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NPC vs. NPC Quick Kill System

Bonus rules for an NPC vs. NPC Quick Kill System have been posted to “Generators & More.” This system is meant for battles in which fairly generic NPCs are fighting one another, either with or without accompanying PCs and/or less-generic NPCs. When resolving the attack of one generic NPC against another, the GM need only determine a modifier based upon the relative XP Totals of the attacker and defender (including an appropriate XP equivalent for combat equipment). The GM then rolls 2d10, adds the modifier (plus other applicable modifiers, such as IC, Fatigue, Range, etc.), and applies the result.

For example: If a 1,500 Total XP Royal Guard shoots his GR2 Rifle at a 300 Total XP Starving Rebel at a range of 30 meters, his total Quick Kill modifier will be +2 (i.e., +3 for the XP difference and -1 for the range). The GM then rolls 2d10 and adds 2 for a total of 14. The Starving Rebel suffers a Serious Wound and must discard his Ready Token. During the next combat round, the Starving Guard returns fire with his own GR2 Rifle and has a total modifier of -6 (i.e., -3 for the XP difference, -1 for the range, and -2 for being Seriously Injured). The GM then rolls 2d10 and subtracts 6 for a total of 9, and the Starving Rebel’s attack has no effect.

This rule is entirely optional, and a GM should feel free to use it always, sometimes, or never.

GM Advice: Adventurers are NOT Tourists

As with all “GM Advice” posts, feel free to take this with a grain of salt.

One of the first things any student of literature or creative writing learns is that an interesting story necessarily involves conflict (man vs. man, man vs. nature, man vs. himself, etc.) This is just as true (if not more true) when it comes to role playing games. If an “adventure” doesn’t involve conflict of some sort, it’s just a tour.

More specifically, in my years of gaming, I can remember a handful of adventures where the GM came up with a “cool idea” and that idea was the adventure. In other words, the PCs were just passive observers of the GM’s cool idea . . . which is seldom as engaging as the GM thinks it will be.

As one example, a GM once ran an “adventure” that involved a town stuck in a time loop. Within the time loop, the Great Destruction had not yet occurred and, as a result, all of the town’s residents repeatedly went about their daily activities, over and over, blissfully unaware of the nightmarish world outside the town’s borders. Is this a “cool” idea? Yes. But is it an “adventure”? No. It could have been a great basis for an adventure . . . but, in this case, the cool idea was the “adventure.”

It didn’t take long for the PCs to realize what was happening in the town and, at that moment, “experience” the GM’s cool idea. But, thereafter, the game was just a series of meaningless conversations with oblivious NPCs who were in complete denial that anything was out of the ordinary. Throughout these conversations and our exploration of the town, the PCs tried to identify their purpose. Were the PCs meant to break the curse and end the time loop? Was there some critical piece of information in the timeless town that would help the PCs solve some other problem? In my opinion, either of these (or anything similar) would have given the PCs and the town a purpose. The cool idea might then have been a memorable backdrop to a memorable adventure.

The same thing can inadvertently happen when a GM designs an elaborate city or other “interesting” location or situation and guides the PCs through the location or situation, describing in detail what they see and experience, without ever making the PCs part of the story. As in the example above, the GM is putting his creativity and/or “world building” skill on display without affording the PCs any significant role. In other words, the GM is setting a scene without presenting the required conflict to make it a story. And players are likely to get bored.

For clarification, the “conflict” need not involve combat. It might be a mystery the PCs need to solve, an NPC the PCs need to persuade, an item or person the PCs need to find, etc. Having such a purpose will encourage the PCs to experience and enjoy the details of the GM’s cool idea or setting without feeling like mere tourists. Ultimately, this will make the game more meaningful, memorable, and enjoyable for everyone.

Adventure Idea: Zombie Slaves

Here’s an adventure idea that should be easy to adapt to most Savage Soul campaigns:

The PCs will learn that a nearby sorcerer (Dmitri Vorlov) is a “master of the dead” and that, in addition to providing certain services (such as “Raise Dead” and “Restore Fallen”), Vorlov is willing to pay good money for “fresh” human corpses (up to 5,000 credits each). By conducting some investigation (or visiting Vorlov), the PCs will learn that Vorlov makes his money by selling “the most obedient slaves.” It should then become apparent that Vorlov is buying corpses whose Silver Threads remain intact and then performing Zombify rituals upon those corpses to resurrect them as mute, mindless, and completely loyal servants. As if this weren’t bad enough, the PCs will likely realize that, due to the nature of the Zombify spell, each individual whose corpse has been Zombified remains conscious and aware, but completely incapable of controlling his or her body or communicating in any way. Thus, being trapped inside the body of a Zombified servant is often considered a fate worse than death.

