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Author Topic: Play prep and NPC's  (Read 17924 times)
contracycle
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« Reply #30 on: July 26, 2007, 03:42:09 AM »

Yes I think thats fair enough.  Interesting things to do in interesting places, with a little bit of danger, a little bit of drama thrown in.

But as I mentioned originally, what struck me of others accounts were the use of NPC's and the degree of the presence. So if you related some of your approach to NPC's that might suggest ideas of how I could use them. Things like, when you decide to bring them on, what you bring them on for, etc.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #31 on: July 26, 2007, 06:22:55 AM »

Gareth, I'm going to repost from Story Games the description of how I came up with the major NPCs for the most successful game I've ever run to date:

Quote
Tony, in the Shadow of Yesterday "Battlestar Galactica in a Dungeon" game we played with Eric and Jen, I deliberately created all the (significant) NPCs after the player-characters were created and in direct response to things the players seemed to be calling for. Thus:

Jen had explicitly said she'd wanted more doomed romance for her character in our last campaign. So I made sure at three different NPCs were desperately attracted to Jen's character, Khaidu. Jen also had her character start as an exile from his barbarian tribe who was an outsider among the other PC's people.
Eric had created a character, Brother Vedis, whose story was all about finding out the mysterious and probably appalling secrets of the magical chalice of which he was the last surviving guardian. So I made sure that two NPCs cared intensely about the chalice. (And a third, the crazed sorcerer guy, had some background on why Vedis's religion was more sinister than he thought, but that never came up much).
You'd created a character, Yoshi, who was all about struggling with the appalling repression -- and internalized self-repression -- of women in the fictional culture. And she had a thing for Khaidu, of course. So besides the NPCs you specifically implied in your character generation (Yoshi's judgmental father and her mentor/seducer), I created characters who mirrored Yoshi's issues of power, powerlessness, family, and love.

Thus I created the characters who became major figures in the story:

Kaina: Yoshi's long-lost sister, a female paladin full of repression and self-denial, instantly crushing on Khaidu even as she wishes he were "civilized." She eventually became a huge deal, immensely intertangled with Jen's Khaidu and effectively "my character" in the story. (Hits Yoshi & Khaidu).

Khan: The freakin' giant tiger of death, Khaidu's rival as an embodiment of aggressive, virile nature, and connected to the Chalice and Yoshi's family history. (Hits Khaidu, and secondarily Vedis & Yoshi).

Archduke Corion and Baron Ran: Corion, the sort-of-rightful claimant to the throne, seeking Vedis' chalice to break the spell that kept him an aged man in a ten-year-old body, with utter contempt for the barbarian Khaidu, and demanding Yoshi's allegiance through his hold over her father, the Baron Ran (whom I'm not listing separately as he was very much your creation and doesn't fit into a discussion of my NPC-creating-method). (Hits Vedis, and secondarily Khaidu & Yoshi).

Arianwe: The witch-queen, powerful and cruel, Yoshi's grandmother -- eternally youthful thanks to hideous magics -- seeking Khaidu's male energy to perpetuate her immortality and wanting her hands on the Chalice for the same unholy purpose. The arch-villainness of the piece. (Hits all three PCs).

There were also two NPCs I created who pretty much fizzled:
Death-Her-Gift: A barbarian princess, a powerful, self-assured woman (in contrast to Yoshi), who was attracted to Khaidu and wanted him to rejoin the tribes. Jen thoroughly rejected this option, and since there was no dilemma or internal tension to exploit, I huffled this NPC off-stage. (Hits Khaidu, not very hard, and secondarily Yoshi).
Talin: Arianwe's son, driven mad by her mistreatment and his own demoniac sorcery, worshipping the dark form of the same deity as Brother Vedis, although I never made that anywhere near clear enough. Everyone thought he was an amusingly grotesque minor villain, but no one really engaged with him. (Sort of hits Vedis, and that's it).

Almost every session of play ended up centering on an encounter with one of these major NPCs and the player-characters' reactions to them.

The only procedure I can distill from what I did was:
1) Each antagonist hits on a protagonist's capital-i Issue, either by mirror-imaging the protagonist's problem or by directly posing a challenge to the character in that area.
2) Each (successful) antagonist hits at least two protagonists' Issues and, ideally, all three.
3) Each antagonist wants something from the protagonists (the great advice from Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard).

