And In Conclusion… (Finally)
The key takeaway from all of this is that InterACTION! is no different from any other form of action adjudication once you learn how to look at it. Of course, looking at it in terms of objectives and incentives and learning how to pace the conversation and learning how to deliver responses, reasons, and openings make it seem different. But remember: objections and incentives are just a stand-in for “is this action possible” and pacing and narration are just like pacing and narration in any other scene. When other DMs try to load you down with social baggage, now you know better. Unless you played the drinking game. If you played the drinking game, you are probably unconscious. And, if you’re not unconscious, I’m really impressed. GREAT JOB!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bonus Section: The Four P’s! A Simple Way to Bring NPCs to Life (Metaphorically, Not Like Dr. Frankenstein)
It would be really sucky of me to end this right now before I give one last little piece of advice. Actually, that’s not true. Everything I gave you above is solid f$&%ing gold and I’m nine kinds of awesome for writing it all up. But I’ve got one more thing to give. Consider it a bonus for reading the previous 8,000 words. Your prize: a couple hundred more words to read! Yay.
Here it is: The Four P Method for bringing NPCs to life!
I’ve already talked about the importance of knowing the NPC’s objection(s). But, apart from that, I like to have four things handy to help bring an NPC to life. I call them: the Four Ps. These won’t help you run a good InterACTION!, but they will help you get better at bringing NPCs to life and making them seem like real people.
Personality (or Phrasing): This is a SINGLE WORD that describes the general personality trait that the NPC displays most strongly. Remember when I talked about how to practice saying things in different tones? You don’t! It was right in this f$&%ing article! Well, go back and read it. And then come back here, because this is the word that tells you how to talk as the NPC. This is also the word that I cross out and replace when the PCs trigger short-term consequences. Every time the NPC speaks, look down at the word, fix it in your mind, and let that shape your response.
Posture: Body language is important for two reasons. First, it helps convey information to your players. Second, if you adopt a specific posture that isn’t natural to you, maintaining it reminds you that you ARE the NPC and helps remind you how to speak and act. So, pick a posture to adopt when you are playing the NPC and adopt it. A few words is all it takes. It really does help. While you are “being” that NPC, keep that posture.
Pause: I’m afraid to ask whether you remember what I said about pause indicators. If you need a reminder, go find it. I ain’t helping you. You should have paid attention the first time. Pick a pause indicator: a short word, phrase, sound, or sound+gesture to use whenever you need to buy time.
Pfidget: Everyone has some sort of tic or habit or fidget that displays some sort of quirk. Real people fidget occasionally. Fictional characters fidget a lot. I won’t go into the reasons why because I’ve wasted enough words on this acting bulls$&% already, but pick a pantomine gesture or a repeated verbal phrase or habit. Puffing an imaginary pipe, shuffling papers, looking around suspiciously, drumming fingers, steepling fingers, whatever. Stick this in, say, every time you respond to an InterACTION! and people will be amazed at how life-like your NPCs are.
Some DMs overload their NPCs with personality traits and backstories and goals and motives. And most of it never ends up seeing play or it actually ends up confusing the issue. Me, I stick with Objections, the Four Ps, and sometimes Alignment. That is all it takes. And best of all, you can get the entire damned thing on an Index Card. Hell, you can also improvise a living, breathing NPC pretty easily. You can come up with the four Ps in the bathroom.
Players: “We’ll go ask that aristocratic knight for help!”
Me: “Good idea. Let me just run to the bathroom first! Don’t ask why I need an index card in the bathroom! I just do!”
Incentive: Wants to earn respect and glory
Objection: Is afraid that helping the PCs will damage his reputation
Alignment: Lawful Neutral
Posture: Ramrod straight, hands in lap
Pause: Break eye contact, look straight up, murmurs “hmmmmm”
Pfidget: Glances around to see who might be watching