27 November 2014

Random Reaction Rolls

I like reaction rolls for a particular reason, and it's exacerbated by my combat LARP experience.

Sitting in the GM's chair, in a comfy position, with a mug of steaming tea at my hand, I'm far removed from actually being in a stress situation. I know everything that's going on, I know everything that's offstage, I have unparalleled knowledge of the situation in a fashion we couldn't possibly have in real life.

But the world doesn't work like that. The fog of war is real. People don't always see what's going on, people don't always know what's going on, and people often guess wrong even if they have all the information.

In that LARP, I was one of the chief national leaders, and my character was the most powerful wizard in the game. I had to make a lot of decisions:

* Based on information that people told me, colored by their own prejudices or flawed insights.

* Based on the fact that I hadn't gotten any sleep the night before.

* Based on the fact that I hadn't gotten any sleep because the bastard, in my face and telling me I had to do something, was partying all night long two tents down the row.

* Based that I'd reinjured my chronically bad knee two hours before and it was hurting, a lot.
* Based on whether I trusted people or not, based on what I thought I could get away with politically or not.

* Based on my own prejudices, flawed insights, or whether or not I hated Soandso’s guts.

* Based on me just not knowing what I needed to know, and being forced to make a WAG.

Sometimes I got it right. Sometimes I got it wrong. Sometimes I played the odds exactly as I should have, and the odds just fell the wrong way.

Those are all variables impossible to calculate for each and every NPC. I just figure that no matter how smart someone is (or isn't), how capable someone is (or isn't), how well informed someone is (or not) ... sometimes they have bad days. Or very good days.

Heck, the last run I GMed was heavily colored by a NPC making a terrible reaction roll and thus reacting badly to the situation, no matter how much my wife's character was trying to talk sweet reason into him. Sometimes it happens. Random rolls are a good way to emulate that.

Yeah, but what if the NPC’s interacted with the party a number of times before.  So what?  Surely many NPCs have good days and bad ones. Heck, I'm very much a good day-bad day person. Catch me on a good day, and I'll be all accommodating about your request or inquiry. Catch me on a pain-filled day after a night of short sleep? I'm likely to be snarky, and sometimes stubbornly so.

Come to that, my first wife was even more capricious, and in all too many of our fights, I'd pull up short, incredulous that we were fighting as hard as all of that over such a petty thing, and ask "Alright, what is this really about?" Invariably, she'd pull up short, and reveal the subject which was really preying on her mind, something usually having nothing to do with me but about which I could be supportive and help defuse things.

I've kept this in mind when having a NPC snark-out, and a few times the more empathetic PCs have asked, by way of being supportive of their friend and helping to defuse things, "Hey, Nath, you seem like something's got you well off your feed. Anything it'd do you good to get off your chest?" Nice hook for a sideplot ...

09 November 2014

NPC of the Day: Ruy Sanchez Koriskevich O'Higgins

I ran a Firefly campaign for a bit – and would love to run one again.  The campaign was based out of Twilight Station, in the middle of the Black, floating above a pastoral planet of religious fanatics.  It was something of an interstellar truck stop, with a bunch of businesses, and run by unregenerate Browncoats who were seeking to jump start the Lost Cause.

The group was stranded there, but won a decommissioned war surplus gunboat in a poker game, which became their new ship – Nightwind.  Unfortunately, Nightwind came with an extra: a fellow who claimed to be the ship’s medic.  They tried to run him off, but he waved what he said was an ironclad contract for him to be ship’s crew for three years or until he got tired of it, with a guaranteed rate of pay.  Not much they could do about it, so onboard he stayed.

Ruy Sanchez Koriskevich O’Higgins is a bit of a whack job.  He’s swarthy, with piercing black eyes, and long post-Civil War era hair and mustache ... the hair which he dyes mauve.  Go figure.  He’s keeps a shortsword scabbarded to his side, heaven knows why.  Don’t get between him or anyone he feels like beating down, either, because he fights like a wounded weasel and doesn’t really know when to stop.

He’s also a bit of a pain in the ass aboard ship.  He’s a devotee of Feng Shui (whatever the heck that is) and has a habit of rearranging the wardroom furniture and cargo pallets to suit notions of “positioning” ... and if you ask him to explain, the answer is so laden with jargon you never understand.  He also claims to be seeking “satori” (whatever the heck that is), and frequently is doing yoga routines, which he insists on following through no matter the emergency.

Still, he’s a good doc, nothing much ever fazes him, he’s a middling shot, he’s fast as hell, and he’ll always throw in to whatever scheme the crew proposes ... including smuggling, which he’s altogether good at doing ...

