Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Super Guest Time Go: "Awesome NPCs, Part 1"

My next semester at university has begun, so I am temporarily swamped. In the meantime, have some MS Paint and a guest piece written by my friend V. That isn't his name or even his nickname, but it's cooler than both.

Awesome NPCS - Part One

Many DMs don't fully appreciate the role that NPCs can play in annoying the ever-loving shit out of your players. One of their more useful abilities, however, is their power to punish your players. Not their characters - your players. If you dm for a varied crowd, you most probably have run into players who just don't seem to get it, or who fail to appreciate your masterful game design.

This article is a ..guide, of sorts, designed to give you a few ready made NPCs, capable of being dropped into any campaign under pretty much any system. Adaptable, useful, and more annoying than almost anything else you can dish out as a 'good' dm. None of them are railroaders or obvious self-inserts(god help you if they are) or DMpcs. Think of them as 'non-combat encounters'.

Mr. Exposition

Most players are used to npcs as fonts of exposition. They sit there and wait for your poorly-written spiel about whatever to finish before moving on with the hacking and the slashing. Mr. Exposition plays on this tendency by never running out of words. He introduces himself as the friend/lover/brother/mother of your so-far established BBEG, and then spills the beans.

All of them. He tells the players every single detail of what they have gone through, as well as their opponent(beyond what the players know, however, he doesn't have to be telling the truth). He just ...keeps on going. He should also pause occasionally to make sure the pcs are listening - maybe asking if he should repeat himself, or quizzing the players on what he's told them so far.

He will explain the local, national, planetary, cosmic, universal, multiversal significances of the actions in the campaign so far, their hidden meanings and subtext, the motivations of everyone involved, the effects that it had on others, the other plots and intrigues that it has launched, etc etc. He's not stopping. If you run out of material, see if you can segue into some well-known monologue from somewhere else and just copy and paste it into your speech. John Galt's diatribe from Atlas Shrugged is a great choice.

Mr. Exposition doesn't shut up until the players kill him or move away. He just never stops divulging plot information. He works best when the players have some sort of time-critical objective up ahead. Of course, he doesn't have to be used like this - just drop him in when you think your players need a lesson on what's actually important.

If you're stumped for inspiration. a great example of this type of speech is the epilogue of MGS 4 - a character slowly dying and revealing far too much information over 25 minutes. He shouldn't be too tough to defeat in combat, either - having him die after one or two hits will probably make your players think "Oh god. We weren't meant to kill him. Now we have to pony up the cash to revive him" or some such nonsense.

The Dumptruck

The dumptruck is an npc who is in a position to help the PCs. She has a very high intelligence score/value and a *lot* of expertise in her field, a powerful position in the local government/church/corporation etc etc. Even better, she will help the players, and will give them substantial and material bonuses. She may hold the solution to a quest(or at least a red herring).

What she does not have, however, is any tact at all. She will constantly insult and berate the PCs, pointing out their shortcomings, flaws, mistakes, stupid names(chances are your players have a bunch of these), backgrounds, race, class, religion, alignment, faction, equipment choice, spell-choice, taste in clothing, social graces, etc etc.

As the DM, you know the mistakes that your players have made, and the obvious solutions that they have probably missed. You also probably know what ticks your players off. This character does that. The first game I used this npc in, one character had a nervous fit, and several of the players planned to return when they had enough power and murder her before razing her home to the ground.

Remember, this NPC actually has a powerful position in the world. She is important, and she knows it. She should actively help the players - give them free board and food, help them with their quests, give them healing, etc etc. She's just completely impossible to deal with. Not that she knows it of course - she often wonders why people don't come and talk to her more often, or why people don't hire her as a negotiator, etc etc.

Don't worry about making her a hypocrite - whenever a player points this out, have her simply insult him in return (or explain how it doesn't apply to her, etc etc.). This NPC is more for stress relief, than anything - if your players have been 'good', they should have little to fear from her.

That's all for part one, folks. Next up is The Rope Merchant, and another, mystery npc!


Anonymous said...

Is it me, or is there no part 2 to this?

Ettin said...

I don't know, I was expecting one.

I guess enough time has passed that I should ask!