Because of Vorlov’s business, he cannot afford to be reclusive. He must necessarily meet with those seeking to sell fresh corpses and with those wishing to purchase slaves. As a result, the characters should easily be able to arrange a meeting with Vorlov by posing as corpse sellers, slave buyers, etc. (assuming the PCs don’t simply choose to attack Vorlov’s lair, sneak in, etc., which are also viable options).

Vorlov’s lair is very luxurious, with the exception of the private rooms where he conducts his ghastly rituals and keeps his Zombified guards (which protect Vorlov’s lair along with Flesh Constructs and Command Dead skeletons). None of these guards will take any action against the PCs unless Vorlov orders them to, or the PCs engage in hostilities (or any other “forbidden” conduct). Vorlov also has two very old women serving him (as cook, maid, secretary, receptionist, etc.) Both of these women (Martha and Gretchen) are able to think and speak; but because they are subject to the “Alter Soul” Ritual, they are absolutely loyal to Vorlov. If the players seek to meet with Vorlov, they will likely meet with either or both of these women first. If the PCs are able to convince the women that they mean no harm to Vorlv, the women will invite the PCs into Vorlov’s lair, make them comfortable, and fetch Vorlov.

The final residents of Vorlov’s lair are four young girls, ranging in age from about 9 to about 12. The girls are well-dressed and appear to be well cared for . . . but they have obviously been Zombified. In actuality, Vorlov considers the Zombified girls his daughters and refers to them as his “little ladies.” Other than keeping them against their will (which is bad), Vorlov does not abuse the girls in any way; but the PCs are likely to assume the worst. Note: If this suspected abuse causes real-life concern among the players, the GM should have Vorlov (or one of the old women) convincing explain that Vorlov is very respectful of the girls and treats them like princesses. This obviously doesn’t make what he is doing right; but it may keep the adventure from becoming too dark for certain players.

Assuming the PCs meet with Vorlov, he will invite them to dinner (or lunch or breakfast), which will be exquisite. But the main course will be what Vorlov calls “special meat,” prepared especially for the PCs. Vorlov will be very secretive about what exactly the meat is, claiming it’s a “secret recipe.” And, unless the characters openly suggest that it is human flesh, Vorlov will remain playfully evasive. The meat is not actually human flesh (it is the meat of a rare mutant animal); but, if the GM plays the scene cleverly, the PCs will likely be convinced Vorlov is trying to feed them human flesh (thereby enhancing the creepiness and uncertainty of the dinner scene).

The “little ladies” will also attend the meal. They will arrive in lockstep, sit in unison, display impeccable table manners, but never speak. This is likely the first time the PCs will meet the “little ladies” and Vorlov will gush about how wonderful they are (just as a parent might brag about actual children).

If confronted or questioned about buying corpses (however subtly), Vorlov will explain that he never kills anyone and never encourages murder. In fact, he will insist (disingenuously) that, if he knew someone had been killed just so the corpse could be sold to Vorlov, Vorlov would refuse to buy it. In reality, Vorlov turns a blind eye to such activities in order to maintain plausible deniability; but he is actually well aware that some of his less scrupulous corpse vendors are murdering people. If confronted about the wrongfulness of slavery, Vorlov will insist that he is doing a good thing by bringing those “poor souls” back from the dead and providing them “new lives.” This is also something Vorlov doesn’t actually believe; but he maintains the story to grant his “business” some legitimacy.

While this adventure is designed to convince the PCs that the world would be a better place without Dmitri Vorlov, how the characters actually go about dealing with Vorlov is entirely up to them. Should they choose to put an end to Vorlov’s evil ways, they will find themselves set upon by all of the lair’s undead guardians . . . and will likely find that getting out of Vorlov’s lair is much harder than getting in.

Should the PCs prevail against Vorlov and his servants, the PCs will find a reasonable amount of money and some magical components in the lair. Vorlov keeps the vast majority of his significant wealth in a “Loot Locker” that only he can access. If Vorlov dies, the Loot Locker will be nearly impossible to access (primarily to keep the PCs from becoming suddenly wealthy).

As far as Vorlov’s servants and the “little ladies,” restoring them, learning their identities, and returning them to proper homes might make for interesting follow-on adventures/activities. In the alternative, the PCs could simply turn these unfortunate victims over to local authorities (entirely at the option of the PCs and the GM).

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.