One thing not readily apparent (and which he’ll conceal from the crew) is that he took permanent damage from chemical agents in the War.  As a result, he doesn’t eat much (and will throw up if he tries), he’s unusually susceptible to toxins, his senses are dulled, he can easily tolerate very cold temperatures, and he’s just not as physically capable about a third of the time.

ST: 11    DX: 14     IQ: 13     HT: 11     Per: 10    Will: 14     Speed: 6  
Advantages:  Cultural Familiarity/Black, Reduced Consumption / 2/3rds food, Temperature Tolerance+1, Unfazeable

Disadvantages:  Berserk (12); Compulsive Behavior / Wanderlust; Disciplines of Faith / "Satori;" Odious Personal Habit / “Feng Shui;” Susceptibility to Poison; Sense of Duty / Crew; War Wounds / -2 everything, on a 9- or less, for two hours

Skills:  Area Knowledge/Black-13; Boxing-14; Calligraphy-12; Crew/Spacer-13; Diagnosis-13; Fast-Draw/sword-14; First Aid-16; Free Fall-13; Gardening-13; Guns/pistol-14; Housekeeping-13; Meditation-13; Philosophy-11; Physician-14; Pressure Points-14; Shortsword-15; Smuggling-13; Surgery-14

Quirks: Bombastic around women; Constantly snacking (but only nibbles); Eats tapioca pearls in drink; Twirls his mustache compulsively

For further explanation of system numbers, check this link. 

02 November 2014

NPC(s) of the Day: Fourteen Lovers

I've participated in a number of collaborative gaming lists on various sites.  The Small Town Horror post I put up a while back was one.  This is another.  As part and parcel of any rational setting, you're going to have couples as NPCs.  Sometimes those romances are more out there and turbulent than others; here are my parts of a collaboration for lovers.  I don't give stats or details -- for a change, plug them in where you'd want them!

The punch line is that, in every case, these are from prominent characters from my own campaign ... or that I've played one side myself as a PC in either tabletop, a MMORPG or a LARP.

My Chemical Romance:  Whether business partners, next door neighbors, rivals, forced allies or arranged spouses, this couple can’t stand each other.  They agree on practically nothing, always trying to score points off of one another, and lose few opportunities to backbite (or even backstab) the other.  Periodically the hostility breaks into a vicious fight ... which inevitably ends in screaming, clawing, prolonged sex, until the parties are sore and exhausted.  He hotly denies they’re actual lovers, she coolly denies it, and they show no signs of any rapport whatsoever the moment the clothes go back on. 

Class Ringwearers: 
Gosh, they’re so in love!  Why they just celebrated their three-month “anniversary” and his class ring hangs around her neck!  By the standards of their culture, they’re underage and/or immature.  The grownups around them are patronizingly dismissive of their “crushes,” and they’re about ready to scream the next time anyone uses the term “puppy love” around them.  Increasingly angry, they’re on the verge of doing something their culture would consider drastic: having sex, getting pregnant, running off to get married, publicly disavowing any arranged future marriage ... whatever it takes to get people to take their love seriously and recognize that it’s for real and forever!

Pre-Raphaelites:  She’s a celebrated artist.  He’s her model.  His face and body have been immortalized in a half-dozen well-known compositions, and his own poetry -- though somewhat amateurish -- shows the illumination of her soul.  But to touch one another would mar the artistic purity of their collaboration (and age, class and possibly marital barriers intrude) ... so for years now they’ve suffered in silence, unable to consummate their relationship, unwilling to part and so lose each other’s muse.

Bennifer:  They were Yesterday’s Supercouple ... rich, celebrated, the hit of their social circle and so totally wrapped up in one another.  But that was then, and events have pulled them apart.  Their lives are going in different directions (well, in truth, they always did) and the spark is gone, however much they’re not particularly willing to admit it.  ‘Tis a pity that everyone still expects to see them together, harmonious and dazzling as ever, and the act is wearing thin.

Mutt & Jeff:  They don’t have a thing in common ... everyone knows it, they freely admit it.  He’s neat and she’s sloppy, she’s athletic and he’s intellectual, he’s dynamic and she’s live-and-let-live, she’s a gourmet and he’s steak-and-potatoes.  Yet when their orbits intersect, they live and love in tender harmony.  No one knows how they do it, and well-meaning people keep trying to pry them apart in favor of “more compatible” partners ... to no avail.

