21 May, 2015

Randomness in NPCs

Something I was really thinking about when in the early stages of designing the Hold Em NPC Generator was the fact that I wanted the NPCs to be "balanced", whatever the hell that means.

The way the first three cards of the flop work out, it reminds me a bit of the old Shadowrun character generation system where you get a bunch of categories and you get to prioritise them. One can be at the best level, one at the second best, moving down through the ranks. Everyone has the same levels to play with, but they may prioritise them in different ways.

The problem with the Hold Em method (if you see it as a problem), is that you get dealt three random cards from a deck, and you might end up with a J,Q,K or you might end up with a 2,3,4. You still get to allocate these cards in different ways, but both of these characters will be very different, and if the card ranks say anything about power levels at all then the first character made with face cards will be far more powerful.

I came to the conclusion that it really doesn't matter. Most of the players I've gamed with over the years expect a degree of balance between their player characters, but they expect NPCs to come at a range of levels. Sometimes a powerful NPC won't make a lot of impact on the story as they'll be avoided after the first couple of appearances, and sometimes a weak NPC will become a favourite part of the narrative because they ground the characters in the mundane world. The reverse can also be true, it really depends on the way the story unfolds and the way these characters are portrayed.

That was really liberating, the NPCs can be of random ability type, as well as random ability level. I was worried that the three scales for card application in the flop, one having a distinct mechanism in place to ensure the lower levels of the scale are more commonly available than the higher levels, two having increased power when higher cards are applied to them, and one category that really has no mechanical benefit/modification. For NPCs this is fine, some are more powerful than others, some are just quirky side characters.

I've thought the same things about player characters as well, but it's often harder to justify against players who say that it's just unfair.

I had thought about changing the core structure of the generator at a few times during it's development, but I think that I'll just leave it as is for the moment. I'll probably change things up as I produce different generators, the Medieval generator will have different ways of producing characters in small towns/villages versus large towns/cities (and the system of influence will be quite different), the Post Apocalyptic generator will derive characters in a more gritty way that (and influence might be swapped out with quirky goods the characters possess).

There's still lots of potential to be explored here.
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