, but poor on the execution.  I think one thing that helps, at least as a starting point, is to base the character on some existing person/character that you already know.  And maybe color them to achieve some difference or to enhance certain qualities.  Improvization and reactions are then a matter of asking yourself "okay, what would so and so do in this case?"

At least, that's my take on it.



Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: greyorm on July 19, 2001, 09:47:00 AM
Quote

So here's my question:  How do you think about your characters?  What brings a character to life for you and helps you to better improvize actions and reactions for that character?

I make them human, first and foremost.
They are not their desires, they are not their reason for being included in the story, they are not the information they have for the characters, or the reactions they might have to the characters.

That's all "extra stuff", important, perhaps, but if the character isn't relatable to as human, too, then they aren't engaging, they're a robot or a 2D cliche.

What do I mean "human"?
I try to avoid thinking about my NPCs as descriptors ("insane" "power hungry" "cruel" "happy" "a joker" "poor white trash").  Sure, you can categorize people that way, but is it true?

Human people are a great deal more complex than a set of quirks, personality types and motivations; they have to step outside the bounds of characterization they're set within occasionally or they'll never feel real.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Le Joueur on July 19, 2001, 10:14:00 AM
Hi Jesse,

I hope you don’t mind a little advice from my experience.  Let me try and parse it out by your question.

Quote
jburneko wrote:
Quote
Ron Wrote:
So the GM's job is to give Sebastian a situation in which, yes, MOST people would walk away or take the easy way out. John McClane could have left the building, in Die Hard. Ellen Ripley could have left Newt to die, in Aliens.  Luke Skywalker could have joined his father and the two of them could rule the galaxy, in The Empire Strikes Back. What matters is that they didn't do these things, although they could have.

Quote
Hmmm, I guess this is where I start to have problems. In all these situations the stakes are MUCH higher than what I saw in The Chill.  John McClane is worried about the life of his wife of many years.  There's a deep bond there.
Quote
Ellen Ripley had time to bond with the child.  Ellen and Newt were together for a long, long time before the child's life was at stake.
Quote
Finally in the case of Luke Skywalker he knows that MILLIONS will suffer if he gives into the dark side.
Quote
Now to put this all in a role-playing context I have no idea how to bring about this kind of bonding with NPCs.


You actually give a few, but I don’t think you see them as such:

Quote
Think about the scene in Aliens when Ripley goes in to check on Newt and they have that bonding moment where they fall asleep on the floor together.
Quote
It's now emotionally engaging to the character (as well as the audience, and the player, if this were an RPG).


This can be done in a game, but it often requires something I refer to as gamemaster/player conspiracy.  In this example, because it has to do with the emotional investment of the overall ‘game,’ the gamemaster must have taken Ripley’s player aside and negotiated this major ‘plot hook.’  Coming back to play, the gamemaster and Ripley’s player conspire to provide a scene that explains this hook to the group.  Not only does it help cement the details of the ‘hook,’ it also gives it emotional impact to the other players.

Quote
But in my experience such scenes DO NOT happen during an RPG.  If the PCs talk to an NPC it's to try and get enough information to get to the next major plot point, despite giving them AMPLE time and opportunity to do so.


Here you are clearly expecting the players (possibly implicitly) to do much of the work.  While this can be the case, as above, it is not always.  I can only imagine having the above scene occur during the usual course of a game could only occur if the players were already taking strong advantage of the literary tools available and sharing narrative control with the gamemaster, otherwise I see it only happening by conspiracy.

There are a few other options, two of which I can detail here.  With John McClane, the ‘bond’ with his wife, his reason for participating in the whole narrative (right?) is a part of the history designed into his character.  Certainly the relationship with the wife (courtship, marriage, and divorce) was not the course of the game, but only exist in the character’s history.  As such, the gamemaster is rightly playing upon this factor.  One thing that stands out to me is that this relationship is crucial to the sine qua non of the character.  As such, the gamemaster knows both, that he is not allowed to drastically alter it, but also that he can evoke a strong character-response with it.  (That is why the narrative at times strains to keep from simply killing her.)

Quote
They don't ask about NPC's personal lives or connections.  They aren't trying to get to KNOW the NPC or care about the NPC they're trying to get to the next 'point of interest' (i.e. where the action is).


So?  Make these characters' "personal life or connections" the point of interest.  It does not matter how many non-player characters you expose your players to, unless they find a point of emotional investment (not necessarily a bond as requested, just an ‘on ramp’) there will be no ‘forward motion’ towards bonding.

