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Troy’s Crock Pot: It’s OK to join the party
Posted By Troy E. Taylor On September 19, 2012 @ 1:00 am In GMing Advice | 22 Comments
If you’re the GM, you accept the fact that you are the monster guy. It’s your pleasure and privilege to bring to life the bad guys in your world.
Invariably, though, the pace of the game can rob you of that fun — portraying evildoers, that is.
You are the devious designer of hundreds of snares and pit traps placed throughout the underground warren by the mad kobold king … which the PCs just sidestepped, outright avoided, and foiled on lucky rolls, not triggering a single one.
You are the cackling scheming witch, eager to chew a little scenery while menacing the characters in front of her walking hut … “Oh, you rolled a 20 on an attack and hit for max damage? Yes, she is dead.”
You are the fuming, wicked king … “Silence spell? It worked. I’ll sit here quietly now.”
So, the PCs keep thwarting your chances to be the big bad evil guy/gal? Heck with that. Be a good guy! Join the party!
Hey, wait! Before you send the GM police after me, hear me out.
I don’t want to be the hero. I just want to give a little personality and character to an NPC or monster before their life gets all-too-abruptly snuffed out by the players before the first turn of initiative is completed.
Being a character in the PCs’ company can be great fun, so long as you don’t forget that it’s the players whose characters belong in the limelight. In fact, it can be an effective way of making sure the spotlight keeps swinging around, catching each PC in turn.
I recall a podcast discussion some time back that featured Wizards of the Coast designer James Wyatt about the playtest for the Forgotten Realms module City of the Spider Queen. The GM played a drow prisoner. Being a prisoner in the midst of the party was a great way to introduce plot hooks, create tension and scheme through player interaction. (A fresh example of this, clearly, was how a captured Loki sowed dissent in the “Avengers” motion picture). In the podcast they said the drow prisoner kept the information flowing without forcing the PCs to leave the dungeon and go back to town. Besides, the GM said the fun part was being deliciously evil in a party of do-gooders.
Not to be overlooked is the overworked henchman. The henchman is a great way to introduce humor into the interactions. And if the group is so gung ho they’ll leap into any danger, the henchman might be the only person around to offer some common sense. “Five-headed dragon? What are you dolts doing? We have to run away. Now!” Of course, the trick is getting the PCs to agree to hiring a henchman in the first place. (The more your group adheres to rules requiring one to keep a 10-foot pole handy, the more likely they’ll see the need for a henchman.) While this might sound like undue bookkeeping for the GM to assume (“Great, now I have to keep track of the PCs’ gear too?”), the fact is the equipment they want will either be there or not on your whim, primarily based on the henchman’s qualifications.
It might be unfair, but for this adventure you need to foist upon the party a living key to the adventure. The person is usually a privileged, pampered pup who is required to reach the end of the adventure — meaning they have to keep them around until they do their thing (retrieve an item, morph into a butterfly, claim the crown). The whole plot of “Conan the Destroyer” (and to a lesser extent, “Shrek the Third”) used this device. Ever want to play a spoiled brat and bug the living bejesus out of the players? Follow this road.
Then there is the babysitter. I think this can be used effectively, in moderation, maybe for a session or two. Usually, though, a party will eagerly add a character of notoriety to their motley assembly, just for the fun of interacting with a “name” NPC. I picked Gandalf — all knowing, all bumbling (smoked too much hobbit weed?) — because he’s the most familiar. In my Wheel of Time game I’ve always found a place for Moriaine Damodred to visit, mainly because she may not be as powerful as Galdalf, she certainly has fewer scruples and a greater dedication to her mission. Rather than having an all-powerful NPC plow through orcs, though, they are really effective and steering the party’s course ethically or storywise.
Have you any experiences using NPCs in this fashion? What’s your story? I’d love to hear what you have to say on the subject.
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