Game Of Thrones For NPCs – Part III
This week I’ve been talking about how we can model Game of Thrones’ character development and management for the betterment of our adventures.
We create NPCs like viruses that have simple external hooks to dynamically hunt the PCs and emotionally connect with them.
However, I mentioned we GMs must game this out. Unlike TV and books, we can’t narrate this. The players have control of their choices and they come to play.
Thus, our best approach is to add delicious ingredients to our adventure buffet, mix them together with the PCs, and let our players eat what they want.
Every game has levers. When we master the strategies and tactics of those levers, we master the game.
As GMs, our RPG levers include:
- Game Pieces such as NPCs, locations, items, and events
- Interacting with our players via roleplaying, refereeing, and descriptions
- The Game Rules
- Game Design — building encounters, worlds, monsters, and so on
Past and future Musings will unpack those concepts for you, but for now, the main point is we have lots of tools in our Agile GM Toolbox to game out our NPCs into compelling player experiences.
For example, Theodore meets Merenhoth and combat breaks out. We have NPC stats and combat rules we can wield for great gameplay.
If seer and spider collaborate instead, we have skill rolls, skill challenges, and roleplaying for gameplay levers.
But taking a cue from GoT, we also should add three more ingredients to our NPCs: Goals, Flaws, and Situations.
Give each NPC a motive, mission, or objective and play the NPC to your best ability so the NPC gets what they want.
Now when NPCs meet the PCs and each other, we not only have personality events, we have goal events — game pieces manoeuvring around each other and the players for best advantage and outcome.
Next time you watch Game of Thrones, look at each character through the lens of what they’re seeking and notice how their words and actions are affected by aims and desires versus to other characters’ in each scene.
Also, notice how GoT characters all have their downsides. They are not perfect. They are not two-dimensional corny characters. We may want to be heroic, strong, or smart like Jon Snow, but when faced with his pride and bad choices resulting from that, we see that flaw in ourselves too.
We give our NPCs flaws to make players sympathize, cringe, or hate. Thus, deeper emotional connections.
However, like Goals, we turn Flaws into gameplay. Flaws are what drive your NPCs’ bad decisions.
Which brings us to the sitch. Game of Thrones characters are never just hanging around talking to each other in boring dialogue vacuums.
They never come out and say, “I’m stronger than you are. I’m brave. I’m weak.”
Instead, something is happening in the background or foreground, creating a context, so the characters’ attributes are revealed, demonstrated, or reflected to us so we can experience them ourselves.
Do this with your PCs and NPCs. Create a context or situation (an encounter) so you can then roleplay, portray, and game out Goals and Flaws.
For example, the PCs are dejected because they failed to track down Theodore. When they return to Merenhoth’s home to deliver the bad news, they discover (roll 1d6):
- The house is on fire because of arson
- Merenhoth is under attack
- Merenhoth is being arrested
- Merenhoth is being denounced by a priest as a heretic
- A thief is stealing some books
- A spy watches on
Now Theodore enters. We get that moment where the players hold their breath to see how each NPC reacts to the other, or perhaps the players excitedly intervene to influence things to their desired outcome.
But meanwhile, this other thing is going on. So seer and spider won’t just stand there talking. They’ll reveal and demonstrate their personality, goals, hooks, and flaws alongside the PCs as the event unfolds in gameplay.
A Cast of 1000s
Which brings me to the second last learning I want to share about Game of Thrones and NPCs.
That table of possible situations happening at Merenhoth’s when the PCs return all have one thing in common. Can you guess what it is?
Each of those events involves other NPCs!
GoT has a huge cast of characters. Likewise, a big buffet of NPCs gives you a ton of levers to masterfully pull for awesome gameplay.
If there are just two characters alone in a scene in Game of Thrones, you know some major tension is about to go down. The cameras will draw close. The words will have deep meanings or connotations. And the subtext will be thick.
But most of the time there are several characters and a compelling situation happening in every GoT scene.
Take this approach to your table. Because having a larger cast of NPCs in your adventures gives you the final benefit and learning I want to share about GoT’s characters.
I Didn’t See That Coming
Game of Thrones characters constantly surprise us. That is a major factor in the show’s appeal.
One type of frequent surprise is sudden character deaths.
We’re so used to writers protecting their characters, and producers having to perpetuate characters because of the celebrity effect.
How refreshing to be shocked because a major character bites the dust mid-season!
And now we really hate or love the killers / avengers / traitors.
GoT can afford to do this because it has the character budget. Meaning, it has a large cast of major, notable, emotive characters. Kill one, introduce one. Kill more, add more.
We can do this in our campaigns too!
Keep adding NPCs. Make them strive hard towards their goals while getting into bad situations because of their flaws and the flaws of others. Create friction everywhere.
Surprise your players over and over by making emotional connections, revealing NPC flaws, and having NPCs do terrible things (to each other in addition to the PCs).
If you can surprise your players at least once a session, you are guaranteed to have a much-talked about epic campaign on your hands.
Surprise is one of your most powerful levers, and one of your best NPC emotive hooks.
Putting It All Together GoT Style
This wraps up my initial shot at what I’ve learned so far from Game of Thrones character management and depiction.
I believe what makes Game of Thrones such a compelling show can be ported over to your game table using your Agile GM Toolbox and a few strategies:
- Make a bigger cast of NPCs a pillar of your campaigns and adventures
- Create gameplay with NPC actions driven by portrayal of their goals and flaws
- Create emotional connections between NPCs and players
Surprise players by making NPCs behave true to their natures