/netbooks/Netbook of Traits.txt
Take NPC through player questioinaire.
One of the things I do with most of my NPC’s, from minor bar tenders to the major villain, is to give the character an “actor.” It’s much, much easier to play the elven magician’s apprentice if I know he’s played by Lenier from Babylon 5.
graphviz to graph complex npc relations
===== Individuals =====
/netbooks/Complete NPC Vol2 Magic Users.txt |
/netbooks/Complete NPC Vol1 Warriors.txt |
/netbooks/Complete NPC Vol3 Others.txt
++ Jewel Golem -
Crying tears of gems, sees PC’s yells “You did it, die!”
++ Mundungu - the wizard
Black African, very wild/uncivilized and attention getting. Leopard skin magic lets you take leopard form in dreamworld to fight or search for power allies. Hunted by elephant spirit, Mimjarro, he cheated. Spirit has captured your undie, dreamworld force, greatly reducing your power. Now you are too weak to face Mimjarro and are trying to survive while you gather power.
===== Motivations ===== Once you have the personality and history, specific character traits, and skills worked out, it is time to figure out the character’s motivations. For 99% of characters the first motivation should be to stay alive. This is vital for a believable world. Most people’s first goal is to stay alive. There are exceptions, but unless someone is losing their grip on sanity or truly fanatical about something, they are likely to have life be their primary motivator. After this pick two or three more, and determine how important each one is relative to the other.
The character’s goals along with personality and skills help you determine how they are likely to act. For example, take the blacksmith who has the following goals: 1) Stay alive 2) Create the most magnificent weapons ever 3) Make money
One thing that must be included in each character’s personality is his likes/dislikes. The list doesn’t have to be huge, but should include what types of people and things an NPC likes or hates. Don’t be afraid to create the occasional racist character, or old war vet who refuses to trust anyone who is from the nation he spent his life fighting. If players are clever, they will find out who and what an NPC likes or hates, and try to find a way to use this to their advantage.
Have a few sparsely built NPCs on hand. Just a few notes on the NPC’s name, skills, personality, description, and motivations. Try to keep it as bare bones as possible and write it down on a 3x5 card. These are your emergency stock. It is impossible to plan out every person in the game, and every so often your players will start chatting up a random person. At times like this pull out one of these cards at random. By keeping the notes sparse you are able to easily insert this NPC into any setting and have something ready that doesn’t seem like a cardboard cutout. Also, if the encounter gives you an idea you can keep the NPC and jot notes down on his card.
===== NPCs, Dynamos of Action! =====
==== Visits ==== NPCs aren’t always home or eager to see the party when they show up. Perhaps the NPC was wining and dining a date, or went out to do his laundry. Maybe he was in the shower when they rang the doorbell.
Have NPCs visit party members now and then without being asked. Maybe they want to hang out and have dinner, or pump the party for information about something. Perhaps they just felt like dropping by while they were in the neighborhood.
Have NPCs bump into the party in unexpected places. The party goes out to a nightclub and runs into an NPC they haven’t seen in a few weeks. Or they go to visit someone, and run into someone else leaving - the party had no idea these two people knew each other. It gives the impression of relationships and actions going on behind-the-scenes.
==== Fear my State ==== Allow NPCs to change while the party isn’t looking. Maybe someone gets a hair cut or dyes his hair. Someone else gets a scar or a limp from getting into a fight with someone. Someone else decides to totally change the type of clothing he wears, or starts learning a new language. There are any number of possibilities.
Allow an NPC’s surroundings to change when the party isn’t looking. An NPC could move to a new apartment or redecorate his home. Maybe he has his car painted a new color or trades in his old junker for a new sports car. Even something as small as a new piece of artwork on the wall can make a difference.
Allow NPCs to have their highs and lows. Let things happen to the NPCs at least partially while the party isn’t looking. Someone gets engaged or married. Someone else has a child. Someone gets into a fight and is left crippled. Someone else loses his job and home. Another friend angers a wizard and is cursed.