Bonnie & Clyde:  Yep, they’re in love, since the moment they met.  She loves the exciting times he shows her, and he loves the ebullience and intensity of her spirit.  They’re also complete sociopaths, perfectly eager to rape, kill, pillage and torture their way around the landscape.  The wind’s at their backs, their luck is in, and their hands are dripping red.  If they’re doomed to a bad end, they don’t know it (and might not even care): their focus is only on the next jaunt, the next meal, the next kill.

Putting On The Ritz:  See them on the dance floor (or on the concert stage, or performing as a duo at the local Ren Faire, or the ice dancing Nationals ...) and they’re silken smooth.  They’re just arresting to watch, and the aura about them is tangible – their eyes follow one another like magnets.  But this activity and their athleticism are all that really links them, and they’re awkward and uneasy with one another away from the spotlight.  You could scarcely recognize them, with that vast luminosity of theirs shuttered, and two plain, ordinary people left behind.

They can’t keep their hands off of one another.  Ever.  At every conceivable opportunity they’re stealing off for sex of any sort, and in a night camp they don’t bother much with sleep.  Whether wild and clawing, or completely vanilla, they’re screaming with passion at all manner of inconvenient times.  They’re constantly sore and exhausted, but they not only don’t give a damn, they always have those obnoxiously smug, creamy smiles on their faces after.

Double Blind:  She’s the city’s -- and maybe the realm's -- most powerful wizard, and a gifted enchanter and scholar.  He’s an elven prince of a dynasty older than Time, and one of the world’s great swordmakers.  But they both wanted to live simple lives (and find someone who loved them for themselves, not their fame), and both have been slumming with the gypsies: he works as a blacksmith, and she keeps a very discreet magical watch over the encampment.  She’s now pregnant and happily keeping his wagon for him, and neither of them have any idea of one another’s true identity, a difficulty which preys on them both.

Á la lanterne!:  He’s a key player in the revolutionary government.  She’s an actress devoted to smuggling out of the city the “traitorous class” the newly-ensconced rebels are seeking to execute, for their “crimes.”  Honestly, she was only pretending to seduce him just to get him out of the way for a few hours while the rest of the party did the mission ... and things got far, far out of hand.  He knows who she is, now, and neither of them are comfortable with how far they’re compromising their genuine beliefs with one another.  If his comrades knew, he’d be executed; her comrades do know, and while they take advantage of the access, they don’t care for the relationship.  Nonetheless, the lovers are devoted to one another and can’t bear to separate.

Miss me?:  He was rich, powerful, handsome, brilliant.  She was sixteen years old and a fresh, unplucked flower.  He moved on, with his cronies, as he always had ... until six years later, when she returned with his only known heir.  He won’t marry her and she wouldn’t have him, and they’re both at the opposite ends of a vast gulf of class, wealth and bitterness, but they’re forced into cooperation for the sake of the child.  And she remains beautiful and incandescent, and he remains handsome and debonair, and they both hate themselves for the simmering desire for one another they still find they feel.

Ever After:  The duke’s daughter and the princess’ son were content enough to marry; they were of the right age, betrothed as children, and had no objections to one another.  A pair of unique wedding bands were wrought, out of living crystal, by the King’s Enchantress ... and, in a spirit of fun, the duke’s daughter put on hers two days before the wedding, while the young prince’s best friend put the matching band on his finger.  They turned gazes towards one another ... and were enraptured.  Now they’re fleeing for the border, with household troops in hot pursuit, completely unaware that the rings were enchanted to cause love between the wearers, as a kindness by the wizard towards an arranged couple.

Soulmates:  They finish one another’s sentences.  They seem to read one another’s thoughts.  They absolutely anticipate one another’s needs.  They apparently have the same skill set. They’re always together (and seem badly out of sorts and dissonant if forced to be apart for too terribly long), and seem to savor the same activities and hobbies.  They were even raised in the same small neighborhood/estate/village, and share the same background and memories.  (Alright, it's a pity that they're brother and sister, and even in their tolerant culture going that last step is out of bounds, even if they weren't high nobility and destined for arranged marriages.)

Days of Wine and Roses:  She’s all of sixteen years old, and one of her agemates raised by the Wise and Patient Teacher – plucked from the deeps of Time itself to be their tutor – to be one of the prophesied group who would stand against the Darkness.  She’s diligently learned all his martial arts skills, and already is a formidable fighter.  But now, coming to the Big City, they’ve realized that the time and place from which “Teacher” was plucked are here and now.  They've met him, and he's decades younger, at the height of his powers.  She realizes she’s a woman after all, and she wants to be his ... and be damned to the risk to the timestream.