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Tuesday, 20 January 2015

Chin Scratcher Follow-Up: Lead By Example...

How many RPGs show players the benefits of an Aunt May?

The other weekend I posed a Sunday Chin Scratcher about how gamesmasters could get players to create a network of friends and families for their player-characters (notoriously orphaned lone wolves, particularly in dungeoncrawling games).

My old Villains & Vigilantes GM, Steve, pointed out on Facebook that with that game's default setting - you play yourself as a superhero - we used to have a built-in network of friends and family (ie real life) to draw upon.

However, not all games have that 'luxury' nor do they have 'point-buy' character creation systems that allow players to trade off the 'risks' of dependent non-player characters against more 'points' to buff up their characters.

Regular HeroPress poster Stu Rat suggested: "You need to co-opt one of the players to have a relative/friend that the party can use as a resource. This way you show them the value of dependents and friends."

He gave a few examples, then went on to say: "You need to show them the upside first of these relationships before threatening them. Aunt May looks like a constant downside because RPGs don't really deal with the value of an NPC's emotional support, a hot meal at the end of the day, fresh laundry, etc. - all the little things in life. 

"They get hand-waved or ignored because they are so mundane. But in the real world make life bearable. Comic books, even though not in the real world understand that. It's just in RPGs, you have to provide more tangible benefits.

"Now, if a home-cooked meal healed 2 HP damage, wouldn't players want to go home to Aunt May at the end of the day?
"

These suggestions were echoed by Devin Parker - on Google+ - when he said: "Many players are in the 'dependent NPCs = potential hostages' mindset because of GMs who go to that plot device right out of the gate and ride it hard until the NPCs die. While it's a hoary old trope of superhero stories, if GMs want their PCs to have webs of supporting cast members, they need to be able to trust that the GM isn't going to just screw them over if they do. The NPCs need to prove a boon in some way at least as often as they're a hindrance or a liability.

"Make the players appreciate the NPCs' presence, and remind them why they want to protect them from harm."

This is a key element for building long-running campaigns, and obviously there are plenty of inspirational scenarios in comic books that be lifted if the characters (or players) don't immediately suggest them.

Where would Clark Kent be without the rest of the Daily Planet staff?

Devin has some more suggestions: "You can also use them as plot devices in ways that don't necessarily involve them being endangered: Maybe they...
  • overhear a co-worker who's getting involved with something that's troubling them, and ask the PC to look into it. 
  • learn about a genuine opportunity to improve the PC's situation, like a chance to get an investor or patron or new HQ. 
  • the PC up on a blind date with someone who turns out to be another superhero (or villain!). 
  • arrest someone they believe to be the PC's vigilante alter-ego, and the PC has to decide whether to intervene. 
  • get a lead on the overarching plot's villain while doing their investigation into the city's slum-lords."
He reinforces Stu's point that the GM has to lead the way for reluctant players.

A life of cold beans...
"You need to demonstrate to the players why PCs who have connections to other people are better off than those who are alone. You don't want to rob PCs of their agency, but if you can create a situation where the PC clearly would have benefited by having someone they could call, delegate tasks to, or bounce ideas off of, it might cue them in. 

"Make it a theme of the adventure arc. Maybe they encounter a loner hero who's been going it alone a few years longer than the PCs, and he's suffered for it. The loner life isn't going to look so good when the Wolverine they were expecting turns out to be a Rorschach eating cold beans out of cans, never bathing, and torturing suspects to get information.

"Maybe he brushes off their attempts to connect with him, and perhaps it shouldn't be any surprise when later they discover he committed suicide after accidentally killing a bus load of innocents... or when he becomes a super villain."

Practical - mechanical - methods suggested for introducing the concept of dependants to players during the character creation process included using a 'Lifepath' system (similar to that used in the old Fuzion games, such as Cyberpunk and Mekton Zeta) to generate a backstory, complete with friends, family and associates.  

Another suggestion, which I have seen a number of GM's employing in different genres, was the idea of the 3x3x3 sheet, where players are asked for quick (name and single sentence) descriptions of three friends, three neutral contacts and three rivals.

Does anyone else have any game mechanic suggestions or plot-led methods for expanding the player-characters in-game circle of friends and contacts beyond his fellow player-characters (who aren't always friends anyway!)?

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