View Full Version : How much do you care about the NPCs? -Really?-

2011-07-08, 02:36 PM
Many times, I've seen DMs try to make their NPCs interesting, only to have the players treat them like dirt. Players assume all NPCs are at least one of these:

-Sources of loot
-Sources of XP
-Sources of info
-Plot points
-Railroads waiting to happen

Often, they are, and in the "let's exploit them for all they're worth/see what happens when we try to mess with them" way.

How do you feel about this? Why do you think this happens so often?

2011-07-08, 03:00 PM
Bad rolepaying or bad DMing :P

either the DM or players have to roleplay a reason for finding out if their characters likes them

-They like the way they do things
-romantic intrest

just a few examples

2011-07-08, 03:04 PM
Players assume all NPCs are at least one of these:

-Sources of loot
-Sources of XP
-Sources of info
-Plot points
-Railroads waiting to happen

I see this only with brand new players, most of whom are abusing the whole "lots of options beyond video games" while it is still a novel concept. I certainly understand that urge, annoying as it is.

However, I should note that I usually play in systems that aren't focused on "loot" or "XP".

2011-07-08, 03:06 PM
Personally, I love NPC's. In our old game, we were encouraged to talk to them, and got some cool story out of it in several cases.

I think a lot of players get into the habit of treating NPC's the way you mention because they've simply seen NPC's used that way so often. Our old GM was really good about making the NPC's seem like real people, and we knew it - yes, some were there to further the plot, but some were just... just there. We could interact with them or not, as we chose, and if we did interact with them, it would usually lead to an interesting encounter or conversation. I've rarely encountered that with other GM's, though. In a lot of games I've played, the NPC's really are just there to give us quests, clues, or rewards, or to sell us things.

As for the "let's exploit them" mindset, that's just a sign that the player isn't actually immersed in the game. (Unless they're just playing an immoral or unethical character who DOES mess with people for fun.)

2011-07-08, 03:20 PM
That also applies to the "treat people like dirt" mindset. Some characters are just jerks, or choose to appear that way for various reasons.

2011-07-08, 03:29 PM
Either the DM overestimates his ability to create likable NPCs, or the players aren't much into roleplaying. Often it's both at once.

How do you know you succeeded at making players care about the NPCs? They react emotionally to when something bad happens to one they like. I've been there, on both sides. Oh yeah.

2011-07-08, 03:40 PM
Make the NPCs amusing enough that the players want to play with them. It is a roleplaying game after all: people want an opportunity to talk and act like their character. To keep player interest, NPCs should give players opportunities to act out the characteristics they've designed for themselves. Pompous people for rude characters to ridicule, damsels for knights to woo, etc.

2011-07-08, 04:44 PM
Upon reflection, a class of NPC that my old gaming group seemed to latch onto were the equivalent of the Baker Street Irregulars - young people who were useful but often in need of protection (or at least, we all felt justified in worrying about their safety as a side-concern to the actual plot), if they were well-characterized by the GM, even better. I don't think it was intentional across the group, but we had something along those lines crop up in Deadlands, Exalted, and Call of Cthulhu at least just from what I can remember off the top of my head (all GMed by different people). The kid in the Exalted game actually became a somewhat important plot point after a while.

2011-07-08, 05:09 PM
I've had a few NPC's the players really got to love, for me making up a session on the fly and acting out every single NPC in a memorable way is far too taxing. Some NPC's are only these things, you don't see authors fleshing out every minor character in the book with sweeping paragraph descriptions if they never appear again.

Keep it to a few that are core or central to the plot and it will work fine. Usually in every campaign there's two to three NPC's I can get the characters interested in. A moderate amount where they are neutral and then the vast majority where they treat them like video game NPC's.

If you find acting out different character comes naturally to you (which it often doesn't for me) then all the power to you.

A few samples.
Our one player is so good at combat it'd been a year in real life (at that point in time) since he lost a fight, the Feeorin Grey Jedi who checked his ego really made an impression on him. Through the series they were being hunted by this character and time and again lose. His tough personality really left a strong cord, and they eventually managed to fully redeem him back to the Jedi order (and themselves in a way).

