Contacts: Its All About Who You Know
In most games, the job of creating non-player characters falls onto the shoulders of the gamemaster. It is up to him/her to flesh them out and make them interesting elements of the game’s story, as well as linking them to the player characters whenever possible. There are two games that come to mind, however, that take a portion of this burden off of the gamemaster’s shoulders by giving this task, at least in part, to the players.
In The Dresden Files RPG, players and the gamemaster work together to design both the city and many of the non-player characters that populate it during the character creation process. This helps not only form ties with NPC’s, but also fleshes out the setting so that it feels like its own unique character. Doing this not only lets the players shape the environment their characters will experience, but helps them flesh out their own character’s background by filling it with unique and interesting people they have met during their time there. What is more interesting than a European Warden of the White Council recently come to the States? One with a British mentor who was recently paralyzed when she was betrayed by White Court Vampires, but who still wants to help her favorite protegee however she can.
Shadowrun also does this with NPC’s by making “contacts” a central part of character creation. Along with the normal attributes and skills of a character, runners may also purchase contacts with ratings of “Loyalty” (how much they like your character) and “Connection” (how much information/resources they have at their disposal). In doing this, it expands on what characters can do independently. A gunslinger might not have any skill at hacking, for example, but nothing stops her from knowing a well-to-do hacker who is easily bored and obsessed with muffins (yes, this an actual in-game example). While this doesn’t mean that the gunslinger’s contact will do all the matrix work for the group, or leave another player’s hacker in the dust, it does mean that they will have an additional source of information regarding matrix news or hacker gossip to go to, or maybe even backup for diving those highly patrolled nodes, which can be crucial.
I have come to love the idea of players creating their own NPC’s. I don’t feel that this takes away from the freedom of running a game. If anything, I would say that it empowers it as the players are already giving you control of characters that they are invested in, having created the NPC’s themselves. One fellow gamemaster and I are in agreement that contacts are what make Shadowrun such a wonderful game, and The Dresden Files RPG is a favorite among many of my gamers.
A lot of times, players will create NPC’s through their character’s back story. Even something as simple as “something took my mother when I was a child” translates to both that character’s mother and whatever took her eventually being NPC’s. This merely lets the players have a more direct hand in matters, and not to the extent of creating enemies to defeat, but friends they can call on. Life, after all, is about who you know.
Within the next few weeks, I will be starting up a new Anima: Beyond Fantasy game for my monthly group, and at the behest of one of my players I plan on introducing a house-ruled version of contacts into the game. Seeing how much it has done for these other games, I am interested in trying it out for a game that doesn’t already have it as part of its design. I recommend all gamemasters give this a try. Let your players have more control in the design of the campaign, more so than just by their character’s action. Let them build NPC’s. Let them design locations. Let them immerse themselves in the world you collectively create.
Image Credit: Photos.com