Author Topic: PC-NPC-PC triangles.  (Read 6543 times)

Ariel

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PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« on: July 05, 2010, 08:57:37 AM »
I couldn't quite imagine how this worked in play until John did it right in front of me and I thought to myself 'Well, no shit. That's easy and awesome.' So I've been doing that in my new AW game (session two was this evening) with every NPC.

What Vx doesn't tell you is that this quickly becomes NPC-PC-NPC-NPC-PC-PC-NPC... networks. Which is to say, relationship webs and maps. Maps that are easy to manage, organic, compelling and self-propelling. I've draw relationship maps as prep for play but this PC-NPC-PC triangle stuff generates them organically and intuitively during play. The PC engage with them on their own terms and for their own reasons without having to carrot or stick them.

Moreover, it generates the best kind of conflict, once shunned by RPGs in general, inter-player dramatic conflict. Because the PCs are always split by NPCs they can engage with the other players as equal participants rather than a kind of hive mind versus the GM.

It's late and my having trouble articulating just what I mean but it seems that the other PCs are the real threats in AW. A PC, mechanically speaking, can take pretty much any NPC with relative ease. When the PCs are unified against an NPC, it's never an issue. If there isn't a coherent front against the MC and the NPCs (which is to say that the PCs are against each other) compelling drama and role-playing happens. This seems to be because the players have to confront each other, as players and characters, like two actors on a stage. The MC merely directs, writes and sees to the technical matters. The real challenge and fire is in the acting (not to dismiss stagecraft). That's what see go there to see.

Looking back at when I ran AW at GPNW, this vital component was missing, as it has been in most of my GMing / MCing career. I walked away from that slot feeling like I had failed at running it. I would say that three of the four players had a great time and were hooked on AW but I felt like it was a weak session. It's because I didn't have any PC-NPC-PC triangles.

I mean, it's right there in the book: Separate them.

Dionysus

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #1 on: July 05, 2010, 11:45:01 AM »
This looks like tis missing from my game :) Maybe that why i thought the players had "broken the game" as they are constantly a united group against everything else.

Any tips on how to introduce this into the game?

benhimself

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #2 on: July 05, 2010, 12:02:30 PM »
If you've got a chopper, a hocus, an operator, or a hardholder, one of the simplest and easiest things to do is have a member of one PC's gang, crew, or followers pick a fight with another PC, or at least do something that PC wouldn't like (stealing their stuff, etc.) Give them a simple reason. Run with the consequences. Works like magic.

If you don't have anybody playing one of those playbooks, well, don't forget it's within your mandate to ask provocative questions. Especially if they're opening their brains to the world's psychic maelstrom, but even if not, just in a wondering tone of voice, go "So, hey, is there anybody in the god-forsaken world you care about? No? What qualities would a person need to have to make you care about them?" Run with the answers. Give the NPCs simple desires, but have them want different things from different PCs.

Or, for another tactic, just throw the golden apple of discord into the group: "Isle's crazy sexy, by the way. Anyone who has sex with Isle gets an experience circle, in fact."

Jeff Russell

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #3 on: July 05, 2010, 05:11:57 PM »
I likewise have some trepidation about this one. I totally understand it in theory and nod along with the book, then I try to think of some concrete examples, or how to generate them on the fly, and I go 'duuuuhhhhh'. On the other hand, I imagine the circumstances of play furnish enough specifics to make this easier to do than in a vacuum sitting here on my computer.

J. Walton

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #4 on: July 05, 2010, 05:35:33 PM »
Doesn't it just start with the MC placing an NPC between two PCs?  That creates a triangle, right? Because it makes the relationship between the two PCs different.  Yeah?  And then it just snowballs from there.

Jeff Russell

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #5 on: July 05, 2010, 06:40:03 PM »
Yeah, that's true, but I guess my sticking point is that I have some trepidation about how to identify "between" two PCs when thinking about it in the abstract. Like I said, I imagine, you know, actually MCing will make it more clear.

But if anybody has awesome examples of triangles they've set up, I for one would be happy to see them.

