Monday, November 16, 2009

NPC Factions (Or how to be a lazy DM)

Despite my players' often repeated claims that I am an awesome DM, I know the sad truth - I am a very lazy game master, running my games with a mixture of way too little prep work, a good dose of fly by the seat of your pants and a little bit of luck from the dice gods.  The honest truth - for the last 10 sessions (or 40-50 hours of real life time spent playing), I have spent a grand total of two hours doing preparation work!  I spend FAR more time on this blog then I do my game, and I am not a particularly prolific blogger either.

How do I do it, you might ask?  While my background in competitive extemporaneous speaking and improvisational theater certainly helps, I don't just make it all up as I go. One of my favorite lazy DM tricks is an oldie but goodie, the use of NPC factions.  The vast majority of the two hours of prep work I have done recently was statting up a few different groups that the PCs have been interacting with.  I first come up with the leaders of the group and write a sentence or two describing their personalities and motivations.  Then I stat up a sample member of the group, a tough member of the group, and make a few notes about different weapons or armor that I can use to make members of the group seem unique (for instance, one Warangutan might be wielding a plasma rifle and wearing flak armor, while another is clad in plasteel armor and is carrying a rocket launcher and a vibra-dagger).  When statting up the typical faction members, I write down a range of HP (50-80 for your average Warangutan) so that I can pick a number in the range whenever an individual is encountered.

One amazing thing about using factions is that once you place them in your campaign world, they just keep on surprising you with all the things they do.  It is very much like getting to watch your world come to life before your eyes.  Knowing what the goals of the faction are and the personality of its leaders means that you should have a good idea of what they are doing when the PCs aren't looking.  For instance, when the PCs in my campaign left the military complex in the western swamp, they for all intents and purposes forgot about the warring groups of War Chimps and Warangutans that they had inadvertently set free from the level they had been trapped in for centuries.  While the PCs spent a few weeks out in the desert trying to prevent the Knights of Genetic Purity (another faction in play) from gaining access to nuclear missiles, the War Chimps left the complex and took over a section of the swamp centered around the complex, while the Warangutans focused on seizing control of the complex itself and the tunnels that lead away from it far underground.  This brought the Warangutans into conflict with the Badders, who the PCs had left with the codes to unlock the doors into the lowest level of the complex so the Badders could scavenge scrap metal from the ruined vehicles in the hangar to offer to Glargorion.

In the middle of the PCs adventures in the desert, the now deceased Logan teleported back to the hangar level to look for material to repair the parties hovercraft with - while there, he saw a pile of Badder corpses and the door leading into the tunnel that accessed the Badder warrens standing wide open.  So when the party returned from the desert, they decided that they had to assist the Badders and somehow thwart the militaristic apes that they had unwittingly unleashed on the area.  Two sessions later, and it looks like I can mine this particular little conflict for quite a few more sessions as the PCs have been coming up with one crazy idea after another, trying trickery and diplomacy to pit the Knights of Genetic Purity against both factions of apes, attempting to ally with both factions of apes against the other and, at the end of last session, it looked like they were moving towards trying to get the Ooh Oh Monks involved in this affair as well.  This tickles me pink, because the Ooh Oh Monks are one of the original factions that I set up at the very beginning of the game, and so far the PCs have been content to completely ignore them (in part because Dataan escaped from servitude to the Monks and is more than a little afraid that they may reformat his CPU and put him back to work processing data should he ever run into them again).  My next post will detail some of the crazy antics this little set up has led the party to attempt; the last two sessions have been wild, woolly, a little disturbing and tons of fun.

Next Post:  The Party shoots a snuff movie and meets a Terminator!


  1. I think another part of your success is in creating WARANGUTANS, frankly.

  2. This sounds like a crazy mad game! Which is to say it sounds way too cool.

  3. Yeah it's maybe the best game Iv'e ever been involved in either as a DM , co-Author, or Player, All I gotta say is that Carl when you say we give you too much credit you sometimes forget that some peoples definition of a good DM is someone who " Runs games with a mixture of way too little prep work, a good dose of fly by the seat of your pants and a little bit of luck from the dice gods"

  4. Yes, I don't think anyone who brings as much creativity and pizazz to the game table as you do should ever be called "lazy" -- improvised or not, you deliver the goods. I like to use the term "deliberately under-prepared" for this approach, which I think we share. But it is great fun to peek behind the scenes and learn the EXTENT to which you under-prepare, especially after I've just played the session! Thanks for the insider's view!

  5. Thanks for the vote of confidence, guys. I have found, as I have matured as a DM, that letting go of the urge to over-prepare for my games has really liberated me, not just in terms of the amount of time that it saves, but because it has let me focus more on what is happening in the moment and letting the players direct the action more than myself. I used to be a little heavy-handed with the plot, and I think that I have learned to let the plot happen organically as a result of play rather than to force it into the session.



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