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Author Topic: PC/NPC Emotional Bonding  (Read 12268 times)
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« 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
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James Holloway
Member

Posts: 372


« Reply #1 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.
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joshua neff
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Posts: 949


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« Reply #2 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 ]
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
James Holloway
Member

Posts: 372


« Reply #3 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...

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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #4 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
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jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #5 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
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Blake Hutchins
Member

Posts: 614


« Reply #6 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 ]
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mikeryan
Member

Posts: 9


« Reply #7 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.

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Mike Ryan
greyorm
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Posts: 2233

My name is Raven.


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« Reply #8 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.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio
Le Joueur
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« Reply #9 on: July 19, 2001, 10:14:00 AM »

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.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).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.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<emotions of the players<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.keep at it<to the game.

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

Quote
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.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.should<the players emotions (secretly if you can), this is how truly memorable non-player characters can be consciously designed.

Quote
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.

Quote
Generally, I randomly assign a sex to them.  And finally I color with some personality quirks to make them 'memorable.'Quote
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.Play them.  Just for a second let the non-player character be<
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?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 ]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.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).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.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<emotions of the players<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.keep at it<to the game.

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

Quote
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.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.should<the players emotions (secretly if you can), this is how truly memorable non-player characters can be consciously designed.

Quote
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.

Quote
Generally, I randomly assign a sex to them.  And finally I color with some personality quirks to make them 'memorable.'Quote
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.Play them.  Just for a second let the non-player character be<
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?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 ]
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gentrification
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« Reply #10 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.
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Michael Gentry
Enantiodromia
John Wick
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« Reply #11 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 ]
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Carpe Deum,
John
Cameron
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« Reply #12 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.

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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #13 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
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #14 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

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