NPC's and Monsters: more than Loot Bags?

Pathfinder Online

Silver Crusade Goblin Squad Member

After having read over the various blogs, I have a question for the community: Do we think NPC's should be more than bags of loot just waiting for collection? Should we be able to, for example, pay that orc encampment to raid the guys in the next hex over instead of us?

Long story short, I want to have options beyond "kill it" where it comes to NPC's. Am I alone in this desire?

Goblin Squad Member

Same here. It would be interesting if it were possible to actually 'talk' and maybe even 'trade' or 'ally' with groups of monsters.

Bandits from Scarwall might find it necessary to ally with a nearby tribe of Orcs, funnelling supplies and weapons to the Orcs to build up the NPCs' camp in a neutral, unclaimed Hex into a veritable fort.

From there, the Bandits can request the Orcs attack the other two Factions. In time the Orcs will be slaughtered, inevitably, but while the Players are off playing Hide-The-Bastard-Sword with the Orcs, the Bandits have time to advance their own borders, or if the other two factions try to push both Bandits and Orcs back, have a semi-trusted ally to watch their backs.

Orcs then are less likely to attack the Bandits and far more likely to attack the 'Crusaders' and the 'Grey Knights', but being Orcs, anyone is fair game if the loot and body count drops too low.

Depending upon your allegiance, infamy/renown, class and even religion, NPCs might be willing to talk, and even follow, you into combat should you meet the right criteria.

Sovereign Court

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Well... the way a lot of us have been playing... for many decades... has nothing to do with "kill things and take thier stuff."

In fact that mantra, touted by video gamers and some rpg players alike... such as hackmaster players and so on, usually sounded like distant third cousins to us, rather than players of "the game."

But we didn't judge. We just never wanted to play in games like that... because we found them crass and shallow. Again, no value judgment... just not our cup of tea.

By "us" I mean my local friends, and those who played AD&D with us in the 80s and 90s.

By the time the 2000s roll on in, a lot of folks were already talking like that... like, "kill things and take their stuff." And again, nothing wrong with that... but it wasn't the way we used our npcs and nor was it the way most dungeonmasters I knew... at least not the ones worth their salt would play.

In our games, at least in my groups, during my formative years... the games were quite malleable... no rails, and no rail-roads. The GM would start up... then the players created some drama, then the GM would improv how and when the story hook was laid down. Most often, the GM had no idea how things would end, nor what would transpire between. All he needed was a bit of inspiration, a few npc names, and p74-75 of the DMG open, laying on the floor, or in those rare times we played at a table....

The point is... the npcs were characters just like the ones you find in novels or see in movies... they were indeed 3-dimensional personalities with wants and desires. So... for many years, those GMs in-the-know would make up games on-the-fly, instantly... all they needed were "motivations." They would think, what does that orc leader want? What does the old wizard need? What would the local mayor be willing to do to win that election? And how badly does the villain want those artifacts?

With that in mind, much of my 1990s in college were spent dungeonmastering 3-4 nights a week. I had walk-ins, regularly.... "knock knock"..."my date stood me up, can you run a game for me and my friends... we'd rather do that then go to the bar." etc. etc. Some nights... we'd have 8-10 folks in the basement of the 100 year old dormitory, other nights, it was 4-6 packed in a 10x12 dorm room with a haze of smoke and the smell of cheap beer....

The dungeonmaster (me) would say, hey guys... why don't you pick a character while I think up the story and jot down a few notes. 20 minutes, that's all it took. Bam! We played until 2-3 in the morning. Some nights Dark Sun until the sun rose, then headed for breakfast. Mostly, I made up the game, made up the world, and made up ... everything on-the-fly, with improvisation.... that's where the magic would happen. The players did this too. They'd catch on, they'd catch the magic of improv, and they'd deliver.

Here's why I tell you all this: its really hard to play games where all the npcs are much more interesting alive than dead, UNLESS you're improvising.

By the year 2000, most people I'd met either stopped playing the game, or were being re-introduced to it. The quality of the PAIZO materials in Dungeon and Dragon magazines really brought a lot of us back to the game after a few years of house-buying, marriages, kid-making, etc.

