When Situation = NPC

So I was talking with Eric last night about my (totally bolloxed) first cut at a situation generator, and he said this really brilliant thing: He pointed out that in Burning Empires, there is a spotlight NPC for each phase of the infection, and that he had found that he knew in advance how the phases we hadn't yet played would feel, because he knew who their spotlight NPC was going to be.

Our Usurpation phase was going to be with a big, bluff chowderhead of a general named Sigfried, and so we knew that it was going to be grav-tanks and flags flapping in the breeze and scarred men in heavy armor blowing things up real good. Awesome! Our Invasion phase was going to be with a broken, vicious, pacifistic (but violent!) Inquisitor who believed that there was nothing worse in the universe than war, and so we knew that it was going to be a nasty, dirty business of fighting against the church and its hierarchy in order to do the right thing, when the right thing looks incredibly wrong ... and that we'd have highlights of the lives destroyed and families displaced by the conflict, and we'd be dragging that moral weight the whole way through.

The NPCs defined the situation in a way that was immediately easy to read, and inspiring. As human beings we are interested in nothing so much as another human being. Saying "The world is going to be a Sigfried-world" is a powerful way of leveraging that interest in order to inspire and motivate a GM and players to get on the same page about the situation in the same way they can (easily) get on the same page about a character.

Once he pointed this out to me, I immediately realized that many, many manga and anime are structured exactly the same way. Ranma 1/2 has Ranma and Akane as protagonists ... but each episode centers around the ways that a third party shapes their world, and how Ranma and Akane work within that world. The ever-growing ensemble of supporting characters provide a series of differently focussed and distorted mirrors, and Ranma and Akane see new things in themselves and each other in each one. Fruits Basket is even more straightforward: The story is nothing more than a series of episodes in which Tohru Honda (the lone protagonist) meets members of the Sohma family and comes to understand them, learning or deciding something about herself in the process. That's literally all there is to the story ... it's quite formulaic.

I like this formula. I think it works very well ... it's immediately inspiring, and gets people thinking about stories they can do ("Oh, we totally need to do an episode that's informed by Tao Ren's father ... get into the whole twisted world of the Tao family, and give the kid a chance to finally confront those demons"). It also works to produce an ensemble of deep characters for future play: The NPC you centered around last session is still present in the next session (even if it's informed by some other NPC), and the PCs have gotten a better picture of that person, and made strong statements about themselves relative to her.

The problem is ... I have no idea what steps a GM would actually take in order to make a character's personality and ... uh ... essence ... pervade the world and the situation. I can sort of wave my hands in the general direction, and give examples of how I see it happening in games and media, but ... what are the STEPS? It's formulaic ... what's the actual formula?

Comments

  • I usually begin at the motivation of said character. What forces him to act against/witht the pcs.

    Then you'd look at the NPC and the sketch you have of him and you figure out how he would act on this
  • I think I did this in a clumsy way with The Roach, where each of the six (mandatory, rigidly sequenced) Events has three NPCs who have to appear. I don't know what sort of people those NPCs will be in a particular game until we start playing, but once you know them, you know what color an upcoming Event will take.
  • edited July 2007
    Heh, I'm kinda tackling this idea myself. I just give NPCs a set of keywords inspired by the big IMDB plot keyword list we talked about here. These are events likely to happen in any scene where the NPC appears. Really, the NPC is just a channel through which to introduce these events.

    For example, each of these things would occur in any scene involving Sigfried:
    Grav Tanks
    Flags flapping in the breeze
    Heavy Armor
    Blow up real good

    I've not yet fully fleshed out a system for introducing these keywords, though. :P

    EDIT: This technique doesn't really address motivations though, which might make it less than optimal for what you're looking for.
  • Posted By: Kaare BergI usually begin at the motivation of said character. What forces him to act against/witht the pcs.

    Then you'd look at the NPC and the sketch you have of him and you figure out how he would act on this
    Cool! What's the next step?

    And how does the whole "How would he act on this?" angle play out if the spotlighted NPC is not actually present in the story (as with many episodes of Neon Genesis Evangelion where Command Gendo Ikari is clearly setting the tenor of many episodes in which he does not, in fact, appear ... or Ghost in the Shell: Stand-Alone Complex which has (roughly) half its episodes informed by the Laughing Man ... who may or may not even exist)?
  • Tony, I think the key is to not start with the signature character. I think your best bet would be to get a few rough ideas, like "unrequited love, gravtanks, estranged brothers" (me personally, I'd pull these from player-flags). Then I'd look at the rough ideas I had and try to figure out how to make a single character unite all of the ideas -- which is easier than you might think. So to continue the example, I'd create the signature NPC as the gravtank commander who went to war because his brother got the girl they both loved.
  • I've found it incredibly helpful, sometimes, to draw on stereotypes: Pirate Captain, Evil Nazi, Wicked Stepmother. In our society, we all have a sense of how these people think and behave and that can be very useful. Also, it means the players (and PC's) aren't spending lots of time and energy figuring out who they're up against.Another idea is to take a stereotype and change one aspect, or add a different neurosis for variety and surprise.