Let the NPCs have feelings while the party isn’t looking. Someone might slowly develop an obsession about a party member. Someone else is frustrated because their PC friend doesn’t visit them often enough. The party, if they’re tacitly assuming that nothing really happens when they aren’t looking, will probably be surprised by these emotions that seem to come out of the blue.
==== Group Dynamics Among NPCs ==== NPC groups in roleplaying games often seem very monolithic - they present a single, unified front. It’s the villain and his loyal henchmen, or the tight military unit, etc. Maybe there will be a single dissenter or traitor if the plot calls for it, but that’s usually about it.
How realistic is this? Think about you and your co-workers for a moment. Or you and your friends. Are you a monolithic, perfectly content and coherent group of people? Probably not. Even the best of friends can often find small things about each other that annoy them. Co-workers deal with the morass of office politics. And many people have at least one secret that they keep from those who are close to them - particularly in the intrigue-filled world of an RPG setting.
Here are a number of ways in which the use of group dynamics can help you out as a GM, and some suggestions of ways to make use of them. We’ll follow it up with some ideas for how you can create group dynamics if you don’t know where to start.
=== Group Dynamics Are a Source of Plots === Is a researcher trying to back-stab his colleague so he can become head of the department? You can turn his plans into a plot. Does a character want to find a way to make his colleague fall in love with him? You can turn that into another plot. Is someone else sick and tired of having to bail his friend out of the messes he gets himself into? Turn that into another plot!
You can make these large or small plots, depending on how powerful the people involved are, and what stakes they’re playing for. That potential department head could be trying for a small public university department or a prestigious, powerful organization with ties in all sorts of industries or governments. The means to his end could be a small, simple way to humiliate his rival, or it could be a complex plot involving drugs, guns, blackmail and secret weapons.
For example, let’s say that the player characters (PCs) kill an NPC in the course of a plot. His relationships with those around him will tell you what happens next - do his coworkers care enough to seek revenge? Did someone hate him enough to reward the PCs for their actions, or help them get away with it? There’s your next plot for you!
=== Group Dynamics Are a Source of Personal Relationships === Group dynamics also provide the perfect way to draw your PCs into the world on a personal level. If an NPC is frustrated with his partner’s unwillingness to listen to him when he’s having problems, then he might latch onto a PC as a substitute. If a shy NPC is in love with a co-worker then he might recruit a PC to help him get her attention. This pulls your party into personal relationships with NPCs - friendships, acquaintance-ships, rivalries and so on.
Emotions are what cement relationships. If an NPC was in love with someone the PCs killed, she’s likely to hate the party. If the PCs cure the illness of someone an NPC cares about, he’s likely to be grateful - the perfect way to start a friendship. Emotions between NPCs can also draw the party into things. Your standard RPG combat system doesn’t tend to inspire a lot of emotion in people. Seeing the emotional after-effect that death and destruction have on your NPCs, however, can really bring things home and involve the party with other people.
=== Group Dynamics Provide Solutions to Plots === Group dynamics allow the PCs to play NPCs against one another. They allow the PCs to blackmail people. They provide ways for the PCs to manipulate people and take advantage of them. Group dynamics can result in NPCs who are willing to spill their guts when drunk or to the right sympathetic ear. They provide caches of notes taken by someone who’s collecting blackmail material on his co-workers.
If you have trouble coming up with non-combat ways for your group to solve your plots now and then, group dynamics can help. They can provide all sorts of alternate solutions to plots. They can also help you to give your players more than one possibility to play with. Maybe there’s one major way to solve the plot, but if the party pokes around a bit and uncovers the rivalry between a couple of NPCs then the solution becomes easier. It allows your players to make greater use of their creativity.