However you do it, you have to ‘make them care.’  Seduce, tease, intrigue, anger, or whatever, you must gain the attention of emotions of the players (as so rightly pointed out by Mr. Czege).  This does not always happen as quickly as it does in the movies, but then, these are not movies, they are role-playing games.  (If you don’t have time to ‘build a bond,’ do you have time to play it out?  Or is it just a narrative hook?)

One of the techniques I find myself frequently using is a matter of continuous exposure.  I put the player characters into almost constant contact with the ‘target’ non-player character.  I then let the character intrigue them by itself.  (I ruthlessly play upon the things that attracted my friends to me in the first place, but I am unusually aware of these issues.)  I also play heavily on the techniques and motifs of romance novels (when romance is a factor) and sympathy appeals for others (and et cetera).

Anything that can be used to evoke an emotional response can probably be used to initiate a bond between player and non-player character.

Quote
So there you have it.  "How do you facilitate emotional bonding between PC and NPC?" is essentially the question on the table.


Herein, my examples have been; 1) make it a part of the player character’s background (and make sure they care about it then too), 2) conspire with the player to generate both the bond and the non-player character, and 3) keep at it (just when they begin taking a non-player character’s presence for granted, it is time to hit them with the complication).  If bonding is important to you in gaming, make it important to the game.

I would also like to simultaneously address something else you mentioned in a later post.

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So, this seems to be coming back (and a lot of my GMing problems come back to this) to the fact that I can't write characters.  I have a very, very hard time with this.


No problem, I have never met anyone who didn’t have some problem with this at first.

Quote
I once asked a playwright, whose work I am very fond of, how she constructed her plays.  She replied, "I think of a group of characters.  I then, throw those characters into a situation and from there the play writes itself."  To this day I can't imagine how this works.  But I'm beginning to believe that my failure to understand how this works is the key to a lot of my disappointment and frustration with RPGs.

In the past I've viewed characters as simply a means to move the plot.


That might be the problem entirely.  As I am currently working on the ‘how to’ gamemaster section of the game system my partner and I are working on, I have had to come to a few revelations about what my style is.  In Scattershot, we describe the act of gamemastering as primarily the function of playing the non-player characters.  (What about setting?  That would be the properties owned by the non-player characters, right?  What about premise, theme, and other literary tools?  They’re there, but you put them ‘into play’ using the non-player characters and the players.  And so on...)

You should see some of the non-player characters as simply components of the engine of narration.  But there should also be a few that exist as more.  These should be the emotional cornerstones of the game.  Much like player characters allow the players to interact with things on a first person basis, there is also room for other characters who allow the players to see similar things from ‘the outside.’

These character need to be designed not only for how they ‘move the plot forward,’ but also for how they evoke the emotions of the players.  Be they heroes or villains, some of the non-player characters must ‘affect’ the players.  Make them sympathetic, revolting, disgusting, or intriguing, but overall they must be emotionally engaging.  Play on what you know affects the players emotions (secretly if you can), this is how truly memorable non-player characters can be consciously designed.

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My story ideas (both static and interactive) start usually with some kind of logistical idea.  I might develop an interesting way for a villain to take over the world.  Or I might come up with clever way to kill someone.  And then I extrapolate the characters I need to achieve that effect.
 

So good so far.

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Generally, I randomly assign a sex to them.  And finally I color with some personality quirks to make them 'memorable.'


And then you are totally marginalizing them.  Have you ever been a player?  Do you ever get that, "why, if I were that character..." feeling?  This is where these special non-player characters should come from.  After you make up the characters as you have extrapolated them above, do not marginalize them like this.  Find reasons for the rest of their details.  (Is one of your player characters a lothario?  Make a crucial soon-to-be-victim and attractive female.)  And whatever the reason, ‘push it.’  Keep coming back to it until they show some response (or start it up with another character, just keep at it).  Only then do the chips fall where they may.  That is the method I use on my players to ‘punch their buttons.’

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The result is that I can't improvise actions for the character very well because I don't KNOW the character.  I know how to characterize the character but I don't know what the character would do in a given situation.


Don’t just stand non-player characters out there and expect the player characters to take an interest in them.  Play them.  Just for a second let the non-player character be your character as if you are its player.  It does take a little sophistication, but I don’t think its that hard to both play a non-player character ‘in character’ and to keep their purpose in the narrative ‘in the back of your mind.’  When you do that, you can heighten the emotional impact of what becomes of the non-player character in the narrative you have got going.

