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Characters not on the map...

Started by Malechi, February 23, 2004, 10:26:52 AM

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Alrighty then, whats the story? I need help connecting my player characters to the current game we've started.  We're playing Midnight converted to TROS.

Ok, I decided to run the short adventure in the back of the main book for Midnight.  I thought that'd be nice and simple and at least give us a nice start to the game.  I wasn't going to latch onto it as gospel, just use the characters presented there as a means to get things rolling.  Now the game kind of started in fits and starts. In the past they've been the kind of gamers who eschew combat over "rping" and put the "story" before everything.  However I don't think they've ever really experienced protagonist play before.

Anyway.. one player is uberkeen on the narrative techniques I've been shoving down his throat since I found this place.  His character frex is linked into the situation and R-Map nicely.  Some of the others however, have basically made characters with no real connection to the world at all.  Well, thats a bit harsh..actually they've made characters up that are well, sort of connected to the world, just not the corner of the world that we've situated the game.  None of them have any other characters that link to them.. they're loners...without a family... on the run... want to work for the resistance (tm).  

Here's a little about the characters and the game:
Its set in the south, between two towns, Qadiss and Kamdass(think Arabic settlements along a big river valley).  Qadiss has just been sacked by the forces of Izrador (the big bad.. like the big bad from LoTR) as they pursued an elvish spy through the area.  This got the characters into the game as the elf created a diversion, giving them his spy-information stuff to take to Kamdass and hand off to this other guy in the Resistance.  

Anlon: Dornish (big Scottish type guys), has visions that hint at his long lost dwarven ancestors. SAs:Conscience(3),Faith(Dornish Ancestor worship - 1), Drive (find a weapon against the Shadow/Izrador - 2), Drive(discover the reason for his visions -2), Luck.

Gareth: Dornish  SAs: Conscience (4), Drive (remain free -2), Destiny (To lead a major revolt against the shadow -1), Passion (Loyalt to resistance...probably invalid but we'll see - 0).

Ehram: Erenlander Herbalist, uses some herbam based magic. SAs: Drive (To find elves - ?) - I'm vague about this characters SAs at the moment, he was the only one to take the sheet home...

Blayne: Sarcosan (arabic horse people thingemijig humans) peasant kid (16), lost family in attack on town of Qadiss in 1st session. SAs: Passion (Love of Arya, daughter of town councillor), Drive (Higher social status), Destiny (to become a member of resistance), Luck, Faith (Sarcosan religion)

Now obviously the last character is linked.. to the local setting, to characters there and the social structure.  The others aren't really.  Apart from the kind of vague connections one sees in a D&D "Backstory"...i think.  Don't get me wrong, I think that at least one of the above three "non-connected" characters are really interesting straight off the bat, another has potential, and the other I'm not sure about.  I'm just not sure they fit the game as we've set it up so far.  None of them have any other people who are alive to connect them to any kind of R-Map in any situation as I can see it....Am I missing something?  Whats my next step? Throw away the R-Map and current situation mid-story, creating a new one around characters with no connections? Labour on and squeeze them into the map and situation by forcing relationships with NPCs upon them? Kill them off quickly so they can make new ones?

HELP!!!! :(


Katanapunk...The Riddle of Midnight...

Jack Aidley

It seems to me that you have fallen into one of the Bad Old Ways of roleplaying. Specifically the idea that the players should just come up with characters independently and then it's the GMs job to craft a way of bringing these characters together and onto the plot.

The solution (as I see it) is to have your players come up with how their chracters know each other, why they care and how and why they are linked to whatever the initial hooks require they are linked to. This works best if its done at creation time with your players discussing these links and building the characters around them as a communal exercise. But I think you could probably forge these links now with a little flexibility from your players.
- Jack Aidley, Great Ork Gods, Iron Game Chef (Fantasy): Chanter


I see your point and yes, I did fall into that trap.  Perhaps I didn't fully expect the game to get driven so heavily into a Narrative style at first, perhaps I was thinking that the players wouldn't want that kind of game given their history.  Who knows.

I'm thinking this may have been a Social Contract problem.  When we sat down to hash out the game it went like.. "We want to play TROS and Midnight" "Cool.. lets do that" and yeah, they should have created characters all together and sussed out all the connections before this came to a head(I've read the Art Deco Melodrama thread a bajillion times...its art).

We didn't really sit down and talk about what kind of game you're going to play etc.  They knew I was keen on running a Narrative style game and the fact is that *now* they want this Narrative game.  The characters are "linked" in that they all want to be part of this Resistance, real or imagined.  I've drawn up some Bangs to do with the Resistance, hopefully pushing all the SA buttons at the same time.  I just can't get over thinking that most of the PCs don't directly link to the R-Map besides this desire to get into the resistance.  Is that enough? Are links solely between player characters  enough?