Does this give you any useful ideas?
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contracycle
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« Reply #32 on: July 27, 2007, 04:38:59 AM »

I am mostly interested in things such as sessions centering on an encounter with one of these NPC's.  Similarly I understand you created three potential love interests, but I am interested in how they were introduced into play.  For example were they all known to exist by the player prior to play?  Or did you actively introduce these characters in the course of play, and if so, simultaneously or alternately, what were the other players doing etc.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #33 on: July 27, 2007, 08:15:41 AM »

Gareth, good questions. To answer the simpler one first:

There were two major NPCs that were created by the players -- specifically by one player, Tony ("Yoshi"), whose character backstory called for a harsh, distant father and a charming, unscrupulous mentor/seducer. That said, I took those two characters and refined them and played them as my own. Similarly, the central magical MacGuffin of play, the Chalice, was invented by another player, Eric, although he gave me lots of room to invent its true backstory and significance.

Otherwise, all the NPCs were ones I came up with on my own, without knowledge of the players: The first time the players learned about a particular NPC was when their PCs first met or heard about that NPC. This is actually unusual for my group, where we usually thrash out major antagonists and so on collaboratively in the first session; but for this game, with its themes of mystery and rediscovering lost secrets of the past, it fit well.

I created all the major NPCs after our first session of play. What I did was have everyone read a couple pages of setting-and-situation intro, then make up characters collaboratively, and then run a brief game in which all the PCs they had just created were running madly away from the invading Horde to get into the (dubious) safety of the ruined city. I ended that session on them entering the darkened gates.

Then I went home and madly brainstormed appropriate things to be waiting inside. Between that introductory session and the second session, when the PCs actually entered the city, I came up with all six of the NPCs listed in my prior post (although I didn't stat them all up immediately) -- and placed each of them in a different location in the city. I had some control over the order the players would encounter them in, because I put Kaina (for example) in command of another band of refugees just inside the gates, while I put Arianwe and Talin significantly further away; but then again, I thought that Prince Corion's creepy haunted palace would scare them into bypassing it, and they marched right into it at the end of the third session.

Because of the rhythm we deliberately developed during play, at the end of each session I pretty much knew where the player-characters were headed for the next session, so I could prep any additional details I needed of the major NPC located there. Usually, the player-characters arrived at a given location all together -- though sometimes they "split the party," which wasn't too hard to deal with, as I just cross-cut every few minutes between what different players were doing.

Introducing an NPC simply became part of running the location, with minions or magic often guiding the player-characters to the encounter. Usually, the players did not know who the NPC would be -- although by the time they physically got to Arianwe, they had encountered her in visions and, in one case, been possessed by her as a result of a very unwise magical confrontation -- and, conversely, I had no idea of whether the players would want to kill that NPC, collaborate with him/her, or some mix of the two. That's where playing the NPC as "my character" came in. The structure of the game required me to improvise the whole encounter, but it also allowed me to focus on one major NPC at a time.
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contracycle
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« Reply #34 on: August 13, 2007, 05:02:10 AM »

Hi Sidney,

I stopped posting to the prep and NPC's thread because it appeared to have been reduced to just the two of us, which seemed pointless.  I had hoping tyo start a broader discussion.  However I still don't really understand what you were doing from the description given.

Quote
There were two major NPCs that were created by the players -- specifically by one player, Tony ("Yoshi"), whose character backstory called for a harsh, distant father and a charming, unscrupulous mentor/seducer. That said, I took those two characters and refined them and played them as my own. Similarly, the central magical MacGuffin of play, the Chalice, was invented by another player, Eric, although he gave me lots of room to invent its true backstory and significance.

So lets say "identified" rather than created, and leave creation meaning full mechanical articulation etc. 

Quote
I created all the major NPCs after our first session of play. What I did was have everyone read a couple pages of setting-and-situation intro, then make up characters collaboratively, and then run a brief game in which all the PCs they had just created were running madly away from the invading Horde to get into the (dubious) safety of the ruined city. I ended that session on them entering the darkened gates.

So the first session could be conceived as a period of joint creation plus a brief amount of play, is that fair?  And all NPC's in it were minor or none appeared.

What to you is the difference between a major and minor NPC?