The players will sense your emotional investment in the non-player character and should respond in kind.  The real trick is not becoming ‘too involved.’  It’s still just a non-player character after all (at some point you have to recognize that however interesting you think the non-player characters are, if the players don’t, their expendable).  I guess you have to harden your heart sometimes and ‘prostitute’ your non-player characters.  Engage in them but don’t lose your heart to them.

Quote
So here's my question:  How do you think about your characters?  What brings a character to life for you and helps you to better improvise actions and reactions for that character?


I have one standard technique (and its highly improvisational, but you can probably convert it to your tastes somewhat).  First, I don’t really extrapolate too much detail for the non-player characters who are there to ‘move the story forward.’  I usually just have them down as how they ‘push’ things (this also allows me to reuse a past non-player character in just the specific case).  Next, when any such ‘force’ has to be called into play, I adopt whatever genre cliché seems appropriate at the time (because I don’t move the narrative consciously to any specific end, I never know where they will be needed), keeping in mind that they must be free (from the background) enough to be used again later.

Next, I look for a contradicting element, something that does not ‘make sense’ in the cliché.  (Like wino who all the neighborhood children love.  Or gunslinger who is devoted to his family.)  In the reconciliation between the cliché and the contradiction is where I play the character from, just as though they were a character of my own as a player.  I try to look at everything from an internal point of view when it comes to hinting at the contradiction.  (My players always talk about how ‘deep’ my non-player characters are even when I tell them specifically how I do this.)

Finally, I try to remember why I put them into the narrative in the first place, their raison d'etre.  If necessary, I will make up some objective or purpose that either specifically puts them parallel or contrary to the player characters motivation.  Then ‘my character,’ the non-player character, pursues its goal within this framework.  (Frankly, most of the time I also have to introduce a fair amount of fallibility in the non-player character or the player characters don’t get what they are after.)

One thing I always play on is what I know about my relationships with the players.  (My wife, who loves to have her characters constantly falling in love with other characters, is quite easy.  The more I want her to fall for a character, the more I have them kid around like I do.)  I find that playing upon what the players like about me (or hate about others) tends to cause making something emotional evocative to be easier.

Ultimately, it always breaks down to me actually playing the non-player characters as if they were my character as a player (with the caveat of not getting too involved and the sophistication of remembering how I want them to influence the narrative).

In both posts, I see the common thread of somewhat flat characters and difficulty connecting, emotionally, with the players.  I guess bonding with the characters is somewhat like bonding with the players.

I hope that offers some help.

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-07-19 14:34 ]


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: gentrification on July 19, 2001, 12:53:00 PM
Jesse -

This is a bit of a shortcut, and shouldn't be construed as the end-all be-all of character advice, but maybe it will help you as a stepping stone:

Try to imagine what your NPCs would be up to if the PCs never entered the picture at all. You've mentioned that you tend to view characters as a means to an end - the PCs' ends, in this case - so take the PCs out and try to figure out how your NPC would run her life without them.

In my old, terribly railroaded Mage game, I at least managed to come up with good NPCs. The head of the local Iteration X cabal had an inferiority complex and was engaged in an intense professional rivalry with the head of the Progenitors. One of the PCs' allies - a normal, unawakened private detective - was gay and dealing with HIV. Neither of these things had anything to do with the PCs, and in fact the campaign could have gone on forever without the PCs ever learning about them - but they always informed the NPCs' actions. This made them seem a bit more real, and less like they were simply reacting to whatever the PCs happened to be doing.

You've also mentioned, in other forums, that you dislike coming up with setting background that isn't directly relevant to the plot of your game. That sort of background is essential, though, for coming up with 3-dimensional characters. Your NPCs should have lives that don't necessarily revolve around what your players do.

-Mike.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: John Wick on July 19, 2001, 03:15:00 PM
Quote

So there you have it.  "How do you facilitate emotional bonding between PC and NPC?" is essencially the question on the table.


It has nothing to do with time, it has everything to do with suspension of disbelief.

Before Die Hard begins, we've never met John or Holly McClane. We know nothing about them. It's only because the GM (McTiernnan) is such a good storyteller that we grow to understand the connection these characters have.

The GM gives the PC (John) and the NPC (Holly) a chance to interract before the action begins. Because the dialogue shows us so much about their relationship, we understand the emotional investment these two have in each other.

Players (and GMs) have to be willing to surrender some of that disbelief to have the same kind of emotional tugs in an RPG session. You don't need weeks of previous play to establish character, you just need some well placed dialogue, well drawn dialogue and a bunch of people who are willing to buy into the premise. Once you have that, you can make magic.