Nye a cunning theif of Zamora, he proved to be as willy, clever, and sarcastic as them as well as a fond love of breaking the law. What wasn't to love? He even gave them a cut of lotus extract (the good kind) and shared some with them. He was a go too guy for places to hit in the city to steal stuff from, in combat he was pretty good too with his poisoned dagger. If anyone messed with him and them on a mission he would see fit to get revenge, they really liked him.

Mmmm Yessss the shopkeeper, no it's too long to explain. Point is they found out he was a god helping them and he's been a favourite ever since.

One player liked Berringar (something) a Mandalorian warrior who I played out as a laid back but skilled leader and warrior. Dunno why he liked this character, but did and was sad to see him die to radiation.

There's been a few more, but this hits the key memorable ones.

2011-07-08, 05:44 PM
My group makes no distinction. Friends and allies are treated as such. They get equal share of loot. Their concerns are our concerns. we have NPC party members. The only way they are unequal is that they don't get a vote by DM fiat when the party/players need to for some decision. They can still request a magic item from treasure, though players tend to get first dibs. However, we do make sure they get a fair share and can get a "potent" item.

2011-07-08, 06:10 PM
I've always favored constructing NPCs not as agents to advance the plot, or as decorative background fluff to make a scene seem more real. Problems might arise if an NPC is constructed based upon the premise that they exist only so that the PCs may choose to interact with them (whether the NPC is for plot or for decoration).

Some GMs prefer that their players' PCs be in the center spotlight of the story at all times, with the world essentially revolving around the PCs. With this sort of setup being the driving force behind many of the encounters in the game, it's not so surprising that the players assume that every NPC they meet is either there for game advancement or for mere decoration.

Some NPCs may work entirely outside the scope of the PCs and never be encountered throughout the entirety of the campaign, but this doesn't need to mean that they suddenly cease to have any effect on the world.

NPCs can have all sorts or oddities and quirks, but the only way to make them real to the players is to have real reasons and rationale behind those quirks. Real people may act wacky and zany just to get laugh, but that's still more real than an NPC who acts wacky and zany because it's been dictated so by the GM (or rolled up on a personality table).

An NPC that's wacky and weird may be funny and memorable, but an NPC that has in-game reasons to be that way will seem real (as well as funny and memorable).

2011-07-08, 09:08 PM
I tend to be pretty protective of NPCs as a player, actually. I'll adopt them, try to make them stronger, even redeem and collect villains. Other players I've played with run the gamut.

As a DM, I generally find that any NPC that is slightly against the party is usually pushed straight to the edge of the enemy classification (this could be something as simple as someone wanting a bribe to let the PCs through, or someone haggling particularly aggressively), but NPCs that are initially helpful are generally treated well.

Basically, I find that often my PCs take the first impression as a strong indicator in a with us or against us way.

2011-07-08, 09:20 PM
As a DM/GM, I view all NPCs that the PCs meet as fully expendable, because there's always a possibility/probability they'll decide to gank the NPC(s) they meet with or without reason. If I truly want to keep the NPC out of harms way, they'll either be (a) well out of the path of the PCs, or (b) long since dead. :smallwink:

As a player, I like interacting with (interesting) NPCs. If I have to interact with a flat NPC, then I will at best not care what tragic/horrible fate befalls them, or precipitate said fate myself. :smallamused:

I still think my favorite NPC interaction was the green dragon with brain damage (harmless CN instead of vicious CE). Became recurring because 75% of us (the cleric killjoy aside) really found it entertaining and relatively harmless compared to just about everything else that was actively trying to kill the "civilized" races.

Honest Tiefling
2011-07-08, 09:22 PM
I sometimes imagine that quite a feel people are wary of NPCs, due to seeing quite a few DMPCs or really badly done NPCs that were detrimental to the story. Now, no one should treat NPCs like a vending machine full of gold and EXP that you activate with your sword in a game focused around roleplaying. However, I can see people forming habits to ignore or run away from NPCs if they drag down the game.

I've seen NPCs take all of the gains the party made (without asking, mind you), other ones become gods, and then railroading enemy monologues. Not how you make a NPC interesting, but I hope everyone here knew that.

2011-07-08, 09:31 PM
I had 3 pages of a notebook filled with names, with a profession next to each name. Elsewhere I had more info on most of them. All my characters did, *Go to town, sell these, see if I can buy those* That was after I started a contact based system where the players started the game knowing a few people as friends, and told them about role-play bonus points.