Quote
Then I went home and madly brainstormed appropriate things to be waiting inside. Between that introductory session and the second session, when the PCs actually entered the city, I came up with all six of the NPCs listed in my prior post (although I didn't stat them all up immediately) -- and placed each of them in a different location in the city. I had some control over the order the players would encounter them in, because I put Kaina (for example) in command of another band of refugees just inside the gates, while I put Arianwe and Talin significantly further away; but then again, I thought that Prince Corion's creepy haunted palace would scare them into bypassing it, and they marched right into it at the end of the third session.

What I am not getting here is why the players are doing this.  Is this something you have added to an existing play agenda, such that they had to go those places anyway for other reasons?  Or are the other players simply tagging along?  Or is it just the one player doing this, and if so, what are the others doing while this is happening?

Quote
Introducing an NPC simply became part of running the location, with minions or magic often guiding the player-characters to the encounter. Usually, the players did not know who the NPC would be -- although by the time they physically got to Arianwe, they had encountered her in visions and, in one case, been possessed by her as a result of a very unwise magical confrontation -- and, conversely, I had no idea of whether the players would want to kill that NPC, collaborate with him/her, or some mix of the two. That's where playing the NPC as "my character" came in. The structure of the game required me to improvise the whole encounter, but it also allowed me to focus on one major NPC at a time.

I find this confusing; if you only designed the NPC's after each session of play, then where the locations pre-designed?  And is what the characters are Doing being driven by these locations, or some private agenda, or by visiting the NPC's?
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contracycle
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« Reply #35 on: August 13, 2007, 05:04:12 AM »

Well, that was meant to be a PM, but seeing there is nothing I can do about that slip of the finger it might as well stay.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #36 on: August 13, 2007, 03:32:57 PM »

I have no problems posting back and forth between the two of us rather than private messaging. I figure someone, somewhere will benefit from our conversation on this topic being concluded in public.

I'm going to tresspass mildly on forum etiquette and do a point-by-point reply:


1.
On "identifying" vs. "creating" an NPC:

The two NPCs that came from the backstory Tony made up for his character (Yoshi) he had described as her authoritarian, rejecting father, a nobleman, and her mentor-turned seducer, a priest of the dominant (and very male-dominated) cult of the setting. I gave them names, stat blocks, and backstory, so the creation was very much a joint effort, with me elaborating on Tony's initial idea.

But I'll still stick to the word "creating" rather than "identifying" for both Tony's role in the process and mine, for two intertwined reasons.

First off, there's clearly a difference in our attitudes towards the reality of the game-world here. "Identifying an NPC" implies some kind of independent existence to the character -- that he or she alreay existed and was simply discovered, or at least had to be there and was extrapolated. That's a central conceit for a certain style of play which prioritizes the imagined reality over all else (it's the "constructive denial" central to "Simulationism," I think), and I think it's essential for your style of play, but it's not for our group. We're very open about "hey, I want to make this thing up!" "Cool! And it should have this detail!" "Yeah!" Our comfort level with this style of play is high because we see the imagined reality not as an end-in-itself but as a means to an end, specifically as a set of tools for putting pressure on our characters to force hard, interesting choices ("narrativist" or "thematic" play).

Second, I want to give the player (Tony in this case) full credit for being the person who actually made up the character in the first place. I just refined and elaborated his initial idea.


2.
Major vs. minor non-protagonist characters

Quote
So the first session could be conceived as a period of joint creation plus a brief amount of play, is that fair?  And all NPC's in it were minor....

Exactly.

Quote
What to you is the difference between a major and minor NPC?

In my games, a minor NPC is one I introduce for a specific purpose in play -- to fight the protagonists, to mock their heritage, to represent a particular group in the game-world -- and which I don't have any intention of reintroducing later. They may well reappear and take on a life of their own if the players take an interest in them.

A major NPC, by contrast, is built to provide continued pressure to at least one protagonist on some critical issue identified (explicitly or implicitly) as interesting and important by that protagonist's player. A major NPC is one I intend to reintroduce, though they may get shuffled offstage if the players aren't interested. These are the characters I tend to play as "my PC," with long-term goals and motivations of their own.


3.
When I designed what

Quote
if you only designed the NPC's after each session of play, then where the locations pre-designed? 