Take care,
John

[ This Message was edited by: John Wick on 2001-07-19 19:19 ]


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Cameron on July 19, 2001, 03:27:00 PM
One of the other advantages to having very well-defined npcs, aside from having players become attached to them, is that when you are feeling very lazy, you don't have to try to write a plot. This works especially well in a game set in a limited locale (I call it the Dark City approach).

I used to do this all the time when I was in college because I didn't have the time to come up with plot hooks. I'd just let the PCs give a little push and spend weeks figuring out what the repercussions of the PC actions were, and then what the repercussions of those actions were, and so forth. Maybe the stories weren't inspired, but I didn't have to really do anything and the players always seemed happy. Eventually, I'd see a pattern forming, and choose to take the game in that direction to create a bigger story arch.



Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Paul Czege on July 19, 2001, 06:24:00 PM
Hey everyone,

I've been thinking about this a lot since the beginning of this thread. And I've been working up a lot of personal belief that making an NPC compelling to the player, which is what's important, doesn't much have anything to do with the reasons we've been exploring here. It doesn't much have anything to do with how substantially imagined the NPC is, or how immersive the player is, or how much game time or character background is spent setting up a relationship between PC and NPC. I'm sure all of us can cite examples of players taking an interest in specific NPC's that we'd never have anticipated. It happens all the time, it's flukey and unpredictable enough that I'm thinking the traditional methods we've examined for establishing NPC significance to players aren't actually the relevant ones.

I'm thinking the key to player interest in a given NPC is primarily related to the theme that player is working up through their PC protagonist.

In the scene between Leah and Marla that I described in the "I think my girlfriend is a...simulationist" thread, Marla leapt to significance and prominence for every single player during that scene because we're the audience for the theme of workplace rivalry that my girlfriend has been working up. The players haven't discussed the themes they're working up, or what they perceive each other's themes to be, but the favorable audience reaction to that scene is enough to say that at some unconscious level, they know how Leah's theme is gelling and they're enthusiastic to see how it resolves itself. And they're excited about Leah as a protagonist.

Compare that scene with one from the first session of the same scenario. My character Steffan had confronted the Senator's wife, Sarah about having potentially jeopardized the re-election campaign by having a bunch of conspicuous doctor appointments. The background for the scenario is that Sarah's doctor appointments were suspicious enough to Steffan that he investigated, discovering that she has just been diagnosed with HIV. The scene was partly Steffan abusing Sarah during a time of personal distress for her, about her stupidity. And Scott played her as kind of weak, turning away from Steffan at one point near tears. It was an okay scene...but nowhere near as great as the scene with Leah and Marla. And I'm fairly certain that Marla and Sarah had similar levels of work-up by Scott, similar levels of emotional immersion from him when he was playing them, and that I and my girlfriend were operating with similar levels of suspension of disbelief when playing those two scenes. So why the different levels of significance for Marla and Sarah? I'm thinking it's because although Steffan's theme is about him being a relatively inhumane user and manipulator, it isn't so much about him being a user and manipulator of the weak. When I think about what fits for him, it's a theme of him being a user and manipulator of users and manipulators. So again, although the play group hasn't actually discussed our characters' themes, we're clearly aware of the themes we're interested in seeing. So because the scene with Sarah didn't really contribute to the theme we want to see for Steffan, there's a general lack of interest in Sarah.

Newt is important because Ripley's player is riffing on a theme of motherhood. John McClane's wife is important because McClane's player is riffing on a theme of still loving someone who's left you. Vader is important in The Empire Strikes Back because Luke's player is riffing on a theme of knowing your power is the legacy of a monster.

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that the coherent imagining and effective playing of NPC's isn't important. I think it's a requirement. What I'm suggesting is that it isn't ultimately what drives player interest in an NPC.

Now if you can tell me why Sebastian Warfield fits with the theory, I'll descend into even more enthusiasm.

Paul


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Mike Holmes on July 20, 2001, 01:02:00 PM
I think that the nail has been hit head on with Paul's analysis. NPCs that effectively drive forward character protagonism are those that will be the most remembered, and most liked by the *players* (whether or not the *characters* like, hate, or are neutral to them). Why? They are plot elements that are important in the PCs story. Even if I create the most interesting NPC in the world with a ton of background, and play him to the hilt, if the PC isn't able to advance his protagonism by interacting with the character, then he will essentially be relagated by the players to the status of interesting local color.

