Monday, February 6, 2012

Breaking Bad Season 2 by AMC: NPC Archetypes

Breaking Bad Season 2 continues the exploration of Walter and his associate Jessie as they continue to run the drug game. Spoilers will follow as I discuss various characters from the show and how they might be incorporated into role playing games.

Saul: This season introduces Saul. When spoken of by Jessie, it's indicated that Saul isn't a real 'good' lawyer but he is a real good criminal lawyer. Not necessarily a lawyer specializing in criminal cases, but a lawyer's whose methodology makes him a little too suspect in anything that happens around him.

In many ways, Saul is the perfect NPC to assist players in almost any type of setting. His outlook is one motivated by the reality of the situation and a lack of morality. If it earns him funds, he can look into it. He is a man who knows others. He is a person who can connect people to the other right people. He can look death in the eye as an option for an associate if it's going to save a better associate from prison. He is able to create frame jobs for those who need a fall guy. He is able to break barriers between things that have happened and their root causes.

When creating an individual like Saul in a role playing game, it's all in the context. For example, when he first meets Walt, the good chemist is coughing. Later on, when Walt and Jessie kidnap Saul at gunpoint and threaten to kill him, when Walt coughs, Saul recognizes it and begins the negotiations in earnest. Observation is a key skill for Saul in this instance. His physical aspects may not be much and his actual charisma may not be much, but when it comes to getting people what they want and earning himself a nice profit, that aspect is not a problem.

Saul is also brutally honest. He remarks several times to the duo that their efforts thus far as made of fail. That they need to just handle working their own formula and allow others to handle the different aspects of things, like the marketing and selling because their own efforts at doing so far have landed them with very little cash.

Other characters may not play a huge role in the series in terms of longevity, but their utility in moving the characters is huge. Take for example Jane.

Jane is a former drug user who rents Jessie, a current drug user an apartment. You can already see where this one is going right? But how can you use someone like Jane in a RPG?

Such characters almost fall under the 'DNPC' or Dependant NPC (non-player character) where they're almost there to cause more problems then they are worth. But they have some hook or tie to the main character.

For example, if the group has an alchemist or magician or other type of individual that does some type of lab work, perhaps she used to be an alchemist herself but found the urge to mix certain types of chemicals too much? Perhaps she uses these same chemicals on others because she wants to share her joy and ecstasy in them?

But in and of herself, her ability to influence isn't that great until we come across her complications. In many instances, like Gwen Stacy from old Marvel Comics Spider Man fame, her ultimate role is to die in order to push the character she's attached to in a different direction. In this case, that would be her father, Donald. Turns out that this air-traffic controller has the property rights to where Jessie is living and even worse, has the dreaded cell phone and can call the police at any time if Jessie doesn't vacate and leave his daughter alone. This ability is because he has power over Jesssie.

In a role playing game, what type of power can a relative hold over the characters? This could range from trading rights if the players are land owners, to higher taxes, to calls to banish the characters because they are quite literally a threat to the city.  This type of character should be a contest that the players generally can't just walk up to and murder.

Another aspect of Donald's character though, is that when his daughter dies of an overdose, he is grief struck. Despite that, he still goes into work and manages to get a lot of people killed. Imagine that this alchemical assistantt dies and that her father, an archemage is one of a handful who can renew spells and rituals and locks on a dark and demonic presence and that in his current state of mind, he blows it and this winds up killing a lot of people.

While Jane and Saul are interesting character in their own way and right, it's when we get to individuals like Gus that make things potentially interesting. Gus, like Saul, is a businessman. Unlike Saul however, Gus is on a much higher level with a much deeper game. Running someone like Gus can be difficult because it requires the GM to almost cheat at what he does with the character. Someone like Gus needs to be something like a head of a guild or the head of a noble family. He needs to be someone who has a lot of influence and isn't afraid to use it.

In his real job, so to speak, he's the owner of a chain of restaurants. In his real illegal job, he's a distributor that has chains in many states. This could be problematic in a role playing game that isn't modern or futuristic in that transportation in the dark ages can be a bit problematic, relying on well worn road ways and sea ways. However, its not impossible. If the players go from town to town and keep finding the same Inn or the same Tavern run by people who actually have their own uniforms, code of conduct, and similar recipes, they should know that there is something different about the owner.

An individual like Gus would take full advantage of his setting. In a magic based setting, he might have magic items that protect him from divination magics. He might have potions or rings that are one shot items that allow him to make a hasty retreat or summon aid.

He's also someone that the players should have a very difficult time getting hold of and someone who has multiple groups of agents throughout the realm. If playing using the Pathfinder RPG and setting for example, he might run several lodges of Pathfinders, each group reporting to him, perhaps not even aware of the other groups.