In any game, it is the GM's job to determine how an NPC will react to the party. The goal is to remain consistent and realistic with what the party knows about that character. This is especially important with recurring NPCs.

The Problem

Inevitably, your merry band of murder hobos will do something that could and should affect how the world reacts to them. Often this is done as a punishment -- the Thief was caught lifting purses at the local bar, and now the party isn't allowed to go there anymore -- but sometimes can be a reward as well. If the party risked life and limb to free the town of Smallville from the cult of Mathom, shouldn't they be viewed as heroes? How can you quantify this bonus? How can you keep it consistent? How do you balance their heroism against the Barbarian's (ahem) indiscretions of the past week?

The Inspiration

A potential solution to this problem lies in video games. In particular, Crusader Kings 2.

Each NPC in CK2 has an overall opinion score of the Player Character, based on many different factors. The opinion system is complex, sophisticated, and lends a sense of realism to NPC-PC interactions. It is based on basically two types of modifiers:

Group Modifiers

These are usually based on a PC's character traits, and will affect the opinion of certain groups of NPCs. Examples:

  • Personal diplomacy (+ or - depending on player's attributes). Affects all NPCs.
  • Long reign (+10). Affects every NPC's opinion of that character.
  • Foreigner (-20). Affects only NPCs in a different cultural group to the PC.
  • Kinslayer (-100). Affects only members of the PC's family.
  • Religious differences (-20). Affects only NPCs of a different religion. Sharing a religion with an NPC has a corresponding positive modifier.
  • Shared/different trait (- or +). If the PC and an NPC are both charitable, the NPC will like the player more. If they have opposite traits, however (charitable vs greedy), the modifier is negative.

For an RPG, the Game Master would need to decide what sort of group modifiers make sense in their universe. There might be modifiers that affect a whole town, a crime organization, a religious sect, or the world at large. The key is to write these down as they come up, and apply them consistently afterwards.

Individual Modifiers

These are often the result of actions that a PC has taken to help/hinder a certain character, and apply only to that NPC. They will sometimes have a time limit for their affect (an NPC might only be affected by a bribe for 2 sessions, for example). Examples:

  • Pressed an NPC's claim to a title (+80)
  • Imprisoned the NPC (-30)
  • Murdered the NPC's child (-100)
  • Gave the NPC a gift (+10)

There are also passive bonuses or negatives for the type of relationship the PC shares with an NPC:

  • Same dynasty (+50)
  • Half-brother (-40). The NPC might only have this applied if he's also a contender for the throne. In the party's case, this would be a political or social rival.

This is where the GM would have to keep tabs on individual NPCs and the party's interactions with them. Did the Party skip town without paying rent? That innkeeper isn't going to be happy to see them again. Did the Party intervene on behalf of a wretch facing imprisonment? Likely that man will feel indebted to them for some time.

Applying it in Game (for the OCD, probably impractical)

Keeping track of this much detail would come at the price of book-keeping. Likely, one would need to keep a note for each character with a table of modifiers. I could see doing this in a spreadsheet, or in a program like OneNote or Evernote, if a GM really wanted this much detail for PC-NPC interactions.

Adaptations: A Better Option

Given that this system was originally designed for a computer game, I believe that it could be streamlined a bit to work at a table. Instead of applying numerical modifiers to each NPC, we can simplify things a bit with + and - symbols.

  1. Grab an index card for each NPC (or group of NPCs) you want to keep track of. Put his/her name at the top, and maybe a one-line description.
  2. Add + or - modifiers to the card, based on whatever you want. Assign more ++ or -- to different traits/events.
  3. Tally the + and - modifiers and assign an overall score.
  4. Cross out stuff that no longer applies.

Example 1:

Narm Winthrope (local half-elven cutpurse, member of Cult of Bask)

  • Party cheated him (---) . 6 sessions | | |
  • Party contains a half-elf (+)
  • Party has a fearsome street rep (++)
  • Party works for same crime organization (+)
  • Cult of Bask modifier (---)

Total: (--)

Narm Winthrope views the party with distaste, and may hinder them out of spite (though he will not actively seek revenge against them). He will lose the 'cheated' negative modifier after 6 sessions (3 of which have already passed) on his own. The party could try to mend fences with him earlier, of course, and remove that penalty before 6 sessions are up. OR they could exacerbate the situation by cheating him a second time. At that point, Narm would likely lose the cheated modifier, and develop a permanent Grudge modifier (-----) that might cause him to seek revenge.

Example 2:

Cult of Bask (apocalyptic cult, actively recruiting)

  • Party contains cleric of Kendor (-)
  • Party purged Cult of Bask from Smallville (---)
  • Cult leader took a shine to the Ranger, and considers him a potential recruit (+)

Total: (---)

The Cult of Bask views the party with suspicion and distrust. They are keeping an account of people to be purged ere the Great Reawakening, and the party will be dealt with at a later date.

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