Not in a Vacuum: Another Angle on Skills and Such
I just realized there is something else I intend to do. It may have once began as a byproduct of ensuring the characters had their bases covered, and it is to incorporate NPCs both into the campaigns I regularly run as well as my design approach.
The characters do not live in a vaccum and any effort on my part to make the players feel like a part of the setting and, thus, the world, is to give it a rich, vibrant populace. The people who inhabit the world are not all PCs, so crafting memorable NPCs flesh the world out. As mentioned above, this may have begun back when I ran D&D and we were a few gamers short and no one wanted to play the cleric back then. While he began his life as a healing battery, I decided to interject a bit of personality into him, and then soon realized I had the perfect talking head within the very same group as the PCs and it made life easier. There are a few tricks involved when doing this. Make certain that, while the character may be good, a PC with the same skill interests and areas of interest should dominate. Keep the focus of the NPC narrow. I’ve learned this the wrong way which brings us to the next point. Don’t fall in love with your NPCs. They are helpers and facilitators. It is their job to support the main heroes, not to supplant them.
Some systems make it particularly easy to add NPCs at a moment’s notice, making creating custom NPCs a pleasurable experience with far less math necessary to get the job done. Savage Worlds gets kudos for this as does FATE (pick your flavor).
Having NPCs as adjuncts adds verisimilitude to the game and your world. The players can largely help themselves by having a built-in safety net. This encourages and rewards roleplaying by telling players to get to know their world and they can allies based upon their social skills or the effort they put into their world. It works especially well for the absolutist. He can play by the rules and still provide a bit of wiggle-room to such a particular style of play.
I just was wrapping up an adventure and detailing out some NPCs and it hit me. I often have as many NPCs that are potentially allies as they might be enemies, depending upon how the cards fall. I’m rather proud of this, as it lets you know we’ve got all our bases covered.
Until next time, I bid you, dear reader, adieu!