Managing Lots of NPCs

Among the games I’m currently running is a D&D 3.5 campaign with only two players — my wife and our son (they are each running two PC’s). Both because there are only two players, and because the module I’m using (Expedition to the Ruins of Castle Greyhawk) presents a rich urban setting with lots of NPCs, I’m facing the prospect of having to role play potentially dozens of recurring NPCs. 

To help myself out, and hopefully avoid lots of “so and so, says . . .” I’m trying something new. For each major NPC I’m preparing an index card. One side has the NPC’s name and a picture (some are illustrations from the module that I was able to download, some are photos of celebrities or random people I found online that I decided had similar looks). Whenever I start speaking as one of these characters I will simply hold up the card with the name and picture facing the players so they know whom they are talking to.

The back of each card will have brief character notes for me. In many cases this will include a simple character quirk that I can role play (though with this many NPCs I don’t want all of them to talk or act funny). 

What do folks think of this approach? How have you managed (or seen DM’s manage) lots of NPCs?

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Using Quirks to Flesh out Characters

During a recent G+ hangout with local gamers, the topic of how to encourage role playing at the game table came up. One idea I liked was to encourage players who may be role playing challenged to give their character a simple habit or quirk — ideally non-verbal — that can be easily acted out. The example was a character who was a heavy drinker. The player would have a flask with them and periodically take a drink at dramatically appropriate moments. 

Has anyone had success with this approach? I’d live to hear your stories.

Games I would like to play in 2013

I’m back, after a longish hiatus filled with the periodic challenges of life, along with a kick-ass holiday season. I hope my readers have enjoyed all of the holidays you chose to celebrate this year.

My last post was a list of topics I wanted to blog about, one of which was games I would like to play. My wife suggested I make this 13 games I’d like to play in 2013; we’ll see how many I come up with.

Comments, especially from folks who have played any of these, are heartily encouraged. 

In no particular order . . .

  1. Fiasco. I’ve wanted to play this ever since I saw Wil Wheaton and friends playing it on Tabletop. Definitely a change of pace from D&D. Seems like it would be a blast with the right players (anyone who finds the role-playing part of RPG’s awkward might have trouble here). Give me three or four people who really want to play and I’ll buy it tomorrow.
  2. Mutants and Masterminds. I played 2nd Edition M&M a few years ago and loved it. I’d really like to get back into the game. I’d be fine with either 2nd Edition (which I own the core rule book for) or 3rd Edition, especially since 3rd Edition rules are available for free online.
  3. Cards Against Humanity. Basically an adult version of Apples to Apples. One of my gaming buddies owns a copy, and unlike most games that will be on this list it doesn’t take more than one session to play, so the odds are pretty good here.
  4. Spirit of the Century.  Pulp fiction (think Doc Savage or the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, not Tarantino) RPG set in the early days of the 20th century.
  5. Settlers of Catan.  A board game, and honestly a game that excites me less than the others on this list, but I sort of feel out of the loop for never having tried it.
  6. InSpectres.  Play a group of entrepreneurs trying to run your own paranormal investigation service, with stories set in your own home town.

So, six, not thirteen. I suppose I could have thrown in Pathfinder to make it seven — I own a couple of the books and was briefly in a game that ended when life got in the way. I’d mostly like to play it again to further explore the setting. And none of this means that I’ve lost my urge to play D&D 3.5 or World of Darkness, both of which I’m currently running. Need more time!

What games would you like to play in 2013?

Things to Write About

In the interest of keeping this blog alive, I’ve been planning to make a list of potential topics for future posts. So, why not make that list here? That way I can get suggestions/requests from readers too.

Gaming-Related Topics for Blog Posts:

  • Keeping all of the players engaged when players have different gaming styles (and goals)
  • Character types that are challenging in a role-playing game
  • Published adventures vs. home-brew vs. hybrid
  • What to do when the players are having a ball and the DM is bored
  • What to do when the DM is having a ball and the players are bored
  • Other games/systems that I would like to play
  • Why I love bullet lists

Just kidding on the last one. Though I do love them deeply. 

Any ideas/requests from my readers?

On Long Hiatuses and Not Losing the Thread

One of the realities of gaming as an adult (defined for these purposes as a person with kids, career, and many commitments) is that getting your gaming group together to play on a regular basis will be a challenge. I run two groups, both of which attempt to meet every two weeks. Both are of a size where if one player is absent we can play, but if two or more can’t make it, it doesn’t make much sense.

I haven’t done the math, but I suspect that over the course of a year both groups manage to meet closer to once every 3 to 4 weeks than the scheduled two weeks. The reasons for absences and cancelled sessions are varied and uniformly reasonable. Nonetheless, they take their toll on the games. As of this writing it’s been only a week since my Savage Tide campaign last met, but almost six weeks since my World of Darkness crew got together (and it will be at least 8 weeks by the time we meet again).

The struggle, of course, is how to not completely lose the thread of the story. Part of the problem is that I’m not the best note taker in the world. But even with a decent session summary it’s sometimes hard for players (and GM) to fall back into the rhythm of things.

How do the other DM’s reading this handle long hiatuses?

Gygax Contest

Here’s something cool I just became aware of — fellow blogger The Secret DM is running a contest in honor of Gary Gygax’ birthday. Submit an original dungeon crawl (just the rooms and encounters, no back story) that evokes the feel of 1st edition. If your entry is judged the best, you win a complete set of the recently republished 1st edition AD&D core books. And get your submission turned into a professional quality pdf. 

Check it out: http://www.thesecretdm.com/2012/07/contest-time-super-secret-happy.html

(And yes, if you read the fine print you’ll see that by promoting this I’m entered into a drawing for a $75 gift certificate. So sue me.  : )