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Utilizing NPCs for story purposes


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One of the things we recently did on Blue Windows is allow members to RP with NPCs.  There are a certain number of "non-player characters" that were thrown into the mix for the sake of reality (so that we could have some characters that weren't 'main' characters, for example, or who could get seriously injured beyond what the members were comfortable with for their personal characters).  Members are allowed to 'rent' these NPCs and RP with them for awhile.  Technically the NPCs aren't allowed to survive, so members can really do whatever they want with the NPCs.

 

I've been having a blast.

 

In my latest thread, I had an NPC teenage girl ally with my character, and then she went nuts due to lack of sleep (prolonged periods of sleeplessness over extended periods of time + stress), attacked herself, and then had a seizure due to organ failure and blood loss, and died.

 

Okay, it sounds a little dramatic when I give you the summary.  But the cool thing was that I was able to take this at my own pace and allow the storyline to unfold.  I had certain elements that I had to work with (I had to include a shack with words carved on every wall as part of a challenge), and the story ran away from me.  What was supposed to be a quick thread turned into a giant 7-page thread between my character account and the NPC account, and it was awesome.  My personal character received such great development from it, and I know that on my own, I never would have achieved it.  Hell, even if I had been RPing against another person's character, I still wouldn't have achieved it.

 

Anyway, this thread is to encourage people to look beyond the bland and see the benefit of using NPC characters as functional individuals.  Instead of just being the man who sells oranges on the side of the road, explore opportunities to flesh out the character enough so that it can have meaningful interactions with your personal characters.

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NPC's have been a vital part of my story writing experience for years, and for forum-wide things, there is no better way to expand a story, explore character development, expand on a key concept, and also allow a range of experience to come in that might not be with main characters!

I've seen NPC's used as general gate keeper types to persons or places.  The guard at the gate. The person who is always beside a figure.  The tender at the bar.  As they've been used by members, I've seen these NPC's grow to the point where they are practically characters with motives, moves, and situations that effect everything around them!  This has happened to me on a personal level as well, more times than I can say. Some of my best characters began as simple NPC's who got more layers added to them as time progressed. 

I remember years ago in an alternative history group I ran, we had a war between warring clans on the Island of Skye. (It was Alternative 14th Century history). One of the NPC's was a young boy who had come to hold the banner of the rightful rulers, and at times, play a drum.  He was killed in battle beside his knight.  This young man featured for about half of the live session, but it was his death that gave the winning side fuel to finish the battle. Seeing him there, dead, with his banner half broken?  The ruler's brother took it up and ran on to the field with it, followed by other men. It was a glorious moment, and that young boy was forever mentioned in canon lore!  NPC's are not just plot devices, but as said earlier,  a way to look in to different experiences.

One of my favorite uses of an NPC of late was in the last group I was a part of. My main character was a well respected secular member of a Cardinal's household's household. They had come to Hispaniola for the specific purpose of obtaining a stolen church relic, as well as a girl who had become a walking reliquary. Along the way, there were people to bring to heel and lives to ruin. One such scene was playing a soldier being tormented and punished at the hands of my villain, as well as writing another soldier being interrogated by a corrupt Captain of the Guard. Both of these men contributed something to the plots while showing strong feelings such as loyalty to the family they guarded, or realizing that the same loyalty meant they would have to sacrifice their lives. 

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@Morrigan, do I have here my NPC resource or was it published on Distant Fantasies instead? I have written one and I have shared it generously, because I think NPC potential is great. I do exactly like @Uaithne says for reoccurring NPCs. Sometimes they are more developed than other people's main characters whom they don't post. :( (We know there are people who like more making characters than actually writing them)

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I use NPCs quite often. It was something I used to get through slow periods and also something I did to give my original characters a family without having every single close family member dead, or in the case fandom rp, to avoid original characters being long lost relatives, etc, of canon ones. My main recurring ones include a widow and her two children, a thieving raven, a cantankerous, escape artist sow and a mischievous young dog that causes a lot of mayhem. I would say that they are essential in keeping role-play interesting, and one of my main characters whom I now use as a playable one started out as an idea for an npc. (The animals, by the way, are very good for writing amusing story-lines and parody.)

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I love the idea of NPCs as more than just person A or person B in roleplay, but I have to admit that I have limited experience with it. And all of your experiences sound really cool and dripping with development and all around awesomeness! I need to get in on this NPC development stuff.

 

Perhaps this is a question for a different thread, I'm not sure, but I have to ask - how exactly do you guys incorporate these NPCs into your games? I'm just worried that involving an NPC like you guys are describing ultimately leaves me roleplaying with myself (which I'm not opposed to - it's how I've always done NPC involvement in the past for development purposes, but I'm wondering if there are other ways to do this). @Uaithne you said that you rent out NPCs and play with a separate NPC account - what exactly does that entail? Is someone else writing with you on that account? And @Elena I would love to see your NPC resource if you can track it down!

 

What you guys have all mentioned are something that my fellow admins have been discussing - it is actually needed for our plot purposes, but we're unsure of how best to approach it. So I'm really interested in how you guys make it work in your games. 

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I was quoting Morrighan in the attempt to trace the resource or to tell me where to post it if it isn't. I have a NPC account which password is published on the site, and which everyone can use, so yes, the NPCs are "rented" for a thread (if the same person has time and is interested, can write the NPC in several threads, but if one took a NPC for a thread, is expected to finish the thread).

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@Sage, I tried something new this time around.  Although members are welcome to reference NPCs and have them in threads "normally" (that is, without a separate account), I also have the option of creating account specifically for NPCs.  I like to use stock image photos for their PBs so that there are no conflicts now or in the future.

 

Any person can play the NPC, but usually someone "claims" it for a period of time.  Some times these characters die, though, due to the nature of my site, so they then can't be used by anyone else.  Members are welcome to drop an NPC in someone else's thread, so that one person plays the regular character and another person plays the NPC.

 

However in my case, I controlled both the character and the NPC.  It worked out really well because I could just do a bunch of posts on my phone back and forth between the characters, and I was able to control and develop my story.  The NPC had her own account, and between the two of them, they made like 102 posts in two days.  (I was bored, okay???)

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Way back when, I used NPCs to get things rolling and keep the high up "boring" authority positions occupied so it didn't look like a group had no leadership. They had their own accounts and posted occasionally when they were needed, but were largely the figures in the shadows, the superiors the junior officers whispered about, etc. Back then we didn't get a lot of people wanting to play an old grizzled admiral ready to strategise and such. They sort of fell away as time went by and now NPCs are just the names of non-apped characters that get mentioned a lot, just placeholder names that crop up occasionally, or temp villains who are going to die at the end, etc. There's no gameplay framework to them.

 

I've started a thing where some NPCs are the "canons" of the site, named with vague details to allow people to pick them up (or kill in some manner and take over). They're usually, again, leadership positions that can either stay unoccupied but if anyone's interested they have that "in." It hasn't been going on for long enough to me to say if it's been successful or not.

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I abuse the hell out of NPCs. They can steer the rp in an unexpected direction at times, and I like being kept on my toes. Especially when my partner or others in a group start to utilize them it really makes the story feel more alive. Like it isn't just the main characters, but the people around them impacting them as well.

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