Saturday, September 14, 2013

NPC Based Merits

"Allies, Mentors, Retainers and similar Merit-based NPCs are created and portrayed by the Storyteller." 
- Mind's Eye Society Universal Addenda

A recent development came up as the new chronicle rolled in, it has a lot to do with the discussions I posted previously about NPCs and how they should be handled by the STs. The ST chain of the Mind's Eye Society has made a point of stressing that the NPC based Merits. For those of you who do not play in the New World of Darkness Games, Merits are defined in the corebook as "Merit: A character trait representing enhancements or elements of a character’s background, such as his allies or influence." So when I say NPC Based Merits, I mean items that tie a PC to a character inside the setting. They come in different flavors:

1) Mentor: A teacher and guide to the PC. Mentors often take the tack of teaching through subtle means, Daniel LaRusso had Miyagi on his sheet. The Mentor acts as teacher, though the caveat of agenda of their own is always on the table.

2) Contacts: A bit more passive than the other merits. Contacts give information, but not much else, they can be anywhere from a group, a demographic or a single person in the know.

3) Allies: More active versions of Contacts, Allies allows you to gain assistance in a certain area (multiple purchases means multiple areas). You can have Allies in Streetgangs, Allies in the Police, and if you ask for favors that are in their area, they can (note that word) do it. It's wise not to abuse this as they do have lives of their own.

4) Retainers: These NPCs are a PCs go to NPCs. They are their valets, drivers, managers, slaves, investigators. They work almost exclusively for the PC, if not outright. Almost each major template has a sub-class that act as perfect Retainer types (Ghouls for Vampires, Wolf-Blooded for Werewolves, Sleepwalker/Proximi, Fae-Touched for Changelings). This is the most ubiquitous of the Merits, and is also the most fun to roleplay with as you're effectively making a secondary character to assist you.

5) Familiars: Entities that are bonded to the PC. These include Familiar's of the Spirit Realm, the Ghosts of Twilight Realm (no, they do not sparkle...okay, some of them do), the Goetic Summonings of the Astral, Zombies, Hedge Beasts, Hedgespun Automata, etc, etc, etc. These are overtly supernatural entities and are usually beholden to esoteric rules that keep them in check.

As the Mage Storyteller, a venue that has ready access to nearly all of the realms, I have to deal with most of these types of Merits (barring the venue specific varieties). In my time as a player and as a Storyteller, I've seen these Merit Based NPCs used in two ways: Fully fleshed out concepts, and dots on a sheet. An example of Dots on a Sheet were my experiences with Jack on Duck Island. Jack was a consistently exasperated Retainer for the overly dramatic escapades of what was a Vampire Sitcom. Then I've run into it where someone goes "I have five dots of Allies, they're going to back me up" And that's that.

Can you guess which version I like better?

NPCs, as I've stated before, represent your setting. If you're playing a game that is based deeply on your settting and on themes, that will reflect in how these NPCs react to others. NPC based Merits is access to the Setting for aid and assistance. Further tying this down, NPCs are to be written by the storytelling staff, an aspect that is being hammered home a lot more closely than it was last chronicle. These are, for all intents and purposes, part of the setting.

This gets to be interesting as I've said before, Mage deals with creatures and characters on multiple Realms. Each one has their own flavor and their own sort of themes. The Spirit Realm is the most obvious of them, but the Astral has it's own David Lynchian quirks. I can't speak for other storytellers, I'm not them, but if I'm expected to write them and portray them, you'd better believe I'm adding Depth and Consequences to them. NPCs are not just functions to be used at the players convenience, they are the population of your game world. They react when you do a thing, they do things when you aren't even around. So while a PC's sheet has dots that denote access to them, that's exactly what it is: Access.

Things to keep in mind.