But my response to your question is long I know, and seemingly tangental to your question. But it actually strikes at the heart of it. In the 2000s we were faced with a much cleaner ruleset, a bigger ruleset of D&D, and it was riddles with systems and subsystems. We were either re-learning the game, or those who played IMPROV like I mentioned had fallen away from the game, taking on new responsibilities in life yadda yadaa. But those of us to re-introduced ourselves to D&D found that we were meeting, and I mean really running into a whole new type of "gamer." There was this blend.... youth... lack of tradition... mash-ups.... splatbooks.... tackey character builds.... burlesqued ideas about what the game was.... the old style seemed too... slow for them.... they wanted more rules, faster pace, and choices... Remember this was the first generation to have different color top-surfaces to their cell phones and .mp3 players....

In the end, somewhere in that decade... I stopped running into or hearing about folks who played D&D with improvisation. I learned that most, if not all, were running scripted scenarios... running modules again... By contrast, back in the day, if a GM showed up and read from those tackey little grey boxes we'd run him outta town. We'd say, "that guy doesn't have pathos, doesn't understand humanity, doesn't have flare, doesn't have a sense of drama or imagination" and we'd never play the game with him.

Oh sure there were those who ran Throne of Bloodstone at college, and those who tried Planescape at the tail end of AD&D.... but really, the "magic" of the game, the real heart of suspense, drama, wonder, and imagination... is when neither the players, NOR THE GM, really knows what's gonna happen.

For some, they need a glass of wine to loosen up first. For others, it was lots of cigarettes whilst GMing. But for me... it was... the percentile dice. You see for the longest time, it would be hard to walk in and recognize that we were actually playing AD&D. Anyone entering the room would see dice, mountain dew, maybe some beer or nachos, or the "new" boxed wine boxes.... and there'd just be a bunch of us, guys, gals, whatever, sitting around and our faces would hold the expression of being elsewhere----because we were imagining. We weren't metagaming, we weren't thinking of "killing things and taking their stuff"... we were just THERE. In. The. Milieu..... we were there with the GM... because we knew that we controlled not only our characters but the real outcomes of the game if not the helped shape the game itself as we played.

In THAT context, NPCs become quite real, and villains become marvelously horrible, and everyone shows what drives them, what their ambition is...

And in THAT context, the players can walk over to the orc encampment, lay down gold, and pay them to clear the next hex.

In that context, kings were slayn, new lands discovered, leaders assassinated, generals toppled, whole armies routed, liches slayn by the handful, and the drama of the paladins code, the attitude of the cavalier, the deceptiveness of the thief, and the unpredictable ways of the wild mage were so very compelling. Our characters seemed alive, and real, and the NPCs just as much so.

*end of old guys trip down memory lane*

Oh, and one more thought: Find that magic at your table, encourage real roleplay, tell your players the world is theirs and the story is not scripted, and capture the spirit of what I describe above. This is "source" kid, this is where real verisimilitude begins and ends, having nothing to do with dungeon tiles, tokens, rulesets, sub-systems, point systems, nor even the game books themselves. That's where the NPCs are much, much more than a bag of loot. That's where they deliver messages, meaning, philosophy, and offer a mirror into the humanity that the players relate to or learn from, the NPCs become real-people in the imagination of the players, and then... anything is possible, and everything is magical!

Goblin Squad Member

@Pax Veritas - Exactly. The game is called ROLE playing not ROLL playing.

Although every once in a while, a good ole dungeon crawl is nice. Kick open the door. Kill everything and move on.

Goblin Squad Member

Yeah, I remember those days.

Then again I'll generally have 5 ranks of Diplomacy skill on any character I have. Being a Humanoid Threshing Machine is all well and good, but I enjoyed being able to walk into a tavern and talk to people, and with some characters, that required being able to be able to talk the other patrons around.

