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 Originally Published: 22 February 2016

Sometimes GMs/Writers of table-tops/series feel the need to broaden continually the range of NPCs encountered. Sometimes this is natural, when travelling to new locations or doing new activities. However other times they’re artificially crowbarred in -maybe the plot felt like it was going too slowly, maybe some information needed to be unveiled or the GM/Writer felt bored (or worried that the players were). 

  

In general, for the latter case, the urge should be resisted. Work with the established ‘palette’ that you have and use characters known to the players to bring about effects and changes. The crowbarred character is often noticeable in television shows where a character gets swapped out or added in very quickly (often when an actor leaves the show) and though everyone tries to carry on like before, it usually feels a bit weird.

It’s a good exercise to try and get as much potential from the smallest cast possible. Partially this draws from what was discussed in Short #01 -that introducing all the NPCs at the start of the story frames the narrative and lets the players know the range of characters who are active within in it. And this also encourages the Writer/GM to keep their writing within the bounds of the narrative’s rules and ensures the efficiency of the writing, avoiding Deus Ex Machina points or peculiar reveals and exposition breaks (which are bad things).

Things to watch-out for:

  • New characters arriving with no foreshadowing or reason
  • New characters arriving and instantly becoming focal points of a plot line
  • New characters arriving with the solution to the players’ problems or the plot progression
  • New characters arriving purely to add drama/diversity

The plot solution NPC is particularly common in some styles of game, and effectively renders the PCs’ actions before that point worthless. Why work on solving the plot when it is common for Wizlor the NPC wizard to arrive before the final battle with the solution to killing the lich?

 

Worst of all is when a villain is introduced in this manner. All of a sudden you get a ‘Hello, I’m your bad guy for this evening’ -players don’t know this individual and they don’t care about them. A suggestion would be, that if a new antagonist is needed, then use someone who has already been encountered. For example, ‘promote’ a henchman who previously escaped/survived an encounter with the PCs, or a person whose life/livelihood was damaged as a result of PCs’ actions. Not only does this give the antagonist a more believable motivation, it grounds them in the world in which the PCs already inhabit (which is good). Though with any type of introduction (or reintroduction) some degree of warm-up and/or foreshadowing helps the narrative flow more evenly.