GM Excuses IV: What Do You Mean My Main NPC is Boring?

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GM Excuses, Part IV

Because of my hiccup, I’ve gotten behind in my homework! Time to file for an extension and get back to work.

droodWorldWithoutTearsIf you’re new to this blog thread, I’m following the Writing Excuses master class on writing, and transmogrifying it to be about adventure design. In Part 1, I came up with five adventure ideas. In Part 2, I mixed up the ideas to create 4 new ideas. One of them is a mash-up of two of my ideas from Part 1, an adventure based on Drood, the novel by Dan Simmons, and one based on World Without Tears, a song by Lucinda Williams. In Part 3, I auditioned 5  NPCs for the lead role in the Drood/Williams adventure and let the blog readers vote for their favorites.

Take a listen to the Writing Excuses Podcast, What Do You Mean My Main Character is Boring? (only 15 minutes, and time well spent).

Today’s Homework: Take three different characters and walk them through a scene. Convey their emotional states, their jobs, and their hobbies without directly stating any of those. The scene in question: walking through a marketplace, and they need to do a dead-drop.

Fish MongerCool! We’ll take Nalo D’Costa, Robert McTavish, and Elizabeth Dixon. You can see their biographies in Part 3. I haven’t created hobbies for them yet, unless you count looking damned suspicious. We’ll do these as Read Aloud text from a published adventure.

Nalo D’Costa:

You hear a hubbub from the city marketplace in front of you. Shoppers and stall owners comment on an unseen woman. You hear a lot of “Who does she think she is?” and disparaging remarks about the woman’s dark skin color. You spot a fidgety brown woman dressed in a teal day dress wearing a deep bonnet that prevents you from seeing her face unless her head points straight at you. The fingers of her left hand are stained with ink.

She seems to be arguing with someone, but you see no one walking with her. Her accent is both educated and Jamaican. “Yes, I know they are looking at me. Always me, and not you. Why don’t you make yourself useful and create a distraction?”

A fishmonger’s cart collapses, but you can’t see the cause. Cod spills across the cobblestones. While all eyes are on the fish, you see the woman stuff a brown sack into a barrel, close the lid, and walk away.

Robert McTavish:

You enter the city market and are surrounded by the calls to buy fresh fish, produce, and the like. An old gentleman with long sideburns and a mustache hurries past you. You meet his watery blue eyes for a moment, then turn away. There’s an intensity about those eyes that is unnerving.

The gent marches up to a grocer and points to turnips. When the grocer turns to grab the turnips, the old man looks around, then puts his hands on the lid of a barrel. He stares across at a fishmonger’s cart, where a woman calls out “Snakes! Snakes under the cart!”

You see the old man stuff a brown sack into the barrel, close the lid, and walk away, turnips forgotten.

Elizabeth Dixon:

You enter the city market and are surrounded by the smells of fresh fish, poultry, and the like. A bespectacled woman, perhaps in her 30s, rummages through a cart selling old books. A black ankh pendent graces her neck. She’s talking to a corpulent Turk, fez and all, and they seem to be arguing. She points at a fishmonger’s cart with a folded hand-fan, and says something sharp to the foreigner.

The Turk nods, and ambles over to the display of cod and mackerel. He stops, closes his eyes and falls into the fish-cart, hands flailing and grasping. The cart tips forward, spilling fish and causing a scene.

You see the woman stuff a brown sack into a barrel, close the lid, and walk away.

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The Sun Below: City on the Edge Print Version Now Available

The print version of the Numenera adventure The Sun Below: City on the Edge is now available on DriveThruRPG!

City on the Edge Cover
Cover by Reece Ambrose

If you already purchased the pdf version of The Sun Below: City on the Edge, AND you are allowing me to send you emails on, I sent you a special offer on the print version. Check your email!

Buy Nowbannerbutton-dtrpgexc

It Is Known: Players tell me about the NPC

Ever want to make an NPC that the players connect with? That they find interesting?

350px-Role_playing_gamersHere’s a technique that works for me. I use it sparingly. I let the players design the NPC.

Not the stats, not the role the NPC fits in. I’ve got that covered. I go around the table and ask them in turn to tell me something about the NPC. I’m still the GM so if they go way silly or something that won’t work, I will gently modify or ask for another idea. Usually one circuit around the table is enough.

I give them the NPC and say, tell me about ________. They tell me something. I say “It is known” and write it down. Then I ask the next player. It’s a little like the Montage technique.

EXAMPLE: As a hook, I had Opal’s sister Sapphire get captured by devil cultists and thrown into the gates of hell. Opal is a PC, Sapphire is an NPC I just made up. The woman playing Opal was excited by this idea, but we didn’t know anything about Sapphire.

So I asked each player, “Tell me about Sapphire, what do you know?” Opal should know her sister — for the others, I said “You’ve been traveling with Opal for quite some time. She’s told you stories about her sister, what stuck in your mind?”

Player: “She has Blue Hair.” GM: “It is known.”

Player: “She has a penchant for losing things, even things she’s not touching. Things near her just go missing.” GM: “It is known.”

Player: “She’s a cliff diver. The cliffs in her hometown have low gravity, so she can do lots of tricks on the way down.” GM: “It is known.”

Player: “Her eyes match her hair.” GM: “It is known.”

Player: “She can alter reality with her thoughts. Only little things. A door is slightly to the right of where it was before. The blue fork is now red.” GM: “It is known.”

You get the idea. I now have a very interesting NPC who needs to be rescued from hell and the players know Sapphire way better than me telling them what they remember about Opal’s sister.

This example comes from a recent Numenera game where weird is the new normal, in a more conventional game you might keep things more “realistic.”

Announcing The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady

We couldn’t talk about the new adventure until we got the license from Monte Cook Games, but that just came in, so….

The Sun Below: Sleeping Lady

A new Numenera adventure, in development now!

Art by Reece Ambrose
Art by Reece Ambrose

And it’s Mor-Klish approved!

And remember, The Sun Below: City on the Edge is on sale for the rest of February!