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.”

3 thoughts on “It Is Known: Players tell me about the NPC

  1. This is pretty much the basis for the entire system in Houses of the Blooded/Blood and Honor/World of Dew; Characters have a Virtue (ability score) called “Wisdom” (No relation to D&D Wisdom) that is basically the character’s ability to ‘know stuff’ and by extension, the player’s license to make stuff up. Whenever the character encounters someone they might know things about, they make a “Risk” (“Check”, “Test” or whatever. Dice roll mechanic thing) and based on the results, they get to describe X number of “True Things” about that character.

    All the Virtues work in a similar fashion – Cunning is used for making up details that you notice about places/things, Beauty is used for making up details of social situations, etc. The system is sortof brilliant as a cooperative narrative creation mechanism, though it feels very little like a traditional RPG.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Very cool, thanks! It’s interesting how game concepts propagate, and I’m always looking for cool ideas that work in a variety of games.

    I like how, in his 13th Age adventures, Ash Law asks the players if anyone’s been to X, before the group visits X . If they have, he asks them what X is like. He then uses that to riff on as the players arrive there.

    Like

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