What kind of NPC drives forward character protagonism? Well, it isn't the guy you get directions from. Unless that guy resists. And not so much resists to the extent that the information never comes out, just enough to be an interesting challenge. This is just an example, though. The actual form of the challenge can be anything. Maybe the character encountering the NPC just has to realize that the NPC just needs somebody to listen to him for a while before he'll tell what he knows. Or perhaps an appropriae amount of grovelling will get another to introduce you to that important person. So like any other plot element that NPC becomes a memorable event in the game, one that advances the plot. Players will return to the memorable ones. Just like in real life, stress causes bonds to form more readily. Be they positive or negative.

The other type of NPC that promotes protagonism are those that need help. And to the extent that it can be argued that a character helping a particular NPC is helping themselves, that makes the protagonism level higher. So if my character rescues a nameless stranger from a building full of terrorists, OK, they were helpful, but only a little despite there being dozens of them. But if my character rescues his ex-wife, that really advances his protagonism, his story.

So, you've got your two basic types of protagonism promoting NPCs, the good guys and the bad guys. Or rather NPCs that make the PC look good while helping, and those that challenge the PC to overcome obstacles that they represent. Note, the best are ones that switch back and forth. That ex-wife is a challenge and soeone who needs help simultaneously.

A key that I've found is limiting the amount of effort that I put into NPCs into only these kinds of characters. Other NPCs are handled with very litttle (often none) characterization at all, unless I need to dressup a scene or something (in which case I'm not including the NPC withthe intent of getting the PCs interested in them, anyhow). Quality, not quantity. After that third DNPC, they all start to lose a little importance, no? And as Ron has pointed out, if every encounter with a shop clerk ends up being a battle to obtain a bottle of dish detergent, this makes the bad guys cheap as well. Not all NPCs should resist all the time. Vary their responses a little.

One huge problem that I've discovered is that players often make characters who actually don't need other characters. This is one of those defense mechanisms. Essentially, players know that if they make their characters succeptible to becoming attached to other characters, they know that the GM will use that to hook them into potentially negative situations. This is why DNPCs are worth points as a disadvantage in Champions and GURPS, etc. To balance that "inconvenience". You know these characters. Players decide that their background is that they have permenant incurrable amnesia. What percentage of PCs would you say are orphans? I'm guessing that the Orphan rate is about 100 times real life. Often this is related to lazyness as well.

As I said, this is a problem because, it means that NPCs, often one of the most powerful ways to make a story interesting, are often ignored by these characters. I've seen players have their "loner" characters sleep with an NPC, and then when that NPC gets kidnapped the next day the character just says, "Eh, so what; didn't really like her anyhow." Yeah, I'm sure there are real people who act like that, uh-huh. And they're often protagonists, too, uh-huh.

This is also related to the defense mechanism about having to become emotionally invested in the game at all. Providing hooks for this type of character becomes relegated to only those sorts of things that benefit them directly. Which gets boring fast, and is really unrealistic. It is for some, essentially, fantasy fulfilment to be able to live a life in which they don't have to care about anybody but themselves. I try to disallow this as much as possible in my games.

I'd like to coin a term here. Using the relationship map idea, these characters would be called Islands. I an see them off in a corner of the map with no lines leading to or fom them. If they do have relationship lines to anyone, they must be labeled Apathetic.

If you have players like this, it's going to take a more essential attitude adjustment to get them to take notice of your NPCs. They need to understand that your game has more depth to it than they apparently do. If these players are seriously and honestly intent on this method of play, I suggest running something much more gamist for them, where NPCs are nothing but stops for info or widgets on the way to the rest of the quest.

That rambled a bit. Sorry, Friday, you know. Maybe I'm way off. :wink:

Mike Holmes



Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: GreatWolf on July 21, 2001, 05:40:00 AM
I'd like to chime in and agree with Paul provisionally.  I agree that Paul's answer works for a Narrativist game.  However, player interest is piqued for different reasons with different play goals.  For example, for the Gamist, an NPC is memorable and gripping because of the challenge that he represents.  For an Explorative, an NPC is moving because he advances the experience of the world (or because he adds to the overall pathos level.  ;-] )

Regardless, an interesting NPC is not merely interesting to the character (although there does need to be a connection within the game).  An interesting NPC is interesting (first and foremost) to the players.



Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Emily Care on August 02, 2001, 01:33:00 PM
Quote

On 2001-07-18 16:04,  as part of a discussion of pc/npc bonding issues jburneko wrote:  

"Despite giving them AMPLE time and opportunity to do so.  They don't ask about NPC's personal lives or connections.  They aren't trying to get to KNOW the NPC or care about the NPC they're trying to get to the
next 'point of interest' (i.e. where the action is)."