Margolotte

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #6 on: July 05, 2010, 07:58:58 PM »
The one that instantly jumps to mind is Alison-Roark-Marie, from Alison's Holding.
I was playing Alison, the hardholder. Parthenia was playing Marie, the brainer. Roark was one of my lieutenants in my gang, and Marie's kinda-boyfriend. When Vx opened a session with "Marie, Roark comes in all happy. He's all "Can I get a bath? I just blew up that expletive barge, and I'm covered in goo.", it made me groan in frustrated appreciation. Roark, the NPC, had just committed an act of hostility against a local slaver I was trying to avoid. And I couldn't just ride him out on a rail, because Marie actually cared for the lump. Plus, he was my lieutenant, and those were getting scarce. What to do, what to do...

Here's another, with Keeler (gunlugger), Twice (NPC medic) and Rose (maestro 'd):
Keeler's been shot, and she's in Twice' lab, unconscious and in need of care. Twice is holding back a bit, unsure what Vega's (hardholder's) orders are, since Keeler's been killing people without Vega's authorization (while possessed! It's not her fault!). Rose offers Twice sex if Twice will just fix Keeler already. Twice goes for that (natch!), but this puts Keeler in debt to Rose, and complicates Keeler's relationship with Vega even more. *sigh* Life is not boring!


Most recently:
Amanual (savvyhead), Voice of Eos (NPC whatever-the-heck), Rose (hardholder), Mox (angel). Amanual has found a way to get up to where VoE broadcasts from. Cool! After some fiddling, Amanual figures out how to over-ride (or maybe ride along?) on VoE's signal, and gets in touch with Rose via an odd bit of sparkle that Mox picked up in the room of the NPC crazy-preggo-ladies. Suddenly Rose and Amanual can talk! But Mox has no clue what's going on, because Amanual is talking to Rose's brain, and Rose is talking out loud. A hilarious scene of misunderstanding ensues. Then just when Amanual is about to tell Rose something actually useful, VoE realizes she's piggy-backing on the line and switches signals. Ergh! Later, Amanual watches as Keeler heads into a potential ambush...

Because Amanual (savvyhead) made a deal with Vonk the Sculptor (NPC) that Rose (hardholder) would welcome Vonk and his crew to the (relative) safety of the Luxor if Vonk brought enough tech and jingle along. Rose didn't authorise that At All, but here they come, through a hail of bullets rained down by VoE! Crap! And Keeler doesn't want to see civilians die within sight of the Luxor, plus they are bringing a busload of useful stuff, so she rides out with her crew, towards said potential ambush. Thank goodness for Rose's lieutenant (NPC) who was in communication with Keeler,and between the two we could pinch the shooters. We still woulda maybe lost, except Amanual found a way to watch the action from VoE, and discovered that VoE was puppet-stringing the shooters! Yikes! So Amanual hacks frantically for the right codes to turn off the shooters while Keeler scrambles to get the refugees through, and every so often VoE cuts her out and she has to hack back in! Casualties were within reasonable limits, but it woulda been a bloodbath. And now Rose has to deal with Vonk et al, and Keeler and Mox have to deal with wounded folks, and Amanual's still up/on/in VoE, plus who the heck keeps stringing up bodies in the ruins?

Jeff Russell

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #7 on: July 05, 2010, 08:05:47 PM »
Thanks, Margolotte, those help a lot! I'd been following a lot of that in your AP posts, but highlighting the "triangles" and "why this made things more difficult" helped me out. Maybe I'm dense, but thanks again.

Anybody else got cool ones?

John Harper

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #8 on: July 05, 2010, 11:31:45 PM »
Let's see...

Drake--Isle--Clarion
Drake needed Isle for her crazy brain-reboot schemes. Isle is Clarion's mother. Isle depends on Drake for everything. When Drake and Clarion split up, Isle has to decide who to stay with (and the players have to decide if they'll let her make up her own mind or force her).

Aside: that's one of my favorite MC questions: "Isle is gonna make up her own mind about this. Is everyone cool with that?" They so seldom are.

Dusk--Crine--Pellet
Dusk is on the run from home, and Crine is tracking her down. Crine needs Pellet's savvyhead-ness to get what he wants. Pellet wants access to Crine's hi-tech supplies. All three of them want to save Oracle, but oh does it take some suffering and backstabbing before they get on the same page.

