Thursday, November 18, 2010

The point of NPCs, and styles of play

This morning I met an old friend whom I used to game with. We chatted a bit about life, work and family before delving deep into our gaming experiences since last time. Since I split from a game after inheriting this friend's character I talked a bit about why that game didn't appeal to me. This made me verbalize a few things which I've been thinking but never before put into words. I'll try to share some of that insight here.

I was playing in this game where we were young adults in a weird kind of post-apocalyptic fantasy world with religious overtones. It kind of made me think of the Alvin Maker series by Orson Scott Card. We all had some Gift, and our village felt like some kind of religious commune. Since everything around the village, out in the woods, is dangerous and strange we all had the roles of rangers in training. After having encountered some soldiers and had a big fight there erupted a thunderstorm and when our village elder visited the druids in the wood afterwards we learned that he had made a deal for us to stay for one year in the village, not trespassing into their realm.

So, here we were, sitting for a year in the village with a bunch of refugees from another village which had been invaded by the soldiers we'd fought. Note that this year was not to be glossed over. We were expected to play it out, in a fairly low pace. That is, we would spend the game chatting with ourselves and "getting involved" in the refugees and other NPCs in the village. Character based soap opera, in other words. I quit the game.

I realize I'm already a bit long winded, but will now get to the point.

What are the point of NPCs in your game? Sources of information? For you and the players (I'm writing this from the point of a referee here) to interact to find out more about that NPC's inner life or maybe develop the character you're playing?

Now when thinking of why a soap opera game was to contrary to all my wishes, I managed to narrow down what I like with roleplaying as the possibility to explore a secondary world. Using NPCs you can showcase how someone who knows this world acts and thinks. Basically, they are they way the secondary world shows itself to the players. The NPCs are a way to make that world look like it breathes and moves while your players are not looking.

Contrast that with NPCs who are there in order for your players to get to express their longings from drama class. In that case you are interested in the NPCs for their own sake, and in the player characters for their own sake. Not for their actions, which is very different.

I've come to the insight that the latter way, especially combined with ideas like "freeform" or "jeepform" bores me to death. I want to play a roleplaying game not act in an amateur theatre group. If I wanted that I would be better served by finding an amateur theatre group, I think. Add to that the pretentiousness of some of the people involved in that kind of "gaming" and I feel like throwing up.

How do you feel about styles of play, and the roles of NPCs? It might be different, and it's totally ok. But, if you differ very much from how I feel, I doubt we will enjoy the same game for long. Now I at least have something to show people when they want to know what kind of game I like.
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