    -Nancy
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyTony, I think the key is to not start with the signature character.
    ... except this is a thread specifically about starting with the signature character.

    I'm not denigrating the worth of different ways of doing things, but what I'm looking at here is what I've asked about: starting from an idea of a person, and building a situation-in-play out of that.
  • Ah! You want to start there; I thought you just wanted to use the NPC as a sort of focal point. My bad.
  • edited July 2007
    Posted By: TonyLBThe problem is ... I haveno ideawhat steps a GM would actually take in order to make a character's personality and ... uh ... essence ... pervade the world and the situation.
    In a simplest-thing-that-could-possibly-work vein: you already have a character-definition process where there's a set of things you get cards for doing, and a set of reasons for which you get cards for doing stuff (...ugh, but no time to rewrite that sentence).

    How about: create your episode's NPC along these lines. Then, whenever anyone does anything for a reason the NPC would do something, the GM draws a card.

    Probably retarded, but hey: simplest thing that could possibly work.

    [edit: any NPC might work better?]
  • Another TonyLB thread that exactly hits my design concerns.

    In the Pentasystem I'm moving towards using NPCs* as "handles" in order to change things in the setting - the old "convince the King to change the law by solving one of his problems and winning his gratitude" idea. Since all characters are made in the same way, this means that these "handles" will have things they care about (enmeshments), with associated goals or dilemmas, and a set of attributes which come from who and what they are. These will typically include attitudes, "articles of faith" (beliefs they hold more or less irrationally), and details of appearance and behaviour, based on one or (more likely) several character templates.

    And they're introduced based on what the main characters are enmeshed with. If one of our main characters is a republican, we're probably going to get the King.

    *they're not strictly NPCs, since there's no GM, but close enough for jazz.
  • I don't quite get it.

    Say I want to cook up a situation-as-NPC.

    What do I do? In what order?

    Make it really simple so even a dummy like me can understand.
  • Posted By: misubaHow about: create your episode's NPC along these lines. Then, wheneveranyonedoes anything for a reason the NPC would do something, the GM draws a card.
    Yeah, I like the simplicity of that. I'm thinking, above and beyond, that the traits and roles that work for a protagonist won't actually do as good a job for a supporting/focal-character. Maybe you need a character-creation system for these episode-NPCs, but it's very different in its aims from the character-creation system for PCs.

    Like, "Hero" would be a lame-ass role for a protagonist. Oooh, you're somebody that people look up to ... yeah, that drains all the struggle and interest straight out of a protagonist.

    Likewise, "Tired" is a lame-ass attitude for a protagonist to have. Yeah, you've been through shit ... so what?

    But "Tired" + "Hero" could be an awesome setup for a focal-character ... it's not that he's all that interesting for the long haul on his own ... but he provides a fascinating mirror for any protagonist who is full of youthful enthusiasm and a desire to do good. It makes such a character think ... what about the future? How long does youth and enthusiasm last? How do you go on each day when you know that your best years are behind you? Is heroing just a job for the young?
  • Posted By: JDCorleySay I want to cook up a situation-as-NPC.

    What do I do? In what order?

    Make it really simple so even a dummy like me can understand.
    Yeah, what he said! Make it simple, as if explaining to a child.

    Oh ... wait ... he's asking ME? Gah! I don't know the answer to that! That's why I started this thread! :-)
  • Doesn't Burning Empires do this perfectly well, as you say, Tony? I mean isn't the whole point that the GM designs and places his Figures of Note, thereby doing precisely what you're talking about? The whole game reinforces it. The initial roll into disposition. The way the game positions figures of note in the scene economy. And certainly the way BITs work to help interface NPCs into the situation (it's sort of what they've always done). How do you do it? That's how. If you want to know the formula, then start stealing. ;)

    Seriously, what else is there to do? Make it so the NPC has a spotlighted position in the narrative using the rules of the game, play the NPC to the hilt, and profit. I think perhaps you're making the assumption that you should have more control than you really do. NPCs are expressed in the way they are played, and there's only so much you can know about a character before you actually start making decisions and rolling the dice. That's what makes playing the game fun. I guess what I'm saying is that if you take steps to spotlight an NPC like BE does, then his essence will pervade the scenes (as long as the NPC is present and active). You just don't know exactly what that essence is until you actually feel it (though you can make educated guesses, as you describe in your post).

