Game Of Thrones For NPCs – Part II

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0831

Last Musing I shared how much I admire Game of Thrones’ character development and management. We want that exact stuff at our game table. And one awesome way to do this is by having you and your players bond with your NPCs.

We want  your NPCs to trigger an emotional reaction via an emotive hook. We then roleplay and game out this hook.

The 3 Line NPC template can help with this.

Let’s say Theodore likes spiders. That’s his hook. A simple result from the NPC Generator in Campaign Logger.

I like this result because it’s a common one-dimensional angle we often come up with for our NPCs or are given in published adventures.

And the challenge is, how do we turn this into something deep and meaningful to our adventures? It is possible though, so let’s keep going.

3 Line NPC Format

The 3 Line NPC format I invented goes like this:

Appearance: What’s the first impression you give to your players? What are a couple of details to help players frame and remember the NPC?

Portrayal: How can you roleplay, act, and demonstrate the NPC to make them interesting and memorable?

Hook: How can the NPC either become a story line or affect one? How can the NPC factor into your campaign?

Another way of looking at this format is:

  • How do you describe the NPC?
  • How do you roleplay the NPC?
  • How do you game the NPC?

“Theodore Likes Spiders”

Let’s take 15 seconds and make our 3 Line Theodore.

Appearance: He looks like a tarantula. Dreadlocks. Dresses in black. Spider motif in possessions and clothes.

Portrayal: He creeps, stays still until the right moment, and pounces in a burst of energy (in conversations and in actions). He has pet spiders he lets live and crawl on him. He eats insects.

Hook: Poisons. Information. Spider lore.

A couple notes here.

First, he’s a bit over the top. Dim to your desired level to suit your campaign.

Second, I left the Hook as simple notions or concepts. I find this makes integrating NPCs much easier.

All I need to do is keep Theodore in the back of my mind while gameplay unfolds. When any of the concepts of poison, information (gathering), or spiders turn up in play, I can, like Theo, pounce.

Do you know what I mean? If instead, my hook was that Theodore’s mother was killed by a spider, which made his grief-stricken father jump in front of a cart, making Theo an orphan looking to project his pain onto the world, that’s hard to integrate. That’s a tougher hook with both its specificity and vagueness. I’ll have to just brute-force drop him into an encounter and run from there.

But now, anytime the topic of intel, spiders, or poison comes up, Theo’s my guy. Like wet clay, I can mould him as needed to match game needs when he pounces.

Now that we’ve got our emotive shtick, we use the 3 Line NPC to guide our GMing of Theodore to create that emotional hook during our description and play.

No NPC Is An Island

A quick hack to enhance that emotional hook is with the reactions and actions of other NPCs.

Game of Thrones gives us several special moments as we see cool characters encounter each other on-screen. How will they react to each other? What will they do to each other? How will this affect the who will be King?

The key here, though, is the question we must channel for our players: How do we hope they react?

Take your best guess on what your players hope or fear when two emotionally-charged NPCs meet.

For example, let’s say Merenhoth the Sage (A: old, weak, stained gown; P: surly, curt, wise; H: monster lore, son is on council) is trusted by the party who have come to like the old man and find his rude ways amusing.

The PCs return from the dungeon with drawings of strange spider symbols. These symbols adorn a door they can’t figure out how to pass through.

Did someone say spiders?

Merenhoth asks the PCs to find a guy named Theodore who might have deep knowledge or at least a clue to help them out.

The PCs search the streets but no luck. They return to Merenhoth’s home despondent. As the PCs deliver their bad news, Theodore pounces out of the shadows. Spiders crawl to the ends of his dreadlocks, ready to pounce too. “Why are you looking for me!”

Here’s the juicy crux of the encounter. Your gameplay has built up to this moment, an event you have purposefully fashioned yet in a simple and agile way. You did not make the PCs fail to open the secret door or make them come to Merenhoth for clues.

But in a web cleverly fashioned by yourself, using fog of war and knowledge of what the PCs don’t yet have, you’ve seized an opportunity to build this great encounter.

And by using the threads and strands offered by your Agile GM Toolbox, like 3 Line NPCs, you’ve assembled the game pieces to build a notable moment in your campaign without railroading or creative stress on your part.

Put another way, like a virus has exterior spikes and nodes used to hunt and connect with host cells, you use NPCs and their shtick (puzzle, “knowledge”, “spiders”) to create amazing gameplay moments.

In Game of Thrones, no character is an island. They are constantly moving, changing, and encountering each other to the horror and delight of viewers. Create and run your NPCs the same way.