One couple, two perspectives, tons of geekery

Thursday, September 16, 2010

NPC Attachment

As a Game Master, it is your duty to fill your world with various characters for PCs to interact with. These NPCs help add flavor to the environment and can be used to guide players if they need a little nudge in the right direction.
Like any character creation process, our goal is always to make interesting, memorable and well- rounded characters. For NPCs, this also means the added responsibility of crafting characters that will not outshine the PCs. However, when we allow ourselves to become too attached to our NPCs, we are doing a great disservice to our players.
NPCs are first and foremost a tool. We must not mistake them as glorified PCs for us to vicariously play through. The NPC is there to support the story and the game. But when we grow too attached to our NPCs we create problems for the game. The following are several common NPC attachment warnings:
* You do not allow your NPC to be killed.
* You use information the NPC wouldn’t have to maneuver around the PCs plan.
* The NPC is constantly stealing victories from the PCs and is being used as a deus ex machina.
* You force scenes to occur to showcase your character.
* You find yourself getting upset with the player if their characters do not like the NPC.
* Your character is more involved in the plot thread than the PCs.
If you are finding these warning signs as being a theme in how you play your NPC, you may need to step back and consider their role in the game and your motivations. Are you creating NPCs as a way to play all the different character concepts you’ve always wanted to? If so, you need to reevaluate your motivation for running a game. The game should not revolve around the NPCs. It is the story and the journey of the PCs that should take priority. If you are finding that you are more concerned with NPC activity, then you might need to re-shift your focus.
So what should you do if you are becoming too attached to your NPCs? Well, as William Faulkner would say – “Kill your darlings”. While you may want to heed this advice and kill off interfering NPCs, you shouldn’t feel forced into such a drastic measure. You can always just have them step into the background for a while to give you some time away from playing them. If you are running a game with other Game Masters, perhaps you could ask one of them to NPC the character for a while to remind yourself that it is not your PC. Try to sever that emotional tie to the character so you can portray them without the interference of your own desired outcomes. Doing this will give you and your players the freedom to allow the game to flow on a more organic level. You may be pleasantly surprised by the new twists and turns that your story takes.
Getting too close to any creation we’ve made is always a risk. After all, you put a lot of time and effort into developing them. However, if you continue to put your own enjoyment before the players, then your game will not last long. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t be having fun too, but if you sole enjoyment comes from portraying these characters and not from the story you are creating, then you may want to think about participating as a PC in games instead of running one.

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