Archive for August, 2015


“What am I supposed to do with that?”

August 25, 2015

There’s a nice technique I’ve pinned down for play – although it seems to focus on the NPCs acting, it really ends up getting the player characters to respond, and you learn more about them instead.

Funny enough, I got this from a videogame – the Walking Dead game. In the game, there’s a point when a 10 year old girl you’re helping escape the zombie apocalypse, Clementine, asks you, “Did those men have to die?” It’s an emotional gut punch where there’s no right answer.

In terms of tabletop games, the technique is to have NPCs explain what they’re going through emotionally and use the PCs as a sounding board. Aside from making the NPCs more human and interesting, it also causes the players to reveal more about their characters as well – do they give good advice? Are they supportive? Manipulative? Are they too emotionally scared or inept to help? Do they say absolutely the wrong thing to say?

All of this then feeds back into the NPC’s motivations and actions after that – again, improvising is easy because all you have to do is play out on those motivations, and players can see how the impacts they’ve had have been for good or for ill.

It’s a very different play on the idea that NPCs always need something from the PCs – most people think in terms of side quest type things: “Fetch this” “Kill that” “Find out X” but instead, “I’m going through this, and I don’t know how to feel about it” is just as much a request, it’s just one where there’s not necessarily a single good answer and a skill roll won’t solve it.

It also brings up a great way to cross with the player characters’ motivations as well – do they take the time for the NPCs to help them, attempt to convert them to their own causes, do they decide to change their own principles and values after hearing how others are doing?

The way I’m using this is to simply make sure at least every few scenes there’s an NPC talking about what’s going on and what they’re dealing with and how they feel about things – and see what happens from there.


Formalized Scene Structuring

August 15, 2015

I’ve been trying to get back into the groove on running games.  It’s been tough as I can’t run with my usual group due to my new job schedule, and playing online with new people involves the usual hurdles of tech logistics, new scheduling, and new communication spaces.  The thing I’ve noticed that has been the hardest part of falling back into play is keeping up momentum on scenes – which, when I think back to why it worked so well for my usual group is that we’ve internalized the Primetime Adventures method of scene structuring, which boils down to this:

Go around the table, each player (including the GM) gets a turn to set up a scene, focused on any of the PCs they’re interested in (including their own, as players).

I think I’m just going to import this rule into most of the games I run, since it works better for getting people to plan for the kinds of scenes they want to see, and to have time to think about it while play continues.  As a formalized rule, it also sets expectations and I think ends up being one of the fundamental play habits which kind of permeated a lot of the games out of the Forge era, but effectively became an “unspoken oral practice” which is kind of necessary to make half of the games even work right.