Author Topic: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?  (Read 5890 times)

Mockingbard

  • User
  • Posts: 4
    • View Profile
NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« on: June 17, 2012, 02:06:24 AM »
I was asked an interesting question today which I don't know the answer to.

If an NPC has a chance at doing something, but success isn't guaranteed, how do you decide what happens? Particularly in a game with 1 GM and 1 PC, this can become important.

I know the principles of Think Dangerous might apply, or your Fronts and Grim Portents or the fiction at hand may tell you what to do. You could also maybe disclaim decision making by asking a PC what happens, but sometimes these seem not enough.

An example from a game I ran with a different system:
The PC alerted an NPC to an attack on the NPCs life. So, now the NPC was prepared, but survivng the attack was still not guaranteed. In that game, I made up stats for the NPCs and did a few quick rolls to simulate the situation and fight they would've found themselves in. In the end, the NPC won, but she could've easily died. How would you do this in Dungeon World?

Another simpler example:
Two NPCs, pretty equally matched, are duelling to the death. How do you decide who wins?

Another one:
An NPC is climbing a treacherous cliff-face in the rain. It's possible to make it up there, but it's tricky. How do you decide if they succeed, partially succeed, or fail?

Important to note here, is that in these situations the NPC isn't helping/hindering the PC. The PC might not even be there, yet the event is still important to the fiction and deciding a result without some sense of randomness or chance, doesn't sit right.

I haven't run a 1 GM, 1 PC game of Dungeon World yet, but I plan to. Often in games like that an NPC will fill the place of a PC to round out the small party. I could use Hirelings, but this doesn't really fix much. I feel like I should probably stat the NPC up like a monster, which helps some (I now know how much damage they deal, their HP and armour, what moves they have, etc.). However, seeing as PC moves don't apply to NPCs, I can't use Hack and Slash when they fight in a duel, because NPCs don't have STR.

I could also write custom NPC versions of Basic Moves, but it seems a bit excessive. Perhaps I should fill out a PC character sheet for them and treat them just like a player?

If anyone has any advice, custom moves, or play experiences that could help, I'd appreciate it. Thanks!

tehnai

  • User
  • Posts: 35
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #1 on: June 17, 2012, 02:15:31 AM »
The game by itself is not very well suited to 1 on 1 play (if only because bonds only affect PCs, and bonds are one of the nicer mechanics).

That being said, if two NPCs are fighting, the winner is whoever would win. By which I mean, without interference from the PC(s), you decide of the winner arbitrarily. Kill whoever would be the most interesting to kill, and that's that. It's all about the drama in the end.

The best way I can explain it is that the world is going to happen in a given way, following the "Grim Portents" of your front, unless the PCs get involved. In short, everything is pre-written except for the way the PCs interact with the world. They, by their mere presence, modify the outcome of reality.

ThisIsVictor

  • New User
  • Posts: 1
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #2 on: June 17, 2012, 05:17:06 AM »
I totally agree with tehnai. Pick the most dramatic outcome and go with that.

Alternatively, sometimes the PCs are really invested in one side winning. I'm new to Dungeon World, but in other system I would have the players roll to assist their favorite. If they succeeded at the assist role then their favorite would win. I suspect this can be done in DW with a "Help Your Friend" move of some kind.

--Victor

noofy

  • User
  • Posts: 777
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #3 on: June 17, 2012, 07:52:06 AM »
Nice question Mockingbard!
I have played a fair bit of one-on-one DW, and it works fine, you just have to invest a little more with significant NPCs. The first session and chargen is all about setting these relationships on edge. I not only encourage bonds with NPCs (thus encouraging their participation in scenes for the PC's XP) but put them at slight odds with the player's goals. Or have the same goal but totally unacceptable (to the PC) means.

In regards to NPC vs NPC conflict, you already have a pretty good idea about how the system could accommodate this! My advice would be to make it a stake question, and make sure that that question has an impact on what the player cares about. Don't just answer it yourself.