Good question; I wasn't clear enough. Three stages:

i) Before the first session of play -- when we made up characters and did a short introductory adventure -- I had the basic set-up of refugees from a fallen fairy-tale kingdom fleeing an invading horde to a haunted, abandoned capital city, but nothing else. I had the culture and history of the kingdom sketched out in a few pages, to provide character generation material, but nothing about what had caused the collapse of the capital or what the player-characters would find inside it.

ii) After the first session of play, now that I had all the player-characters not only generated but "road tested" with a bit of actual play, I came up with basic ideas for all the major NPCs -- i.e. the continuing characters to pressure various aspects of the protagonists -- and the various major locations within the city where those NPCs were based. I made a map of the city and handed it out to the players, but most of these NPCs weren't finalized with stat blocks yet.

iii) After each session of play -- including the first, but also after every subsequent session -- I would know from what players had just decided where they were heading next, so I went ahead and worked out the details of that location: the major NPC's actual stat block; the major NPC's likely reactions to whatever the players had just done; ideas for minor NPCs (but usually no stats; I improvised these on the spot); and a description for the physical location (in my head, not a written-out text block, let alone a map). Keep in mind I was using Clinton Nixon's The Shadow of Yesterday (which my group and I love), which allows you to define a minor character with one number and a fully-defined character in five minutes, so my prep was very light.

As the campaign progressed, I also elaborated the backstory of the world -- in part in response to player input, in part because I simply hadn't had time to do everything I wanted before the first session. Specifically I wrote up a 12-page mythology of the fallen kingdom's gods and drew a family tree of the old royal line that showed the various PCs and NPCs who were part of it.


4.
Player motivations

This is the crucial one, so I've saved it for last.

Quote
What I am not getting here is why the players are doing this [i.e. going from place to place in the city -- SF].  Is this something you have added to an existing play agenda, such that they had to go those places anyway for other reasons?  Or are the other players simply tagging along?  Or is it just the one player doing this, and if so, what are the others doing while this is happening?...And is what the characters are Doing being driven by these locations, or some private agenda, or by visiting the NPC's?

The basic premise (small-p, not speaking GNS jargon here) of the campaign was that the players were the heroes and leaders of a band of refugees desperately seeking safety from the invading hordes in the dubious shelter of the abandoned ancient capital. Everyone signed off on that when I pitched the campaign and the other members of the group agreed to play, and all the players created characters with some reason to care about the refugees' survival.

In play, the players would debate, mostly in-character, with each other and with refugee NPCs (played by me, naturally) about where to take the refugees next and what they needed to do for survival. The first session was merrily railroaded -- they had to flee the Hordes and get into the city by the one surviving bridge -- but, again, everyone had bought on to "we flee to the city" as a premise.

The second session I introduced the pressure of the refugees not having any actual source of food or water, and the players contemplated the map of the city before deciding where to search for it. I had an encounter (with Khan the enchanted giant tiger) planned to show up pretty much wherever they camped for the night; but Tony's character also ended up scouting out a location -- the haunted palace of the old kings -- I hadn't expected anyone to dare yet, and then all the other PCs rushed in after the first one trying to keep her from getting slaughtered. Conveniently, as the player-characters all started up the hill, it was a good time to call it for the night, so I ended play and went home to stat up the major NPC I had already invented for the palace, the cursed Archduke Corion.

By the third session, when they actually went inside the haunted palace, they were off any kind of railroad tracks and operating with zero guidance or nudging from me. Well, except for one case where one of my continuing NPCs, Kaina, had a strong opinion about where to go -- but she lost the argument, which really became less about "where should we go" and much more about "will Jen's character Khaidu accept the leadership of the refugees or refuse it and defer to Kaina?"

Which brings me to the essential point, that all this stuff about "where do we go, how do we survive" was the bones of the story -- the "A-plot," in TV terms -- but the real meat of it, the heart and blood and muscle of it, was the interactions of the players' characters and those NPCs they found most engaging -- the "B-plot." If you've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you've seen this pattern a hundred times: Sure, the A-plot is "how do we defeat the monsters and save the world," but the B-plot is "how do we deal with our lives as ordinary teenagers under extraordinary stress," and the A-plot exists only to provide structure and pressure for the B-plot.

Here, I think, we come to the critical difference between my style of play and yours. For my group, problem-solving is very much secondary. What matters is not how the protagonists solve problems, but how the protagonists change who they are as a result of the decisions they make. I think this is one indicator (among many other equally valid ones) of "simulationist" versus "narrativist" play.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #37 on: August 14, 2007, 05:35:50 AM »

Moderator point: there is nothing wrong with an organized, point-by-point post. In fact, that's what's encouraged. What's discouraged is quoting someone else's post line by line and responding to each one as an independent, picked-apart thing. That almost always leads to vicious and anti-intellectual posting. You haven't done that or anything faintly resembling it, so you are miles and miles away from anything violating my content standards.