    The only thing that BE doesn't do is make it so that the FoN is immune from becoming dead/irrelevant during the phase. But I think that doing that would weaken the possibilities inherent in the conflicts. You probably don't want to sacrifice the meat for the garnish. Maybe that's wrong, though. Maybe BE would be a better game if spotlighted FoNs couldn't be killed, except possibly through the narration you get from winning the phase.
  • Kintara - I think people are talking about something a little different than just 'play an important NPC' here...but I may be wrong.
  • edited July 2007
    Posted By: JDCorleyKintara - I think people are talking about something a little different than just 'play an important NPC' here...but I may be wrong.
    Is that what I ended up saying? Yeah, I guess it is. Burning Empires also has the infection mechanics (and the narration that connects the maneuvers/phases), which translates the decisions of individual characters into the larger context of the setting and broad situation (and vice versa). I suppose I should have mentioned that.

    Having two scales of conflict that correlate and interact would seem to be a great way of having individuals' essence infuse the larger situation.
  • Kintara: I hate to resort to examples, rather than telling you what I'm looking for explicitly ... but I think if I knew enough to tell you expicitly I'd be further along on understanding this than I currently am. So, example: Angel, Season #1, Episode #2, "Lonely Hearts" introduces Kate ... a woman who is isolated and alone, reaching out for connection, making superficial contacts with many people but not meshing with any. Sort of a mirror for Angel, neh?

    Well, as it turns out, the monster for that episode is a demon that is isolated and alone, reaching out for connection (by burrowing forcefully into the bodies of its prey), making superficial contacts with many people, but not meshing with any.

    Now Kate didn't cause that, but I think it's fair to say "That's the kind of demon that shows up in a world pervaded by essence-of-Kate." Of course that's the demon for that episode. No other demon would fit as well, in the episode that introduces us to Kate.
  • edited July 2007
    Hmm.

    Choose a Situation card. *
    Devise a NPC who embodies the qualities on that Situation card.
    Each player says how their PC is connected to the NPC (either in a prologue scene or all sketching out a relationship map).
    Start play.

    ---
    * 'Situation card' is shorthand for the items you were coming up with in the 'Cross-product' thread.
  • Steve: I'd be inclined to cut out the middleman, and make the situation cards be creating the NPC ... then derive the situation from that NPC.

    The simple fact is, I've tried to make the situation-cards, and they aren't singing. Situations, in the abstract, are dull as dishwater. It's people who are interesting and inspiring ... so I want to tap into that, and start with the cool stuff (people!) in a way that lets me derive the boring stuff (situation!)
  • edited July 2007
    Bah to situation being boring! You're just not constraining them far enough.

    People are boring, that's why we have stereotypes!

    (The opposite of this is also true.)
  • edited July 2007
    Hey Tony,

    So I'm trying to wrap my head around what you DO have.

    Let's say we're sitting down to play a game of Misery Bubblegum.
    We know what the Setting is. It's 'High School'.
    And all the players make their Characters. Vain Bookworm. Naive Champion, etc.

    Are you cool with us (the hypothetical game group) knowing all this before we start coming up with the Situation?

    Now, from stuff you've said in other threads, you really want the GM to have a huge amount of input at this point - because this is where you get to start having your fun, right?

    So what do you (the GM) need to know?

    - What the characters want? (A kicker)
    - The mood you want to create? (based on your gut feeling)
    - The characters' weaknesses? (based on looking at their cards)
    - What would be logical to happen next? (based on appropriate knowledge of backstory and continuity from previous games)
    - What the characters' relationship is with the NPC? (based on the players each defining a unique (or not) relationship with the currently non-existent NPC, and then you inventing someone at the nexus of all those relationships)

    Those are just some starting thoughts. (And, actually, I really like that last one).

    Basically, I suspect that you (the GM) won't be able to do this without at least some input from the players. At the very least, it should be something they find fun. And from my memory of playing Burning Empires, don't the players have quite a bit of input into defining the Figures of Note?

    Helpful? Thought-provoking? Superceded?
  • Posted By: hixSo what do you (the GM) need to know?
    If I do this right? Nothing.

