How To Stop The Abuse of Your NPCs

Roleplaying Tips Newsletter #0742

How To Stop The Abuse of Your NPCs

In my recent NPC survey [] I asked what problems you have right now with NPCs. Here’s one of the responses and a couple tips from me:

NPC Pain: Having them abused or exploited by players. Basically, how NPCs reply to dire situations created by players on the spot.

Have NPCs React Like Real People

This is essential. Conflict causes fight, flight, or freeze response. It dislodges rational thought.

Fight: When abused, does the NPC see red haze and attack? Does he take the offensive in future encounters and turn parleys into confrontations?

Flight: Does he run away or withdraw? Does he avoid the PCs in the future?

Freeze: Does he go still and metaphorically try to hide in plain sight? Does he clam up or get too nervous to be responsive in the future?

This simple model should help you roleplay NPC reactions along with future situations. Roll a d3 if you can’t decide.

Roleplay NPCs Consistently

Actions have consequences.

Once the PCs learn prices double or triple after they’ve been jerks, people no longer share news and gossip, and services are outright refused via locked doors and shuttered windows, the players have a problem.

Portray Your World Consistently

Don’t fold under pressure. Step up response.

Get the law involved. Have leaders beseech powerful mages, mercenaries, and monsters to take care of the problem (creating new problems for the people down the road, and thus plots are born). Bring in the connected families of victims for retribution or justice.

Reach Agreement About NPC Reactions

Make sure expectations about NPC portrayal are set and met. If your group wants to be nasty, and everyone agrees, then discuss how you intend to GM that.

My Murder Hobos group had to stop play mid-session and have a frank discussion on where we draw the line for evil PCs in gameplay. That was around session three. Opinions differed. We talked. An agreement was reached. Everyone got clarity on play style and GM style.

Not pleasant during, but since then we’ve had zero issues.

Teach Players Via Gameplay

Here’s the thing. First time NPCs react like real people, you might see looks of surprise, anger, even outrage on your players’ faces. How dare you mess with their fun? How dare NPCs fight back or be jerks themselves? Who do they think they are?

My players have told me everyone in my world is an asshole. I tell them my world is a mirror of gameplay (j/k).

But roleplay NPCs consistently as per the agreement, and portray your world likewise, and players will soon learn about consequences scaled to suit campaign style.

Put on your impartial referee hat here.

And over time, players will come to respect you and your game more. And they’ll enjoy it because of the depth you reveal to them.

P.S. I’m closing enrolment in the Adventure Building workshop this week. There’s just 7 spots left. So I’ll close the doors for the current group of avid game masters when the spots are all gone or on Friday, whichever happens first. Enrol here.