In my discussion a few weeks ago about playing Forbidden Lands 1-2-1, with only the GM and one player, I talked about giving the player some non-player characters to supplement their skill set. These would make up their group, their entourage, coterie, gang, posse, troop, band, tribe, crew, team, company, clan, squad or crowd. These are the player’s friends, family, paid-up hired hands or others who happen to find themselves alongside them, all to help the player out.
You might be thinking that’s fine: as a GM I’ll just think about these NPCs in more detail. But sometimes it’s nice to have a little help, and nice to not quite know what the future might hold. That’s what I’m offering.
Now, these NPCs won’t be traditional NPCs. They won’t be controlled by any one person, but in three parts will be influenced by: the Player; the GM; and by the roll of the dice.
They are not true NPCs, and neither are they true Game Master Characters (GMCs). So I’m going to call them “Party Player Characters” or PPCs.
Next I thought about my favourite books and films where this dynamic kind of plays out. The things that came to mind were Frodo Baggins, with his trusty friend Samwise Gamgee, Dr Who and all his (her) various assistants and companions, Sherlock Holmes and Dr Watson, and obviously Star Wars, with Chewbacca, R2D2, C3PO and a host of others.
These are all good examples of the kind of thing I’m talking about, but what social elements arise from these stories that we might want to include in ours?
First, and most obviously from that list, it’s Loyalty:
In most cases these close characters are very loyal to their lead player. But in gaming terms 100% loyalty might get pretty boring pretty fast. Surely these Party Player Characters have their own desires and ambitions, pet peeves and red lines? There has to be a dynamic that leaves in doubt whether the party member would risk their life to save the player, or back her up in a tight spot, or not steal a few coins from her unattended money bag?
Next comes Love, and with it, Hate:
PPCs who are working with their player will usually feel favourably towards them. It may not be love, but it might. But what about a PPC who actually dislikes his player, but could still be loyal? Or a PPC who loves their player but isn’t very loyal? This might not be an unreasonable situation and immediately brings up some tantalising role-playing possibilities for that group of PPCs.
And then there’s Group dynamics:
Do all the PPCs like each other? Are they competing to get the player’s attention, or convince them to a course of action that goes against the interests of others in the group?
I’m sure there are lots of other connotations that might work here, as well.
So how can we make this work?
For each Party Player Character you need to record a few things, all pretty standard for Forbidden Lands. These are:
– Their Name
– Their Job (if they have one – this certainly applies to PPCs who have a role in your Stronghold, but may also apply to others as well).
– Stats (I’d suggest you roll 1d4 for each Stat).
– Skills (I think PPCs should maybe have three skills. If they have a job there will, in all likelihood, be an obvious skill they should possess and that should be included. For the other skills, roll randomly: and roll 1d3 for the skill level of each skill).
– Talents – some Jobs come with a Talent (for example, the Master Builder hireling has the BUILDER talent).
– Gear – there may be obvious items of gear they would have, and it’s up to the GM to decide what this may be.
– Notes – both the Player and the GM will want to record any interesting points about the PPC. These might relate to how they were employed, or the circumstances of their introduction to the player. Some may well be unknown to the Player as well…
– Personality Traits:
Now this is where the character of the PPC really starts to emerge.
Each member of your party has 8 Traits, which are actually 8 pairs of linked and opposite traits. Each pair has a total of 10 dice to divide between them, showing how strongly that PPC relates to one end of the spectrum or to the other.
The Traits are:
LOYAL & DISLOYAL
LOVE & HATE
COURAGEOUS & COWARDLY
CONTENT & GREEDY
HONEST & DISHONEST
GOOD WORKER & SLACKER
PEACEFUL & VIOLENT
CHARISMATIC & LONER
For the first – generally positive – aspect of each Trait you roll 1d10 and that is the score for the positive aspect of the trait. Then subtract that score from 10 to give you the score for the opposite – generally negative – aspect. So for example, for LOYAL I roll my d10 and score 4 so that PPC’s LOYAL score is 4. Taking that from 10 mean his DISLOYAL score is 6.