=== Group Dynamics Provide Color === NPCs are much more interesting if they have little things to bicker about, if the PCs can see them grating against each other, throwing coy glances at one another, or standing by one another to the point of being unreasonable. It’s an easy way to give NPCs personality and make them stand out. It’s a simple way to make NPCs different from one another.
You can also use it to support the mood or theme that you’re playing with. If you want your game to be about paranoia and intrigue, you can support that by having NPCs who follow each other, tap each others’ phones, tape their conversations with each other, worry about what their co-workers are doing behind their backs, and so on.
Group dynamics give your world an entire layer of plot, interaction and personality for your players to play with. They add depth and mystery. They tap into that part of people that likes to gossip and speculate about others’ motives and relationships. All of which gives your players more to think about, talk about and get caught up in.
=== Group Dynamics Make Things More Realistic === Having characters who like each other, hate each other, love each other, and get irritated by each other is more realistic. It makes the world feel more comfortable to your players, more “real,” which will make the gaming experience that much more intense. It also means that when you want to creep them out, you can do it easily by throwing a group at them that doesn’t follow the normal rules of group dynamics. A solid, totally loyal group of people can seem remarkably disturbing and odd in the real world, and you can take advantage of that in your game as well.
=== Group Dynamics Reward Research === Group dynamics can make it worthwhile for your party to poke around your world, explore things, and research your plots. They provide lots of material for the party to uncover, piece together, and take advantage of. This encourages them to get out there and interact with your world, rather than just sitting at home waiting for you to throw them their next clue or plot. This allows you to seed the world with all sorts of interesting possibilities, people, locations and items for them to come back and play with. It also gives you many more opportunities to work material you’ve prepared into the game.
=== How Do You Get Started? === It can be tough to come up with group dynamics when you’ve never done it before. You might find yourself coming up with something way too complex and time-consuming, or with something too superficial and not useful enough. So here are a few hints to get you started.
- Start with the characters. You can’t have interesting group dynamics without interesting NPCs. NPCs with interesting histories and backgrounds lend themselves well to useful group dynamics. If you write up a teenager who chafes at his mother’s control-freakish tendencies, then this segues perfectly into a relationship with his drug-using uncle. Already you have an interesting set of dynamics in this family - the mother tries to control her son; the son rebels against his mother; the son tries to emulate his uncle; the uncle leads the boy on to spite the mother. This suggests all sorts of other relationships, attitudes, possible plots and events. Interesting NPCs and interesting group dynamics feed on each other. You’ll probably find that you come up with both together, bit by bit, each encouraging the other. This is also where character history comes in handy - past events help to dictate how characters feel about each other, and the feelings NPCs have for one another suggest past events.
- Pick five people to start with. If your NPCs are members of a huge over-arching group, then start with just five members. Figure out how each one feels about the other four, and why. Does the first resent the second for making him look stupid in practice last month? Is the second in love with the third? Is the third dependent on the fourth for a sympathetic ear when things get at all stressful? Does the fourth behave parentally toward the entire group? You don’t have to go all soap-opera-ish over it, although you can if you want. The emotions can be low-level, simple things, or they can be huge hatreds and loves, or they can be complex interrelationships.
- Think outside the box. Or, rather, group. Don’t just keep relationships among group members in mind. Give them a couple of relationships to outside people. This will affect the group relationships - members of a tight-knit group cannot help but be affected by the other members’ outside relationships.
- Keep it simple unless you have lots of time to spare. You only need a sentence or two for each relationship. You can expand on it later, if you need to, when it becomes relevant. If you have the time and energy, though, feel free to go into a fair amount of detail on a group’s dynamics. It can provide you with lots of fodder for roleplaying, plots, and so on.
=== What Your Players See ===
Okay, so you’ve got a couple of groups that have interesting group dynamics going. How does this enter into your game? How can your players see what you’ve created? Group dynamics show up pretty much everywhere: plots, body language, things people say about each other, emotional reactions to events. It helps if your party is willing to talk to your NPCs - if they don’t get involved, they won’t see a lot of what’s going on. Let’s use our earlier example of the rebellious teenager, his controlling mother, and that lenient uncle.
