Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Making NPCs "Real" People

Why are the NPCs in your world? Do they have a function? Do they have a purpose? Do they have a life?

It's ok to say no to any or all of those. A game can function quite well with everything revolving around the players and what they need. Store owners pop into existence solely to sell the PCs what they're looking for, before vanishing back into the ether when not needed. Barons, Kings, and Wealthy Merchants come into existence with plots and hooks to send adventurers off on, and in the confines of that adventure they have a role and a character but outside nothing.

Not only is this ok, I'd say it is the status quo. As video games became popular, and lost it's "guilty pleasure" status it became more and more of a thing. So many people have come into gaming from videogames, even though those videogames only came into existence because of table top gaming. And it's fine.

However, if you want your world to feel more real. If you want your stakes to feel more real. And if you want your PCs to believe that your NPCs are more than just pop-up cardboard cutouts that spring into action when they're needed you need to invest in them a little bit.

NPCs should have lives. It's ok if you don't know what that is right off the bat. You can't have every NPC pre-prepared for a session after all. However, that doesn't mean that NPCs don't have lives.

What does the Weapon Seller do after his store closes? Does he have a family? Is it a She and not a He? What do they do for fun? What do they want out of life? These goals don't have to be complicated. "To leave enough wealth for my kid to make it" is a simple, common, and yet meaningful goal and one that is likely true for a lot of people in the world.

Giving your NPCs goals, aspirations, and just things to do gives them a sense of life and well being. Perhaps the PCs can't get their orders done for some time because other orders are in front. Maybe the shop keep has a fondness for adventurers, having been helped by them before, and is willing to do a little extra for them. Maybe the sword smith will be happy to fix the Paladin's sword, but won't have time until he can make sure his son's wedding is all set up - giving the PCs a chance to help in order to get the sword fixed faster.

Give your NPCs stuff to do besides what the PCs need. Give them a life. Have them live it. It'll make your game world more real. And if you can make your players see the world as real, they'll invest even more into the game.

Monday, July 24, 2017

Your Villains Goals Should Emphasize Their Humanity

I have been reading Masks: A New Generation lately. The game didn't have to do much to catch my eye. I'm a sucker for super hero stories and games, and even more of one for teen heroes. Something about the teen hero part of super hero stories just really speaks to me I guess. Anyhow, Masks is a Powered By the Apocalypse game in the same sense as Dungeon World and Monster Hearts. This means the game is focused on quick action with simple resolution that keeps things going. It also means that the game is more interested in the emotional reality of what is going on than the physical reality.

It's a good system, but the thing I like most so far is the section on creating villains. Namely, the part I've more or less paraphrased in the title of this post about villains and their goals. It's a great reminder, and also a big key to making your villains ones that will be remembered.

But I Want To Destroy The World
Many of the "cliche" villain goals don't have much 'human' about them. Subjugate the masses, rule with an iron fist, and blow up the world aren't things someone in grips with their humanity would do, and that's ok. There is room for those goals and threats. Just realize that what you're doing there is putting your PCs up against a monster, not a villain. This is fine, but remember: monsters can be awesome, but villains get remembered long past their story being forgotten.

How Do They Remain Villains?
So you have a "human" goal, how does your villain remain human? Well, the big difference between a Hero and a Villain is how they go after their goals. A hero will act reactively, defending their goal against that which threatens it and trying to light the way towards a better path. A villain? A villain is a lot more pro-active.

To get the point, let's look at some classic villains. Magneto from the X-Men is a villain with the goal that he will not let what happened to the Jewish people in Nazi Germany happen to Mutants. To achieve this goal he has become a Mutant Supremacist who makes moves to strike down the military arms of humanity and put Mutants on top. By comparison, Professor Xavier wants to work with humanity. Both men seek a world where mutants are free to live their lives in the open, but how they're going about it is very different.

In Arkham Asylum Joker states his goal to Batman. He just wants Batman to see the world the way he does: giggling and bleeding in the corner. In effect, Joker here just wants someone to understand his viewpoint. What that viewpoint is may change, but it's a theme that runs with Joker in numerous incarnations, and frequently in ones that pop up on "best Joker story lists."

Some Other Examples
Almost any place a story goes bad can be the birth of a villain provided the villain is willing to make sacrifices to achieve their goal.

A character who wants nothing more than to see their fractious Empire united may become a villain and threat so large that the Empire must unite to withstand them.

A scientist who regrets not making the action that ruined their life and cause their best friend to commit suicide could be making a machine to go back in time and fix that mistake. They just need money and equipment to get started now.