    Does a GM for Dogs in the Vineyard need to know what characters are coming to the table before he crafts his town? Nope. I run convention games with a pre-made town, and people make their Dogs (similarly in complete ignorance of what the town is going to be) and it works out splendidly. The system is well-crafted to make the players prep and the GMs prep independent. They don't depend upon each other.

    Same-same here. At least that's the goal.

    Suppose I choose an Overbearing Guardian: A teacher who is trying to keep the kids from ... whatever fun thing it is they choose to do ... for their own good, and with the best intentions. Maybe they're supernatural investigator-scoobies, and this teacher (and his band of professional spook-hunters) is sweeping in to try to keep the school 100% totally safe and spook-free.

    If a player comes in with an Obedient Bookworm then you may well get a story of a shy kid trying to find the nerve to insist on her own way against an adult who unthinkingly runs roughshod over her for kindness's sake.

    If a player comes in with a Feisty Princess then you may well get a story of two potent personalities clashing at every turn until they find a way to understand each other and make peace.

    Jaded Champion? Maybe you get a story about the question of whether one even can know what's good for other people, and whether safety is all its cracked up to be.

    The point is, I think that if you throw out a well-structured support character, they act as a mirror for whatever protagonist comes into their orbit. You don't need to know how the two will reflect each other before the game. Discovering that is the game itself.

    Does that make any sense?
    Posted By: hixBasically, I suspect that you (the GM) won't be able to do this without at least some input from the players.
    Without being snide (because I enjoyed and respected your post ... very thought-provoking!) I'm actually pretty glad to hear this. It's a bit contrary of me, but I always get worried when I'm doing things that people agree with and understand. It makes me feel that I must not be breaking new ground. So when you tell me that you think what I'm trying to do is impossible, I think "Oh cool! Then it'll be awesome if I pull it off. Now I know it's a thing worth trying for!"
  • edited July 2007
    Tony, in the Shadow of Yesterday "Battlestar Galactica in a Dungeon" game we played with Eric and Jen, I deliberately created all the (significant) NPCs after the player-characters were created and in direct response to things the players seemed to be calling for. Thus:

    Jen had explicitly said she'd wanted more doomed romance for her character in our last campaign. So I made sure at three different NPCs were desperately attracted to Jen's character, Khaidu. Jen also had her character start as an exile from his barbarian tribe who was an outsider among the other PC's people.
    Eric had created a character, Brother Vedis, whose story was all about finding out the mysterious and probably appalling secrets of the magical chalice of which he was the last surviving guardian. So I made sure that two NPCs cared intensely about the chalice. (And a third, the crazed sorcerer guy, had some background on why Vedis's religion was more sinister than he thought, but that never came up much).
    You'd created a character, Yoshi, who was all about struggling with the appalling repression -- and internalized self-repression -- of women in the fictional culture. And she had a thing for Khaidu, of course. So besides the NPCs you specifically implied in your character generation (Yoshi's judgmental father and her mentor/seducer), I created characters who mirrored Yoshi's issues of power, powerlessness, family, and love.

    Thus I created the characters who became major figures in the story:

    Kaina: Yoshi's long-lost sister, a female paladin full of repression and self-denial, instantly crushing on Khaidu even as she wishes he were "civilized." She eventually became a huge deal, immensely intertangled with Jen's Khaidu and effectively "my character" in the story. (Hits Yoshi & Khaidu).

    Khan: The freakin' giant tiger of death, Khaidu's rival as an embodiment of aggressive, virile nature, and connected to the Chalice and Yoshi's family history. (Hits Khaidu, and secondarily Vedis & Yoshi).

    Archduke Corion and Baron Ran: Corion, the sort-of-rightful claimant to the throne, seeking Vedis' chalice to break the spell that kept him an aged man in a ten-year-old body, with utter contempt for the barbarian Khaidu, and demanding Yoshi's allegiance through his hold over her father, the Baron Ran (whom I'm not listing separately as he was very much your creation and doesn't fit into a discussion of my NPC-creating-method). (Hits Vedis, and secondarily Khaidu & Yoshi).

    Arianwe: The witch-queen, powerful and cruel, Yoshi's grandmother -- eternally youthful thanks to hideous magics -- seeking Khaidu's male energy to perpetuate her immortality and wanting her hands on the Chalice for the same unholy purpose. The arch-villainness of the piece. (Hits all three PCs).