- Let the PCs see or overhear moments from the NPCs’ lives, particulary partial scenes. If the woman and her son live near the party, the PCs could see the son leaving the house with his mother yelling after him about how he’d better be home before 9 PM. Which leads to the son making a sarcastic remark about his mother to a PC. Later they see the son at a nightclub he isn’t old enough to get into, taking a plastic baggie from an older man who resembles him. This could be an interesting way to drag the party into a plot about tracking down drug dealers, trying to get the son back onto the right track, or something entirely different that the uncle or the mother is into. The boy could be used by the party as a pawn if they need something from one of his older relatives, or maybe they have to protect him from someone else who wants to use him as a pawn.
- Use physical cues. Group dynamics can be revealed easily when the party talks to one NPC about another, spies on NPCs hanging out together, listens in on a phone conversation, and so on. Remember to play with eye contact, tone of voice, body language, etc. The boy might stand stiffly with his arms folded when he’s confronting his mother; perhaps he won’t look her in the eyes. He might affect an older, disinterested air to impress his uncle. His uncle half-suppresses a smile when the boy isn’t looking. The mother’s tone of voice could be tense and tightly controlled. If someone talks to the mother on the phone, she might break the flow of conversation to yell at her son in the background.
- Remember how people talk when speaking to someone they know well and have a history with. Once in a while use in-jokes and out-of-context comments that refer to past events. Try to know what the comments and jokes refer back to, though, in case your PCs investigate the matter. If you’re feeling ambitious you can hide clues in these stories to how the NPCs think and act that could help your party with their plot.
Try not to throw in huge bits of explanatory exposition - people don’t usually talk like that to people they know. Play instead with interesting back-and-forth dialogue. Oftentimes, coming up with interesting background that links NPCs can pretty much take care of this issue for you. If you familiarize yourself with that shared background, you might find references to it cropping up automatically in conversation. For example, if the boy and his mother had a huge fight over his not cleaning his room, then if she mentions the state of his room it could send him into a rage that seems totally out of proportion to anyone watching.
Ultimately, try to start small and work in a detail or two at a time, particularly if you aren’t used to it. It’ll seem more natural that way than if you suddenly dump a whole load of body language into a conversation. It’ll also be less distracting. Try to concentrate on the histories and personalities of the NPCs involved, and the details should flow from that.
===== Villans ===== Make non-combat oriented antagonists.
Even Villains Have A Good Side
Villains Have A Reason For How They Act
Be Aware Of The “Class” Of Your Villain
Don’t Overdo It
Setting Plays A Role
Do You Need A Villain?
A Villain’s Demise
==== Hierarchy of Evil ==== ++ Step 1: Decide on a Goal for the Villains
++ Step 2: Choose an Arch Villain
Choose the grand architect of the evil scheme. for real excitement, the PCs should be completely in the dark as to who the real villain in the campaign is. At the start of the campaign, the Arch Villain should be many times more powerful than the most powerful of the PCs. No single PC should ever be able to defeat an Arch Villain by himself. there are reasons for choosing an Arch Villain who could be weaker than the PCs, but will acquire vast amounts of power by the end of the campaign and need to be destroyed.
Note: For a real twist, you could have multiple Arch Villains striving for the same or similar goals.
++ Step 3: Choose the Arch Villain’s Chief Lieutenants
All Chief Lieutenants are motivated by personal gain, though some might also be motivated by duty or loyalty. They almost always know what is going on and can be even more difficult to deal with than the Arch Villain. should be almost as powerful as the Arch Villain
++ Step 4: Decide on the Cannon Fodder
Cannon Fodder is useful to the PCs because they provide the necessary clues that will lead them to the Chief Lieutenants and subsequently to the Arch Villain. However, they can also be used to lead PCs astray by providing false or misleading information.