Another line of attack for the problem you are discussing (pc/npc bonding) is to look at this issue: player motivation and focus.

If the players are only interacting with the npc's as intermediaries on the way to "the plot" or achieving "the goal" of the rpg, then no wonder it's hard to get them to bond. You really do have to work hard to make your npc dashing or twisted or fit them very carefully into the character's background or make them strike a chord with your player's psyche.  

However, if the enjoyment of playing is found in the interactions between characters, and characters and world, then you'll have a much easier time of it. If the pc's have broader motivations than amassing wealth and power, then they will have "real" motivations to interact with n-people they meet.  And then, sometimes they will hit it off and bond, sometimes they won't.  Just like in real life.  

It occurs to me, as I right this, that even when you are lucky enough to be playing with folks who are asking questions of the npc and who are interested in the world etc. it is still challenging to get co-gamers to engage with your npc's.  At least I've found it so.  Well, not to engage, but really to bond.  I just ran a long segment of play in a game where three of us normally fully co-gm.  (Please ask me about that experience, that's partly why I'm here on this forum :smile: and there were a couple situations that didn't work out how hoped.  Characters rubbed eachother the wrong way, rather than getting intrigued.   I'm still puzzling over that...

Ah, well.  There's my addition to the debate.  

Thanks for the interesting conversation!

Emily Care


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Blake Hutchins on August 02, 2001, 02:10:00 PM
Welcome to the Forge, Emily. And yeah, as someone who currently co-GMs a game, I'll bite: what about your three person full co-GM experience?

Best,

Blake


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Emily Care on August 07, 2001, 03:38:00 PM
Hello All, Hello Blake,

First off, I want to give a link to an excellent discussion of ways to encourage the type of play that supports deeper interaction and bonding between PC's and NPC's.  It follows:

Encouraging Role Playing
 
http://www.darkshire.org/~jhkim/rpg/styles/encouraging_rp.html

Next, in answer to Blake:

You are co-gming!!! Tell all!  But it might be better if we take this conversation to the "Narrative Sharing" topic I started after I posted this.  I don't want to take up too much out of topic space. :smile: I've described some of the way our game is working there..please write about your experiences!  

Back to the question at hand, my experience with character bonding is that roleplaying that emphasizes PC-NPC interaction, and gives more screen time and energy to NPC's allows much deeper interactions.  

Moment-to-moment experience oriented rather than goal oriented play allows for bonding to happen over a longer period of time.  You get to build up common experiences with NPC's and PC's.  Instead of building the connections into whatever character's backstory, it develops in the _story_.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Knight on August 09, 2001, 03:54:00 PM
http://www.darkshire.org/~jhkim/rpg/styles/encouraging_rp.html



Hmm. Interesting, but definately not techniques that I'd ever use to try and encourage roleplaying. They seem far too confrontational.

*tell* the player what his character is feeling.


This should never, ever be done. I really can't stress how much of a bad idea this is.  You want to help the player's identification with the character, not destroy it.  


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: greyorm on August 09, 2001, 05:01:00 PM
Quote

*tell* the player what his character is feeling.

This should never, ever be done. I really can't stress how much of a bad idea this is.  You want to help the player's identification with the character, not destroy it.  

And I can't stress how GOOD of an idea this is.  I've used this with both my newbies and my old hands, and its worked wonderfully to get people into character.

In real life, we oftentimes don't have a choice, or make a conscious decision to feel or behave a certain way, we just DO.  Suddenly.  

In a role-playing game, this is a challenge: "Staring at the vampire, utter horror grips your heart and you you feel a panicked need to run from the predatory waves that flow from the creature," because now you have to PLAY that, none of this unrealistic, ego-based "I'm not scared of you, ancient red dragon," stuff; and it is also a great tool, because it helps link a player to the situation on a very human level, very intuitive level.  I know I get more out of a description of feeling, in that feeling "there" sense, than I do just a tactile description.

It is an especially good tactic with female players (yeah, yeah, sexism alert...honestly, females grasp/relate to/"get" emotion better than males).

However, this is definitely something to be discussed during the "group contract" phase...are the characters absolutely inviolate to the players?  Or aren't they?

Obviously, Knight feels that character mental states are utterly inviolate to the players...I think that's a standard assumption in play, but I don't know if it is necessarily a good assumption or tactic in play.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Uncle Dark on August 09, 2001, 09:34:00 PM
Raven,

I see both sides of this one.  For the most part I agree with you, in that I see a certain amount of uncontrolability in emotion.  Some emotions just happen to you.  Especially if they're magically or technically induced (not the Orbital Mind Control Lasers again!).

