Impractical Applications: Two Dubious Impressions

I talked this week about ways of handling the party disliking your slated-to-be-important NPC, both to do and to avoid. I’ve been lucky; most of my NPCs have only gotten that reaction when they were meant to. But as a player I’ve seen them go well, and I’ve seen them go poorly. There are two I can think of who were at the extremes—and who, to aid comparison more, had two thirds of the party worth of overlap between them.

The first of these was Dalowag. He ticked the group off partly by being one of the focuses of what felt like a waste of a perfectly good scene (we were rather looking forward to the group attempting to improvise their way through a tea ceremony, until it turned into yet another fight scene, and it’s better not to talk about the bit where the rogue was possessed and attacking him, even the GM realized that had been a bad move), then by not having the sense to utilize the efforts made to save his life, which would have been forgivable had it not been immediately followed by hijacking a plan the group had had for almost a year and had been looking forward to, involving being put in charge of another group entirely. Current status—a good portion of the group is looking for excuses to be rid of him.

And then we have Visara. The funny part with her is that she hadn’t been intended to be liked: she was the ex-wife that one of the group members had fled from, and her first appearance, in which she was attempting to get him back, had the side effect of pushing another character’s berserk buttons and culminated in the latter character siccing a mob on her. Her second rewrote her to have very quickly picked up what two members of the group had had to devote a good portion of their lives and even more of their character builds to. And yet by the end of the game, she was one of the group’s closest allies.

So what was the difference?

Part of the problem with Dalowag is that he didn’t bend. After the fight was over, as soon as it was clear that we were expected to bend our plan to his benefit, the group made no secret of that—after all, it was one of the reasons why they wanted the plan’s original beneficiary back, thank you very much. His response to this was a riff on why use of invisibility was a coward’s tool and to never do that again. …directed at the two stealthiest members of the party. Ingratiating? Not so much. The other part was that this was immediately followed by a whole lot of discussion of seemingly impossible things he’d managed to pull off, mostly involving bringing order to the disorderly—not only did it make him seem like he was being artificially boosted, but the stealth-masters also happened to be chaotic. Yeah, that’s going to help. The guy’s current status is “If somebody possesses you and makes you try to kill him again, forget saving his life, I’m going to help.” He also seems to have little to no use for the group except as pawns in the greater plan—and honestly, we get enough of that from everyone else.

Visara’s advantage came from adapting. She was exhibiting hidden depths within a sidechat of the mob incident, and once the initial misunderstandings and that weird little possession plot that showed up later were mostly out of the way, demonstrated herself to be sheltered in her own peculiar way and prone to trying to help people with their emotional problems, including the PC who’d, well, sicced a mob on her. What she didn’t have in skill, she made up for in effort, and while there was a plot based around her taking a leadership position, not only was it relatively minor and mostly a way to make our overall plots easier, but we didn’t already have a perfectly good candidate for the position, and in fact the GM’s original version of the plan was to have it happening offstage before one PC decided she needed the help and convinced the social master that it would work better with her than without her. That, and once talked around she was loyal and eventually competent, two traits we prized above all else—and even her Sudden Boost in Competence mostly made her into a middling combatant and the best healer we’d had, meaning she did a lot for the party without commandeering the spotlight. Most NPCs don’t have to bend quite that much to be deemed reasonable, but the flexibility does definitely help.

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