I still do it, and I have repeat characters I like that show up from time to time, but it's a rare day that the party notices.

2011-07-08, 09:52 PM
As a DM the bigest issue I have with my Players and NPCs is my group well demand to know the name of a guy that has like two words to say and will never see them again. And anyone who matters they walk right past, and want to go see the guy opens and closes the damn gate to the town.

2011-07-08, 11:31 PM
I see this only with brand new players, most of whom are abusing the whole "lots of options beyond video games" while it is still a novel concept. I certainly understand that urge, annoying as it is.

However, I should note that I usually play in systems that aren't focused on "loot" or "XP".

Yeah, I think after the "Holy crap, I can just stab him?!" effect fizzles, I think it comes down to game design. In a game system that rewards you for killing NPCs, the players will kill NPCs. Games with "loot", which is admittedly not that many, tend to especially have that problem.

Also what can help is a system that lets players narrate in NPCs, such as Burning Wheel's/Empires'/Mouse Guard's "Circles" checks, or the myriad other games like In a Wicked Age, Do, PTA, Fiasco, and so on, where players making NPCs isn't codified into a stat, but is a big part of framing scenes.

A GM can do everything he can to make his NPCs likable, but nothing will attach a player more to them than creating them themselves.

2011-07-08, 11:59 PM
I have to say my current DM has managed to make more or less all of his NPC's interesting in one way or another. Far from all has been likable, but they've gotten some sort of emotional response. Example, one NPC (okay technically a god...) pissed my character of and about 5 (5-6) years later in game time.. and about 1-5 years later IRL time it's still not forgiven or forgotten.

Then we have the big, scary female gnoll leader that mainly wanted to not be woken up to early in the morning.. and wanted someone to talk to. (Most memorable line ever came from her with a talk about relationships... "Three words: Wet. Dog. Smell."... major mood killer apperantly.)

The one lizardfolk druid that just became a party npc at random after first having gotten Feeblemind cast on her, gotten healed from that, and provided the hook for the next adventure..

And in the current campaign some of the bigger guild leaders are hilarious, disturbing or both. (The demon one and the undead one are especially wonderful :D).

But the main thing is, they don't seem like NPC's, they're people. But I also know I'm very lucky to have a quite creative DM. (Who has some of his best moments when he hasn't had time to prepare anything.. maxed out his improvisation skill :p)

2011-07-09, 12:14 AM
The greatest moment of DMing, for me, was when a player sent me a PM saying that a certain NPC I had created was the only NPC he had cared about in all the games he had played to date. This, coming from someone with 5+ years gaming, made me deliriously happy. Then the next greatest moment of DMing, for me, was when I was told that my NPCs were so interesting they made the player in question want to write about them in his posts (in a PbP game).

So yeah, I try to care a lot about NPCs, because I've been on the other side of the DM screen, and it's rewarding when it happens.

2011-07-09, 12:35 AM
Well, I have been guilty at times of ignoring NPCs, but then again, you don't stop to talk to every passerby on the road when you're off doing something important.

The times when NPCs have really been awesome for me, are when my character has a reason to take a vested intrest in the NPCs.

For instance, while playing in a morally ambiguous campaign, I had a L/E wizard who, to one-up the party's sorceror, had that sorceror put on trial for reckless endangerment, vandalism, and willful destruction of public property after he flung a Fireball at a drow bard he was chasing through town.

My wizard first rounded up witnesses, made a few diplomacy checks, let the people there know that not ALL spellcasters were like That, that he'd protect them if they took that miscreant to court... and then, after arranging for protection for the witnesses, he went to the barrister's guild and ensured the good lawyers were all either on the side of the prosecution, or were out of town on a paid vacation.

The other party member, of course, tried to hunt down the people who accused him (He didn't know my wizard was behind the whole trial, I was playing a very sneaky shadowcaster) and we got to learn a great deal about those NPCs, their home lives, and families as my caster went into bodyguard mode and his went into assassin mode.

2011-07-09, 12:56 AM
I find that the 'screw with the NPCs' tricks don't occur when you give the PCs great NPCs.