Katanapunk...The Riddle of Midnight...

Ron Edwards

Hi Jason,

Your key concept is, I think, connecting the players to the NPCs' concerns rather than the characters. You don't have to come up with some kind of in-game justification: "This girl is really your long-lost cousin!" In fact, I suggest that such a tactic would be contrived and rightly rejected by the player.

But that same idea can be used in a slightly different way: have NPCs' relationships become apparent very quickly to the players. Most recommended GM-tactics are all about hiding these relationships, saving them for some kind of revelation late in play. I suggest instead the total reverse: have the NPCs blab madly and expect the player-characters to do X or Y or Z. Now, of course, the player-characters can do whatever they want - but whatever they do will be construed by all the NPCs as X, Y, or Z. Human beings are socially "sticky."

Why is this not railroading? Because you, as GM, can keep your li'l antennae twitching about which NPCs do grab the players' attention. Then develop those (and their antagonists) in greater detail, as if they had been "your" NPCs. Sometimes you'll be surprised at whom the players latch onto.

And finally, if you have some player-characters who really are all wrapped up in cool stuff, then adopt that cool stuff in full, making it your GM-stuff too. Does it have to be involved with the other stuff? No. That's key. In fact, as I implied above, having every character's concern be causally connected to everyone else's concern is contrived and annoying. The last time I did that was in 1988, and it was a bad idea before that, at that time, and ever since.

So be happy with the player-characters who have stuff to do, and develop that stuff. Hurl talkative NPCs at every player-character and see which ones "stick" to the players (not the characters); all the R-map stuff (kin and sex) is your bait for that purpose.

Let me clarify, because people always get mixed up about this: relationship-map meat is not about forcing the players to get involved, in the sense of "she's your sister, you must do what I say." It is instead about fascinating the players in the potential for terrible terrible conflicts in the future.

I hope some of that seems interesting and helpful. Above all, have faith that your players are willing to do this stuff. So many people have been literally brainwashed into avoiding it that you may have to provide verbal encouragement for them - and that's tricky, because you also have to reassure such players that anything they do is all right. But again, have faith that given the right encouragement, they can and will go for it.



TROS is pretty self correcting for this sort of thing.

See, what will happen is this.

1) Characters have SAs that don't tie into the corner of the world your situation is in.

2) Those SAs will not get called on in play because they don't apply.

3) The GM will not be awarding additional dice for them because they aren't being addressed.

4) Players will spend the SAs that don't apply down to 0 and switch them for something that does apply...something that after the first session or two grabbed their attention and makes them want to focus on it.

5) Now the SAs do get called on, additional points are being awarded, and everyone wins.

You may have to point out the mechanics of how this works to the players and let them know that they are free to do this and it isn't being cheap or munchkiny but is in fact how the game was designed to be played.

Also note that all of their original SAs don't "go away".  They aren't necessarily forgotten.  They're just not currently being given any screen time.  Later when the game progresses to a place where some of their old SAs apply again, they can be swapped back in.

Should be fairly painless.


ahhh *penny drops*
Ron: I can totally see where I've gone awry now.  Going for the ol' hook the characters not the players deal.  Silly and stupid really and you know, I was cringing at the "inevitability" of having to hook a character in with some contrived romance/relationship thingemijig.  Hooking the *players* duh! ;) To extend this into a little more RPG-Theory territory, I'm thinking I've ignored the player's own interest in adopting a range of stances, instead of Actor stance.  They themselves have had some problem reconcilling Director and Author stance with their preconceived notions of In-Character knowledge vs OOC stuff and how this = Metagaming = bad thing (tm).  I don't personally subscribe to that way of thinking, but they've just finished the Temple of Elemental Evil so this kind of thing may still be haunting them in a dysfunctional play kind of way (look at me throw the lingo around like a half-stuff bag of potatoes..fear me! ;) )

Val: You're so right about TROS.  My only problem was a guilt trip on myself for not making the game fit the character's SAs (given I hadn't really seen them before adopting the game as should be noted the one "good" character had been made up after the first session with some knowledge of what was going on..its all too obvious now) ;)

Thanks for these tips Ron, Valamir and Jack.  


Jason :)
Katanapunk...The Riddle of Midnight...


For what it's worth:

I found that a useful compromise between totally independent character creation and group creation is for the GM to mandate certain background features and let the characters be whatever players want within that context.  (Of course, you only mandate this after some discussion on what kind of campaign people want to play).

For example, my classic fantasy hook is "All of your characters have to be the kind of people who would respond to an advertisement about goblin hunting.  It's dangerous work, pays little and offers minimal respectability, so factor that in."