Sydney, please, persist in organizing your posts into meaningful points. That's a good thing.

Best, Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #38 on: August 14, 2007, 06:36:10 AM »

First off, there's clearly a difference in our attitudes towards the reality of the game-world here. "Identifying an NPC" implies some kind of independent existence to the character -- that he or she alreay existed and was simply discovered, or at least had to be there and was extrapolated. That's a central conceit for a certain style of play which prioritizes the imagined reality over all else (it's the "constructive denial" central to "Simulationism," I think), and I think it's essential for your style of play, but it's not for our group. We're very open about "hey, I want to make this thing up!" "Cool! And it should have this detail!" "Yeah!" Our comfort level with this style of play is high because we see the imagined reality not as an end-in-itself but as a means to an end, specifically as a set of tools for putting pressure on our characters to force hard, interesting choices ("narrativist" or "thematic" play).

That was not exactly what I meant, I meant something more like the two step process in first declaring a variable (creating a bucket), and then assigning a value to that variable (putting something in the bucket).  So the distinction I am drawing here is between saying "there is a ships captain" and actually detailing that ships captain.

Could you, for example, decide that despite the player declaring the NPC to have motivation X, wearing your GM hat you decide this is in fact a cunning ruse and the NPC is really motivated by Y?  Who holds the real authorial power over this character?

Quote
A major NPC, by contrast, is built to provide continued pressure to at least one protagonist on some critical issue identified (explicitly or implicitly) as interesting and important by that protagonist's player. A major NPC is one I intend to reintroduce, though they may get shuffled offstage if the players aren't interested. These are the characters I tend to play as "my PC," with long-term goals and motivations of their own.

Everything about this strikes me as wrong, intuitively.  If I were invited to participate in a game in which I thought this was likely to occur, I would probably refuse; it strikes me too much as being a game as platform for the GM and their personal interests.

So, what do you think this adds to the games, what use do you find this has?

Quote
By the third session, when they actually went inside the haunted palace, they were off any kind of railroad tracks and operating with zero guidance or nudging from me. Well, except for one case where one of my continuing NPCs, Kaina, had a strong opinion about where to go -- but she lost the argument, which really became less about "where should we go" and much more about "will Jen's character Khaidu accept the leadership of the refugees or refuse it and defer to Kaina?"

Which brings me to the essential point, that all this stuff about "where do we go, how do we survive" was the bones of the story -- the "A-plot," in TV terms -- but the real meat of it, the heart and blood and muscle of it, was the interactions of the players' characters and those NPCs they found most engaging -- the "B-plot." If you've seen Buffy the Vampire Slayer, you've seen this pattern a hundred times: Sure, the A-plot is "how do we defeat the monsters and save the world," but the B-plot is "how do we deal with our lives as ordinary teenagers under extraordinary stress," and the A-plot exists only to provide structure and pressure for the B-plot.

Here, I think, we come to the critical difference between my style of play and yours. For my group, problem-solving is very much secondary. What matters is not how the protagonists solve problems, but how the protagonists change who they are as a result of the decisions they make. I think this is one indicator (among many other equally valid ones) of "simulationist" versus "narrativist" play.

Yes; I thought Buffy was unwatchable shite full of implausible characters and implausible dialogue, and that the main reason for this was the emphasis on the B plot.  That is, it was really a teen highshool soap opera with rubber masks.  IMO, the B plot, as it is usually executed, is invariably execrable: for example, I also was not much moved by the "I am your father, Luke" moment either.  I never could see how that changed anything.  It is the very fact that I have seen it a hundred times, nay a thousand times, that makes me despise it so; it gets to the point that you can largely predict the dialogue and outcome after the first 15 minutes, it is such conventional boiler-plate.

Presumably its a bit less mechanical and predictable when you have real players speaking for the characters, and presumably it will not be so reliant on preaching some little conventional wisdom homily, as these TV programmes invariably do.  But Major NPC's, as you describe them, simply do not exist in my games at all because they have no function to fulfill.  I am aware of the GNS definitions but I was hoping that there might be something that could be generalised or extrapolated from your handling of NPC's to the kind of game I run, but this looks increasingly unlikely if their handling is specifically caused by mode.

