Role Playing 101 #8: NPC Interests Behind the Scenes

Last time we considered how you can use a framework, or a sandbox as a starting point for adventures. Such a framework outlines the most important non-player characters, locations, and possible enemies and stakes from which adventures may arise. Also, it gives a lot of freedom for the players to determine what and how the adventure will be. That's nice. But once you have the framework, how do you proceed?

What Do the Other People Do?
Personally, I like to look at the main non-player characters, or non-player interest groups. Main npc's can be the local king, baron or warlord. Or a powerful wizard, tradesman, bishop or even a monster – preferably an intelligent species. Interest groups can be the trade guild, a gang of slavers, the city guard, the kings guard, a mercenary war band, an organised crime group, the church, town hall, an industrial cartel, a hidden organisation of priestesses, a band of cultists, the secret police, and so on.

Whenever players act (or don't act), I try to think: what will the npc's and interest groups do? Will they notice the player characters? What will they do about them? Will they contact them, be pleased and go at their own business, be angered, annoyed, shocked? Will they send in assassins, or instead send a head hunter to hire them, or seek an alliance?

Take It One Group at a Time
Try to start out with just a few npcs and interest groups, and move them about on the imaginary playing board of your world. Make sure that at least a few will at some time turn out as enemies, or allies to the player characters. Make them have conflicting interests, also with eachother. And figure what the players might see, hear and notice of the ongoing conflicts, dealings and secret alliances.

Maybe the players will witness how a slaver band captures the daughter of the innkeeper (actually a mistake). Then they see how the city guard stands idly by (they have a conflict with the innkeeper, and one city guard works with the slavers). The heroes may protest with the mayor about the guard, and the mayor may then reprimand the guards. Next the heroes are hired by the innkeeper to rescue his daughter. The one city guard in league with the slavers sneaks out at night to meet with his fellows (and might be followed by a hero). The slavers meanwhile realize their mistake, and make plans to get rid of the daughter (the heroes may be witness, or they may learn later). And so on.

What if You Forgot Someone?
Sometimes you'll find that you forgot about an npc or interest group. Players may ask you why they didn't do anything. In that case, you may do several things – besides frankly admitting that you forgot. One is to say that they were too occupied to intervene or act, or that they had missed what happened – npcs can surely make mistakes too. Another is to smile enigmatically, and think of a cooler reason why the interest group didn't turn up. Maybe they have a secret friendship, an ulterior motive, or maybe they are scared of something or someone that was present. Maybe they care less than they seemingly did. Or maybe the players received help from a third party, who intervened and stopped the missing npc or group. But I didn't have to say so, did I? Because you already thought that up beforehand, and that's why they were not there... That's what the players will find out next time. That's the secret of the Game Master.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #35, The Secret

It's Christmass!
And here is the final part of the series of...
The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 35: The Secret of Ammersfurt

Somehow uncanny luck is with the heroes. Malegys, the elusive mage has been captured. He is sick and wounded, and he fears that he will turn into a vampyre. His neck is bleeding, and he coughs up greenish slime. While all are in the commanderie, Malegys then even pleads the heroes for help. Find a cure for him, and he wil share the “Secret of Ammersfurt” with them. Because, he says, he has finally found it out. All they will need is St. Anfrid's cross.

Download the thirtyfifth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Role Playing 101 #7: Game Mastering with The Framework

Many game masters start out running linear games. You start at a beginning scene, proceed scene after scene in a predetermined order, and end with the predetermined finale. Maybe the outcomes of each scene - or room, or sublevel, or level, or subquest – are not entirely clearcut, but you either win or lose, or win some and lose some. It's a one way ticket. Or a railroading game.

Railroading or Sandboxing?
That's not necessarily bad. But the lack of choice may annoy some players. And they may rightfully feel that they could just as well play a computer adventure instead of showing up at the game table.
So, there is the other extreme, which is often called a Sandbox game. I'm not sure if that's because it's like kids playing in a sandbox. But it does involve giving the players power to decide what the adventure is about. You want to go down the Tomb of Horrors? Cool. You want to wreck the town nearby? Fine. You want to explore the seven seas and smuggle green skinned aliens? Fine. You want to save the world economy with a diplomatic campaign among the nobility and their bankers? Great.

Sandboxing can be Scary
But running a sandbox game may scare most game masters. Because you either have to know and understand the world in detail, or you must be able to make it up as you go. And be consistent. For most of us, who may have trouble understanding the real world already, that's quite a feat you're asking.

So how do you pull it off? Scetching adventure worlds until you're ready? That may take decades. And be sure that the first thing your players will do is to jump on a space ship and travel to another world.

One solution I use is to scetch a rough framework of the game world, and fill in the details as I go along. And while I game master I make notes, so I may remember what I thought up later. In between sessions I try to guess where my players will want to go next, and do some research. Or instead, I decide for the players where they will go next, and do the same preparation.