On the other hand, I wouldn't usually (never say never) bitch at a player who didn't play the emotions I forced on the character the way I thought they should be played.  In the vampire example, it would be just as valid a response for the player to declare that the character stands firm despite the terror, as it would be to run.  So would a number of other things.

Now, it occurs to me that a lot of this may hinge on what stance the player is playing from.

In actor stance, a player may view a GM-induced emotion as a role-playing challenge.  Or the player may view it as the GM horning in on the one area in the game he has control of.

Other stances may be more flexible.

Lon


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Mytholder on August 10, 2001, 01:12:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-08-09 21:01, greyorm wrote:
Quote

*tell* the player what his character is feeling.

This should never, ever be done. I really can't stress how much of a bad idea this is.  You want to help the player's identification with the character, not destroy it.  

And I can't stress how GOOD of an idea this is.  I've used this with both my newbies and my old hands, and its worked wonderfully to get people into character.

Actually, I'm with Knight on this one. You can suggest or push me towards playing a character in a certain way, but you don't tell me how to play it. I've got my own view of the character which is obviously different to yours. If you want to make my character angry, then show him something that'll make him angry.

Quote

In real life, we oftentimes don't have a choice, or make a conscious decision to feel or behave a certain way, we just DO.  Suddenly.  

Yes...ish. We can still try to control ourselves, though, even in the most stressful situations.
Quote

In a role-playing game, this is a challenge: "Staring at the vampire, utter horror grips your heart and you you feel a panicked need to run from the predatory waves that flow from the creature," because now you have to PLAY that, none of this unrealistic, ego-based "I'm not scared of you, ancient red dragon," stuff; and it is also a great tool, because it helps link a player to the situation on a very human level, very intuitive level.  I know I get more out of a description of feeling, in that feeling "there" sense, than I do just a tactile description.

The problem arises when the GM's view of the situation contradicts the player. Ok, example time: I'm playing a mortal in a Vampire game. My character is a nice but fairly ordinary guy. A Vampire breaks into my house. I run to protect my family. Now, the GM has decided that it would really challenge me if my family got eaten when I was powerless to stop them.
GM: You're so scared you run away.
ME: My character wouldn't do that. That's his family there. They're more important to him than his own life.
GM: No they're not.

The GM is violating my conception of my character. If the PC was beaten up or hypnotised or something by the vampire, that's an external force over-riding the character...but telling the character "you are not who the player says you are" is just asking for trouble.

Quote

Obviously, Knight feels that character mental states are utterly inviolate to the players...I think that's a standard assumption in play, but I don't know if it is necessarily a good assumption or tactic in play.


No, I don't think anyone feels that mental states are " utterly inviolate", but heavy-handed stuff like "you feel this way, and you react in this way" is just annoying. You're taking all the power away from the player, and unless you've got a *really* good justification *and* the trust of the player, you're in trouble. In my experience, few things cause more indignation and irritation on the part of players than this. It's poor storytelling, to be honest.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: contracycle on August 10, 2001, 02:24:00 AM
Well, the imposition of a state of mind does not necessarily imply taking over the PC like a puppet.  I could and would TELL such a character that they are afraid, that they want to run.  Then I let the player decide whether the character will run, or will stick it out, pounding heart and knocking knees and all.

On occassion I will impose physical movements as well, especially if they are autonomic reflexes.  One of my better action scenes was a field cavalry charge, and with the combination of charging, bouncing horses, dust, slit vision helms, etc, I felt completely free to tell players that their character had ducked, or reached for balance, things like that.  I am giving the player the experience of their animal body and monkey brain having a set of reflexes rather independant of the conscious intellect.  I tried to narrate this scene much as one might do a modern stuttered, cluttered video shoot; first person rather than top down, narrating impressions and stimuli as they were experienced rather than than in any analytical form.

So fair enough, this is not going to appeal to everyone.  But my players loved it, and their eyes were fairly glowing with the rush of it all. some of them remarked it was the first time they had really felt what a melee might feel like, and I was very gratified with these responses.  Its a form I hope to be exploring more deeply soon (whoo, I have recieved my copy of Lajos Egri's book).


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: greyorm on August 10, 2001, 08:31:00 AM
Quote

GM: You're so scared you run away.

Second time a person misunderstands me is the time it needs to be cleared up.  

