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Posts Tagged ‘NPCs’

I don’t get enough gaming.

I listen to gaming podcasts during my commute.  Sometimes I’m really inspired by what I hear, or I pick up some great advice that I want to apply to my gaming.  But then I forget most of it.  What I really need to do is take notes, or blog afterwards about what inspired me.  But who has time for that?  When I’m listening, I’m driving.  When I stop listening, I’m at work, or I’m arriving home and it’s family time.

Narrative Control, the podcast, is my latest discovery (I’ll post a list of good RPGing podcasts one of these days).  In their episode about mysteries, they started out talking about how to give effective clues that engage players, and ended up coming to a really interesting conclusion: that setting establishment and clue revelation can look very much the same from the players’ point of view.  For example, in your first session, an advisor is seen arguing with the prince.  Is this setting establishment, i.e. this advisor is argumentative or the prince encourages open dialogue or the court is wrestling with a thorny problem; or is this a clue, i.e. this advisor is so desperate about something that he dares to argue with his prince in public?  If this is supposed to be a clue, but the social rules of the setting haven’t already been firmly established, then the players aren’t going to get it.

Another good point was that every clue revelation should also be, or be coincident with, a call to action.  The players’ reaction to a clue should never be allowed to be “oh well that’s interesting I guess.”  Either the clue directly drives them into action, or at least some kind of action should be coincident with them finding the clue.  Players want to DO stuff, and unraveling a mystery is rarely top of their list.  There’s a fine line between puzzlement and frustration.  Give the players opportunities to take action and be awesome, to keep it fun and to cement the clues in their minds.

I’m thinking back to the game that we most recently wrapped.  I wasn’t GMing this one.  It happened a few times that the GM revealed some fact and we all went “huh,” and then he had to follow up by saying something like: “just like the one you saw in the cave, remember?” or “that’s the name that the Earl’s daughter heard in her dream, remember?”  Clearly this was meant to be a big “ah-hah” moment for us, but we needed it to be spelled out.  I’m not criticizing the GM; I think he did it better than I did in my Elric campaign.  I remember having to do the same thing a lot, explaining the implications of new facts or reminding the players who key NPCs were and which noble house they belonged to.  I think I had just made my intrigues too sprawling and complex, and my clues too subtle, forgetting that I was fully immersed in this setting every night, whereas the players encountered it one night every two weeks.  Anyway, I think both of us could learn a few things from this podcast.

So, rules for running a mystery or intrigue effectively:

  • Strongly establish the setting first
  • Use the reactions of NPCs to show social rules, or show that a social rule has been broken
  • Keep intrigues relatively simple.  You can ramp up the complexity in subsequent scenarios in the same setting
  • Don’t be subtle with clues
  • Make every clue a call to action, or coincident with a reason to act
  • Make things personal for the PCs: have developments directly affect them or their loved ones or assets

There were a lot of other good points in the podcast that I’m already forgetting.  I need to listen to it again and make notes.

Tangent: Zero-Prep GMing

My group has been talking about moving to zero-prep GMing as a way to continue gaming when we’re all too busy to prep a game.  And I realized something this morning.  Zero-prep GMing doesn’t just entail a change of approach for the GM.  Zero prep entails a different style of play for the players, too.  The responsibility for creating and running the world can be more shared by everybody.  In an early episode of Narrative Control, they mention a technique from John Wick’s book Play Dirty, in which NPCs are farmed out to the players.  When you interact with the innkeeper, somebody besides the GM plays him.  When you’re called in to talk to your station chief, one of the other players takes up the role.  This gives the players greater agency to establish things in the setting, which ultimately makes the game better for everybody.  This could be expanded to other elements besides NPCs.

This is a train of thought that I want to explore some more.  Zero-prep GMing kind-of scares me.  But if we can figure out zero-prep playing, then we could end up supercharging our whole play experience.

-J

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Just discovered another good gaming blog: Deeper In The Game by… I can’t find his name on the blog — I think he posted on The Forge as Chris Chinn.  I’m enjoying the posts about gaming and GMing.  I’m lost when he writes about anime/manga, but these subjects tend to be in separate posts.

Big Stakes GMing: Gamble Everything
A good, short post about the joys of what I call Story-Now GMing: how to do it and why it’s funner.
NB: “Illusionism” is the new term for “railroading,” I gather.  Kids today…

Improvising NPCs: “X but Y”
A good little formula for creating interesting NPCs on the fly.

Lots more to explore here, the blog goes back to 2007.

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Maybe this was an obvious one, but… yeah, bad-guys have to be prepared.

When GMing with Sorcerer’s Relationship-Map method, you (the GM) don’t decide who the main villain is; that comes out through play.  You start with lots of NPCs who each have their own motivations and plans, and who will each try to influence, recruit, help or hinder the PCs accordingly.  As the story develops, one (or more) of the NPCs will naturally end up opposing the PCs or trying to harm them.

My problem is: twice now in the current game, an NPC that had the potential to develop into the main villain has ended up dead.  In their very first interaction with the PCs.

I’ve been statting up these NPCs as if they were some-what experienced PCs, which I see now was not the right approach.  These are ambitious and dangerous people who already have a number of enemies.  They should each be walking around with the equivalent of a couple of Glocks, a kevlar vest and six body guards.  With a bullet-proof limo idling out front.

The prepared bad-guy was practically built into the dungeon-crawl model of play.  A whole maze of mooks, lieutenants and guard-dogs stood between the heroes and the villain.  In the new democratic world of R-map play, I will have to be a little smarter.  Or at least, my antagonists will have to be.

