Monday, 14 May 2007

GM tip (1)

When the darkest hour is close at hand, I sometimes feel the weight of the Old World heavily on my mind. If I'm sleeping I dream of floating away from my body, of drifting slowly through the muddy streets of Altdorf. I drift by people living their ordinary lives, or leading extra-ordinary existences, or people dying, or being born. I float over the roof-tops, over the chimneys and into the thick smoke that rises to the wind. And I can see all the people below me, as if I was a great chessmaster. I reach out and touch their lives, I command them and they dance to the tune of my flute. They beg, they plead, they curse and cry. And everything they do changes the life of someone else. And then I realise the chaotic patterns I set in motion. How change begets change. And I hear the demon lord Tzeentch laugh, and laugh, and laugh, as he pulls the strings that move my arms and legs. And then I wake up. At least I believe that I have woken up. And I am again in my tower of the Altdorf University, again staring out into the darkness, gripping the sheets, crying, crying over the forces that shape our lives. That change our lives. Change ...

Adolphus Altdorfer
Backertag, Sommerzeit 15, 2522 IC

Sometimes fellow gamers ask me what I do to make my games memorable. Of course, the answer is never a straight "this is how I do it", but rather thoughts on what I find easiest to work with to build suspense and atmosphere. Recently I've had occasion to mediatate on this subject, after running a particularily unimpressive Tomb of Horrors (the infamous D&D adventure) for a group of gamers at a private mini-con.

It was a disaster, but the session of Call of Cthulhu that I ran afterwards was a blast and an unqualified success. So what was the major difference?


For me it's that simple. If I use a lot of NPCs in my adventures, there are good odds of things getting interesting and fun. I also use a few techniques (unknowingly, I suppose) to ham it up a bit and create memorable NPCs. This is especially important in WFRP, where the grim and gritty goes hand in hand with the dark and humorous.

So here are four things I do to make my NPCs memorable.

1. NPC cards. You've seen my NPCs, and if not check them out at once! Anyways, I make an card for every major, and sometimes minor NPC in my campaign. I have about thirty or forty now, and I give them out to the players. It's a good way of getting them to remember who's who, and what they do. It also makes it a lot less common for theplayers to invent humorous names when referring to my NPCs, a rather common practice not only at my table, I gather.

2. Crazy people. The people the characters interact with often have questionable sanity and strange motivations, and they perform inexplicable actions. People are people and do the most stupid things, so it feels good to include that. And it throws off the players once in while, makes things not so predictable.

3. Spectacular consequences. Whenever someone fails at anything (be they NPC or PC) I try to use flavourful descriptions of what happens and how the world reacts to this. Since people fail quite a lot in WFRP, this makes for a fun game, and has the possibility of changing the pace of the action. Instead of someone just missing with their thrown dagger, the dagger cuts off a rope which falls on a dwarf troll slayer, who then ... and so on!

4. Funny voices. I don't know what my players think ... well, yes I do. But I still don't know if it makes my game better or not. Still, it's a load of fun!

All this is ideally juxtaposed to a fairly realistic style (very little fantasy elements apparent in the milieu) and high pace action. Otherwise it easily becomes silly, instead of deadly, frantic AND silly.

My players love it.

Well, they really hate the NPCs, but they LOVE to hate them!


No comments:

Post a Comment