Monday, March 22, 2010

Personality, Hirelings, and Meat Shields

Daddy Grognard has a great little article about hirelings, mentors, meatshields, and Marry Sues. Luckily, my ego is tied up more in the game than any particular characters, so I’m fairly good at avoiding the pitfalls he brings ups. I also roll up my NPCs and let the PCs pick from a small list of the available hires. Here’s a list of sorcerers recently looking for work in Pitsh, as I sent it to my players in email:

  • Keshnal of Druusis – A tall, emaciated guy with long, greasy hair and bloodshot eyes. His clothing consists of a tattered robe he wears open and pair of linen pantaloons. His reputation is one of brilliance, and he has a history of really coming through when the chips are down, but his opium addiction and sarcastic attitude make him erratic and difficult to live with. He wants 50 gp up front, and a half-share of the treasure.

  • Norbis Lal – He'll proudly tell everyone and anyone he's the second son of the third wife of the Warlord of Korba, one of the strongest human city-states not in alliance with the gods. The bookies give his claims only a 30% chance of being true. He's short (5'4”), pudgy, with a round face and warm, expressive eyes. His robes are of fine but sturdy linen and his sandals are simple, but he wears a fancy-looking ring on every finger. He's a competent sorcerer, if not inspired, and he reads and writes both normal and High Fey. He wants 65 up front, a half share of the treasure, and the first wand, staff, or book of spells you find.

  • Meshna – Is young for a sorceress, with long, black hair, and haunted green eyes. She wears surprisingly long, black robes that would seem sensible back in a dwarven community, but are too heavy for Pitsh. Still, she doesn't sweat. Her eyes move constantly, flicking between the exits as she answers your questions in short, to-the-point phrases. She has a reputation for being weird, even for a sorceress, and vicious in a fight. She wants 60 gp up front, a quarter share of the treasure, and dibs on anything you can find that creates illusions or turns people invisible.

  • Koreat Pashnal – Koreat is in her mid-thirties, and so the oldest of those suggested to you. She's practical, smart, and has a reputation for staying cool and collected no matter how crazy things get. She has ginger-colored hair that she wears pulled into a bun, a smattering of freckles across her face, and an expressive mouth. She wears a linen kilt and halter-top, buskins, and a broad straw hat. She speaks and reads common Fey, Nagpa, orcish, and makes a point of telling you, in a voice just a hint over a whisper, that she's had “experience dealing with efreet before.” She wants 70 gp up front, a half-share of the treasure, and dibs on the first spellbook or magic staff you find.

I don’t share the stats with the players, and they can sometimes learn more about these characters by asking around. And these are characters, with personalities and interests beyond just being a pocket-full of neat tricks for the PCs to whip out when needed. They don’t often get forgotten in the middle of the dungeon. “Oh yeah, isn’t Koreat with us?”

I can usually whip folks like this up off the top of my head pretty quickly, but there are tables in the back of the 1e DMG that make rolling up personalities a snap. (True story: my 8th grade English teacher had photocopied the tables and handed them out in class as tools to help with creative writing assignments.)

So the players get a basic reputation, how much they’ll charge, and a brief list of pros-versus-cons in hiring each potential person. This puts the ball in their court; do they want the slightly unstable but more experienced sorcerer? Or someone who’s a bit more boring but more dependable? Or do they want to pay for both quality and reliability?

Luckily, these sorts of decisions are usually set up near the end of a game, so I have time to whip these descriptions up and email them to everyone, and they have a few days to chew on it before making a decision and buying equipment for them.

Art by Ludovico Marchetti and John William Waterhouse.


Anonymous said...

Wow.. really like these. I've been considering a 1e (OSRIC) game, and seeing what you're doing is very inspiring as well as entertaining. Thanks.

Nope said...

These are some great descriptions. Terrific!

Daddy Grognard said...

Thanks for the kind words; I hope I've managed to include things of interest to both hardened grognards and newbie DMs.

Jayson said...

Heck, these fellows have more personality that many PCs I've seen.

Anonymous said...

Interesting ideas. My DM has been pretty much throwing in Mary Sues as you call them with 3d6 in order stats but once someone "joins" the party, we have to run them. He'll intervene if we are throwing them into a meat grinder, usually, and so far the only NPC "in" the party he runs is a very contrary pixie. But we need the sleep spell.

Anonymous said...

Great ideas! This is such a better way of doing NPCs than just throwing them out there. I especially like the "email them the list" part; it gives the feeling that the PCs are actually doing things while they're loitering around in town between adventuring sessions.