Thursday, July 15, 2010

House Rule : NPCs & Story Points

The Purpose of Story Points

One of the chief purposes of Story points in the game is to ensure that the player-characters are the heroes of the story and the main driving force behind the action; the rules provide a variety of uses for Story points which allow them to fill this role in a very efficient, dramatic and entertaining way – yet I feel that the rules also lose sight of this initial objective by allowing NPCs and creatures to have their own reserve of Story points.

The first problem that this approach creates is the amount of book-keeping involved for the GM, especially in a system which otherwise succeeds in keeping such technicalities to a very elegant minimum. Having to keep track of many different Story Point totals at the same time may often be tedious but simply borders on the nightmarish when trying to run fast-paced scenes involving many minor NPCs or creatures, such as Judoon troopers or UNIT soldiers - not to mention the fact that this will certainly tend to slow things down, lessening the dramatic tension of the scene without adding any extra element of fun for the players.

Giving every minor NPC even a couple of Story points is also a sure way to lessen or even negate the very impact of the PCs’ own Story points or, in more narrative terms, the influence of the heroes’ actions on the development of the plot – especially in a genre where heroes are frequently faced with hordes of opponents and apparently unbeatable odds. In my opinion, giving Story Points to such NPCs tends to contradict the spirit of the source material as well as the very raison d’ĂȘtre of Story points as a game mechanic.

In keeping with the spirit of the game and its source material, Story points should be the sole prerogative of heroes (player-characters) and other major characters (such as master villains and other NPCs with a pivotal role) – and even then, player-characters should always be given an extra edge over those major NPCs, reflecting their privileged status as the true and only heroes of the story.

NPCs (including creatures) can be divided into three ranks of dramatic importance : Extras, Supporting Cast and Special Characters.


Extras include the nameless soldiers, thugs and bystanders found in so many Doctor Who episodes. As rank-and-file characters, Extras are usually given average attributes and skills which correspond to their stereotyped role.

The proverbial 21st century man-in-the-street can be assumed to have a score of 2 (not 3) in each of his six attributes. This starting template could serve as a basis for other typical Extras, by raising some of the Attributes to 3 or even to 4 for one of them in accordance with the character’s job or role.

A typical police officer, for instance, could have 3 in Strength, Awareness and Resolve, while a typical elite guard could be given the same scores, plus a Coordination of 4. Skills may also be defined in a similar manner, with a maximum level of 3 (remember we are talking about Extras here). Good and bad traits should simply be ignored for such rank-and-file characters.

Extras do not have any Story points. For the sake of simplicity, all the injuries they sustain should be subtracted from their Resolve score, without the GM having to bother to decide which attributes should be affected. If an Extra’s Resolve falls to zero, he is taken out of action and may even be killed at the GM’s discretion, depending on the type of damage taken and the needs of the ongoing story.

Supporting Cast

Supporting Cast NPCs have a fully fleshed out identity and personality but fill a secondary role in the story. This category includes a major villain’s main lieutenants, important contacts, trustworthy aides and other auxiliary NPCs.

As the adjective “Supporting” implies, each Supporting Cast member is always affiliated, tied or linked in one way or another, to one or several player-characters or Major NPCs.

Their definition in game terms is as specific as a player-character’s – the only real difference is that they do not have Story points of their own. Unlike Extras, however, they may receive Story points from the player-character(s) or major NPC(s) to whom they are affiliated (using the You can do it, I know you can option) and may subsequently use these points as their own for the duration of the episode.

Thus, Supporting Cast NPCs will never ‘steal the show’ but may still have a significant impact on events through their association with the heroes or with other Special Characters. That’s what being a supporting character is all about.

Special Characters

Such characters include recurring master villains, legendary figures, unique monsters and other NPCs whose dramatic stature can be compared with that of the player-characters themselves. They have their own Story points, which they can use in exactly the same manner as the PCs. Their Story point total should be determined by the GM, using the same rules as for PCs or extrapolating from the various figures given in the Creatures section of the rules.

Note that this supreme degree of dramatic stature should really be restricted to the most important NPCs in a series (such as, say, the Master, Davros or William Shakespeare) and does not have to be represented in each scenario : not every episode’s main villain will qualify as a Special Character.

See also Master Villains and Fated Characters below for a few extra ideas about such characters.

What About Creatures ?

Creatures which operate in groups (such as Daleks, Sontarans, Cybermen etc) should be treated either as Extras or as Supporting Cast. In other words, they have no Story points of their own and usually show little or no initiative. Only leaders, truly remarkable individuals or unique monsters should be treated as Special Characters and be given their own personal reserve of Story points.

Master Villains

Most Special Characters who can be described as master villains will usually have some master plan, hidden agenda or driving goal which usually takes precedence over everything else in their vision of things. To reflect the obsessive nature of master villains and their master plans, the GM may choose to restrict the ability of such characters to spend Story points before crucial dice rolls to tasks and actions which directly pertain to their master plan and its completion. This only applies to the We only get one shot at this effect; all other uses of Story points are unaffected.

Fated Characters

Gamemasters may also choose to place a similar restriction on Special Characters who have a Destiny to fulfill, including most major historical or legendary figures – people like King Arthur, William Shakespeare or Winston Churchill.

To reflect the importance and weight of their destiny upon their actions, the GM may rule that such characters can only spend Story points before a crucial dice roll if it is directly related to their destiny, whether or not the NPC is aware of what Fate (or History) has in store for them. As for master plans above, all other uses of Story points are unaffected.

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