-J

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As the GM, what you need in your hands for the next session is a list of Bangs and a pile of “Assets” (NPCs, monsters, demons, locations and items).  Here’s how you get there.

1. Review Player-Characters’ actions in the previous session.  What do you think they’ll do next?

  • List any new Assets you will need to support what the players (probably) want to do.
    Just list them for now.
  • Think up some more Bangs that you can use to add pressure to their current situations and plans.
    • List any new Assets that you’ll need to support those Bangs.

2. Think about each important NPC in turn (including PCs’ demons). (more…)

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Okay I got the relationship map sorted out — and it’s HUGE.  Right now it’s actually on four different pieces of paper, and I’m not sure that I’m going to bother transcribing it all onto one (poster-sized) sheet; it would probably be too unwieldy anyway.  We’ve got:

  • inter-personal relations (good and bad)
  • inter- noble-house relations (good and bad)
  • several schemes in progress

This is going to be great fun.

Now I’m statting up (stat’ing up?) NPCs, demons and other critters and items.  LOTS of them.  They’re each half a page, to save table space (let me know if you want me to post my character sheet templates).

Then I’ve got to make up some Bangs (which should be easy, given all these ambitious NPCs and their clear motivations!), and detail some locations.

44 hours til game time!

When this is all over, I plan to polish up a bunch of this material and put it into the next revision of the Dictionary of Elric.  But first: the kick-assing’est game of Sorcerer & Sword, ever.

-J

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The planning session went great.  The players came with the seeds of character concepts, and we jammed on each others ideas.  I had also prepared a list of questions that I wanted each player to answer about their character — I’ll post it later, some were from Sorcerer, some were setting-specific — and that spurred more conversation.

I especially loved it when the players proposed things to each other like “hey, can we say that our characters are brothers / I’m in love with your daughter / your uncle just knocked up my wife?”  These guys practically built their own tangled relationship map without any help from me!

Which is also the problem I’m now facing.   (more…)

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Lord Radric of Hekhem’a

He roams the young kingdoms to prove that Melnibonéans are still masters there. With his personal demon and small entourage of heavies, he goes where he will, expecting royal treatment, making outrageous demands, and severely punishing anyone who fails to comply. Leaves a trail of traumatized women and dead men. Twice yearly he returns to Melniboné – ostensibly for his children’s birthdays – to boast of his exploits, his power to subjugate, and his cruelty. 40s, meaty build, black goatee and shoulder-length black hair in oiled curls. His interest in Hekhem’a family affairs is limited.

Radric carries a demonic sword (object demon) named Grayfang, the Wolfblade. The hilt sports a red gem worked into an eye motif surrounded by silver etched to resemble fur. Its abilities include Hold, Boost (Stamina) and Perception (scent). It Desires alpha-male behaviour of its wielder.

(Edited 2011-Feb-21 — to move Radric to House Hekhem’a.  -J.)

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Prince Nuzan of Lormyr

Prince Nuzan takes no interest in affairs of state. His father’s careful style of management doesn’t hold a candle to Nuzan’s current passion, horse racing. In a country where chivalry and etiquette are the norm, he barges about like a Vilmirian pirate-lord with a rash, muttering thinly veiled insults at all but his own fairweather drinking companions. Those who are privy to the size of Nuzan’s growing debts are concerned for the safety of the nation’s treasury.

Lormyr was once the centre of a brief human republic that spanned the Southern continent. Ruling from the river city of Iosaz, plump King Fadan guides Lormyr with a cautious hand; but his sons are far more ambitious, and are anxious to take advantage of Melniboné’s decline.

 

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Duke Mirolorm Hekhem’a

Melnibonéan courtier and patriarch of the Hekhem’a family. Slight man with long wavy brown hair worn parted in the middle, and a sharply trimmed goatee. Favours leather vests and billowy shirts, riding boots, and is never without his sabre and elbow-length fencing gloves. His dueling skills are legendary. House Hekhem’a holds the taxation rights to Vilmir. Duke Mirolorm proudly proclaims that his house has not allowed Vilmir to miss paying the tithe in three centuries. He is impatient with others’ failure to bring their territories to heel.

House Hekhem’a keeps Vilmir in an iron grip, the young kingdom is rarely free of Melnibonean oversight. The laxity of other houses, and the freedom it accords Vilmir’s neighbours, is a growing inconvenience for Mirolorm. Vilmir too grows more insolent every year. Mirolorm petitions the emperor to give him the whole Eastern continent, in return for which he guarantees that all taxes will be paid, and on time.

(Edited 2011-Feb-21 — changed Mirolorm to House Hekhem’a. -J.)

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Duke Daikoon Kleodas’a

Patriarch of the Kleodas’a family. Elderly fellow who favours simple black robes and a priest-like deportment. Short white hair and very pointy ears. Speaks with a voice like a creaking door. Since the emperor’s withdrawal from society, Daikoon has taken to interjecting ominous oracles into every conversation, as if he knows more than he is telling. Maybe he does. Daikoon is one of the strongest proponents of re-summoning the Demon Lords.

The secretive Kleodas’as are the self-appointed loremasters of Chaos. The emperors may be the high priests of Chaos, responsible for maintaining the pacts with the Demon Lords, but their minds are most often on earthly matters. The Kleodas’as are dedicated scholars of Chaos: its demons, its legends, its prophesies, and the history of its interactions with mortals. Val’demarna, the tower of house Kleodas’a, is one of the oldest in Imrryr, and the contents of its private library are the subject of much speculation. Emperors consult with the Kleodas’as on cosmic matters.

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