Set up scenes that throw the antagonists together with the PC able to effect or modify the outcome and see what happens.
*If Brutus and Sanguine got into a duel to the death, who would win?
*Will Brutus be able to scale the treacherous Broken Knife escarpment and confront the Witchking?

If the player isn't involved then just let it lie, don't answer that stake question just yet until it comes up in the story. If you can't seem to work a player move into it, ask provocative questions to author in a result.

OK, so you know how you have the bond "_Brutus__ is soft, but I will make him hard like me."? Well...
Whilst you share a meal at the Dirty Dog Tavern, Brutus seems despondent and asks you quietly as he breathes bubbles into his ale that if he ever got into a duel with Sanguine, do you think he could best her?
*player starts authoring in reasons*

Perhaps this segues into a Spout Lore, perhaps not. At any rate you have an inkling to how the PC would answer the stake, which becomes an excellent sign of doom to unleash as a hard or soft move later on.

So you missed your Supply roll to garner repairs to your fancy elvish armour? Huh. As you wait at the forge a commotion erupts outside, folk start running from all over the steading to gather at the well. Brutus and Sanguine are fighting to the death! The street urchin, Eggs tugs on your tunic and exclaims that Brutus is bleeding like a stuck pig. What do you do?

Note that all of this is superfluous - its background colour - unless the PC is invested in the NPC. A scene that answers a stake that no-one cares about just becomes a GM indulgence. Make the player care. The easiest way to do this is create bonds with NPCs, though having Dangers whose impulses antagonise the player is awesome too. Tie the NPC to a location that the PC cares about (a steading for instance) or object.

« Last Edit: June 17, 2012, 07:57:45 AM by noofy »

samuraiko

  • User
  • Posts: 33
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #4 on: June 17, 2012, 10:54:47 AM »
Make the player care.

And then, occasionally, kill the NPC anyway.

It makes for good drama, and furthers story-lines later on.
"Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself, (I am large, I contain multitudes.)" -- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

sage

  • Moderator
  • User
  • Posts: 549
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2012, 09:38:59 PM »
A point of clarification: only choose based on which is most interesting IF everything else is even. And in that case I'd probably roll a die instead.

Remember, the GM's first job is to portray the world honestly. You're not there to make a story happen, that'll happen on its own. So if for some reason it really matters which NPC wins a fight first consult the fiction: who would win? If there's an easy answer (high wizard v. beggar, soldier v. unarmed farmer) that happens.

If you're really not sure (two great warriors in a fair fight) then you can just go with your gut or roll a die. I'd caution against thinking too much about which result is more "interesting" or dramatic or whatever, since that can lead to not playing to find out what happens. But, if you keep it in check and only use it as a tiebreaker when the fiction is completely even, it won't hurt.

skinnyghost

  • Moderator
  • User
  • Posts: 426
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2012, 10:16:38 PM »
Something I think about when confronted with this sort of thing is "think offscreen, too" in that I try to ponder the unseen - to understand what other stuff we know about the world.

Like, okay, two "perfectly matched warriors" neither are PCs, no PC interference.  Who wins?  Well, step back.  Do any of their friends interfere?  Does one of them know a poisoner who might mess with the other the night before the duel?  Does one have a loving husband who might seek prayer and divine intervention to help? 

Step back again - what do we know about how they fight?  What do we know about the places they come from and how that might affect them - is one of them from a rainy peninsula and the battle is on a slick bridge in a thunderstorm?

Direct stuff first, take a few steps back, randomness if you need it.  I feel like thinking about the ripples out from "right now" often help clear up an obvious winner.

John Harper

  • User
  • Posts: 473
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2012, 10:45:22 PM »
To say what Adam said in another way, "There's no such thing as 'two perfectly matched warriors'." There are always fictional details to distinguish them. Treating anything abstractly in AW-style games is often a source of trouble.

