December 30, 2019

The Importance of Your NPCs’ Character Map

This week’s #GMAdvice is about role of a character map in the important job of channeling your NPCs’ personas as a GM.

Admittedly, being a GM is a tough job. You’re juggling a lot: your worldbuilding, the players, their characters, your NPCs…everything, oftentimes simultaneously. Bringing a story to life in real time with the players takes a lot of preparation, effort, and concentration. So today’s advice aims to help simplify that process a bit by emphasizing the role of channeling your NPCs’ personas.

Each non-player character you create will have an identity in some form or fashion. What do they want? What are their goals? What motivates them? Who do they have relationships with? What are those relationships like? These and other factors will determine how these NPCs react to given situations within a story. To use a somewhat obvious example, in Romeo and Juliet, when Romeo believes Juliet dies, he reacts with despair. Why? Because he loved Juliet and is deeply pained by her loss. If Shakespeare were a GM playing that scene, he would know – and want to convey – deep sorrow in Romeo’s words as he reacts to Juliet’s “death.”

As part of their worldbuilding preparation, GMs need to plot out the answers to these types of questions for their NPCs. Having this character map be second nature is absolutely crucial for the GM because it frees up their mind to do the real juggling when the story is actually being played. So instead of thinking of how their NPCs would react to various situations as the story rolls along, they channel instead the emotional state they intrinsically know their character has at that moment. That’s what channeling means in this context – being able to seed from that reservoir of emotion on behalf of your NPC without having to think about it.

There are likely going to be many characters in your story. But I promise, especially for the more prominent non-player characters, invest the time in your worldbuilding preparation to do a character map for them. It frees up critical mental bandwidth, enhances your injection of pathos/ethos into your characters, and better allows you as the GM to facilitate the progression of the story. It’s a simple step that many skip – don’t be one of them! You’ll praise the day you put in that extra effort!