Monday, November 23, 2009

Keep Them Guessing

At Dark Horse comics, you've got the cover, summary, and preview for the volume 9 of Berserk.
Over at En World, on the ole General RPG Discussion, I've been in the middle of several debates involving the use of Non-Player Characters.
One of the generic elements of the Dungeons and Dragons game is accepting employement from people who may be more powerful than you. In my own campaigns, the reasons why the players do it vary and the players never fully trust the NPCs due to my own handling of said NPCs, but it's rare that they question the motivation of the NPC by asking why the NPC doesn't do it.
Which got me to thinking about the power levels of NPCs. Most of them don't go around carrying huge signs and at a certain point, most characters are going to appear to be fairly potent even though they're not. A high level minion is still high level no?
In this book, during a fair, we're introduced to several characters. One of them, the Skull Knight, is something of an oracle in that he predicts vague futures. I've mentioned before that if you're going to try to use propehcy in the game that you should make it as all purpose and open to interpetation as possible. This prevents you from wedging yourself into a corner or using some odds and evens to make things work as they've been predicted to.
Another one of the characters introduced is Valancia, the King of Massacre who is supposed to have killed over one hundred soldiers while the other is known as Silat and uses the weapons of his home country. Based on the illustration, you'd think that Valancia would be the quick win.
You'd be wrong.
Mix it up with the players by going into description of how fierce and determined their foes look. Make sure the players see the well worn weapons their foes are using, that they know these are experienced enemies.
And then let them take down those foes like wheat! It's part of 'letting the players be cool', but it's also a showcase that there's always someone more powerful than you. After all, despite Silat's impressive performance against Valancia, the foreign fighter gets taken down in the tournament and then again when the stakes are more serious.
Another thing to note the use of NPCs here, and it's a minor one that could (and in the case of Berserk does), lead to foreshadowing, is using them to showcase the width of the world. Silat is from a near Middle East/India/Mogul style land with weapons that would be considered exotic and foreign in many standard campaign settings, another parallel with the Black Company series when the soldiers go south.
By using unfamiliar elements that have similiar functions to existing equipment, the Game Master can provide the players with a touch of the exotic and allow them to know that the world is larger than just this town, just this country, just this continent or even at higher levels of play, just this world.
Keep the players guessing as to what's coming down the pipeline and they'll be eager to see where the rabbit hole goes.