There might still be something useful in how you go about designing an NPC for this purpose that I might be able to use, if only from the perspective of giving the players a different type of problem to solve.  I don't really understand what kind of approach you would take for this purpose, so more detail on that action might be valuable.  Do you consciously sit and speculate on what issue is driving a player, and custom-build an NPC that is in some way relevant to that issue?  How often do you guess right, or do you just ask the player? How do you deal with multiple players having multiple issues, do you design them an NPC each?  Do you actively intervene in order to bring these querants on stage, as it were?  It almost seems that your use of NPC's is analogous to my use of locations.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #39 on: August 14, 2007, 11:01:31 AM »

Moderator point: there is nothing wrong with an organized, point-by-point post. In fact, that's what's encouraged. What's discouraged is quoting someone else's post line by line and responding to each one as an independent, picked-apart thing.

Thanks, distinction duly noted. I was just worried I might've quoted too many little bits of Gareth's original post out of context.

Also, Ron, Big Model check on aisle three: Am I using terms like "narrativist" and "constructive denial" right?



Now, to Gareth's questions:

1.
Player-GM cooperation on creating NPCs

the distinction I am drawing here is between saying "there is a ships captain" and actually detailing that ships captain. Could you, for example, decide that despite the player declaring the NPC to have motivation X, wearing your GM hat you decide this is in fact a cunning ruse and the NPC is really motivated by Y?  Who holds the real authorial power over this character?

A very good question. In the case of the two characters that arose from Tony's backstory for Yoshi, I fleshed out their motivations and played them, so they were definitely mine. That said, I felt I was responding to very clear requests from Tony as to what he wanted these characters to do, so I thought it would be (a) disrespectful of Tony and (b) self-defeating for me as a GM to go against those requests. If Tony says "motivation X," then I felt it was not permissible for me to say, "no, actually motivation y instead," but I felt not only permitted but encouraged to say, "actually, X plus Y."

Thus, Tony created his character's harsh, authoritarian father, a noble who had believed the (false) accusations that she had lost her virginity before marriage and cast her out of his household in disgrace. I linked this father-character to one of the factions I created in the fallen capital city (that of the cursed Archduke Corion), giving him a strong motivation to kept putting pressure on his daughter to serve that faction's agenda -- which nicely challenged Tony's goal for his character to grow and become independent. I also gave him another, unacknowledged daughter (Kaina) who was loyal and virtuous and virginal, to create family tension and a "mirror, mirror" version of Tony's character for Tony to play against. Lastly, I made the father still, on some level, still love the daughter he had cast out, complicating the relationship and making it hard for Tony to just say, "he's a jerk, she hates him."

Likewise, Tony created his character's former mentor, a priest of the god of the sun, light, rationality, and patriarchy, who had slandered her and ruined her reputation, leading to her being cast out. Tony didn't give this NPC much motivation beyond being a jerk, so I felt free to fill in that the priest (Severus) was actually on a quest to restore the old kingdom, of which Tony's character and her sister were secretly the last heirs (something I made up, not Tony) and was in a weird way trying to protect Tony's character by getting her cast out of her family and into the protection of a religious order. This had the pleasant effect of changing Tony's reaction to this character -- and everyone else's for that matter -- from "you're an insufferable lying bastard who screws with people's lives" to "you're an insufferable lying bastard who screws with people's lives, and what's worst of all you think you're morally justified." It made smacking the guy down particularly satisfying for all the players.


2.
The role of major NPCs

Quote from: Gareth
Quote from: Sydney
A major NPC is one ... I tend to play as "my PC," with long-term goals and motivations of their own.

Everything about this strikes me as wrong, intuitively.  If I were invited to participate in a game in which I thought this was likely to occur, I would probably refuse; it strikes me too much as being a game as platform for the GM and their personal interests. So, what do you think this adds to the games, what use do you find this has?...Do you consciously sit and speculate on what issue is driving a player, and custom-build an NPC that is in some way relevant to that issue?  How often do you guess right, or do you just ask the player? How do you deal with multiple players having multiple issues, do you design them an NPC each?  Do you actively intervene in order to bring these querants on stage, as it were?

