Wednesday, August 4, 2010

NPC Motivation

I've seen a lot of talk about NPC rewards lately, some of which was mine. I thought it would be interesting to talk about why we offer these rewards and whether they're actually helpful for the game or not.

I would rather run an event with 8 Good NPCs than run it with 25 bad NPCs. But before you criticize me, let me tell you what I mean by 'Good.'

Good NPCs are the ones who want to have fun NPCing.
Good NPCs recognize they also need to make it fun for the PCs.
Good NPCs want to learn and want to become better at the game.
Good NPCs work hard and keep a positive attitude.

Notice how I didn't say they had to be a spectacular fighter or an excellent roleplayer. Those things can be taught. Intrinsic Motivation to NPC cannot be taught.

I think the most important thing we need to remember is that NPCing is intended to be fun. We forget that. I think a lot of the problems we see with NPCs can be attributed to two things; NPC Mindset and Plot/Staff Mishandling.

NPC Mindset
We keep upping the rewards for players to NPC, focusing on things that help them PC. Formal Levels, Magic Items, Goblin points, and even phys reps are offered up to NPCs. While I like those things when I NPC, it doesn't create the kind of draw that you want.

It makes people think NPCing is work.

And yes, it is hard work. But it's also supposed to be fun! I assure you, if you think NPCing is just a means to an end, I don't want you in my shack. I don't need anymore extrinsically motivated NPCs.

The other problem with the NPC Mindset is that we often don't reward good NPC behavior, we just reward NPCs. Some will say that we reward them with more interesting roles, but the best NPCs don't need that. On the other hand, if you sit around all day and eat ice cream, going out as a wolf once or twice, you're going to get your rewards. So does the guy who runs around the camp 16 times, tries roles he's not familiar with, and goes outside his comfort zone with an RP role that may be a bit too serious for him.

We need to convince people that we value good NPCs.

Plot/Staff Mishandling
The other problem we run into is that plot and staff mishandle NPCs. Now, I have been playing for over 10 years and consider myself a pretty decent fighter. But at one point in time, I was still wet behind the ears and only really knew alchemy and some earth incants. At that time, I got picked up as a staff member and they helped me cultivate my skill. They supported me, and when I was ready, they gave me roles they thought I could handle.

I never see that now. On the contrary, I'm still getting lead roles for everything when I NPC. And I hate it.

One of the best things I see in NERO is when a newer player is given a chance at something great. I've seen plot ask a relatively new player if they know the celestial incants. When he responded that he did, they handed him a card and his eyes lit up. He got to be the leader for whatever group of baddies for that mod, and it absolutely made his day. Why waste that on me? I'm old and jaded. I've played parts of dragons and written ridiculous monsters in my days as plot, so nothing you give me is going to blow me away.

On the other hand, plot often let's bad NPCs get away with terrible acts without so much as a slap on the wrist. I've seen players go out and overcast death spells, misplay cards, and do things that their character/monster wouldn't do simply to kill PCs. You need to let them know that this is not okay. Sit them down, talk to them, and ask them why they did it. If they honestly didn't know how they would act, give them simpler cards and work with them to get better. If they did it because they want to kill PCs, sit them out for a while. You don't need that kind of attitude.

I remember a time where an individual who NPC'd for us always took way too much damage. Instead of letting it get out of hand, we talked to him and found out he normally forgot how much body the monster had. From then on, we always had a plot or staff person (whoever was available) ask them how much body they had right before battle. At first, he'd always have to look it up. But then, over the course of a weekend, he started answering the question without looking at his card. A little involvement from plot and staff helped this player get better at the game, rather than letting it remain out of control.

Finally, NPCs follow your attitude. If you're a dick, NPCs will be dicks. If you're positive about the game ("We really gave them a challenge that fight!"), then they will be positive. Next time you're going to act like a dick because you're in a position of power, just remember that you're in charge... of a LARP.

NPCing should be fun. If you're plot and staff, it is your job to make the game fun for the NPCs as well as the PCs. Give each one of your NPCs at least one role that stretches the abilities of your NPCs, and work with them to make the game fun. Get NPCs the old fashioned way. Ask them to NPC with you, let them know you have a lot of fun, write a role specifically for them, and offer to teach them the game.

On the other hand, don't treat them like minions or trash. Don't get pissed off at PCs and don't act like a dick. If you do that, I assure you that your NPCs aren't there for the good of the game. They're there to do the bare minimum they need to do in order to get a magic sword.


  1. Overly competitive NPCs can single-handedly ruin events for people. If you think one of your NPCs might fall into this category, give them a role with an intelligence of "mindless" or "animal," and see how they fight. Especially with the mindless creatures, if they're juking backward, leading people off into the woods, and using other advanced tactics - they're there to compete with players and defeat them, rather than to play roles and have fun. When I see this as an encounter head or marshal, I usually try to gently remind them to actually play the role, not just the stats, by saying things like, "Don't retreat - you're mindless, you know no fear! Only move forward!" If that still doesn't work, you'll have to take them aside at some point.

    I also usually find it helpful to have a brief talk with any NPC I assign to a creature that has a low Damage Cap or very high amount of body points. This is to avoid turning the monster into a "timer," where the NPC just keeps fighting until he decides the fight was epic enough and then dies, rather than making any effort at actually counting his body total down. The biggest perpetrator of this is the Skeletal Champion, who only has 60 base body points but has Damage Cap 1. Any time I send out one of these or a creature like it, I always make sure to explain to the NPC during his briefing, "Look, you can take 60 hits. That doesn't mean you can take 100 hits, or 2 minutes' worth of its. You can take *exactly* 60."

    The "timer" NPC is often also a "wade in" NPC. I've found that the best answer to a "wader" though, is on the PC end. Solidly plant your feet, set your shield against your shoulder or your 2-handed weapon into a hockey cross-check position, and just let them wade forward into you. Then (calmly and politely) call them on charging. Remember, the only way to move PAST someone is to use game mechanics to drop them or move them (such as Repel, Fear, Shun.) You can't shoulder around them or physically move them out of the way AT ALL. If your opponents are standing shoulder-to-shoulder (or even just within 1 armspan of each other) then you CAN NOT move through them into their formation, no matter how huge and badass the NPC creature you're playing is, no matter what.

  2. I find wading common after disarms as well. People immediately think that just because I don't have a sword in my hand that it's ok to dive through my legs to get to my weapon.

    That's why my shield is nice and soft #2 foam. It doesn't hurt the noggin'.