Monday, January 27, 2014

Making Your PCs Care - Part 2 - NPCs

We've been talking about choices and what a choice reveals about the character making the choice. In talking about choices we talked about making players and characters care about things to that the choices can be set up to reveal those things. On Friday we talked about making a character care about an item. Today I want to give some advice on ways to make your PCs care about NPCs.

Word To The Wise: Don't Use All The NPCs To Hurt The PCs
Most of the choices I talk about and that we use in our games and stories are done with the intention of causing pain because that is what creates tension and that is the fuel we need for choices. However, you need to be careful to not use everything - especially NPCs - to hurt the PCs. If you do all that will happen is the players will stop attaching or caring because they'll be waiting for the other shoe to drop. If every girlfriend is an agent of the enemy then why should they trust the next girl who seems interested? If every boyfriend gets drunk with power and tries to use them to get fame, why trust that person? Essentially what I'm saying is make your PCs care about a lot of people, but only use some of those people in your plans. That way it keeps the players guessing, and it keeps them involved.

Make the NPC Helpful
When talking about Clementine and her relationship with the player of the game, the designers for the Walking Dead mentioned how it was really important that Clementine save your life right off the bat. By saving your life Clementine becomes more than just a thing you protect because you have to, but because it is also good for you. Bioshock Infinite found similar success with making Elizabeth able to hold her own in combat and throw things to Booker to help you out.

See, we can care about things we have to help. However, if that thing also helps us out. If it saves our lives, opens locked doors, and otherwise is beneficial to our survival and well being then it becomes something more. We become invested in the thing and its survival because the thing, and it's continued existence, is beneficial to us. Simple as that, and something that even speaks to the greedy center of the "gamist" view of a game.

Make the NPC Need the PC
This is where a lot of people mess up. The NPC you want them to care about needs to be helpful, but not too helpful. They need to need the PC as well, otherwise it becomes a GM PC or God Mode NPC just running around and solving everything. This is where Clementine worked well for Walking Dead. She is young and just a kid so she needs Lee/the player to protect and watch out for her, but she can be useful and helpful. She's not a burden, but she does need consideration.

This is a very delicate balance to hit and will take some time. Just remember, the NPC has to need the PC for some things. If they're capable at fighting, maybe they need the PC for some other thing. If they're able to open locks, maybe they need protection. Just be up front and open about the NPC needing the PC as well as being useful.

Make Them Likable
No one likes an asshole. No one likes someone who isn't gracious. If an NPC is a jerk, or overly needy, or overly whiney then there's going to be problems. If the NPCs personality makes a PC or player comment about how much they'd love to punch that person in the mouth...well, you're going to have problems.

On the other hand, make them likable and useful and you have someone the PCs will keep around. Do it long enough and the PCs will care about them. And that is what you want.

Give Them Wants, Hopes, and Dreams
The final thing you want to do, at least for this post, is to give the NPC their own wants, hopes, and dreams. This will make them stand out a bit as their own person with their own things that they want to accomplish. Bonus points if the PCs can help them accomplish those things. Along with those hopes and dreams you want to put obstacles. Give the NPC a mini arc, or multiple mini arcs so that they can grow and change along with the PCs.

Beyond that, you just need to keep up with the NPC. Treat them like a person and you should be ok. And remember the word to the wise in the beginning.

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