    There were also two NPCs I created who pretty much fizzled:
    Death-Her-Gift: A barbarian princess, a powerful, self-assured woman (in contrast to Yoshi), who was attracted to Khaidu and wanted him to rejoin the tribes. Jen thoroughly rejected this option, and since there was no dilemma or internal tension to exploit, I huffled this NPC off-stage. (Hits Khaidu, not very hard, and secondarily Yoshi).
    Talin: Arianwe's son, driven mad by her mistreatment and his own demoniac sorcery, worshipping the dark form of the same deity as Brother Vedis, although I never made that anywhere near clear enough. Everyone thought he was an amusingly grotesque minor villain, but no one really engaged with him. (Sort of hits Vedis, and that's it).

    Almost every session of play ended up centering on an encounter with one of these major NPCs and the player-characters' reactions to them.

    The only procedure I can distill from what I did was:
    1) Each antagonist hits on a protagonist's capital-i Issue, either by mirror-imaging the protagonist's problem or by directly posing a challenge to the character in that area.
    2) Each (successful) antagonist hits at least two protagonists' Issues and, ideally, all three.
    3) Each antagonist wants something from the protagonists (the great advice from Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard).

    [edited to fix antagonist/protagonist misstyping]
  • wrote:
    The point is, I think that if you throw out a well-structured support character, they act as a mirror for whatever protagonist comes into their orbit. You don't need to know how the two will reflect each other before the game. Discovering that is the game itself.

    Does that make any sense?

    Absolutely!

    I guess my issue is that if char-gen is as simple as picking two cards, then there's no reason that Situation/NPC creation can't play off that, just as quickly. In this, I'm supporting Sydney.

    But you get all that.
    3) Each protagonist wants something from the protagonists (the great advice from Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard).

    Do you mean "Each antagonist wants something from the protagonists", Sydney?
  • Tony: "Y'know, I think we could make this thing called PIE, with a flaky crust, and a fruit filling center."
    Ivan: "That sounds a lot like cake, only the crust isn't flaky, and the fruit, if any, is spread throughout. Cake is terrific!"
    Tony: "Uh ... yes ... there are similarities to cake. And I do like cake. But this is not cake. I'd like to talk about pie."
    Ivan: "Y'know how I make a good cake? You need to really air the flour first."
    Tony: "Tryin' to talk about pie here. Now, interestingly, for pie crust you probably would do the opposite of airing the flour. If anything, you'd pound it down, probably with some butter."
    Ivan: "Ah ... there's your problem. You've been pounding the flour. Now if you were to air it, you could have CAKE!"
    George: "Yeah, I agree with Ivan. I had this rum cake once ... divine!"
    Tony: "Yes. Cake is good. I like cake. But I'd like to talk about PIE."
    Ivan: "What do you have against cake, anyway?"


    People, can we please NOT do this any more?

    I get it: You like player-centered prep. I like it too. But it is NOT what I am talking about here.

    I'm not bashing it. I'm not saying "Player-centered prep sucks, and my new system will be infinitely and objectively superior." I'm just trying to talk about something DIFFERENT.

    I strongly suspect that what we have here is that nobody but me wants to say anything about pie. I'm fine with that. I'm perfectly happy to have the thread drift off the front page and into the history books.

    But the next person who comes here and tries to convince me to give cake a chance is going to catch holy hell straight in the teeth. Fair warning, folks.
  • How complex are you thinking this central-focal NPC would be, Tony? Like, how many data points would go on their character sheet (or equivalent)?

    For instance, a Dogs town -- which can be created sight-unseen of the PCs -- has its hierarchy of sin thing, each with a little blurb of text, and those steps spin off a list of NPCs. I can see a procedure where you create the focal NPC by listing off things that they do or believe, and each one of those can spin off a supporting NPC, or maybe give the focal NPC some sort of stat (or those two things need not be mechanically distinguished at all).

    Eh?
  • edited July 2007
    Dogs town creation works without the GM needing to know the protagonists because there are certain aspects wired into both situation and character, namely the whole role of the "Dogs" in pronouncing judgment upon sins. Similarly, you can use a D&D dungeon module written in general for almost any set of protagonists of the appropriate level because "we're goin' adventurin' to kill monsters and take their stuff" is hardwired into both situation and character. You could probably say the same for certain forms of Cyberpunk and Shadowrun, though I haven't played those games.

    So protagonist-blind situation generation definitely can work, including in the most successful RPG of all time. What I suspect you need to do to make it work, however, is to impose some strongly focused creativity-inspiring constraints on both the GM and the players.
  • Let them eat cake. I'll have pie.

    I have a longer essay on this, but the nutshell is that most people still relate to concepts as people. They attribute motives, values, and personalities to the laws of the universe. Governments have kings and queens even if their only job is to represent the essence of a nation. It's why big problems always seem to have one guy responsible for it, and why people tend to attack that person as opposed to attack the problem.

