I love intrigue based games. By that I mean games filled with secret plots and counter plots. Whether the shadow games of nobles or a group of gutter rats facing off against their rivals for control of the streets, this type of game provides a level of interaction from my players that I love. Intrigue games can be difficult to run well. I, personally, tend to run this type of game very aggressively, with intelligent NPC’s matching wits with the best my players have to offer. I also allow these types of games to include a level of player verses player machinations. Few gaming moments have been more statisyfing for me as a GM than one night, when notes were flying back and forth over the table, one of my players stood up and burned hers in a bowel. That was her level of commitment to the game shining through. That movement is still talked about years later
But, this type of game requires a lot of your players. For the game to run well, your players have to be proactive. They have to have a heavy buy-in to the plot, a high level of initiative to drive game play, and they have to remain focused. Lose anyone of one of these three things and the game can flounder as your players sit around waiting for the plot to come to them. And that leads to boring sessions that can kill an intrigue game.
So I came up with a number of player aids to help my players during this type of game. As I am starting up my DnD Next game this week, and there will be a heavy amount of court intrigue, I started prepping these aids and thought I would share one of them.
The NPC Sheet.
This is not a super-secret or arcane GMing trick, but one so simple I am mind boggled it took so long for me to come up with. It is simply a sheet of paper with the major NPCs of the game on it. The information it provides is very basic: name, sex, race, and one piece of campaign info (usually their position in the world at the game start). It is then followed by space to take notes. That is it. So simple and yet it has been one of the biggest boons to my table. This is for a number of reasons.
First, it provides player and game focus. Every time I mention a name on that sheet, everyone pays attention. My player’s reasoning is that, if this person was important enough to be on that sheet, something important is about to go down.
Secondly, it provides a page of hooks for the player to pull on. The players in this type of game need to push the plot forward, much more so than a dungeon crawl adventure. If they get mired in trying to figure out what to do next or need to figure out who is their next suspect in an investigation is: they can jump to the NPC sheet.
Finally, it encourages them to take notes. The little space for each NPC is not intimidating and provides a space to jot down little things that will be useful later. As each player tends to focus on slightly different aspects of the NPCs and their scenes, if they use the sheet, it paints a more complete picture. Also, I leave the space small, no more than a couple of lines, on purpose. This is to ensure that the players don’t become so focused on notes that they lose the thread of the game.
Combined all of these benefits together and the NPC sheet shines. The players are focused on the scenes with these NPCs and are taking more focused notes. They all have a common basis for sharing information and this provides common ground for planning, which enables the hooks to guide them even more.
The NPC sheet has worked out great for me. I have used it in highly political games, and in murder mysteries to great effect. Have you used anything like this? Let me know.