Gareth (Myth), Lon, everyone take note: nowhere in my example did I say that the player ran away or forced him to take an action.  All I said was that he was scared, to death, utterly afraid, quaking in sheer, primal terror...with an URGE to run.

End of story.
What they want to do after that is their business.  This isn't about something as inanely stupid and childishly control-freakish as, "Your character runs away.  Hah.  You don't have a say in the matter."
Let's not get into barn and start making mischaracterizations.

Whether the character acts on that urge, on that terror, or confronts it and ignores it as best their able is the player's choice.  But being scared to death isn't.  Partly because I'm sick of "macho" players, ones who stare down ancient red dragons at third level instead of pissing in their pants, and smart off to something that can (and will) swallow them whole ("Hi, I have a Wisdom of 18 and NO COMMON SENSE.").

If I say you're scared, if I say there's a creepy feeling in the air, if I say the day is beautiful and warm and it makes you want to smile, that's that.
(Yes, quiver in terror, oh ye of the inviolate character school!)

Whether you do get creeped out, whether you do smile, that's up to you.  And I'm also equally capable of keeping in mind that the dour dwarf will not smile or feel happy because the day is warm and beautiful (remember: no more strawmen).

Quote

On occassion I will impose physical movements as well, especially if they are autonomic reflexes...I am giving the player the experience of their animal body and monkey brain having a set of reflexes rather independant of the conscious intellect.

This is exactly what I do, too, Gareth!  In fact, it came up in my game last night: one of the characters decided to try and blow the thick dust off something to get a better look, but instead only managed to stir it up and give himself a sneezing fit (which stirred up more dust).  This caused the character to involuntarily stumble backwards to get away from the dust.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Uncle Dark on August 10, 2001, 08:38:00 AM
Raven,

Point taken.  Actually, I wasn't trying to imply that you would  do anything of the kind (remember, I started out saying that I agreed with you), just leaping from what you said in the direction I wouldn't normally go.

Sorry if that was unclear.

Lon


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: greyorm on August 10, 2001, 08:52:00 AM
Quote

Sorry if that was unclear.

Not a problem, Lon.  I just wanted to cut off the horse before the pass...before we started arguing about the horrors of forced character-actions, when what I was discussing was forced character feelings/intuitions.  Hence, I wanted to be extra clear! :smile:


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: contracycle on August 13, 2001, 02:03:00 AM
Hmm, but surely, forcing a mindset is  a heavy prompt to certain actions?  Surely it limits the scope of "all available" plausible course of action.


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: greyorm on August 13, 2001, 08:47:00 AM
Quote

Hmm, but surely, forcing a mindset is  a heavy prompt to certain actions?  Surely it limits the scope of "all available" plausible course of action.

But we're always limited in our courses of action.  How is it that intruding on the mental state of the character is so horrifying when constant intrusion on the physical state of the character is so acceptable?

I simply don't see a plausible or acceptable reason to avoid playing the subconscious mind of a character.  Care to provide one?


Title: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding
Post by: Blake Hutchins on August 13, 2001, 09:43:00 AM
I think the extent of the problem depends on the players. I agree with Raven that some kind of limited scale, lizard brain approach is very workable, so long as the choice of response stays with the player. However, two guys in my current Mage group will absolutely not accept anything externally imposed on their character's internal mindscape. That's the reason mind control poses such a difficult challenge in a story. Many, many players do *not* want their characters to submit to the intimate dominance represented by strong emotions or arcane mental influences.

In my group, "Joe" refuses to roleplay any "uncool" emotions, meaning he'll play grief, rage, or compassion, but he won't go with fear or self-doubt. He absolutely won't go with any flows if mind-altering stuff is involved (though he's cool tinkering with other players' minds). Joe's approach is to devote 100% of his gameplay effort to work around any emotion or mental state he doesn't like, to the extent of sulking if he doesn't swiftly break out of it. I've learned over the years that it's not worth challenging him on this, so I provide other emotional challenges and choices to him without imposing any unwanted reactions. Joe's somewhat of a control freak in real life, and so long as I don't challenge him on his core issues, he's a fine member of the group.

"Bob" has a somewhat different approach: he as a player simply ignores any emotional input he doesn't want, even if he fails rolls or is affected by some event or element that he expects others to submit to. It's doubly frustrating because when his character is offstage, he buries his nose in a book and refuses to engage emotionally with the game. I anticipate he will not join future games with this group.

This iteration of the original topic probably deserves its own thread, but.... How do the rest of you handle mind control stuff in play?

Best,

Blake

[ This Message was edited by: Blake Hutchins on 2001-08-13 13:46 ]