Relating to the World
Throughout this blog I have stressed the role of Players becoming more proactive when it comes to developing the setting of their world. One of the key ways to do this is to understand how they interact with the world. In “The Power to Name,” we talked about the power to control your own background relationships. This time we'll talk about the rest of the setting. NPCs are often played in a conflicting manner: either directly as enemies or as “Hostile Witnesses,” as many GMs tend not to want to give the milk away for free. When they are allies, as we talked about in “The Power to Name,” some GMs tend to make them targets. That's because the targeting of love ones often makes for great motivation. In the movie “Taken,” for a famous example, the sentence “Whoever you are, I will find you and I will kill you” was designed to show just how motivated Liam Neeson’s character was to save his daughter. The result of this sort of play is that NPC relationships are often limited to being used as motivational tools: enemies, targets or informers.
If the GM tends to see NPCs as motivating forces for the Players, the Players will often tend to see them as walking victims. The only question then becomes whether they are victims of NPCs, or victims of PCs. In other words, either the GM turns NPCs into victims to motivate the Players, or the Players turn NPCs into victims out of fear that the GM will turn the NPCs against them. This sort of dynamic makes the live expectation of most NPCs short indeed.
So how do we bring out more motivations, or create more interesting and realistic ways to interact with NPCs in the world? The first method is the “natural way”―by using gaming mechanics such as Blue Roses bonds and intensity points, or by using the Old School method of rolling on reaction tables. These mechanics either work to make relationships changeable or simply randomize them. A second method involves the GM working to make all NPCs more complex, but it takes two to dance, and if this approach is taken the Players must allow the NPCs to grow. This brings us to an important realization: as Players we must give all relationships room to grow and change.
We have discovered that the best campaign settings change over time. By now you should see that this statement should be equally true of the relationships in the campaign as well. It's especially true in sandbox settings, because the NPCs can move from being static messages into dynamic parts of living stories that should force even the least self-motivated Player forward. As Players, if we let our relationships grow and change, we will see our whole campaign grow and change; and that's something that's good for everyone, on both sides of the table.