Shout and Cry

Players spend a great deal of time detailing their characters; indeed, one could say that players know them intimately. In the Master’s humble opinion, it is the goal of most, if not all, players to create living, breathing characters with depth and detail. Some succeed; some do not…

NPCs (non-player characters) represent all the characters within your Rokugan other than those of the players’. Given the countless hordes of such NPCs in the average L5R campaign, how exactly does an ST ensure that they are all flavorful and distinct. And indeed, should they be? Couldn’t we just get tea from a plain old server at the tea house and be on with it anyway?

In short: no.

While some NPCs will, by nature, less detailed than others, a good ST should recognize that any interaction with an NPC is an opportunity for both roleplay and the reinforcement of the “realism” of the game world. The very last thing one wants from players is a comment to the extent of “he’s just a villager…let’s get on with the adventure”. These feeling and comments pull the players out of the shared world experience, and lessen the suspension of disbelief.

“So,” you think, “what do you suggest, oh ‘Master’. After all, I’m not spending forty minutes roleplaying drinking tea or getting directions…again!” Indeed not.

To the point…some suggestions and thoughts:

The List of Names: Having a scratchpad of names on hand is standard advice to GMs in many systems. Being able to provide the name of any given NPC at any time reinforces the “reality” of the game setting. Have both Family names – including minor Families – and given names ready on scratch paper.

More Names: While Rokugan is not Japan, take advantage of the similarities. Perhaps use a Japanese dictonary to find appropriate Rokugani names based on single or dual word descriptions of your NPCs. A single word can help an ST fix the concept of an NPC in mind. For instance, you might jot the word “sloth” down, thinking of a particularly lazy character. Consulting a dictionary, you decide the name is “Bushou” (Japanese for sloth). The Master finds the on-line English-Japanese dictionary to be of great assistance. Additionally, throw in Korean, Chinese, etc. A Note: this is a lazy American technique….absolutely no insult is intended to those of Japanese descent.

Write it down: Keep ideas for NPCs in a notebook, PalmPilot, textfile and transfer it to your GM notes later. Inspiration strikes at odd moments – you may find yourself with inspiration for an NPC that has nothing whatsoever to do with your current story…write it down and keep her available for future use. The Master has been inspired on more than one occasion by a stray through during a lunchbreak, and e-mailed a quick note to himself to the home e-mail account for later development and use. Waste not, want not!

Keep a page or two of standard NPC stats on hand for improvisational use during the game. Generic stats matched with a quick selection of a name from your name list, and you have a instant NPC.

Keep yet another page or column for one word adjectives. Couple these with your names and generic stats, and you now have motivations, quirky appearances, or odd relations.

Shout and cry; ham it up. If you bring out the NPC, enjoy the NPC. Speak as the NPC. Shout if they would shout. Whisper if they would whisper. Cry if they cry. The more you play the role, the more the players will rise to the occasion – and the more real your portrayal.

Practice cut scenes rather than cut NPCs. If you would prefer not to roleplay the scene or NPC (such as yet another lunch in an inn), then the scene has no purpose – you should narrate the result quickly and move to the next scene of importance. Don’t cheapen your NPCs (yes, even the eta) by portraying them as cardboard cutouts. Instead, skip the scene entirely.

Good gaming!

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