So Where to Begin?
For example, I could decide that the first adventure session will take place around the town of Soest. So, if possible I'll have a rough idea of what the town looks like (I took a map of the real town Soest in Germany). Or at least what's special about the town (many buildings are made from green stone). I'll decide what kind of fellow the mayor is (tall and skinny, and a sneaky thief, named Herr Weymarck). Where the town inn is located (across the town square next to the church). Who the innkeeper and his daughter are (an amiable old Jew, with a somewhat naive daughter who talks with dead people – while she doesn't realize they're dead). What the main church looks like (a huge church and abbey of St. Patroklos, mostly in green stone, with a huge crypt under it, which is sealed because there are undead down there). Who the abbot is (a tall viking like fellow named Harald, who is smart but blends in the background). And what the general area looks like (mostly forests with a moon shaped lake in the south, between the low hills, maybe infested with monsters). What are the neighbouring towns (Paderborn, Dortmund and Koln – always easy to pick a real map). What is the country like (medieval Germany – but with orcs, vampyres and dragons).
Since there is a big church of saint Patroklos, I also look up the saint in Wikipedia, to jog my imagination a bit more. I notice the man was hunted in France, and there was a connection with dragons. As a twist I figure it would be cool if St. Patroklos was a dragon himself, and that's why he was hunted. Maybe that's why his bones are special too, and made a relic.

Fleshing Out the Framework
With this background, I can easily provide a few alleys for adventure. The heroes could be asked to clean out the undead in the crypt of St. Patroklos church. Or one of the heroes could become Schutzfrau of the town as an inheritance, and find out that the mayor robbed the town treasury. Which in turn might lead to him trying to kill the heroes off with a hired assassin. And why are building stones green? Are they poisonous perhaps? Maybe there is a problem with vampires, or with a roaming army of orcs. If so, I'll have to make up who hired this army. Wouldn't it be a cool twist if that was the Kaiser of Germany himself? Then there would be human mercenaries in the army that might point out that fact (let's call their leader Hagen, a ruthless plate clad tactician). The army might stage a full scale attack, and we get a siege adventure where the heroes have to defend the town. Maybe they also have a spy in the town. The boyfriend of the mayor's daughter perhaps. And so on.

As you may see, I don't fill in most of the details until I need them. I could, just for fun, fill them in before play. But I don't have to.

The framework provides a backdrop where my players can choose to do their own thing. And if I want, I can also run a normal adventure, with start, ending, enemy and stakes – on top of the background. In that way the backdrop and the straight adventure are intertwined. The one provides color for the other.

Next time: How NPC's and PC's can change the game world. Continually.


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #34, Grave of the Dragon

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for The World Beyond. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 34: The Grave of the Dragon

As a final find in the old text, there is a pointer to the actual grave of St. Ansfrid. The grave was not where the knights always thought it was, but it is instead in the commanderie of St. Joris itself. When one of the heroes curiously goes for a look, he finds that the heavy unmarked grave stone has been removed. Only a few moments ago. Something lies in the grave, four feet down.

Download the thirtyfourth part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Role Playing 101 #6: Game Mastering in Scenes

Last issues we looked at quick and dirty adventures. But what if you have a little more time, or want to be more specific and structured in what you're doing? Then you can game master in scenes.

Any adventure can be broken into scenes. Each scene is characterised by a kind of action, and each scene in a role play adventure is bound to an encounter (not necessarily with something living or undead), and a location. An average session has somewhere between three and ten scenes, each lasting somewhere between 20 minutes and an hour.

A Scene: Action, Encounter, Location
So, you can have action scenes, combat scenes, chasing scenes, travelling scenes, problem-solving scenes, diplomatic scenes, spying scenes, horror scenes, role playing scenes, or even love scenes if your players dare. Actually any action you can think of could be the basis of a scene.

And then you can combine actions with encounters and locations. Like a chase scene on dragon mounts fleeing a horde of angry wyverns. Or a combat scene with a hostile city guard on the city walls. Or a horror scene with ghosts in a haunted house. Or a diplomatic negotiation with a gang of Uruks on top of a cliff. And so on.

Thinking in what kind of scene you are doing, or needing next, can help you structure your game. Are you in a slow scene? Maybe you need a fast paced action or combat scene next to keep your players awake. Have the idea your players are out of breath combat scene after combat scene, and they can't figure out your plot? Give them some breathing space with a friendly encounter in a role playing scene.

Scripting your Game in Scenes or No?
Some game masters even prefer to map out their entire game beforehand. They write out each scene before the adventure starts, at least in encounter, location, and what is to happen. With my group however that's not very useful. Typically they try to have their own agenda, and steer the adventure where they want it to go. If I try to force my set of scenes on them they just go renegade or end up frustrated – and then frustrating me.