    Back in the long ago time, ancient man treated the world he lived in animistically, as if he lived in some bizarre Walt Disney film where everything could speak and was trying to help him get laid and defeat the evil whatever. But then something happened. A really WEIRD something. We started to be able to relate to concepts directly.

    There is some genuinely strange wiring that has allowed us to address abstract concepts in a non-animistic way, almost as weird as the structural mutation in our larynx that enables us to speak. Heck, this trend has even gone so far as to render some of us better able to relate to concepts, but incapable of relating to people at all without a great deal of learned effort.

    So as time progressed, and our knowledge grew (and thanks to that little mutation we call a brain), we came to find out that many of the things we thought were a 'who' were actually a 'what', until we reached a point where the only thing we could claim as God was within the unfathomable components of the universe.

    Now let's jump to my bizarre mutant ability. For as long as I can remember, I have been able to create characters based on, well, ANYTHING. The gum under a schooldesk, the guest soaps you're never supposed to use, I mean ANYTHING. It works both ways too. For example, I have a very definitive idea of what kind of nightclub I would be, thanks to some unwitting help from my brother. Because it's such a natural reflex for me, it's been a bitch to codify the process, and I want to because it's so damn useful for an RPG.

    In the system I'm working on, situations are almost exactly like characters. For example, a swordfight actually has wants, such as 'disembowlings' and 'severed limbs'. So while characters can pursue killing their opponents, any resulting 'waste heat' is used by the situation to achieve what IT wants. Because of this, it's really not that big of a stretch to just make an NPC out of, or based on, a situation, or visa versa.

    And I'd love to discuss this at length, but at this point all my ideas are still pants, and I still haven't a clue how I'm going to make any money off all this damn underwear. But if you do want to discuss pie and boxers further, I'm here. Just don't expect it to make much sense yet.
  • cv - That's a great insight, like you I am not sure how to make it relevant but it's certainly on the same dartboard.
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyHow complex are you thinking this central-focal NPC would be, Tony? Like, how many data points would go on their character sheet (or equivalent)?
    At the moment I'm assuming 6 key-punches. That having been said ... these are not things that motivate only that NPC.

    For instance, here's a write-up for Idol (somewhat stolen from "Princess" in the original character-setup):
    Idol (GM gets points when any NPC acts because ...)
    - What people want the Idol to be is more important than what the Idol wants
    - The Idol is better than other people
    - The Idol must not give in to his flaws
    This gives the GM points for playing a spoiled celebrity, obviously. But it also gives point for playing the celebrity's conniving agent (who knows that what the public wants is more important than what the Idol wants) and the spiteful has-been who detests the celebrity with a passion (because she sees him as constantly giving in to his flaws) and the fan-club, and the demanding father ... it gives the GM points off of a whole potential entourage of invested NPCs. The GM gets to play the whole cast with an aim at the Key-punches.

    One could, potentially, play a focus-Idol who is not spoiled, or uppity, or any of that stuff. The Idol could be a simple, kind-hearted, humble kid ... and the GM could earn all of his points off of the actions of the rest of the entourage, orbiting around the Idol.

    Damn, I suddenly realized: That would be immensely tragic.

    Anyway, I point all of this out because the idea of spinning NPCs off of facets of the central-NPC is close enough to what I'm thinking that it's jarring for it to be a little bit off, y'know? I'm thinking that the traits of the central-NPC form the motivation for the GM no matter what NPC she happens to be playing at the moment.
  • But cake is delicious ...

    It's cool, Tony. All I'm trying to do is get up to speed with what you do and don't want out of this process. I think I'm there now.
  • Posted By: TonyLBI'm thinking that the traits of the central-NPC form the motivation for the GM no matter what NPC she happens to be playing at the moment.
    So you're not so much after a character-shaped situation; you're after a character-shaped theme.
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobySo you're not so much after a character-shaped situation; you're after a character-shaped theme.
    Can you tell me a practical difference between the two terms, for this use?

    I'm quite interested in practical craft around this issue, and totally uninterested in the semantics of what it should be called. "Situation"? "Theme"? "Pudding"? Who cares ... tell me what it does.
  • To me, Tony, a situation includes the network of people involved. That's why, if I was doing such a design, the focal NPC would be a nexus of other NPCs, probably listed off as relationship traits and whatnot. The focal NPC's place of operations and essential/favorite/signature tools would be part of the statting-up process. Basically, all of the things that will probably appear in play -- that's the situation. Situation is STUFF.

