A couple of posts ago, it was about NPC Ideas, and you might be wondering why you care about NPCs that aren’t enemies to be killed. Let’s run some examples:
Non-Role-Playing Game - The player wants to buy a war horse. He looks at the equipment chart and it says a warhorse is 200 “money”. He subtracts 200 from his money and writes down a warhorse on his character sheet. He gives his war horse the maximum attributes allowed by the game rules and feels justified in doing so because he paid 200, where a “riding horse” is only 100. Oh, and he probably never paid for the saddle, tack or other requirements, nor did he ever bother to figure out how much it would take to feed and stable said warhorse. He’s only good with game money when it is being added to his character sheet.
Minimalistic Role-Playing Game - The player tells the GM he wants to buy a warhorse. GM looks at the book and sees that it costs 200. GM rolls (or has player roll) a Scrounging skill task and the roll shows a success. So the GM says the PC has found a war horse in town. The two write down how much the saddle and gear will cost, assuming that the horse seller sells saddles and gear as well. Depending on how good the Scrounging roll was, the GM assigns some reasonable stats to the horse, and they go on, forgetting about the war horse, unless the PC is charging someone in combat.
Far Better Role-Playing Game - The player tells the GM he wants to buy a warhorse. The GM asks him what he’s looking for: highly trained, young, huge, strong, mare, stallion, gelding? The GM knows that war horses aren’t just sitting around in small towns, so he makes the player roll a highly modified (downward) Scrounging task, and it is a failure. GM says, wait until you’re back in the big city.
Next week and the party is back in the big city. Player reminds the GM, but misses this roll too. So the PC goes to the stable near his apartment and asks the GM about the stable hands. GM improvises that there is one who is seemingly in charge, young guy about 20-22, reasonably fit, laid back. “Johnnie” So the PC talks to Johnnie (Carousing roll - success), and Johnnie likes the PC. PC says, I’m looking for a war horse and gives him the same kind of specs they talked about last week. Strength more important than size, a good, compact, reasonably well trained war horse. Johnnie says, I don’t know of any in town right now, but let me ask around. PC tips Johnnie nicely, and Johnnie likes him even more. GM rolls Scrounging for Johnnie. Johnnie succeeds, because he really knows this town and the horse traders in it. The next game day (probably same gaming session), GM tells PC that Johnnie has found him his horse. Johnnie and the PC go over to the horse trader and Johnnie helps him negotiate the price down a little. But this is an excellent war horse - near max attributes. They settle on 275 for the horse. On the way back to the stable and apartment, Johnnie stops by a tack shop and the two pick out the best war saddle, tack and saddle bags for the horse and the adventurer. PC goes back to his apartment, and Johnnie makes sure the horse is comfy in the stable he runs.
How is this better? Well, first off, now it is a role-playing game, because the player has to role-play important things, and buying a war horse is a pretty important thing. If any of you bought a car by simply showing up at the dealership, taking the first one you saw where you liked the color, and paid cash flat out for it, then you won’t understand. The remaining 99.999% of us know that this is a big deal. The player now knows what kind of horse he has. He knows what kind of tack he has. This is important because otherwise the player will choose whatever is best for him later on in the campaign when something here becomes material. You know it! You probably did it too.
But what else? Well the player now has a contact - Johnnie the stablehand. When the PC returns from missions, he can say - I drop my warhorse off with Johnnie, and both PC and GM know where the horse is and how it is being maintained. This method costs the PC more. He wasn’t able to cheat on the tack. He is going to have to pay to feed the horse and stable it, though Johnnie might make that a little easier on him.
A lot of gold farmers are out there right now rolling their eyes and thinking, “See, this is stupid. They just wasted money that they didn’t need to.” OK, we’ll ignore that the other way is cheating and focus on game play. It’s six months (real time or game time) later and the city is under attack. Does the gold farmer say, I get on my armor, I get on my war horse and I ride to where there is fighting? Do GM’s allow that? When you don’t know where the stable is, you can’t let them get to the war horse. Even if you did, the gold farmer would need to saddle and prep his horse on his own, where the guy who role-played with Johnnie might be able to assume that Johnnie got the warhorse all prepped for him, saving precious combat turns. Outside of a fight, Johnnie can also be a source of information, the victim of a crime and therefore the reason for a new mission, getting married to allow the city life to appear as if it is going on with or without the PCs.
Look, I’m not against war games. If you want to spend a certain number of points, build a military unit and then test strategies by battling other military units, by all means! But we’re talking about role-playing games here. Seems like there should be some role-playing.