Remember, I create these major NPCs directly in response to the players' characters and in service to those characters' agendas, and while they may evolve in play, I try to evolve them to keep pressure on the PCs rather than to go off in their own directions. So when I say these characters have "goals and motivations of their own," it's very much in the mode of the excellent advice from Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard, in that each NPC wants something from the player-characters.

Specifically, Tony's character Yoshi was the disgraced daughter of a noble house; Jen's character Khaidu was a noble barbarian exiled by his own people yet contemptuous of the civilized kingdom; and Eric's character Brother Vedis was the last surviving guardian of a mysterious Chalice. So I created NPCs who hit on the issues of problems-with-authority that both Tony and Jen brought in, and who all wanted the Chalice that Eric had invented:

- The cursed Archduke Corion, too weak to rise from his seat in the abandoned palace, thought he was the rightful heir to the fallen kingdom; he wanted Vedis's chalice to cure him of his curse and he wanted Yoshi and Khaidu to acknowledge his authority.
- The beautiful sorceress Arianwe was Yoshi's grandmother and had her own claim to the throne. She wanted Yoshi to take the throne as her puppet, Khaidu to be her love-slave, and Vedis to give her the magical chalice to strengthen her magically-granted youth and vitality.
- The Sword Virgin (nun/paladin) Kaina turned out to be Yoshi's long-lost sister and, being the eldest, also the legitimate heir to the throne. She started out wanting Yoshi to obey their harsh father and having a huge crush on Khaidu; she ended up joining with Yoshi to reject their father and forcing Khaidu to choose between continuing to live as a free savage or accepting her hand in marriage, making him King.
- The barbarian princess Death-Her-Gift wanted Khaidu to accept her hand in marriage and return to his people as the heir to the Khan. Khaidu rejected her decisively after two sessions and I quietly walked her out of the game.
- The insane sorcerer Talin was Arianwe's bastard son, driven mad by her manipulations, but nobody really cared because I forgot to give him much of anything he wanted from the player-characters except "acknowledge how screwed up I am!" I shuffled him offstage after one session.
- The giant enchanted tiger Khan basically wanted to eat everyone, but he developed a strange respect for the equally savage and virile Khaidu.

None of these NPCs is off trying to conquer the world or whatever. All their desires converge on the player-characters. Thus I'm not dependent on the player-characters wanting to save the world or rescue the princess or complete the quest: No matter what the players do, they're going to run afoul of my NPCs simply by virtue of wanting to do their own thing instead of what the NPCs want them to do.


3.
Creative agenda

Quote
thought Buffy was unwatchable shite full of implausible characters and implausible dialogue, and that the main reason for this was the emphasis on the B plot.  That is, it was really a teen highshool soap opera with rubber masks. ... I also was not much moved by the "I am your father, Luke" moment either.  I never could see how that changed anything.

Wow. Because for me, "I am your father" was the point. Without it, you have a pretty cool series of action movies. With it, you have a story about love and identity and redemption and loss. You'd have hated our "Lost City" campaign, Gareth: I explicitly pitched it as "post-apocalyptic soap opera," and who wanted to have sex with Khaidu became one of the driving forces of the plot.

I find it fascinating and enlightening that we've traced our different techniques of how we play all the way back to a radical (literally, at-the-root) difference in the agendas of why we play.
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #40 on: August 14, 2007, 12:54:48 PM »

Postscript:

That said, I should emphasize that there are techniques I've discussed that you could use for your own purposes. For example, you could probably adapt the basic concept of "major NPC" as someone who wants something from the player-characters and keeps pressuring them to get it. There's no reason why the things-the-major-NPCs-want have to be personal, emotional, and soap operatic instead of, say, political. If my players had created different protagonists, I'd have created very different antagonists for them -- and in fact, with Eric's Brother Vedis, whose main "issue" was his possession of a mysterious magic Chalice, what I did to pressure him was give different NPCs incompatible desires for what they wanted him to do with the Chalice.

The core of this trick is that the major NPCs don't care about things that are outside of the player-characters' immediate possesion. If the Dark Lord wants to conquer the kingdom, that's because the PCs not merely live in the kingdom, but are the ruling lords thereof; if the Dark Lord wants to destroy the magical macguffin, the PCs aren't merely questing to protect it, they actively depend on it for their own survival.
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contracycle
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« Reply #41 on: August 21, 2007, 07:46:55 AM »

An NPC with those sorts of properties would usually fall into the category "villain", but I may be able to think of other ways to use them.
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