My tricks to good NPCs:

1.) Think of them like characters in movies/books/stories. When you see secondary characters, they tend to follow two significant trends based upon the amount of 'screentime' they get. The more you see them, the more character traits and they have. The less you see them, the more overboard those traits are. The drunk you see once in a bar is REALLY sloppy drunk with only the stereotypical drunk features, but the alcholic protagonist is rarely seen as sloppy drunk as the secondary character.

2.) Steal. When you make an NPC, pick a character from a book, tv show, movie, comic book, your life, etc... and use them as a template for the personality. I use minor thugs from comic books as templates for bandits in the forest. I used Giles from Buffy as the headmaster of a school for mutants. I used my ex-wife as a banshee. Batman was the head of an assassin's guild. If you don't go overboard with trying to mimic accents, the players will usually not catch on, and it gives you real diversity in your NPCs.

If you want to take this to a second level, try using different groups of characters from the same source as templates for NPCs from the same area. This will help you provide a different feel for different areas in your campaign world.

3.) Practice. Before a game slip into character for important NPCs and figure out what they'd be doing right before they run into the NPCs. Then play it out. If you are going to use simple props when in character during the game (hoding your can of soda to represnt a mug of ale, etc...), incorprate these.

4.) For major NPCs, make sure they have goals, and have them explain them to the PCs at some point early on. Players respond to these things.

5.) Learn from the school of Whedon. If your PCs start to really respond, and even like, an NPC - figure out how to kill the NPC in a way that will torture the players. There was this little orphan girl NPC that swore like a sailor and followed the party paladin around town with a little girl crush (well, the paladin player was a good sport while the rest of the players loved it). When the paladin made a choice to save some innocents rather than kill a fleeing villian, it came back to haunt them when the villian - a vampire - turned the little girl and made her start killing the townsfolk the PCs cared about. This got a strong reaction out of the players...

However, if the players still screw with your NPCs, they may just be jerks. Jerks tend to give up their jerky reactions when the DM stops reacting strongly to the jerky actions. Don't be angry, disappointed or anything else that shows a strong reaction. Just let it go and move on. They'll get bored soon enough.

2011-07-09, 01:22 AM
Yeah, I think after the "Holy crap, I can just stab him?!" effect fizzles, I think it comes down to game design. In a game system that rewards you for killing NPCs, the players will kill NPCs. Games with "loot", which is admittedly not that many, tend to especially have that problem.

The game, the other players, the GM, the setting, all these are a part of this. "Holy crap, I can just stab him?!" eventually becomes "So, apparently the rest of them can report me, and so could others elsewhere, and the authorities can put it together. The world reacts, and that is cool." if that happens, which ends the habit quickly enough.

2011-07-09, 06:27 AM
I see this only with brand new players, most of whom are abusing the whole "lots of options beyond video games" while it is still a novel concept. I certainly understand that urge, annoying as it is.
I know enough people who killed quest-critical NPCs in video games, just because they could. And then wondered why they can't finish a quest.

2011-07-09, 05:26 PM
As a DM the bigest issue I have with my Players and NPCs is my group well demand to know the name of a guy that has like two words to say and will never see them again. And anyone who matters they walk right past, and want to go see the guy opens and closes the damn gate to the town.

I once knew this guy who's specialty as a dm was sort of related to this. Guy was an NPC machine. Any random npc at all and he could make a detailed backstory almost instantly. It was really cool, actually.

2011-07-09, 07:02 PM
New players rarely empathize well with anything in a game world. Suspension of disbelief, immersion and sympathy for fictional entities are all skills. Personally, how much I care for NPCs depends highly on their personality, but I've noticed I have much better skills to memorize a cast than a lot of others.

As a GM, NPCs are, simply, my characters. I use them to implement and introduce all sorts of ideas. They're also my mouthpieces and way to lampshade or deconstruct what the PCs do on stage.

With my current group, I've been relatively successful in establishing even relatively minor NPCs and making my players care about them in some way. I consider this an achievement, since they're new to the hobby and play just the sort of sociopathic hobos you'd expect.

But I'll never forget the look on their face when I introduced my Blood Emperor to them. "Corrupt? Is it corrupt, if the system was build from ground up to be like that? Think of it: he might be just like you, a bigoted, greedy, paranoid, power-hungry bastard who wants to rule the world. Expect, he's succeeded."