Non-player characters (NPCs) play a large role when I run games. Sprawling locations, engaging plots, and player characters' (PCs) drives or flaws are all centred around these NPCs. They provide a means for my voice as a game master which allows me to deliver hooks or information about the world, and contrast for the PCs which allows the players to feel distinct and be challenged by the views of others. Despite the hefty role NPCs play in my games, I do not use lots of different voices, speech patterns, or even limited vocabulary to reflect the character. Instead, I focus on what makes that character a person and how they relate to the PCs which I believe makes the character more memorable. This post is an effort to codify the process I go through with tracking the relationships between PCs and NPCs to support myself improvising during play or planning future goals or actions for my NPCs.
For myself, engaging with roleplaying games means engaging with a conversation. This conversation typically focuses on a central question to be answered. At a mechanical level this could be something like "can I use this skill in my roll?" or "what is the player willing to sacrifice to succeed?", and at a narrative level, questions can help drive the narrative forward or support collaboration between the game master and the players such as questions like "what gives rise to the iron smell in this room?". I think it is safe to say that the more questions that are genuinely answered the greater an understanding of a character, world or a system is achieved. I believe this allows for a better experience and to sooner reach this experience we could begin our sessions with a few brief questions to help everyone ease into the game.
Collaborative and narrative play are more my jam when it comes to roleplaying games. I like to leave breathing room for the players to be creative and inject something into the narrative within the confines of moral dilemmas and hard choices. Back in my Dungeons and Dragons days I made heavy use of skill challenges for action scenes as opposed to always using the combat game structure. This allowed me to confine my players to a particular situation whilst providing the aforementioned breathing room. However, I did find skill challenges had the danger of becoming too 'control panel' for my players so to rectify this I wanted to change the way players interacted with the mechanic and adapt to other d20 systems that use the 6 attributes but potentially not skills.
Dungeon crawling has been the standard game structure for many roleplaying games for a long time. During this time people have presented all manners of preparing them from a series of randomly generated encounter tables for every room or corridor to entire algorithms that generate the dungeons and its mundane contents. Some game masters run them with the notes written near each room, others have a separate sheet of paper and a key to match descriptions to rooms, and some game masters are mad and ad hoc the whole thing. I have tried each of these methods with varying degrees of success, but I was never entirely satisfied with how they played out. I recently learned of tanglegrams which are like mindmaps that emphasise the relationship between people and things - you can read more about them in my original post here - and I believe they would work very well for helping your dungeons feel more interesting.
As discussed, I have been developing a solo roleplaying game that has the player take the role of a wizard. By the end of the game, the player will have several randomly generated spells in the form of a grimoire and a brief journal detailing the life of the wizard that created it. It is my hope that this will be an enjoyable way for game masters to create new spells or entire grimoires for their campaigns. I have tentatively settled on the name: Grimoire.
Collaborative Taskforces is such a tacky and cumbersome title but that is the exact reason it is so fitting for my first attempt at a one-page RPG. My day job has been throwing around some buzzwords of late and in spite of my shown cynicism in this one-page RPG, I believe it is leading to something good. However, I still found that I needed to vent some of my frustrations with "office talk" so I made an untested one-page RPG that makes a mockery of it!
Spells that are esoteric, wizards that are deranged and corrupted by magic, and mysterious magical symbolism are all features of some of my most enjoyed fantasy in roleplaying games. For this reason, I have been working on a solo RPG that, by the end, will have the player in possession of a grimoire of spells and a brief history of the wizard that created them. I think this could have great results when porting the grimoires into other fantasy games, however I have yet to finish designing the game. In the meantime, I wanted to show off the spell creation process as it currently stands.
As I facilitate more roleplaying games, I find myself leaning more towards sandbox experiences with a large cast of NPCs. I establish a starting scenario to introduce these characters over the first few sessions without much of an idea of what the narrative is going to be. This is not to say that I do not plan any story - I often like to have something happening at the forefront in a session but it is determined by player and NPC actions instead of pulled from a plan. To do this I maintain session notes to remind myself of who interacted with who and how it went but this becomes painful when I need to trawl through notes from multiple sessions. Here is where I believe a tanglegram could benefit my and your campaigns.
Dread was the first roleplaying system that I used as a game master and I recently had the pleasure to be a player of it remotely. My friend wrote a scenario that was inspired by an SCP article and it was an excellent time for all involved - I even died horribly to some freaky monster and like all good monsters I cannot begin to even describe it properly. Traditionally a game of Dread uses a Jenga tower and has players pulling a block for a given action should their character be under duress or working out of their skill. This lends to a beautifully tense table that blends perfectly with the horror genre that Dread lends itself too, however using a Jenga tower remotely is uncomfortable.
The use of random tables in my games are still predominantly focused on the before aspect of the game - the preparation. However, in my most recent campaign of Mutant: Year Zero I did return to utilising random tables during a session and I found that I very much liked the random aspects they can introduce while also allowing a modicum of control.