Sunday, July 3, 2022

NPC's because Reasons

 Including NPC's in campaigns has always kind of been my jam. Because one of my main joys I get out of running games is watching PC's interact with my setting, NPC's need to be a part of that backdrop. 

They are usually created and injected into the games with particular purpose. And I'm not talking about generic shopkeeps and villagers. Its NPC's that stand out in one way or another. In many games over the decades I would have an NPC be part of the party. Either out of necessity (no cleric, not enough fighter types, etc) to fill a niche, or because I thought they might lend themselves to emergent game play. In the case of the party member, they were there to pad things out. But in other cases it was usually just a nice sprinkling of personalities that would be around for PC's to interact with as they wish. Sometimes they are briefly delt with and fall to the wayside as characters move on. But there are times that the NPC might get swept up into the ongoing doings of the characters. That's where things get all emergent. There have been times when an NPC I thought would just be minor gets involved one way or another with a PC, and in many cases have had major effect on the emerging story that is the campaign and stuck around forever. In a couple of cases relationships were born and marriages eventually happened. 

In the early days of the OSR I remember visiting one daft neckbeard forum or another where I would see arguements, people actually getting heated, over whether DM's should have NPC's around other than as cardboard backdrops. "DM NPC" was a dirty phrase. How dare the DM inject some precious NPC into the doings of the characters, taking away their god given time in the spotlight. Yeesh. I certainly never saw it that way. No matter how cool an NPC seems, they are ultimately there in service to the PC's tale. Patrons, royalty, mentors, apprentices. They can play an important part in the emergent play. 

OK, so in my current main campaign on Roll20, I introduced a couple of NPC's in the first session. They actually did not interact much with the party, other than a smiling glance across a tavern room. The party did not know it yet, but they had a keen interest in at least a couple of the characters, and would follow them, mostly at a distance, over the course of several sessions. Stalkers really. 



I did not exactly come up with these two, the "odd couple" as the party calls them. Their inclusion is sort of an inside joke with myself. I have done these little inside jokes most of my DMing life. Here is how this one started.

After a successful 12 or so session initial campaign on Roll20, I wanted more. And I strived to find that perfect little group to run for. At the same time, thanks to adopting 5th edition, I had a couple of face to face groups over the last couple years or so. But another satisfying campaign on Roll20 was elusive. I had a couple of session zeros. 

For one I was in contact with this artist, a transgender woman, who had a couple of guys she knew from other games, and along with my long-time player "T" we tried a session out. I kind of knew it was going to be trouble from the get go. This lady, "J," was into playing characters that ran around barefoot with their breasts out. And I mean, ALL her characters were like this. So she wanted settings where that was normal. Well, my setting was not that. But I kind of hand-waved it. One of her guys, a Texan, had a normal name, but insisted on being referrred to IRL as "Morpheus." I found that kind of ackward. Nicknames are great, most of my friends call me "Mac," but Morpheus? I found it kind of lame. 

Then we get into the session and things move along for a bit. Then some combat with an Ankheg goes down. The non-Morpheus guy, who supposedly had some experience, suddenly was clueless. Like "move up to 5 squares and attack if you like" was over his head. No amount of coaching could get him to act. For 20 minutes I was like "just move up to it and roll a die." It was ridiculous. Then I skipped him and it was Morpheus turn. He had a bard character and gave a 5-minute dialogue at the start of the game about his background. Well, it was his turn and he declared "I don't have a character sheet done up." Um, what? You had this elaborate story. You have D&D experience. How could you not have a 1st level character prepared? I didn't even say that out loud; as usual in a difficult moment in a game I try to push past it and wing it as best as I can. "T" would later tell me that she turned off her mike for a few minutes because she was cussing out loud in frustration at these idiots. Meanwhile "J" was still worried about having her tits visible. 

We got through the session, but that was enough for me. "Morpheus" actually had the nerve to lecture me in an email about proper running of a game (me with over 40 years of successful campaign experience and waiting lists for my games based on local word of mouth alone). Yes, the guy who didn't even show up with a character prepared lectured me. Disappointing. I apologized to "T" and told her I would vet a little better next time. 

And I did. A couple of months later I heard from a couple of "gals" through the Roll20 forums. Both had some gender pronouns I would have to be aware of; them/they or her/har or whatever the fuck. I didn't care. I'll run for anybody, though the Roll20 forums seemed to be suddenly awash in "game must be LGTB- ABC" or whatever friendly. Fine. My best friend when I moved from LA was my transgender neighbor, and she was the first person to call and see how I was doing when I got into my new town. I'm hip. Let's just have a game, and I apologize in advance if I use the wrong pronoun/verb/person place or thing verbiage. They had very little experience with D&D and wanted to learn. Great, I love noobs. 