    You seem to be after, not the stuff, but the general tone and ways in which the stuff interacts -- the theme of "what's happening" and presumably the ethos that the players would be reacting to. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be assuming that the GM will create little supporting NPCs (and props, and locations) on the fly, rather than prepping them before hand.
  • To me the key to this idea is having parts of the spotlight NPC that can be transfered to other character but not used in a identical manner.
    If I was doing this in Burning Empires I would give out beliefs from the spotlight NPC to other NPCs. To expand on that the setting, minor NPC, and such all have a section that they copy from the spotlight NPC.
    In the Angel example I could see it coming about by making Angel with a Dogs in the Vineyard like list of open ended traits and then copy those traits to Kate and the monster but just a different take (and die allocation) on them.

    In a system designed for this I would like those traits (Still thinking traits like in Dogs) to be transferable to the environment as well. What does the storm roll when the PCs try to travel through it? The same things the spotlight NPC could roll.
    This could really help to shape the feel of the game since the environment could then roll "Big and Mean 3d6" if the spotlight NPC had that. And if the spotlight NPC had nothing suitable for a storm to roll then its probably a good to use something besides a storm in the environment.
  • Posted By: tj333To me the key to this idea is having parts of the spotlight NPC that can be transfered to other character but not used in a identical manner.
    "Transferred" seems (to my mind) to imply some separate book-keeping for each NPC. Do you think there's a reason not to, for example, just say "These are the traits the GM gets to use, and he can use them on any person, place or thing under his authority"?

    I'd been thinking they'd be player-traits (for the GM as player/human-being) rather than character-traits, but if there's something I've overlooked ....
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyTo me, Tony, a situation includes the network of people involved. That's why, if I was doing such a design, the focal NPC would be a nexus of other NPCs, probably listed off as relationship traits and whatnot. The focal NPC's place of operations and essential/favorite/signature tools would be part of the statting-up process. Basically, all of the things that will probably appear in play -- that's the situation. Situation is STUFF.

    You seem to be after, not the stuff, but the general tone and ways in which the stuff interacts -- the theme of "what's happening" and presumably the ethos that the players would be reacting to. Correct me if I'm wrong, but you seem to be assuming that the GM will create little supporting NPCs (and props, and locations) on the fly, rather than prepping them before hand.
    Yes. This is exactly why I think I had a problem getting it. When I see situation, I think what you think.

    Hmm, what if the GM takes on the role of the NPC as the GM? Think about it as if the GM is playing the NPC playing the GM. Now, I'm using this figuratively, to an extent, but it describes sort of what I imagine the effect would be and hints at what sort of tools the GM would be using and how they should be used. What if the GM had a sheet in front of him with a set of traits derived from an NPC, which he is expected to adhere to, whether the NPC in question is in play or not?
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyThe focal NPC's place of operations and essential/favorite/signature tools would be part of the statting-up process. Basically, all of the things that will probably appear in play -- that's the situation. Situation is STUFF.
    I still don't understand. This sounds like the distinction between prepping details to use directly, vs. prepping principles that will let you create the details as you need them.

    Like, if I said "This NPC has substantial sway in the criminal underworld ... if you need someone to act as an informant for him, just make them up on the spot..." would that be Situation?

    I'm still trying to figure out what you were saying, practically, with the whole Theme vs. Situation thing. Is it different from prepping details vs. prepping principles?
  • Posted By: TonyLBI still don't understand. This sounds like the distinction between prepping details to use directly, vs. prepping principles that will let you create the details as you need them.
    That's exactly what I mean. Me, I'm not so good on coming up with random NPCs and stuff; I like to have some notes on a handful of guys and then use them as need be. I like to have their names, a basic personality, maybe notes on physicality, and depending on the system, some stats. It is, entirely, prepping the details for later reference -- because I have trouble going from basic principles to a presentable NPC right there, at the table.
  • Posted By: TonyLBPosted By: tj333To me the key to this idea is having parts of the spotlight NPC that can be transfered to other character but not used in a identical manner.
    "Transferred" seems (to my mind) to imply some separate book-keeping for each NPC. Do you think there's a reason not to, for example, just say "These are the traits the GM gets to use, and he can use them on any person, place or thing under his authority"?

    I'd been thinking they'd be player-traits (for the GM as player/human-being) rather than character-traits, but if there's something I've overlooked ....

    You are on track with what I'm thinking there. And I believe that you have phrased it much better and flexibly then I had.
    If you have overlooked anything its that I'm perhaps putting a greater emphasis on those traits coming with the character hence the idea that they are transferred from the spotlight NPC to the GM to be used.

