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GM Advice: NPC Personality and Purpose

No matter how cleverly an NPC is designed (in terms of Attributes, Peculiarities, and equipment), that NPC is likely to be flat and forgettable without an interesting personality and some understandable purpose.

PERSONALITY: This really goes without saying but, unless an NPC has a personality, he is likely doomed to be just another forgettable combat encounter or living prop. Moreover, an NPC’s personality is not particularly interesting unless it is somehow made apparent to the PCs. For example: If an NPC is a raving lunatic, the GM might seize opportunities to have the NPC cackle in the midst of combat, make insane comments, etc. If an NPC is bitter, the GM might have him regularly spit insults or complaints. If an NPC is vengeful, the GM might have him gush about how long he has waited to finally have his revenge, etc. Without such obvious personality “reveals,” the only one who will know the NPC even has a personality is the GM.

PURPOSE: Perhaps just as important as personality is purpose. I remember a game in which I privately commented to the GM that there was a lack of role-playing opportunities. The next thing I knew, our party ran across an NPC that had an interesting backstory and was happy to talk . . . but he had absolutely no purpose (i.e., he did not contribute to the story in any way, aside from telling us his story). This NPC might have been much more interesting had he arrived with a purpose (such as searching for a missing friend or loved one). The PCs then might have assisted the NPC on a side quest that made his backstory more significant and the entire encounter more memorable.

Often an NPC’s purpose will be simple, such as a barkeep whose purpose is to run a bar, or a merchant whose purpose is to sell goods. Even then, however, a more unique purpose can make for a more memorable NPC. For example: Maybe the NPC barkeep is fed up with the town’s tyrannical ruler but is unwilling to oppose the ruler openly. Such a barkeep might keep his ears open for those that share his views and might prove to be a valuable source of information or resources in addition to an excellent role-playing opportunity.

The importance of purpose holds true for villains as well. The old trope of an evil mastermind willingly divulging his goals and plans to his enemy can be an excellent role-playing device, as it serves to relay to (or confirm for) the PCs that the villain actually has a purpose. Without such a clear purpose, the villain risks becoming just another forgettable boss at the end of another forgettable dungeon/mission.

As a final example of these points, my friends and I recently completed a reasonably long (and very enjoyable) adventure in which an insanely powerful member of the dark fairy-folk had created a magical device that threatened the entire land. No matter what we did, this NPC villain was several steps ahead of us . . . and his tricks and schemes presented interesting challenges for us to overcome. The biggest problem was that, as far as we could tell, the villain had no personality and no purpose . . . other than being evil. Even in the final battle, where the villain stood unmolested at the back of his forces, he didn’t taunt us, threaten us, or really say anything at all . . . and he certainly never revealed what drove (or inspired) him to engage in such a sinister plan. So, while the adventure itself was memorable, the main villain was not. And he very easily could have been had the GM taken steps to demonstrate the villain’s personality and purpose.

Limitations of “Limited Telepathy”

“PW: Limited Telepathy” is “limited” in that it is simply a method of communication and, therefore, cannot be used for aggressive purposes (such as reading someone’s mind, implanting disturbing thoughts, driving someone insane, preventing sleep, etc.) Some common attempts to misuse Limited Telepathy are 1) bombarding a recipient with telepathic messages until they “break” and do something the sender wants, or 2) tricking the recipient into thinking the telepathic message is the voice of God, the voice of the recipient’s superior, etc.

In regard to the first, because Limited Telepathy is a non-aggressive form of communication, any recipient can choose to ignore (and essentially “block”) messages from an unwelcome sender. Thereafter, the recipient might remain aware that the sender is attempting communication, but this awareness will not be distracting, disturbing, or even annoying.

In regard to the second, in the world of The Savage Soul, the existence of telepathic communication is almost as well known as the existence of mobile phones in the modern world. Thus, when a recipient hears a voice in his mind, he is far more likely to conclude that it is a telepathic communication, rather than the voice of God, the voice of his conscience, the voice of madness, etc., just as if someone in the modern world were to receive a telephone call from someone claiming to be God. Additionally, Limited Telepathy does not automatically grant the ability to mimic voices (or similarly imitate other individuals). In fact, one’s telepathic “voice” is even more unique than one’s spoken voice. So, even with a high Performance attribute, “PW: Voice Mimic,” etc., it will be very difficult for the sender of a telepathic message to convincingly imitate (or conceal the identity of) someone the recipient actually knows.

As always, if an individual GM wishes to allow a creative use of Limited Telepathy in any given situation, that is his prerogative . . . but he should be aware of the slippery slope that could lead to repeated misuse of what was meant to be a communication ability.

Task Assistants . . . In Reverse!

While this mechanic is not discussed in any version of the rules, just as the “Task Assistants” rule recognizes the advantage of having multiple characters attempt to perform certain tasks, there are also cases where having multiple characters engage in a task can be detrimental. The most common example is Sneaking, where it is easier for one character to go undetected than for multiple characters to go undetected. In such case, the GM may wish to employ the “Task Assistants” rule in reverse, by requiring the character with the LOWEST applicable attribute to make the Task Attempt, and applying a PENALTY based upon the number of characters engaged in the task (2 Characters = -1, 4 Characters = -2, 8 Characters = -3, etc.) Similarly, bonuses such as the +2 for “SK: Sneak” will only apply if all the characters are entitled to the bonus.