But please ... no radial system. Just plain old simple

a) How are you? (greeting)
b) GIVE ME YOUR MONEY! (Intimidate)
c) Hello friend... (Diplomacy)
d) Looking for work? (hire)
e) What's the local gossip? (quests)
f) Anything happening around here (dungeons)

Goblinworks Founder

@Pax Veritas
You remind me of my first and favorite gm. I used to love playing in improve games. It didn't matter if it was the most basic of dungeons or the most intricate of campaigns, every session was amazing. I would always drop subtle hints at my desired direction in games and we would both feed off our improvisation to great effect. I haven't seen said GM for nearly 20 years now as we lost contact but I still remember those games fondly

Goblin Squad Member

NPC's and Monsters: more than Loot Bags?

I think in PFO that is what the other players are for because this way it works better than anything an artifical intelligence could ever do.

Sovereign Court

Well, yeah. Dancey has got the right idea with PFO. We've come out of a decade of "tell me what options I can pick from" and returning to "let's use our imaginations and create a synergy dynamic that drives the story." It's a great time to be a gamer, and those in the industry that remember the old ways and find new ways to realize that glory in-game or online will win tomorrow's market of players who've been starved from having that authority in-game.

But regardless of PFO, anyone can start creating more realistic and dynamic NPCs today at tabletop by simply "letting-go", "going off-script" and improvising. Let the story unfold. Let yourself as a GM enjoy the surprise of where the story goes during the evening's session. When improvisation occurrs, it's easy to stay in-the-moment and free/liberate the NPCs to make decisions other than to die at the hands of capitalist adventurers. lol

Goblin Squad Member

Right, but in table top RPGs NPCs are played by the GM, who is usually a human being.

The term NPC in MMOs is usually reserved for AI (with a lot of A and not much I).

Goblinworks Founder

I cast magic missile at the darkness.

Goblin Squad Member

1 person marked this as a favorite.
Elth wrote:
I cast magic missile at the darkness.

You're not there yet. You're getting drunk.

Sovereign Court

I posted that long, inspired post (above) because someone mentioned this question has been asked in hundred of other threads before.

I realized I had never responded in one of the previous 100s of threads on this topic. And... I kinda thought, what if this time, I could really answer that question... what if the underpinning of why it's asked so often is that folks haven't quite found a way to articulate what's holding up NPCs from being more than loot bags.

Looking back, I re-read my post, and am glad I wrote it (typos and all). Because not enough is said about that kind of play where everyone is really imagining, and there WITH the GM, rather than just looking at their characters as a composite stat build and gaming their next optimal action.

In some ways, the smoke component of the smoke-and-mirrors was replaced. Originally, not knowing all the rules (wonder and mystery), and reliance upon the GM sufficed to keep people generally enthralled... but then to make money a certain game company put all the rules splat-in-front of the player's faces. This decreased some of the inherent wonder and mystery. In it's place, tomes and tomes and tomes of game mechanics and rules sufficed to keep players enthralled... but along the way... in the process of following the exactness of written material guidelines... the brain's center for mystery and illusion was replaced by discussion about mechanics, and builds, and blast templates, or line-of-site indicators, and 5 foot steps of precision to achieve goals, rather than the abstract beauty of one's own inherent imagination.

We're often told by game designers that "we all know how to play." We're told it should be natural since kids are born with an inherent ability to make up games and play. Yet, what we've created around us is an EXTREME aparatus of rules that aren't natural for kids to follow, nor intuitive in many cases, and require more scholarly research before-during-and-after-game than a wizard needs to memorize spells. In effect, it's absolutely natural that all that information has filled the recesses of what was once a relaxed, free... imaginative center of the mind, with the black-and-white text boxes of feat, skill, movement, and other rule action factors.

It's not a bad thing in the least!

I love the Pathfinder RPG game, and it's predecessor.

