Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Traveller, NPCs and PNPCs

More GM thoughts, this time on player character generation choices and the role of hirelings.

When you run any RPG campaign, you want to allow your players as much freedom as possible when choosing their characters, because players who like their characters tend to have more fun. However, some types of characters just don't fit in any given campaign setting. For instance, what exactly does that ex-scholar bring to a bounty hunter band again?

Add in the lethality of some rules such as Traveller, and you can quickly get your players into a situation where their characters are useless or dead, and that's not fun for anyone.

Two obvious solutions present themselves. Well, three if you count "let PCs die so that players learn to generate more relevant characters", which is not calculated to make you a popular GM.

First and most obviously, get the players to buy in to a campaign concept (like the "bounty hunter"/"Cowboy Bebop" idea above, or maybe a "Firefly"/"Merchants" setting) and build characters that fit that setting. This is probably the best way to go overall, but if your merry band of adventurers is not as focused on their mission, or you are using strict CT character generation rules, this might not be practical.

The other idea is to have the players make more than one character, with one of them being an employee of the other, such as the ex-Diplomat who works the deals and an ex-Marine who pulls the trigger. This is a variation of the time honored "hireling" NPC role, with the difference that the NPCs are controlled by players. (PNPCs?)

There's no reason that these PNPCs couldn't in theory remain with the party, if the situation made sense (like players running a "Star Trek" type game, where they play both bridge officers and away team members), or just have them fade away into the background after the job is complete (and they get their cut).

Hireling NPCs are about as classic an RPG concept as you can find, and I have no doubt that "PNPCs" are well known to others, but I have never seen them used in a game.

A less permanent version of the PNPC idea might be to have a patron send an armed fire team to assist the players, giving each player one member of the team to control in addition to their own characters. These PNPCs would be the classic Red Shirts, and could take all the risks. Players would be naturally discouraged from getting their own PNPC killed off (due to emotional attachment), where they might not think twice of ordering a fire team of NPCs forward into danger.

With Classic Traveller's character generation being so simple, it would be easy enough to have each player roll up a character on the fly, stipulating what service and the maximum number of terms they can have. Or even easier, have everyone roll UPPs (in order, reroll 3-) and give out skills you think are appropriate, possibly keyed by each characters statistic. (For example, the one with the highest Intelligence might get Recon.)