For example: Kelly (Stealth 6 with “SK: Sneak”), Diago (Stealth 5), and Mich (Stealth 7) are trying as a group to sneak past the guards of a port city. Applying the Task Assistants rule in reverse, Diago would be required to make the task attempt and would apply a -1 penalty (for a total of 3 characters) for a total Attempt Bonus of +4. Kelly’s “SK: Sneak” Peculiarity will not provide any bonus to this attempt, because neither Diago nor Mich have “SK: Sneak.”


One thing I am particularly excited about in connection with the 2022 Edition is that it will have a detailed index! Making the index was a lot of work; but it needed to be done. I hope you find it useful.

2022 Edition Update

The much-anticipated 2022 Edition of The Savage Soul is now in the final stages. All that remains is filling in a few section references, updating the image credits, awaiting the final round of edits, and finalizing the layout. Right now, we expect to have it ready for sale by the end of June.

Rule Clarification: Divisible

One of the goals of the 2022 Edition of The Savage Soul® was to address common questions raised by the 2021A Edition. And perhaps no single Peculiarity has generated more questions than “Divisible.” The following is a sneak peek at the revised description for “Divisible” (now called “PW: Divisible” because it is a “Power” Peculiarity):

PW: DIVISIBLE: By performing a Task Attempt Action (which requires gestures—Section 6.5.1), the character may split into two or more independent units that share a common consciousness.  Each copy, however, will have reduced density (see Density, Low) and suffer certain Overall Penalties (Section 9.10).  Individual duplicates may rejoin by performing Instant Actions (Section 6.5.1) and making physical contact (which requires gestures—Section 12.13.1).  A divided character may also choose to cancel his use of Divisible, causing all duplicates to immediately and automatically recombine.  When duplicates recombine, all Injury Conditions are averaged (including those of Dead or Destroyed duplicates).  Mana and Luck Points are drawn from a common pool.  Characters may choose to apply a lower level (i.e., create fewer copies at higher density).  At the character’s option, copies may be smaller in Size (equal to the density reduction), but this must be decided upon character creation.

If the character (or any duplicate) is subject to a condition (other than Injury Condition—see above), that condition will transfer to all other duplicates upon splitting or recombining.  If the character is subject to a spell effect (other than a “Hostile” spell effect) that is supported by maintenance mana (Section 12.7.2) prior to splitting, the spell effect will remain active on only one duplicate (chosen by the original spellcaster, if he is within Line of Sight, or the Divisible character, if the spellcaster is not within Line of Sight).  Any “Hostile” spell effect will remain active on all duplicates but will be supported by only a single point of maintenance mana.  If a duplicate that is subject to any maintenance mana effect merges with another duplicate, the spell effect will remain active on the merged character (unless the combined character would have a higher Size Delta and the spell would have been affected by Size Delta).

Using Divisible causes “Prolonged Strain” to each duplicate (Section 4.6.3) and, once a duplicate becomes Winded or incapacitated (or attempts to Rest—Section 6.10), that duplicate will automatically merge with the nearest other duplicate (which will sometimes result in a cascade effect, as “Winded” and other conditions will transfer to the combined character; see above).  In cases where multiple duplicates are required to recombine at the same time, the character may choose the order in which the duplicates recombine—but each must recombine with the nearest other duplicate.

While a character with “Divisible” has only a single Silver Thread (Section 12.21), each duplicate has its own separate branch of that Silver Thread.  Whenever a deceased duplicate is subject to a circumstance that would result in this Silver Thread being severed (e.g., Obliteration, passage of time after death, etc.), the duplicate will immediately cease to exist and the nearest duplicate will automatically absorb its essence (regardless of distance) and suffer the consequences described above.  The character will then be unable to generate that duplicate until its branch of the Silver Thread is restored.  For every twenty-four hour period that passes, the character may attempt to reestablish each severed branch by making a Will Power attempt at DF 15.  No Peculiarity (e.g., PW: Regeneration) will accelerate this process or make the attempt easier.

2022 Sneak Peek: “It Just Won’t Die!!!”

With the imminent release of the 2022 Edition of The Savage Soul®, I thought I would provide a sneak peek of one of the brand-new Peculiarities . . . “It Just Won’t Die!” This Peculiarity is specifically meant for challenging “boss” battles and to simulate enraged superbeings and monsters that become tougher the more they are injured.

IT JUST WON’T DIE!!! As the character’s IC worsens, his DR increases, as follows: +0 DR at Uninjured or Barely Injured; +1 DR at Injured; +2 DR at Seriously Injured; and +3 DR at Critically Injured.  This DR bonuses does not take effect until any wound that changes the character’s IC is completely resolved.  Thus, if a single attack increases a character’s IC from Uninjured to Critically Injured, the character will not apply any “It Just Won’t Die!!!” bonus against this attack.   If the character’s IC becomes Dead or Destroyed, the bonus is +0.  Additionally, as the character’s IC improves the character’s DR bonus will decrease accordingly.  Visible Indicator: As the character’s IC increases, his skin may appear to become harder, he may begin pulsing with energy, his body may swell with rage, etc.