I think the next natural step for gamers... one that rethinks, "kill things and take their stuff" is not necessarily to go backward, but rather forward to reclaim the wonderment, joy, and innocence of the immagination. This is what generates the most compelling moments of the game, and leaves us feeling very satisfied after "a good evening's game." The old-schoolers, and grognards who play the retrogames are (in my opinion) missing out on the sophistication that 3rd edition and Pathfinder RPG brings to us. It's like being Eddie Van Halen and being able to quantify in music on a guitar any stray melody that runs through his head, then instantly play it. 3rd edition and Pathfinder RPG gives us ALL the tools we need to realize anything we imagine in a "game" context. It hasn't robbed us of our childhood imagination, nor has it compromised the game in any way. Let's face it, it's 2012... and what must happen now, as our gaming community evolves, is to look forward to the future. The call to action is simple:

> Now that the ruleset is sophisticated and precise, challenge yourself as a player to be equally sophisticated with your imagination and contribution with improvisation in the game.

If this call to action makes some A-types, analysts, system engineers, or otherwise rules lawyers uncomfortable... then so-be-it. It's time to reclaim the magic of the game from the clutches of those who would quantify it solely on ruleset details. Retake the game and say, "I WANT IT ALL! The most awesome ruleset AND the most awesome, contributive, players willing to risk their discomfort by really improvising and playing their characters.

If I had one wish... just one... for the future of this industry... It would be for GMs/DMs to expect more from players.... and perhaps this could open up new industry product markets as we "re-teach" our generation how to dream, how to drift off to that magical place of Golarion or Greyhawk and stay present, in first person, and act, say, do as your character would... to look at the game with the mind's eye... and join the GM in crafting the story together like co-conspirators, co-gamemasters, as we all stay in-the-moment collectively when we play, rather than fumbling through electronic devices or books.

When it's time to play, play hard... and risk the discomfort of not being the best actor... risk your own sense of not being the best at improvising... because guess what: kids are born knowing how to play, and that magic of inspired, improvisational play brings magic to your table when we're all working toward that kind of experience.

The way I see it: Pathfinder RPG is the very best, most sophisticated, intelligent, effortful manifestation of the game, EVER. The game ruleset has evolved, but players (and playership) got lost somewhere along the way. What is next for the industry is to rekindle that spirit of gaming, and watch the explosive power of collective imaginings ignite our favored hobby once again!

Goblin Squad Member

Amen and +1, though I would have posted this in "General" rather then "Pathfinder Online".

Goblin Squad Member

Alexander_Damocles wrote:

After having read over the various blogs, I have a question for the community: Do we think NPC's should be more than bags of loot just waiting for collection? Should we be able to, for example, pay that orc encampment to raid the guys in the next hex over instead of us?

Long story short, I want to have options beyond "kill it" where it comes to NPC's. Am I alone in this desire?

This is exactly some of the kind of stuff I was talking about with my "parley" ability in my topic on social skills.

While too complex of a system would be mind boggling to program I am sure, some simple options that could change the AI's behavior or cause them to move to a new hex prompted by social skills would be very nice.

Goblin Squad Member

I think variety in interactions with NPC's can only be a good thing. The blogs mention that if players are not "fighting back the wilderness" the wilderness and associated mobs will spread and subsequently attract/spawn more powerful mobs - which is instrumental in changeable/frontier world and the opposite of player's civilizing a Hex and practically dominating it (pull/push). This reminds me a little of what Rift devs mentioned about upping the frequency of rifts and spawning. And GW2 the devs mentioned they want to add more chains post release to dynamic events to mix things up as well as these things interact independenly of players ie control of an area.

The next step would be if players could direct these sorts of shift directly dealing with NPCs - paying them coin/virgins/alliance or whatever.

An alternative, especially in a single-shard server would be the devs having the means to enact these sorts of things manually if it's a pain to code up and cross-reference everything. Just plonk a bunch of mobs down and let them at it or speed up the settings so the new spawning rate acts as if player's negotiations initiated the NPC mobs to battle, harass an area? Some sort of manual addition Eg "In 2 moons time we'll strike" scheduled in.

Any of the above would be good additions to feed between pve and pvp. But so long as players themselves can deal with different factions and companies and kingdoms, this will inevitably be where the greatest scope for diverse (social) interactions to be had. But getting NPC factions/mobs "on side" and change of status "my enemy is your enemy" would be neat.

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