NPCs are tricky to get right. You can pour hours into crafting what you think is an entertaining and engaging character, complete with intricate backstory, only to have the players not like him. Or ignore him. Or rob him blind. Never mind that NPCs can have very short lifespans around players.
And there’s the problem: player choice. Roleplaying is all about choices and options and dynamic stories going in unpredictable directions. Players can choose to kill my NPC because they like his shoes (this has happened). And this can be a really bad thing. Because, while the players now have really nice shoes, they don’t have a quest.
But fear not. I’m an engineer. I’m all about ruthless efficiency. Introducing the Disposable Non-Player-Character. They’re like tissues with personality.
So let’s start with one of the most important NPCs in my current Iron Kingdoms campaign: Anthony Radcliffe. He’s a gruff, cigar-chomping, no-nonsense military commander who hires the players to complete unsavory tasks. He also died in the first campaign session. Got pulped by a heavy warjack hammer blow.
But no worries. The players had their mission and a promissory note good at any Cygnar military base (because these people expect to be paid for their questing).
After looting Anthony’s corpse (because why not?), the players went on to complete their quest. Later, they stopped at a nearby base to get paid. There they met Benjamin Radcliffe: a gruff, cigar-chomping, no-nonsense military commander who hires the players to complete unsavory tasks. He also looks exactly like his brother Anthony. And, surprise surprise, the players managed to get him killed too. This time, he got blown to bits with a chain gun.
Erik: Whoops. My bad.
Jacob Holo: Oh, ha ha. I’ll pretend you didn’t do that on purpose.
But it’s all good. Once again, they completed their mission and regrouped at a coastal town to get paid. There they met Charles Radcliffe: a gruff, cigar-chomping, no-nonsense warcaster. And just to make the story short, he got flattened by a Kraken colossal. Because, you know, sometimes describing the three-story enemy warjack threshing its way through a platoon of troops doesn’t say you-can’t-win-this-fight quite clearly enough. No, it’s much better to paste the important NPC standing next to the players, splatter them with his blood, and make them take terror checks. That gets the message across.
So yeah. I basically threw my own version of Carmine from Gears of War into the campaign. And it’s still all good, because there are plenty of letters left in the alphabet. In fact, they’ve already met Douglas Radcliffe: a gruff, cigar-chomping, no-nonsense undead Cryx pirate captain who has taken them hostage. End of session! To be continued!
Jacob Holo: Well, you did decide to flee blindly aboard a ship in the harbor … while the town was under attack from the sea. Not the smartest move. Just saying.
We’ll see how they handle that next. Should be fun.