++ Step 5: Relationships Within the Hierarchy of Evil
One major consideration in our Hierarchy of Evil that is often overlooked is the infighting that goes on between members. Cannon Fodder’s main goal in life is to become the next Chief Lieutenant.
==== Reflection of Players ==== When putting villains into plots, it’s important to think about both how the PCs might lose and how they might win. Make sure there’s a way in game for the PCs to discover the villain’s weakness.
Prepare more than one thing for the PCs to learn about the villain. Otherwise it becomes painfully obvious when they discover the blind spot or weakness that they’ve virtually solved their plot.
Start with the character’s family. Who are his parents, his brothers and sisters, his spouse, his children? Too many characters in roleplaying games seem to spring fully formed from the head of the game master (GM), with no family and no childhood. The more layers your NPCs have, the more interesting they will seem to your players.
The character’s history. How did he get to where he is today? The more you know about his motivations and ambitions, the events that shaped his life, the easier it will be to figure out what he should do in the context of your game.
The character’s blind spots. Everyone has them, and few GMs think to detail them. Does your NPC trust a certain type of person implicitly? Does he believe himself invincible, even though he isn’t? This may provide the foundation for how your players can blackmail or defeat an NPC.
==== The Weakness ==== One traditional way to deal with villains is to have one specific, glaring weakness that can be exploited. Once in a while, try giving your villain a handful of smaller things instead.
Things like the imported leather jacket, the unusual tattoos, and so forth? Disguise some of your weaknesses as these bits of color.
=== Villain Flaw #1: Inhibitions === * Your villain is squeamish. The sight of blood makes him faint, or the idea of death scares the living daylights out of him due to some childhood trauma. * Your villain is practical and killing is impractical. Perhaps the local authorities would be willing to look the other way if the villain killed the party for some reason, but they wouldn’t look the other way if innocent bystanders died. * Someone the villain cares about or doesn’t want dead is among the innocent bystanders. * The villain just hates guns (or other relevant weapons of destruction) for some reason.
=== Villain Flaw #2: He Has Issues! === * Phobias, fears, anxieties, terrors, and traumas. If your villain is afraid of something, that can be used against him! * Regrets, disappointments, humiliations, shameful secrets - if your villain’s mistakes can be exposed, his allies might leave him. If he can be reminded of his humiliations, he might lose some of his confidence and make a mistake. * Deep-seated traumas, mental illness, a need for medication - such things can be exploited by a clever party. Check out our series of articles on mental illness in roleplaying for more ideas, starting with article #1 (keep clicking on the “Next” link at the bottom of each article to take you through the series): http://www.burningvoid.com/users/heather/roleplaying/Essays/mental.html
=== Villain Flaw #3: The Blind Spot === * Emily is overly trusting, and even when people obviously lie to her she’s likely to believe that the person was simply mistaken rather than lying. * Max is overconfident, and is likely to take on challenges he isn’t quite up to. * Jim loves his sister and would do anything to protect her, even though he knows she doesn’t approve of his actions. * Mary has a great deal of drive and stamina, and doesn’t tend to notice when her allies and compatriots are burning out and wearing down. * Eli is convinced that he’s doing things for the right reasons, and thus that he isn’t a villain. Because of this he tends to forget that most people would disapprove of what he’s doing, and sometimes allows information to slip that could turn people against him. * Norma is so enraged at the actions of the enemies she fights that her judgment slips during tense, emotional battles. She becomes so angry that she’s less likely to notice problems or remember to check everything she should.
