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MoonHunter Sayeth 20170703


Game Guru-Thread Shepherd
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Many Hands aka Orbit Characters

"All the game is a variety of stages, all the people merely players doing their thing".

Some GMs will never split the party AT ALL, everyone is there when you are trying to pick up someone. That does not make for a good game or a good story. However with more skilled GMs, the party will be able to split up and do what they do best (or what they want to do). This is like cut scenes in a movie. In a movie, the camera moves between places for each character’s actions. In a game, this would leave one person engaged in play and a bunch of people being bored (usually), until it is there turn to do something and everyone else’s turn to be bored. You have an entire group players around you. Use them.

I regularly assign NPCs (NON PROTAGONIST CHARACTERS) to my other players who are not involved in scenes. (These NPCs are normally just are descriptions, with one or two traits "for players to hang their hat on". Some NPCs might have some degree of detail character sheet, but most are just extras. If we need rolls, they make "average ones".). These players are pulled to side and given their “stage direction” or "mission". They are given thumbnail backgrounds, the NPC's motivation, and the character's purpose of the scene (frustrate the other character for a while or you must drop these clues or you need to act suspicious so they will follow you). This keeps both players occupied and entertained and allows the GM to focus on other things (directing other characters and player NPC, making ruling, or running NPC scene with another player that can not be delegated). As long as a player is only running one character (PC or NPC) in a scene at a time, play continues on. (Juggling players can sometimes task a GM’s skills).

Players who are not involved in a combat or tactical situation also are disengaged and get bored. I assign NPCs and “Creatures” to players. They handle the dice and mechanics for the combat and can apply smarter tactics to those opponents. With players “playing” the opposition, the combat will play out faster.

This troupe styled play is actually part of several game systems. Adapting it to the play of other games helps speed play along and keeps players paying attention to the events at the table.

Players get either bonus points (bennies, drama, etc) or extra EPs for their performances with these characters, a reward for “good play” and helping to keep the game going. Most of these NPCs are disposable never to be seen again. Others might be continuing characters, the GM can use as appropriate. These reoccurring NPC characters can have primary assignments (players who normally run them for me), but they can pass these NPCs out to others. They may add those points to their protagonist characters or the non-protagonist character they play. Some players don’t want to take the Eps for their characters, so they assign them to the reoccurring NPC. (One guy kept building up one of the local guardsman, so he became totally badass and eventually a PC.)

Many Hands can help speed a game along. There are more ways to use them.

Characters are not alone in the world. They have people they know and interact with. There are NPCs “in their orbit”. It could be coworkers, minions, staff, others at court, the paper guy, their contacts, romantic attachments, family members, old mentors, and so on. These allow players to have slice of life and development scenes. These orbit characters could be useful in other scenes (advice from an old mentor, your uncle the mad scientist, etc). These NPC characters can have primary assignments (players who normally run them for me), but these can pass these NPCs out to others.

Orbit characters allow the GM to focus on what needs to be done, allowing for an improved roleplaying experience without sacrificing the speed of play. The GM sets up several scenes at once giving more players more chances to do things (with the rest of the group helping them out as NPCs). It allows multiple scenes to be played at once, allowing us to have characterization and forward moving plot quickly and easily.

A special class of orbit characters, scene extras. I use this in Star Ship chronicles. Each Player’s primary character would be in a position of power in each section (ideally). They would be in charge of one section of the ship. Each location in the ship will have NPCs assigned there. The Ship’s Doctor will have scene extras for people in sick bay: the RNs, otherr MDs, the labtech, and that one guy from engineering that always seems to be in sickbay for some sickness, injury, or something. They are like reoccurring NPCs and like orbit characters (usually with primary characters). They could be nothing more than a few traits, but some of them will have full sheets (depends on the GM or player). They are just there in the location. (They can also be tapped for other NPC uses on the ship.)

Games are about having as much fun as possible. It is up to everyone playing to make sure the group is having fun. By extending beyond traditional play, a troupe can increase the amount of roleplaying opportunities and quality of play. Many hands can make more fun.

This article has been enhanced and expanded. So read that one here.
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