Or a more recent science fiction game started with "There's been a theft of top secret biological materials from a military warehouse.  Your character must have a personal connection to the incident that would make them interested in investigating it."  Players came up with some cool stuff.  One PC's father is under suspicion and has disappeared.  Another PC was ordered away from her post (by a superior who denies giving the order) and is now being investigated for complicity, herself.  We got a lot of different and interesting characters with some agenda conflict, but a common motivation nontheless.  And, they fed me a lot of useful ideas for the campaign (like the PC's father being involved).

While carefully-coordinated group design is probably still best, this approach seems to net a lot of benefits without forcing a big paradigm shift out of players.
Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis

Andrew Norris

Hooking the players, not the characters. That's been mentioned many times before, but it didn't really 'stick' in my head until this thread.

In a session I ran this weekend (modern fantasy along the lines of Tim Powers or _Unknown Armies_) I was really worried about railroading. The session was constructed as four intermixed flashbacks, with the idea that our first two sessions were just the PCs interacting with a possibly supernatural situation, and we would like to see how they got to this point.

The railroading concern was that with each flashback containing just a PC and a handful of NPCs, the players would feel constrained to just 'get through' the flashback and keep the game on track. In an attempt to mix things up, I started handing out supporting cast to the players whose PCs weren't in the scene -- and it really sparked something. I started to realize that the players were introducing NPCs that dealt with issues that they wanted their own characters to deal with.

I realized then that while the players were playing their main characters with the idea of eventually come in contact with these themes, when they were given a throwaway character, they wanted Story Now.

And now I realize how to give them what they want -- keep throwing elements of the relationship map at them until I see what sticks to each player. I was doing the Bad Old Thing of hoarding R-map information for the sake of mystery, but I inadvertantly found out through play that I should be exposing everything I could, and let the players follow up on what caught their interest.

Then, of course, I see Ron formulating the same idea in an easily digestible format, I put my own thoughts in better order, and I remember why I read the Actual Play forum here.

I wish I had more to say other than "wow, it really does work that way", but I'll continue playing in this fashion and hopefully come back to the table with more to work with. :)


Hi Jason,

The simplest method I use is to create a conflict, some compelling NPCs, and then tell the players, "Pick a side, any side".

Picking a side means you're involved in the conflict.




This question is for more of a clarification I suppose but, when you guys say "Throw elements of the R-Map at them" and "expose them to as much as you can"  Do you mean roleplay npcs involved in the R-map in a manner which makes it obvious to the players via their characters what their motivations, links and goals are....Or do you mean just plain show them the R-Map and then let them go to town?

I'm leaning towards the former option here but I've been wrong before.  


edited twice cos it took too long the first time
Katanapunk...The Riddle of Midnight...

Ron Edwards

Hi Jason,

The former is indeed what I mean, and I'm pretty sure what others are referring to as well. In terms of the Ephemera involved (i.e., moment to moment play), you're simply doing what you always did: frame scenes, describe the immediate locale, role-play the NPCs. What's different is how you offer information and what kind of information it is.

And Andrew is right: it really does work.



In our second session I gave the players the chance to roleplay some NPCs they were observing from outside a town council meeting. The players all responded really well to this and have indicated they want more of this "Meanwhile..." kind of action in the game. At first I just told the individual characters the information about the NPCs and their motivations and their immediate circle, but then I decided to open it all up so that everyone knew what the motivations of the characters in the scene were. This made things a little different at first, but then it gelled nicely I think. While this knowledge was given to them, they used it in-play to further the goals of the individual npcs and really went to town on the premise of the game, making some nice thematic statements along the way.  Again at the end of the session I gave them another chance to RP some npcs which they smacked their lips at the chance...

In the next session I'm tossing up whether to include this again without overdoing it.  Exposing large-ish sections of the R-Map in this fashion I think might work better in small doses at special times.  Whereas exposing it through bangs might be a better way possibly.
Katanapunk...The Riddle of Midnight...

John Kim

Quote from: MalechiThis question is for more of a clarification I suppose but, when you guys say "Throw elements of the R-Map at them" and "expose them to as much as you can"  Do you mean roleplay npcs involved in the R-map in a manner which makes it obvious to the players via their characters what their motivations, links and goals are....Or do you mean just plain show them the R-Map and then let them go to town?
Just a note here about the second option.  In my Vinland campaign, I have included the relationship map (in my case the family trees of the Vinlander clans) with each player's character packet.  This has worked pretty well in play -- the trees frequently get consulted and discussed.  (The family trees are on my campaign page at , BTW).  As a rule of thumb, giving more information to the players is more empowering.
- John