How to Present Canon NPCs without Antagonizing Your Players

Posted: February 6, 2012 by pointyman2000 in Advice, Articles, Legend of the Five Rings, Roleplaying Games

One of the things I’ve noticed about players is that they have a tendency to feel intimidated or threatened when put in the presence of an Canon NPC in an established setting. Whether in Faerun or Rokugan, players tend to react very strongly towards running into one or more famous characters in the setting.

What results is that the players end up feeling either ineffectual or insignificant all of a sudden.  Even when the said NPC has yet to do anything.

It’s an interesting effect, but I feel that players should be able to get over such an impression of NPCs. I feel that most of this is just a measure of being starstuck by running into a hero or a villain whose deeds are immortalized in canon.

Let me state that I don’t feel that players should ever feel menaced by an NPC by sheer reputation alone.  Certainly some NPCs are worthy of respect, but they should also be well-rounded characters.  I encourage that players try to create realistic characters with the odd quirk and flaws, so my NPCs shouldn’t be immune to this, even the canon ones.

So, how do we do this? by making NPCs human.

Human psychology – NPCs should think like people.  They can question, they can reason and they can doubt.  They don’t magically know everything, and are subject to the same prejudices and faulty thinking that other people have.

Human limitations – Age, infirmity, injuries and trauma.  NPCs from canon often have lived through many adventures, and I try to make it a point that these adventures show in how they are presented.  Maybe a slight limp, a suppressed shudder, or even something as subtle as a complaint of having a stiff shoulder now.

To put things in perspective, there was a point in the L5R campaign I was running where the players met up with Hida Kisada.  Otherwise known as The Great Bear, Hida Kisada was a living legend.  A former champion of the Crab clan, Kisada was a giant of a man with a fearsome reputation in the battlefield as both a combatant and a tactician of his time.

When the team met him, his glory days were long over, and the man they met was very human.  He was old, and carried on his shoulders the mental weight of all his regrets.  He was still definitely someone who could snap your neck with one hand, but it ws clear to the players that he wasn’t immortal, that he didn’t stand on some pedestal of superiority over them.  He was every bit as vulnerable as they were, but his deeds made him worthy of respect.

This approach gave the players a sense that they were still important.  Even in the face of such legends, their own characters were of merit, rather than being useless peons.

  1. Hikkikomori says:

    And it helps that I’m not a fan of the franchise. So I just treat him like any other NPC. 😀

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