We had two sessions and I thought they went great. They seemed real into it. They had two characters, bards. Here are the images they provided:

Look familiar? Yes, these or the NPC's 
involved in the current campaign.


I did not invite T to the first or even second session. Before I took up her time I wanted to be sure this might last. So I ran two sort of learning games for the ladies. It went well. So for the third session T entered the game, and the set up was there for them to join the merchant caravan that would be the first half of the campaign. 

I sent a message right after the game saying it was fun and they did great. The reply a couple minutes later was "it was fun, you run a good game. But we need to admit we just wanted a couple of games to learn how to do it so we could run for each other. Thanks. "

Fuck. OK, they were fun little sessions, but it was a lot of work to hand hold noobs during them. I wanted a campaign. Disappointing, and I felt I wasted T's time with these two attempts at getting something going. 

I said "screw Roll20" and ended up running for a second face to face group in town. It went well for several sessions, but then the hosts having a family illness nixed that. And I was sort of getting fed up with going to a house and running in person. After a bit, I decided to try Roll20 again. Long story short, I met this great gal "M" in the forum who is very skilled with 5th ed and Roll20 and has been a bit of a mentor for me. Found a few more players, and the campaign is now going into session 7. It's the best group I have had since the 90's. Great role players with interesting characters. 

And here's where Relanis and Demul come in. 

As I said before, I love to do inside jokes with myself in games. Spoofing myself, my settings, and various pop culture things. Fitting in The Godfather references ("take the crossbow, leave the mince pie") or modern music nods. 

So the inside joke here was I would not let the last attempt at campaign be a total waste. I would use elements from it. Relanis and Demul had a game with T's dwarf and said they would work the caravan. So in large part for T's dwarf's sake, I would not retcon that last session. It happened for T's dwarf, and Relanis and Demul would now become NPC's for me to use. As they almost joined the caravan, they would be lurking around watching the other characters who did take the job. And with some changes I could make them possible antagonists of some kind or another. I mean, they were sort of offbeat characters. I would make them offbeat NPC's. 

Changes were in order. Both characters were good aligned bards before. First thing was I would change them to neutrality on the darker side. Relanis was a Scourge Aasimar bard. I would keep her a bard, but make her a "Broken Aasimar" (see my last post for more details). Demul would be changed to a rogue (though still a musician), with the ability to create undead with a flute. And based on her image provided she would make a perfect "Voor" dwarf (also see last post). They would follow the party throughout the campaign, Relanis having an interest in Callie the (unknown to the party and Callie herself) Protector Aasimar based on a hunch, and Demul causing problems here and there with her addiction to creating undead. 

I had another inside joke throughback to the original games with the LGTB girls. The Inn map I used had a stuffed bear in a corner of it. In the game last year the Demul player talked to the bartender and insisted on hearing an interesting story about why the bear is there. "Uh, its a stuffed bear. Somebody killed a bear and stuffed it. It came with the place." She was insistent. Give me a damn story about the bear. I did not have one to give, and we wasted like 5 minutes on this. 

So for the first session in an inn with these new characters, I used the same inn and same map. The one with the stuffed bear.  I was obsessed with incorporating that bear in this first session. You want a fucking story about the bear? I'll create a great story around it. This is when during pre-campaign prep I decided to give one of the girls the ability to bring a corpse to live. Even if it was just fur and wood framing. I would use that fucking bear. And I did. It came to life and was the first combat of the campaign. That's often how concepts to include in a campaign come to me. "Wouldn't it be cool if..."  Now that ability to create skeletons or whatever became a major part of the campaign and part of what the characters are dealing with. 

You can read my last post for more details and how I have used Relanis and Demul, but the point here is I wanted to get some use out of a previous failed attempt at a campaign, and I did. I found it satisfying. 

I suppose a case could be made that I should not use their ideas. But screw 'em. They will never know. I don't get the impression this was their original artwork. And it's not like I'm making money on any of this. But using those concepts for my own sinister purposes is not just satisfying in a closure sort of way, but what the heck. It's my world and I can use anything that came before. And it certainly is not the first time I tapped into characters of previous players who I'll likely never run for again. 

And I doubt it will be the last. YMMV, as the grogs like to say. 


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