A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

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Munin
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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#51 Post by Munin » Thu Nov 02, 2017 2:24 pm

I would agree with Targan that it is largely a matter of taste. I used to love super-detailed, highly crunchy, intricately simulationist systems - back when I was in college, lived with my players, didn't have a full time job, was single, and didn't have kids. Now that my gaming time is severely curtailed in comparison to those halcyon days, I sort of want to get to the gripping bits of story a li'l faster. :wink: We used to think nothing of taking a 6-hour session to fight a single combat. Now that approach bores me to tears.

Similarly, I find myself more interested in shorter, more tightly-focused campaigns. Get in, tell the story, get out, move on. While the idea of watching a character develop from a mewling dirt-farmer to a fearsome warrior is cool in fiction, this also bores me to tears in a game, quite probably because I've done it so many times. Now, I much prefer the approach where your starting character is assumed to be a bad-ass straight out of the gate. You're not a Gunlugger, you're the Gunlugger. Yes, you are absolutely correct that HMx sets up rookie characters for the heroes journey, and yes, there are rules for making older, more experienced characters. But have you ever considered that the NPCs portrayed in various publications (canon or fanon) aren't necessarily designed to provide opposition or interaction with purely novice characters?

Further, there is also perhaps the assumption is that these NPCs themselves are somewhat special, somewhat distinct, somewhat (dare I say?) "above average" because if they were entirely mediocre or sub-par, they might provide less interesting or challenging mechanical interaction for the PCs - PCs who may themselves have a decent amount of experience?

Another thing to keep in mind is that in most traditional RPGs, the characters form a party. To some extent, that party is itself a character with all of the best skills and attributes of its component parts. The strongest character will naturally take on the strength-related tasks, the most socially adept character will naturally take on the social aspects, the sneakiest character will naturally take on the stealthy challenges. While it is occasionally good GMing practice to put the strong character in the social situation or the social character in the sneaky situation, by and large you want to give the players opportunities to do stuff at which their characters excel - in Apocalypse World parlance, your job is to "be a fan of the characters." Because "the party" is a gestalt whose positive attributes can largely cover for its negative ones, NPCs are faced with a quandry - in order to "stack up" (provide a challenge, offer a capability the party lacks, etc), they need to be above average - unless of course your NPC is also always the member of a well-rounded party. Nobody wants an inept scout with poor EYE, HRG, and SML as a follower, right? And saying, "Yes, but he has a lovely singing voice" doesn't really speak to his mechanical purpose in the game (because if his purpose isn't mechanical, then don't stat him).

Which leads me to your final point, where I guess my question is, "Why assign an attribute score to an NPCs HRG in the first place?" Under what circumstance would you make a check where the NPC might hear something that the character does not? The PC is the hero, so why even take the risk of upstaging him with an NPC, regardless of whether his HRG stat is higher or lower? Just let the PC roll and handle that success or failure on its own merit. Unless it is critical to the story being told that the NPC do something important or daring or critical or whatever, don't bother to roll. And if it is that critical to the story do something, then for the gods' sakes, don't leave it up to chance - just narrate it happening and get back to the PCs reacting to their new fictional reality.

My assumption for any game material that I write is that if I'm really lucky, a fellow GM will find 80% of it useful. If my setting or adventure or NPC provides one interesting encounter, one cool bit of dialog, one gripping scene, or inspires one cool idea on the part of the GM, then frankly that's a win. The reason for this is grounded in a very practical understanding that what works for my players, in my game, with my rules set may not be 100% applicable to anyone else's situation. You might need to tweak a location to fit previous changes to your pHarn, or alter an NPC to provide a challenge to your particular PCs, or modify an adventure hook to make it more applicable to your PCs' motivations, and that is to be expected.

So let me echo Sageryne's advice and encourage you to write up some average or sub-standard NPCs. It is likely that someone may find them useful (though they'll probably bump up the attributes/skills :wink:). Be the change you want to see.

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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#52 Post by Eder » Fri Nov 03, 2017 9:37 am

While I have to agree with what Targan's said, and I see a lot of good points in what you are writing too, Munin, I still find your approach ... a bit unnatural, like walking backwards. You say that you ignore the stats of the NPCs if they overshadow the PCs - but that's exactly one of the reasons why I am calling for less "exceptional" NPCs! As for providing sufficient opposition, I think an NPC of less exceptional talent, but greater experience compared to the PCs (or the "top" PC for the situation) is even better than relatively inexperienced but very talented one: there's more satisfaction for newly knighted PC to beat the mature captain of the guard after a tough fight, than another newly-knighted NPC after the same tough fight (the greatest satisfaction comes, in my opinion, from first beating easily the younger knight, and then cockily challenging the mature one and barely managing to win the fight).

However, let me say this. A lot of my objections would fall if exceptional NPCs were clearly marked as "exceptional" in their description and backstory: when virtually all I see are exceptional folks, I need to be reminded they are exceptional, or I'll start assuming they are the norm. I'd still like the PCs to encounter unexceptional NPCs most of the time, to avoid assuefaction to the exceptional!

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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#53 Post by Munin » Fri Nov 03, 2017 10:41 am

Eder wrote:
Fri Nov 03, 2017 9:37 am
While I have to agree with what Targan's said, and I see a lot of good points in what you are writing too, Munin, I still find your approach ... a bit unnatural, like walking backwards. You say that you ignore the stats of the NPCs if they overshadow the PCs - but that's exactly one of the reasons why I am calling for less "exceptional" NPCs!
No, that's not what I'm saying. What I'm getting at is: what is the purpose of the NPC? How will this NPC interact with the story, the PCs, and the mechanics of the world? I don't think I would ever roll a HRG check for a friendly/non-opposed NPC if a PC were also present, regardless of whether that attribute is superior or inferior to the PC's. Because the story's not about the NPC. So your comment about a PC being among people who overhear more than them and being the deaf guy in the room just seems really strange, hyperbolic, and pointless to me, because I'd never do it.

And I think my approach may sound unnatural because it's coming from a pretty different place; most of the game systems I've been using of late are based on the Apocalypse World engine. Under those mechanics, NPCs don't have attributes and the GM never rolls dice. I've found them to be marvelously useful at generating interesting and engaging stories without getting bogged down in too much detail. I recognize that this approach is not for everyone and that some folks revel in detail - I know because I used to be one of them! But being exposed to other, more story-focused methods of running a game has made me re-evaluate the entire purpose behind things that people running and playing traditional RPGs take for granted, like statting out an NPC. So if the stats of the NPCs don't really matter, by extension it doesn't matter if they are above or below some nominal "starting average" - that may not even be pertinent relative to the PCs' abilities anyway depending on experience.

Does that make more sense?

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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#54 Post by gunnulf » Fri Nov 03, 2017 12:40 pm

I think stats can become a trap for NPCs. I also am not quite sure exactly what an unimportsnt NPC is. My world is populated with normal folks, but I daresay, any that players msy interact with, if the pkayers bother yo treat them as people, ate anything but average. I do jot need a number to describe an ugly charcter, in fact, I discourage players spewing numbers to define characters, so it is hsrdly my pkave as a GM to do othereise.

I guarantee, statistical discussions aside, even if I rolled nothing but 9s, I can kake that NPC memorable. Folks seem to lick on a 9 AGL as a klutz, but if that 9 AGL is a getetan soldier, he could have serious skills beyond a Milker with an 18 AGL.

And all numbers aside, other than a tool for helping glesh out concepts of the NPCs adequacy or lack thereof for the GM, players never need to know an NPC has a given number on a given stat. It is sufgicirnt to say somebody is attractive, or hss two left feet during a dance. And even Mr. Two Left Fert could be a very exceptional NPC. He doesn't have to be significant to the world at large to he a goid NPC.

Just my 2d. I have kade my share of everyday folks for my group to interact with, and even the farmers and everday folk are people my pkayers consider people worth knowing.

Exceptional Strength or Dexterity does not make the hero. I reject that fallacy as a holdover if other gsme systems. PCs and NPCs nake their lives exveptionsl through deeds, not by something randomly generated on dice.

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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#55 Post by Rothesay » Fri Nov 03, 2017 12:47 pm

Gunnulf -

I largely agree with your post. The spelling, however, is fascinating. :wink:

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Re: A call for more "average" and "below average" NPCs!

#56 Post by Munin » Fri Nov 03, 2017 2:54 pm

Same

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