The role of NPCs in QuestWorlds

NPCs, Non-Player Characters, Supporting Characters, Those Who Are Controlled by the Game Master, you name it. They are a crucial part of any world the players are playing in. Players will interact or ignore them, sometimes help or are helped by them. They are the antagonists and quest-givers. Sometimes they might have close relationships with the main characters, be it spouse or sidekick or just a person the PCs know.

QuestWorlds, as a roleplaying system, doesn’t give NPCs any special rules. They are part of the world, and narration, as are other aspects of the world. They might cause contests the characters have to solve, just like landscape barriers, or cause the characters to embark on a quest. Their agenda and actions are not determined with the dice unless it is the player characters who are influencing them. They are an active part of the story and the environment the player characters navigate in. I will now present a couple of viewpoints on how you can deal with NPCs when playing a game of QuestWorlds.

Attack On Titan
Attack On Titan by hifarry (CC-BY-NC-ND-3.0)

NPC as a participant of a contest

It would be tempting to take Game Master or player control of an NPC that has been with the group for the better part of the scenario when our heroes finally meet the final boss. (Remember, in QuestWorlds combat is no more special contest than any other.) The GM could throw dice for the NPC and then for the resistance the NPC is facing. This would, essentially, turn the NPC into a GM-PC. And that is generally considered a bad idea. Having the NPC as an active contest participant also adds more crunch, especially if there are multiple NPCs, and takes the spotlight away from the actual stars, the player characters.

The participating NPCs are a great narrative tool, trump card even, and should be treated as such. Are the characters facing a hard time due to bad dice rolls? Maybe the NPC is doing badly as well and suffers the same consequences with the characters requiring assistance from the player characters. Or maybe the one-degree defeat is interpreted so that the NPC just saves the PC and they won’t get hauled by the bad guy. Bumping a one success roll to two roll success with a story point can be narrated as help from the NPC with a shared background. You can tilt the contest narration in many directions with an NPC. If the NPC is just another participant these kinds of narrative maneuvers become harder to execute.

Example of using NPC as a narrative tool
The heroes have taken Dooley, the young inexperienced member of the clan, with them to the bar. They are looking for information to get into the headquarters of a rival clan. They grab drinks when they spot Sotho, the henchman from the rival clan, arriving. Sotho didn’t spot them and the heroes decide to tail him to find out why did he came here. The heroes engage in a group contest. The goal of the contest is to find out why Sotho is here and not to get seen by him. The contest results in a three-degree defeat! They lose track of Sotho and after searching for him for a good while they return to their table. And there Sotho is having a relaxed conversation with Dooley, who is soaked in booze and spilling all their secrets to their rival.

Retainers, sidekicks and other followers

I have to note retainers and sidekicks. The difference between these is that sidekick is an individual, with a name and personality. Retainers are more anonymous, and replaceable, servants and helpers. In QuestWorlds terminology they are called followers.

A follower is under the control of the player for a reason. The follower is part of the hero, in the story sense. The followers get screen time with the hero and don’t really turn their back to the heroes. If the player rolls really bad with the follower’s ability the GM and the player might rule that the follower, for example, briefly gets angry at the hero. Remember, the GM shouldn’t make the followers do unexpected things like this unless it is approved by the player.

As a follower isn’t an NPC, the player can use their abilities directly to resolve contests. They also have an effect on the contests rules-wise. The follower can act as a contestant in the contest and thwart multiple opponent penalties.

Example of using followers
Arlyn and her sidekick (follower), who is also her brother, Geeko are finally facing the titan they have spent a good time hunting. The goal of this climactic long contest is none other than destroying the titan for good. The player gets to roll and decide for both characters increasing the player’s possibility to defeat the titan.

Glory charge by gtanoofa (CC-BY-3.0)

NPCs as a crowd the PCs command

Sometimes the NPCs are somewhat directly commanded by the PC but they are not retainers. Remember, retainers are part of the character and should be noted on the sheet. For example, an army squad leader might have ten NPCs under their command. But the squad is a bunch of individual NPCs with their own agendas and ideas controlled by the GM. Now, to get the NPCs to do what their leader wants might be a contest. For example, getting the squad to charge against an overwhelming enemy might require a contest. In this case, you should roll with the leader’s ability, probably some kind of squad leader keyword. Succeeding in this gets the squad to charge. The GM might even interpret the outcome of the fight from this roll. Or the group might still lose but they still trust their leader. It’s all about the framing of the contest. Remember, an assured contest can be quite valid in these cases, too.

NPCs as relationships

The PC might also have a relationship with an NPC. Again, the NPCs, and their agenda, are controlled by the GM. But the relationship to the NPC might help the PC to solve an obstacle. Relationships, like other abilities, are just abilities: ways to solve story obstacles. Succeeding with the ability means the NPC is willing to help. Any consequences can be narrated as wrinkles in the relationship.

Dooley is now a player character. He has a special relationship with the clan leader’s daughter, Jarleena. As a result of him spilling the secrets, he is commanded to this very dangerous mission. To avoid going to the mission the player decides to use the relationship with the daughter. Dooley succeeds with zero degrees. The GM interprets this as Jarleena using her charm to get his dad to retract the decision. But Jarleena does not like cowards and the GM gives a -5 penalty to Dooley’s relationship ability.

Implied relationship through a keyword or an ability

It might be feasible to argue that a keyword (or an ability) also includes contacts. For example, the squad leader keyword might imply that the squad leader has contacts inside the army organization even though the contacts are not specified.

According to QuestWorlds rules this kind of implied contact would always be a stretch (QW SRD 6.4).

Example of implied contact
The group of squad leaders is in Paris drinking heavily while on their holiday. They would need to check in tomorrow morning but they don’t really have any idea how they get themselves at the barracks at that time. The player character tries to use his squad leader keyword to, unofficially, call in a driver from the barracks. He surely has had many drivers under his command and treated them well. The GM rules this as a stretch. Still, the player succeeds with two degrees. The driver is happy to make the ride and gets some of their personal chores handled during the same trip. They avoid any patrols and are present the next morning on the call.