How do these scores work in game? Well, there are a couple of ways:
First and foremost, the scores give you a general sense of the PPC’s personality and that immediately begins to build their character. This in itself might throw up scenario ideas and plot lines, but it will also help the GM role play the character and make him or her a more three dimensional person.
Second, the trait score tells you the number of dice you roll if any of these traits – positive or negative – need to be tested. The trait test is always an opposed roll, which simulates the internal thinking of the PPC, one trait’s positive aspect against another’s negative aspect. The GM would choose the most appropriate opposed trait to see which wins out and how the PPC would respond. In the vast majority of cases the opposing Trait cannot be the linked Trait, so you wouldn’t roll LOYAL dice vs DISLOYAL dice, for example (although if the test is purely related to one Trait, and no other opposing Trait fits narratively, then you can test the positive vs negative aspects of one Trait).
For example, if you set a task for your PPC but his SLACKER trait is high the GM might roll to see if the PPC slacks off to see his girlfriend. The Party Player Character’s tendency to SLACK might be modified by his HONESTY or LOYALTY to the player. The GM would roll the SLACKER dice pool, and the Player the positive trait pool (in this example, LOYAL). If the SLACKER roll wins (ie, gets more successes than the LOYAL roll) the PPC slacks off and your pigs go unmucked. A tie would mean the PPC does what he’s asked, but maybe goes off to do his job grumbling under his breath and kicking at the dust.
Another example might be when the player is in danger, and she cries for help. In the face of danger the PPC might hesitate to act, so the Trait test would be LOYAL or LOVE (choose the highest) rolled against HATE or COWARDLY (whichever seems most appropriate in the circumstances). The outcome would dictate the PPC’s behaviour: one success in favour of the player might have him react but not put himself in too much danger; two or more successes might mean the PPC throws himself in front of the beast about to maul his master and friend.
So, to summarise:
1. In play, the Player has her party, uses them to help her and do tasks, and usually they will comply without question: they are an extension of the Player’s character.
2. But the GM will also influence what the PPCs do. When it feels right the GM should call a Trait roll and then narrate the outcome, based on the roll of the dice.
3. The GM should also develop story lines and character desires and quirks for the PPCs that might start out as unknown to the Player. These will also drive the PPC’s actions, drive Trait rolls and maybe cause changes to the PPCs Trait score themselves, especially if the Player behaves particularly nicely, or harshly, towards their party.
The last thing to mention is Advancement and Character development.
There are two elements to this:
Advancing your PPC’s skills: I’m not sure this is such a great idea, although the prospect of your party adventuring alongside the Player and never getting better at anything seems a bit odd. So, the simplest thing would be to allow the PC to spend their XP on a PPC – in the usual way – instead of on themselves, should they wish to. They’d need to bear in mind there is a risk in doing this: the PPC might get killed the next day, or be harbouring some hidden resentment that’s been building for weeks and might use that new MELEE skill in a way of which you’d disapprove!
Changing Traits: the PC might want to improve the LOYALTY or CONFIDENCE of a particular PPC, and can spend 1 XP to shift the balance of a Trait in whichever way they choose, remembering that the total for both linked Traits is 10 (to use my example of earlier, the PC could spend 1 XP and change the LOYAL and DISLOYAL scores from 4 and 6 respectively, to 5 and 5). Each Trait can only be shifted by 1 point per session.
Below I have added a random Skills Table and a PPC Template if you want to try it out.
I think this would bring some great elements to a game, and a fresh dimension to make a 1-2-1 game really work, but it hasn’t been play-tested. And – if you like the idea – there’s no reason to limit it to just 1-2-1 games: you could apply it to Forbidden Lands more generally, to bring greater depth and gaming potential for your Stronghold denizens and workers. I get that this might not be for everyone, and that in some circumstances it might be too much book-keeping for a lot of PPCs (especially if you have a large Stronghold and staff), but if you like the idea give it a go and let me know how it pans out!
Here’s the Template:
and the Random Forbidden Lands skills table: