APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 11 November, 1999


Pawn - The Mind Behind the Stock NPC

Janne Kemppi

Role playing games are by their very nature games of imagination. They should depict the life around imaginary player characters so vividly, that player playing it would enjoy being in that imaginary alternative universe. Therefor GMs describes people and land around the player characters on the level needed to get the story line moving and to everyone get into the mood. Usually this can be achieved easily by describing NPCs around them as lively as possible. This is a problem for many inexperienced or perhaps unskilled GMs.

Dream Pod 9 (DP9) has constructed a Non-Player Characters (NPC) handing system for Silhouette. This system consists of NPCs with variable values attached to them by DP9's own future history and their role in it. Those characters with no importance what so ever are called pawns, they are the faceless people player characters (PC) will meet during campaign. Pawns are typically stereotypes that are used to depict regular people with considerably weaker attributes and skills than PCs who are supposed to be antagonists of the story. Most DP9 products show plenty of pawns to be used in adventures and to describe typical people of the land.

GMs should use Pawns as a resource and use them as a baseline for a typical NPC. NPC description could be thought as a multi stepped process. After all, people do not get throughout understanding of someone else from just looking at someone's face. However, that face is often the first thing one see in another. Therefor the description of NPCs should start from quick impression, which is often a stereotype.

Stereotypes are a two-edged sword. For one they are widely used in popular fiction and media to give instant picture to audience of something. This is all very good from the standpoint of the plot. However, stereotypes can (and often do) lead to typecasting, where some sort of character or character type always does some thing. A good example of this is stereotypes found in Anime. Usually one can immediately see the roles of characters (for example Hero always wears his school uniform collar open) from first appearance of them.

Stereotypes can be used in role playing games as a first introduction but if the same person is seen second, third or fourth time, the stereotype usually starts to crack and one can start to see little bit of the true nature of observed person in question. Real and true behavior is often still hidden but one can start to see certain behavioral patterns that character in question usually have.

Behavioral patterns are widely used in popular fiction. They can be used to instill familiarity reader can identify with or some quirk of nature the character has to provide character redeeming qualities or human errors to flesh one out. These tags vary a lot but at least initial behavioral patterns should be clearly visible or something one does instinctively. For example one can chain-smoke when under stress or perhaps a certain sensory reception triggers a reaction.

In role-playing game setting, tags could be simple and using them does usually most of the descriptions needed for relatively minor Pawns. However, tags should be used carefully, as tags do not dictate normal person's behavior always. They do, however, represent a typical behavior usually at certain set of circumstances. Therefor GM should carefully judge what kinds of tags are used remembering that usually understatement is better than over blowing it.

As one learns more and more of someone, one starts to see beyond simple behavioral patters. This process usually takes a lot of time. If NPC is met frequently during adventures, it is normal for characters to start to know each other much better. First one sees someone's public nature and later (if ever) someone's private nature.

People who live in a society often find their lives easier when they keep some sort of facade up towards other people. For example some people are very rude or stern and others might be quiet but nice. This kind of behavior is usually learn over some time and it represents the personal one wishes to show others.

However, very many people (actually all of us) keep their public face up while inside they could feel very different. This private persona is something one truly is. It can be helpful or spiteful, ruthless or caring. Private nature is what people truly are and what really motivates their actions. Learning one's private persona is very difficult and usually one has to know quite well the subject in question to get a hold of what really makes this guy tick.

In role-playing game field, one should consider the public and private nature at the same time. GM could invent what kind of dualistic persona character has. It is important to remember that private persona and methods often go hand in hand. It would be safe to consider character as public persona showing typical methods used in public to get things done, while private persona would indicate the typical motives behind the actions. However, there are times when one has to use methods one does not enjoy in order to get work done. For example soldiers kill people in war and use all kinds of tricks to get things done, while they most probably prefer to live in peacetime society and solve things on whole different set of ways.

In the end it is good to see the NPC fleshing process as a stepped process. One should not start to assign complicated personas to every NPC player characters see in their adventures but to design and activate them one step at the time. The advantage of this method is saving time to concentrate towards the fun of actual role-playing itself, while doing the fleshing out process only when needed at steps that would follow actual learning process for one person to know another.

This process provides a descriptive method of approaching the NPC design. It really makes no difference on character's importance to campaign but gives every NPC roughly same bottom line towards the player characters. However, it is suggested that one should perform all steps from mere stereotype towards person's dualistic nature when designing major NPCs that are movers and shakers in one's own campaign. Since these certain NPCs are so important and their actions far flung, it would be good to make them fleshed up as their hand affects, even though player characters may never actually see them.

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APAGear II Archives Volume 1, Number 11 November, 1999