NPC vs. NPC is standard "GM makes a move" territory. So make a GM move the same way you always do, in accordance with the principles and agenda of the game.

sage

  • Moderator
  • User
  • Posts: 549
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #8 on: June 18, 2012, 10:58:26 PM »
Yes, what John said. Remember that "when they look at you to find out what happens" is one of the times you make a move.

noofy

  • User
  • Posts: 777
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2012, 12:46:46 AM »
Direct stuff first, take a few steps back, randomness if you need it.  I feel like thinking about the ripples out from "right now" often help clear up an obvious winner.

This excellent advice from Adam also lets you see if maybe there is a chance for a player influenced outcome via the 'ripples'. Maybe one of them from a rainy peninsula (known authored fact) and the battle is on a slick bridge in a thunderstorm. One of the players is a dwarf whose aged father is renown for repairing all the shoddy human masonry in these parts. Do they know anything about the state of this bridge? Could be a spout lore roll in the making with all sorts of interesting choices.

skinnyghost

  • Moderator
  • User
  • Posts: 426
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #10 on: June 19, 2012, 12:53:12 AM »
Direct stuff first, take a few steps back, randomness if you need it.  I feel like thinking about the ripples out from "right now" often help clear up an obvious winner.

This excellent advice from Adam also lets you see if maybe there is a chance for a player influenced outcome via the 'ripples'. Maybe one of them from a rainy peninsula (known authored fact) and the battle is on a slick bridge in a thunderstorm. One of the players is a dwarf whose aged father is renown for repairing all the shoddy human masonry in these parts. Do they know anything about the state of this bridge? Could be a spout lore roll in the making with all sorts of interesting choices.

The thing I like about this approach is that the answer to "why did she win" becomes more interesting than "oh, she's got more HP" and becomes "because she trained in the desert and knew to keep the sun behind her in a fight - at the last moment, her opponent was blinded and slain on the spot." and that says a heck of a lot more about the NPC in question.

watergoesred

  • User
  • Posts: 103
    • View Profile
    • www.watergoesred.net
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #11 on: June 19, 2012, 02:24:04 AM »
The thing I like about this approach is that the answer to "why did she win" becomes more interesting than "oh, she's got more HP" and becomes "because she trained in the desert and knew to keep the sun behind her in a fight - at the last moment, her opponent was blinded and slain on the spot." and that says a heck of a lot more about the NPC in question.
This is really good stuff. Just keep going back to the fiction: building, broadening, deepening...

Mockingbard

  • User
  • Posts: 4
    • View Profile
Re: NPC-vs-NPC or NPC-vs-Danger. How do you decide who wins?
« Reply #12 on: June 19, 2012, 07:50:14 AM »
Thanks to everyone who responded, especially noofy for the detailed response and Sage, Adam and John for taking the time to clarify things. Much appreciated.

I see what you're saying and it makes sense, of course :) Like a lot of AW-based stuff, now that you mention it and I think about it that way, it's something you do in the back of your head anyway (like in non-AW-based games, giving bonuses to rolls for being familiar with fighting in the wet) but instead of rolling or doing a mock battle, these fictional details add up to spell out the winner without the need for dice, most of the time.

I definitely agree, Adam, that considering these factors makes for much more interesting fiction and tells you more about the NPC (which then helps next time, and so on). In the first example I gave, I had done a lot of that in my head (NPC is alerted to attack, this NPC is cunning so she prepares and sets a trap for the other NPC, making herself appear vulnerable when she is not, hiding weapons on her person but appearing unarmed; so she gets the upper hand). It wasn't Dungeon World, so I rolled. I see now that in Dungeon World the fiction shows she has the upper hand, so she wins.

Sage, the warning to not be too tempted to go with what's most interesting or dramatic certainly helps. It's this simple sort of clarification that solidifies these concepts for me, another question to ask myself when approaching these situations.

Everyone's examples here are excellent and have done a lot to help with my thinking. Ripples: direct stuff, a few steps back (repeat as needed), randomness if it comes to that. Got it! :) Thanks again, everyone.