What I often do however, is prepare a rough set of scenes – or encounters – that I can use in the adventure. Which scenes I end up using then depends on the moment, and the actions of the players. Often, the real adventure turns out quite different from what I prepared. That's part of the fun and the surprise.

Try thinking in scenes next time you run a game, while keeping start, end, enemy and stakes in mind. And see if it helps you keep grips and have more fun!


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #33, Saint Anfrid's Heritage

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for The World Beyond. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 33: Anfrid's Heritage

The same text that revealed the fighting cross of St. Joris also reveals that there is another relic left. A coin that St. Anfrid always had with him. It never occurred to the master of the order before, but this coin, which is still kept in a box in Lusidinium is mentioned in the writings. The one that can wield the coin, may bring a new time and place for the Knights of St. Joris the legends say. The master of the order asks our heroes to go forth and gather the coin in Lusidinium at the Heiligenbergh.

Download the thirtythird part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!


Role Playing 101 #5: Quick and Dirty Adventure Building, part II

Have you had a chance to wing a quick and dirty adventure yet? Yes? How did it go? No? No matter, you will have many opportunities. And, with the three extra ingredients in this post, your quick and dirty adventure may be even better.

Last time we talked about the four main ingredients: beginning, what's at stake, the enemy, and the ending. This time we deal with colour, ally and twist.

Anything that adds a special taste to your adventure is colour. It may be the special setting, that you describe in detail. Or a special setting that players may recognize from a book, movie or holiday. It may be the funny actions of non player characters, or the funny voices you give them. It may be the typical actions of the enemy, the signature he always leaves, the strange costumes he wears, the inexplicable hatred he has of one of the heroes. It may be the music you play in the background – be it symphonic rock or moody film score. Or it may be the map you quickly scribbled on a piece of paper, or the pictures you quickly grabbed from internet to evoke the right mood.

Especially in a longer adventure, the heroes will need help. They will need an ally, or multiple allies. The best allies are worked out like player characters, like the master enemies. Typical allies may be friendly heroes, city guard, nobles, mercenaries, fairy godmothers, vague wizards, and so on. They can even be a character you play when you are playing instead of game mastering. Allies may show up as a patron – someone who hires the heroes – or they may trot along with the group, at least some of the way. Allies are also an excellent way to keep the players on track in the adventure, and steer them a bit in the right direction. Or the wrong direction, if you feel they go to fast or become complacent.

No true exciting story goes without a surprise. And that's what the twist is. Any surprise may do. But the best surprises are those which change the premises of the story. An ally can turn out to be an enemy, or the enemy can turn out to be an ally. That what is at stake may be trumped up, or change – like when you find out that the treasure is actually a lethal dragon. Or when you find out that while you were rescuing the princess, the enemy now is attacking your home city with an army. Or allies may turn out to be temporary enemies, like when the law is chasing you for crimes you did not commit. Or maybe you did commit the crimes, but they made sense because they were against the enemy. Study stories and movies for the many twists that are possible. And have at least one in your adventure. Maybe more.

There, this should make your Q&D adventure a lot more special already. Now, for good measure, let's try an example.

The heroes meet in a roadside inn on their way back from last adventure (beginning). Here they witness the kidnapping of the innkeepers daughter (stakes) by incredibly strong orcs. These orcs are led by a wizard who calls himself Orcus (enemy). As the adventure unfolds, the game master plays the music score from Lord of the Rings (colour), and the heroes traverse a forest full of spooky creatures (colour). The other daughter of the innkeeper joins the heroes on their quest, and it turns out she can fight and steal exceptionally well (ally). However, before the heroes reach the tower where Orcus has his army, they interrogate a wounded orc, who explains that the two sisters stole a magick orb from his master (twist). Orcus now tries to get the orb back by threatening the kidnapped daughter. While the heroes will make up their mind who they will help, they enter the tower for a final showdown with Orcus (ending).


Free Adventures: Ammersfurt #32, The Fighting Cross

The Secret of Ammersfurt is a free role playing supplement for the Dark Dungeon 2nd Ed game. Every week for thirty-five weeks, you'll get new bits for the Ammersfurt adventure setting, like monsters, NPC's, locations, skills, character templates, role play tips, and so on. And also every week, you'll get an adventure seed, which you can turn into a weekly adventure.

Adventure Seed 32: The Fighting Cross of St. Joris

The old text that was found in the Ylversum tower contains very intriguing stories. {If no book was found in the last adventure, find it in the dusty library of the commanderie of St. Joris.} One is about the “fighting cross of St. Joris”. Which should be somewhere in, or near Ammersfurt, as it was brought from the holy lands by St. Anfrid. Could it still be here? The relic could certainly mean a lot to the order, Ammersfurt, and even the heroes. Together they sit down by candlelight and try to decipher the old texts.

Download the thirtysecond part of The Secret of Ammersfurt here!

Art by renaissance champion Rafael: St. George and the Dragon.