A fallen hero may just want to protect the masses but has become jaded with how the courts work, and so now they're killing villains that cross a certain line and you can either join them or get out of their way.

A normal person may be trying to kill heroes because he's trying to avenge those who die in the crossfire when super-powered beings throw down.

Human Goals Make Emotional Resonance
the reason you want these human goals is two fold: first they make the character more interesting. Second, they make the character relatable.

Give your villain a proper goal and reason, and the PCs/Heroes may become conflicted. Some may not think it's that bad. Some may be tempted to join. Even those who aren't may not be happy with their victory after.

All of this makes for great stories and better campaigns. Give it a shot.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

PvP Requires Grace In Victory and Defeat

A group of friends I'm a part of meet up online on the regular for multiplayer games of Stellaris. It's a fun space Grand Strategy game where you can make your own custom races. One of the options for a custom race is to be a Devouring Swarm type hive mind, much like the Zerg of Star Craft fame or the Tyrannids of 40k. It's not a move normally done in multiplayer games because a devouring swarm really only has one win condition: eat everyone, and most players object to being eaten. In talking about the game with friends it reminded me of some thoughts of PvP in table top RPGs, and what you need for PvP to be a successful part of a game.

Monday, July 17, 2017

When It's All On The Line

Over the past weekend I watched a lot of Evolution 2017. If you're not sure what that is, Evolution is a massive fighting game tournament. In Evolution most of the big fighting games have major tournaments that give large amounts of ranking points in the leagues and circuits used to determine just who is the absolute best player at various games. It was a fun tournament and even for someone not into fighting games like me, a lot of awesome things happened with major clutch performances.

Watching the tournament also got me thinking. During the games the camera would show the players, and the different players were all going through the same emotions and tensions very differently. Some players were incredibly emotional, pumping hands in the air after major wins and needing a minute or two between rounds to calm down. Others were very stoic and plain faced. Most were somewhere in between.

It got me thinking about RPGs - like most things do - and about our characters. How we handle tension and stress in the midst of the big challenges of our lives says a lot about us as people, and there is a lot of room in there to make a unique character without changing someone's alignment.

So have you thought about it? Does your character get emotional and expressive? Cheering loudly when a fight that looked bad is won? Do they celebrate with the same abandon they fight with? Are they more calm and calculated the whole time playing odds and taking gambles but only after weighing out the risks? Does this impact the rest of how the character acts?

It's something worth thinking about. It's something I need to think about with the characters I have.

Friday, July 14, 2017

Discussion: Lessons from Other Games

I apologize for the lateness of this post.

A lot of games are filled with great advice for how to run games. You get the ideas and style of other GMs and designers there giving advice. Sometimes this advice carries over to other games. Sometimes it is very game specific.

My question for today is have you taken lessons from other games? If so, what lesson did you take? How does it play out?

For me, the big lesson I took from another game came from Mutants and Masterminds. Mutants and Masterminds uses Hero Points as a little boon the GM can give out for cool moments, and players can use to get bonuses to rolls or clear fatigue and do other heroic things. The thing is, one of the reasons a player might get a Hero Point was because of GM Fiat that was bad for them directly.

In other words, the game made it clear that the GM could shift things unfairly against you, provided they paid you to do it.

It was a big deal for me at the time, and it changed a lot about how I run games. I love being able to use it when I can. Generally it leaves everyone happy. The game gets a tense moment, the GM keeps things moving, and the PC gets a token to let them be even more badass. Good times.

What about you?

Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Vote in the ENnies!

It's award season again. If you're no in the know, Table Top RPGs have their own awards. They're called the ENnies and you can vote in them right now! Follow this link. Vote for your favorite in each category. Then, come GenCon, see if your favorite game won any awards.

I find myself pulling for 7th Sea this year, but Evil Hat always has a spot in my heart too - they just do so much good stuff. The big guys like Paizo and WotC are also there, and if something they did truly sticks out it is also worthy of recognition.

But don't let me tell you how to vote. Go out there and support the games you love!


Monday, July 10, 2017

Verbs! By Matthew Colville

I had an idea for a long post about some lessons I recently learned, but then I realized something. The biggest improvement I feel I've made as a GM lately came from this video. How often do you consider the verbs you use when giving your players tasks? RPGs are fond of "What do you do?" but that question can be daunting with its openness if a good mission isn't set before the PCs, and a good mission has a good verb.

Watch this. Digest it. Consider it when planning your sessions. You might be surprised how much better your sessions go when "Find information on the missing Count of House Antioch" becomes "Recover the Book of Fallen Leaves, a detailed History and Study of House Antioch."

But I'll let you watch for yourself below.