Saturday, October 19, 2013

And Back to Spycraft

I just last night put together a few new characters for a Spycraft 2.0 one-shot, i.e. the intent is for the game scenario to last one night's worth of gameplay, and no more. Ha, not with my friends. Regardless, I'm going to give it a shot and see if I can kill them all in one night. Also not particularly likely, but I'm not going on easy on them this time.

The exercise jogged my memory of standard and special NPC creation. As previously noted you don't have to use the full character creation rules for creating NPCs. Standard NPC stats in Spycraft are assigned calibers from I to X (1 to 10 for those of you not hip on the roman numeral lingo). Instead of having to pick values for stats that don't get used very much by thugs and security guards (like, for example, intelligence), they give you a set of very useful stats, including but not limited to Initiative, Attack, Defense, and Resilience (covers all your standard d20 saves like reflex and will).

It's quick and easy, and allows you to focus on the important things like, "what type of dog is the guard dog?" and "does the guard dog prefer the hard dog food from the bag, or the soft stuff from the can?" or, my personal favorite, "does the guard dog particularly care about what it's guarding, or is its life a little more existential?"

Here follows a rant, which you are not obligated to read. Skip ahead for more entertaining stuff:
But, you ask, how do I know if my NPC will be any sort of challenge for the players? Ah ha! Easy, say the geniuses at CraftyGames. We make the actual value of those stats scale depending on the "threat level" of the players. Essentially, you make a guard dog. The guard dog will be equally(-ish) difficult for the players to face whether they are all 1st level, or all 15th level. Well, if they're that much tougher when the players are 15th level, shouldn't they be, like, fire-breathing dogs or something? NO! I've seen this complaint on at least a couple forums (and no, I'm not linking to them because reading them were hours of my life I'll never get back, and I'm not going to put anyone else through that), and it's foolish. The guard dog facing the 15th level characters is obviously better trained, stronger, and more alert. But they're still just guard dogs. Not all dogs are the same. If you didn't already know that, you should go to YouTube and watch the "20 Dogs" videos my 2 year old loves.

Last night, though, I was faced with a real dilemma. How do you take a bit-part NPC from a past campaign and turn them into a murderous, conniving bitch who would kill you for your shoes but is being forced to help you (or is she? Ooo, mystery ... yeah, she's here to help, guys, I promise)? Mechanically, it takes only five seconds in Spycraft, throwing in a few extra feats (garrote basics, garrote mastery, garrote supremacy - that's right folks, she's really fun to have at parties) and maybe bumping the "attack" caliber up a few notches. But the flavor of the character ... she has to be comfortable with her role as someone important.

Is she really ready to be a diva? The rogue special ops solder choking in the corner seems to think she is.

No, the honest truth is that I'm not sure I know what to do with her. She's been great for popping in and out of scenes, glaring, and dropping the occasional cryptic one-liner, but it doesn't take much "getting into character" to pull that off. Now she actually has to be a person, and I can honestly say I've never met anyone quite like her.

Here are the questions I ask myself to make her a little more real. They're essentially the same questions any good researcher asks when surveying people:

  1. What is she doing? She's on a covert rescue mission.
  2. Why is she doing it? That's classified. No, just kidding. Her boss told her to.
  3. How important is it to her? Given how incredibly powerful her boss is, and given how painfully unhappy said boss will be if she fails ... still only moderately important.
  4. How long will she put up with the player-characters' nonsense until she chokes someone? That depends on how long it takes for Vacile to open his mouth. Add 2 seconds to that. More, if she's already had the opportunity to choke someone.
While researchers, generally speaking, don't ask that last question, I know it's central to this character's mental state.

Ultimately, I try to make any key character like her serve at least three purposes in the story:
  1. A way out if I back myself into a corner
  2. A source of useful information if my clues suck, but that information always leads to...
  3. A moral dilemma.
Obviously, in a "hero" setting like I've got here, the players are (almost) always going to choose the moral path, and not the easy way out. But giving them the choice allows everyone to go home feeling good about having made it. I like my NPCs, even the good guys, to be about as far on the amoral scale as the players are on the moral scale. The parallelism appeals to me, but it also allows the players to shine brightly in comparison.

But then, what does it say about me that I'm able to come up with 50 characters who are finding different ways to do the wrong things for the right reasons?

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