As much as I love Tenra Bansho Zero’s Emotion Matrix… it suffers from the fact that some of the entries are really vague and a lot of it is geared towards a specific type of shonen anime story genre. I wanted to make a different set of starting angle charts, for general use in high drama/action games, that’s more precise and a little easier to swap around.
Decide if the characters have a history or not, and if they are friendly or unfriendly. How do you decide? You can use player’s choice, what makes fictional sense, or randomly assign it. I figure you’ll find a method appropriate to your game and situation. Roll two dice, and pick the one that appeals to you. If neither appeal, use one of the results on the Weird chart.
This is a starting point, not set in stone. Characters can start off liking each other or hating each other, and come around to the other point during play.
Having a history may mean you both know each other personally, or you may have only seen each other a few times at a events but know of each other. You definitely have some basic idea of the history about them, and if your game uses some kind of knowledge roll, you can get even more info about them or talk to other NPCs to dig deeper. Of course, depending on how you’ve been carrying yourself as well, who you are has probably already reached their ears as well.
1 They helped someone you care about.
2 They’re closely connected to someone you care about – you feel an obligation towards them.
3 You both struggled for the same cause.
4 They did something difficult that you admire or respect.
5 They hold an ideal or belief that you respect deeply
6 You were good friends or romantic in the past and haven’t seen each other in some time.
1 They harmed or hurt someone you care about deeply.
2 You were on opposite sides of an ugly conflict
3 You were close… once. And now you’ve split ways. Why?
4 They committed a crime or betrayal you cannot abide by.
5 You’ve wronged them, whether you meant to or not.
6 You’ve harmed someone they care about…for right or wrong reasons.
You’ve neither really interacted or heard of each other, beyond maybe a distant fact (“Lord Vanu has a nephew…”). Beginnings are pretty much what you see of them when you meet them and a gut feeling.
What you get out of this roll kind of points the direction for the scene itself in terms of how to roleplay and interact with each other. As always, the roll you get here doesn’t mean that’s going to be the only way you can feel or think about them – it may turn out very quickly that a nice seeming person is terrible, or someone you thought was suspicious is actually a great person.
What becomes mostly interesting with this, is that until there’s more concrete evidence one way or another, this kind of gut feeling will often dictate which direction the NPCs will lean in terms of supporting factions or goals.
1 You seem to get along well – easy smiles, good jokes, they seem like a good person to be around.
2 Name an admirable quality which they display that you find appealing
3 They’re reliable in some way – professional, honest, straightforward, emotionally open – what is it?
4 There’s some way they handle themselves you yourself don’t feel strong at – what is it?
5 What’s the thing that makes you feel a kinship or parallel with them?
6 They notice something about you that few people pick up on – what is it?
1 They seem like they have an angle or want to use you for something
2 They seem unreliable and like the kind of person who will leave you when trouble strikes
3 They seem aloof and disdainful of you – like they’re tolerating your existance
4 They seem to take everything you say as an attack or threat
5 They’re allied with a person or group who is troublesome or dangerous to you
6 You see some kind of sign or evidence that they are engaged in an activity you despise
The Weird Chart is improbable but common-in-adventure-fiction-and-soap-operas kind of things. These are good to have once in awhile, but too many of them and it just feels too cartoonish.
1 This person is using the assumed name of someone you knew. What’s going on?
2 You know this person did something in secret you feel strongly about (good or bad). What is it?
3 There is a case of misplaced blame or mistaken identity – yours or theirs? Over what?
4 They have changed drastically since you last saw them. You barely recognize them. Both in appearance & demeanor.
5 This person shouldn’t be here- something drastic must have happened for them to come to this place.
6 They sought you out to beg or demand something of you. Something important.
Using Starting Angles In Your Games
Any NPC should only be rolled for 1 or 2 of the Player Characters. More than that and it becomes cartoonish and puts the NPC at the center of the story instead of the PCs. Don’t do it for every single NPC, do it for the sorts of major characters or supporting cast who might make a difference -when you do this, you’re basically saying, “This character is important enough to have their own opinions and motivations”.
No good with railroaded campaigns
Starting Angles doesn’t work well with pre-planned, railroaded Illusionist play. The NPCs might have very different personalities, motivations, or goals than what you plan before play begins – so you can’t predict who will ally with or oppose the player characters, or how those attitudes will evolve.
It works best with play that has room for GM Improvisation especially where you have a good idea on the conflicts in the setting and the player’s goals and you improvise by looking where the NPCs motivations collide with the goals of the Player Characters.
No character should be an island
This assumes that characters have a bit of history to them. If all the player characters are 14 year old kids who lived in an isolated village, and they leave the area, they’re not going to find a lot of NPCs with whom they have a history. You can certainly have one character who is an “unknown” but these Starting Angles assume at least some if not most of the characters will have had a chance to go out and make friends, enemies, etc.
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