That's another fun thing about triangles. Even if everyone has a common interest, the way they want to go about it, their values, their beliefs -- very rarely align. That triangle above was pretty doomed until Dusk's player nailed a 12+ seduction roll on Crine and made him her ally.

Laffery--Amy--Dusk
Simple as it gets. Amy is in Lafferty's crew, and she has the hots for Dusk. You can never go wrong with that one.


Hans Chung-Otterson

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #9 on: August 04, 2010, 06:28:14 AM »
This is something I'm having difficulty with in our current game. We just played the second session.

The first session was all following them around, right? I was figuring out their deal, and was focusing on making good MC moves that make their lives interesting (which, seriously, for me, is the hardest fucking part about MCing Apocalypse World). I didn't have enough brainpower to focus on triangles.

Then in the second session I was focusing on my fronts, making sure I had interesting things to say (which is still hard), and now my three PCs, Gunlugger, Hocus, & Angel, are like this united front that mow down everything in their path.

Now, though, it's pretty easy to see what I need to do.

If you've got a chopper, a hocus, an operator, or a hardholder, one of the simplest and easiest things to do is have a member of one PC's gang, crew, or followers pick a fight with another PC, or at least do something that PC wouldn't like (stealing their stuff, etc.) Give them a simple reason. Run with the consequences. Works like magic.

This wouldn't work in my current sitch, I don't think, as the PC in charge of the gang would smack down the NPC for stealing from the other PC. It's obvious to me that I need to have an NPC do something detrimental to a PC that will directly benefit a different PC. That's an easy one, and it just came from reflecting on the current session and thinking "how can I make a PC-NPC-PC triangle here?" I just need to keep thinking that between sessions, and I think it'll be fine.

Partially, I think my problem was taking "every NPC's a threat" and, without realizing it, assuming that meant "every NPC's a threat to the PC's as a group" Fuck no, that ain't true. I threw my NPC's at the group, then had them band together behind their backs as a united front against all of them. That is not the way to create triangles. They're threats, but not to everybody. Maybe they're a threat to one PC and a friend to another, at least until the situation changes. A literal reading of the ally rules fucked me up in this regard, too, as I assumed that if an NPC isn't an "ally", then they're gunning balls to the wall for all the PCs. Not true. If a PC picks an NPC for an ally, that just means they won't be an antagonist for that PC. Right?

eggdropsoap

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #10 on: August 09, 2010, 04:47:23 PM »
Quote
Maybe they're a threat to one PC and a friend to another

Better: maybe they're a threat to one PC because they're a friend to another.

Threats can be soft. All an NPC needs to be a threat is to not share one PC's interests. The threat can be simply that the NPC is going to get in the way and fuck up a good plan.

This is probably a lot clearer when you've got a hardholder in the mix, since the entire raison d'ętre of the hardholder—the hold—is nothing more than a big stew of threats:

People need leadership in tough times? That's a threat, because you might disappoint them. (And then what?)

Your lieutenant has the hots for the Gunlugger? That's a threat. It might not look like one yet, but as soon as the Gunlugger wants something that the NPC can deliver, the NPC might just deliver and fuck things up for the hardholder in doing so. The fuck up might even just be that the NPC gets themself killed, reducing the Hardholder's resources. It might be shooting the wrong person. It might be getting all diseased up and then dragging themself and the disease into the Angel's infirmary. And now the Angel's pissed at your lieutenant, pissed at you, and how does the Gunlugger feel if the NPC dies? If they live?

NPCs are inherently threats because they're loose canons in a world with no status quo. Even (especially) a PC's followered aren't controlled by the PC. Every tenuous comfort and budding plan the PCs have is threatened by the mere existence of other people.
« Last Edit: August 09, 2010, 04:55:00 PM by eggdropsoap »

Margolotte

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Re: PC-NPC-PC triangles.
« Reply #11 on: August 11, 2010, 05:41:26 AM »
Yeah, that's more the thing, Hans. By aiming your NPCs more individually, you open the PCs up to a lot more triangles. Also, I really like the notion of 'soft' threats as a way to think about ones that are not immediately violent.