    To put it all together:
    The key to this idea is having parts of the spotlight NPC that are traits the GM gets to use, and he can use them on any person, place or thing under his authority.
    To add to it:
    The GM is not only expected but has to make use of those traits as everything under the control of the GM benifits greatly when those traits are in use.
    Conversely:
    (I'm I even using that word correctly?)
    The other players will react to the game world differently because it has changed and they can know it has changed. they realize that the new spotlight NPC is a new situation.
    Sample scenario:
    NPC 1 is a real thorn in the PCs side because of what the spotlight NPC gives him.
    When the spotlight NPC changes NPC 1 becomes a less important character because the stuff from the spotlight NPC does not let him be as effective anymore, NPC 1 drops in importance. But NPC 2 is now more effective in reaching his goals or at least in coming to the players attention and correspondingly rises in in game importance.

    That kinda feels like screen pressence in PTA there in how the character that becomes more effective is expected to be treated differently not only because of different effective but because its his turn to be so. (Screen pressence does give a bonus to resolution doesn't it?)
  • Posted By: Joshua BishopRobyThat's exactly what I mean. Me, I'm not so good on coming up with random NPCs and stuff; I like to have some notes on a handful of guys and then use them as need be. I like to have their names, a basic personality, maybe notes on physicality, and depending on the system, some stats. It is, entirely, prepping the details for later reference -- because I have trouble going from basic principles to a presentable NPC right there, at the table.
    Ah ... gotcha!

    In our discussion, Eric described it in a very interesting way. I can't remember what exactly he said, but I'd reconstruct the sentiment sorta like this "Well, you're really only making one NPC. They have traits, like 'Star-struck', and that implies some equipment like an autograph book. It also implies some equipment in the form of people. A star-struck NPC needs a star to be smitten with. So that NPC comes with an autograph book and a celebrity. That's part of her basic equipment."
  • Posted By: tj333If you have overlooked anything its that I'm perhaps putting a greater emphasis on those traits coming with the character hence the idea that they are transferred from the spotlight NPC to the GM to be used.
    I've been thinking of it as the traits transferring to the world as a whole ... e.g., the GM is playing the role of "Tanya's World" tonight. Now Tanya's world may be a happy world from Tanya's POV or it may be a miserable one, but it revolves importantly around her.

    The power of the PCs in such a game would have to be (I think) the fact that they are the people who can act in that world without being bound by its rules. Every NPC in Tanya's world is played (by the GM) with a motive toward enforcing the patterns of that world. The PCs are the people who can break or change a pattern ... and thereby save or redeem Tanya.
  • Whenever I'm playing Spirit of the Century / Fate, I use major NPC and PC aspects directly as situation. Because aspects often have to do with beliefs or viewpoints, or common situations for that character, it's pretty easy to apply them as statements that can be true about the "world", too. So if one NPC has the aspect "Feelings are a useless luxury", I might do a lot of plot events about the futility of relationships - lots of betrayals, miscommunications, people butting their heads against the proverbial wall. As different characters come into the spotlight and leave it, their different aspects dictate what kind of situations I introduce.

    I'm not sure how useful such a device would be to you, though, because it doesn't suggest situation directly - mostly just provides a constraint to guide your thoughts.
  • Oh, I am pinching this. Thank you, Tony, once again for making light dawn for me.

    I think my application is going to be something like this:

    X setting element is important to three of the main characters. This gives it a high rating. [I know, cake. Bear with me.]

    Mechanically, this means that there is going to be one really important person, or two important people, or four kind of middling-important people, or (so forth) who represent the various attributes of X. Whatever their other attributes, they will be deriving most of their attributes from X, whether they are proponents or opponents, representatives or rulers, or simply "foils" - not directly connected with X but with some of its derived attributes. (Like, if X is an oppressive group, you'll see characters turn up that are oppressive or oppressed, even if they don't belong to X.)

    We'll also see places, things and so forth that relate to X a lot - again, with its attributes and/or a direct connection to it.

    The main characters are the people who have the potential to bring about change in X, and they'll do this by interacting with the supporting characters who represent X. But in doing so, they too will be changed; their attributes will gravitate towards being either the same as X or the opposite of X, because X is what they're defining themselves against.
  • Mike ... interesting: Particularly the "gravitating toward what you change" bit. That'd make for some real interesting choices in terms of what conflicts players choose to engage in.

    I'm off to Dexcon, y'all, I'll be thinking real hard about this, and peek back in on the threat on monday.
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