=== Villain Flaw #4: The Traitor or Informant === === Villain Flaw #5: Luck and Random Chance === === Villain Flaw #6: Unexpected PC Resources ===
==== 100 character traits ==== 1. always interrupts people. 2. nods frequently but isn’t listening. 3. scratches a lot. 4. fidgets constantly. 5. paces back and forth. 6. has bits of food in his beard. 7. has fresh stains on his clothing. 8. is exceptionally rumpled and un-tucked. 9. pulls strands of hair from his mouth. 10. farts with gusto. 11. burps with gusto. 12. says “excuse me” a lot. 13. very touchy/feely (grabs hands or arms while talking). 14. talks slowly. 15. talks rapidly. 16. always forgets what she is saying. 17. interrupts herself. 18. loves to sprinkle quotes through her conversation. 19. stinks of garlic. 20. espouses the medicinal virtues of garlic (and offers a clove). 21. tells people private things as if they were close friends. 22. seems very nervous. 23. sweats profusely. 24. is always chilly. 25. very thirsty all the time. 26. very hungry all the time. 27. constantly hears the call of nature; (i.e. pees a lot). 28. whines and complains a lot. 29. doesn’t get most jokes; needs to have them explained. 30. makes nonsensical jokes with very obscure punch lines. 31. has pierced nipples and dresses to show them. 32. wears a ring on every finger. 33. wears a ring on every toe. 34. wears ankle bells that jangle whenever she moves. 35. takes notes obsessively. 36. suggests fashion improvements: “that leather really doesn’t work with your eyes; have you tried green velvet?” 37. spits huge wads with gusto. 38. tends to spray spittle while speaking. 39. talks too loudly. 40. talks too quietly. 41. mumbles. 42. smokes a foul smelling herb. 43. is very sleepy. 44. is always guilty about something; “I should really be at work” 45. always invites people to events; parties, picnics, meetings, seances, whatever. 46. seems very greasy. 47. has very bad skin. 48. has a visible birthmark. 49. has a major scar. 50. likes to play games. 51. is addicted to gambling. 52. is an alcoholic. 53. always tries to win favors from the group. 54. is very curious about everybody. 55. is extroverted to the point of embarrassing her companions. 56. is a picky eater. 57. is noticeably fastidious. 58. is always in a hurry. 59. grins constantly. 60. always agrees with everything. 61. changes the subject. 62. hates going to new restaurants. 63. is really awkward around the opposite gender. 64. has fleas. 65. eats other people’s leftovers (without asking). 66. thinks the world is far too loud. 67. has trouble hearing. 68. blows his nose into his hand and then shakes it clean. 69. is extremely clumsy. 70. always has a mild sunburn. 71. has a bad cold. 72. has a pouch of candied giblets. 73. likes a particular currency better than others and insists that people change their money first. 74. has bird shit on his turban. 75. always adds a bit of powder to her beverages (and claims it is a health tonic). 76. loves to dance. 77. is rude to waiters and waitresses. 78. boasts about his sexual exploits (real or imagined). 79. is a serious flirt. 80. believes firmly that the culture is degenerating and always talks about the “old days”. 81. always plugs her favorite politician (or guild, royal family-member, etc.) 82. has strong body odor. 83. smells really good (subtle perfume, very clean, whatever). 84. is injured (broken bone, recent burn, etc.) 85. injures him or herself while talking to the PCs. 86. remembers one of the PCs from “school” (or a similar chapter in the character’s life) 87. chokes or swallows something wrong in the middle of conversation. 88. stumbles into one of the characters while walking (maybe a pick-pocket, maybe not). 89. constantly refers to herself in the third person. 90. constantly refers to her (always present) “friend” (who only she can see). 91. is never without her pet mouse (or rodent of choice). 92. impresses all with the ability to play music through her nose. 93. wears a turban and nothing else to bed every night. 94. wears a turban and nothing else until noon each day. 95. freaks out and runs away in the middle of a conversation (maybe she remembers an important appointment, or maybe it is more sinister). 96. asks a PC for a lock of his or her hair. 97. has a nasty rash. 98. has a very hairy neck. 99. chews fingernails (or toenails) 100. carries lots of bags, parcels, and packages.