Role playing and NPCs (or how I learned to stop worrying and not be a namedropper)

Have I mentioned how much I love role playing? Not just the notion of role playing games themselves, but the actual taking on the persona of a character that is part of the story I am telling with the players. Even though I do try to flesh them out more than those painted cut-outs by Stephanie Meyer and Christopher Paolini, they’re never there simply because of I want their presence but always have a purpose. This is definitely a hangover from writing, as every character in my stories (whether minor or major) has purpose and there’s not a scene wasted not telling the story.

This also might explain in the limited times I have had playing I have often struggled playing an actual part in the story rather than being the storyteller. I have no purpose, I am not a vehicle for anything and I’m not after anything except perhaps a good time. Here’s hoping that will change when I start playing D&D.

Moving on to the topic of this post, I’m not going to speak of how NPCs can be generically used in role playing games. There are many articles like this, and ones that come with a good deal of experience and years of knowing what to do behind them. What I am specifically going to talk about is the actual characters of Star Wars and role playing. Fanon characters of course come into this but Star Wars is a particular special case because, as I have stated many time sin this blog, the role playing game is secondary (or even lower than second) to the larger continuity of the franchise.

When you consider it, there’s really three groups of NPCs: canon characters who take part in established big events, fanon characters who are more relevant to the story the players are taking part of, and more peripheral characters that provide the information and resources to assist the players. I’m not going to really talk about the second or third kind, as they exist in most roleplaying games to varying extents. Besides, if you want to read about the little bits and pieces that make a game real and believable, look up my posts on bureaucracy.

Canon Characters

I am going to address canon and the Star Wars Roleplaying Game in a later post, but there is the need to define what I mean by ‘canon characters’ here. And it’s amazingly simple: everything. Unless it comes under the banner of Infinities, I count it as canon. Don’t shout at me, you’ll understand later on.

One thing we can all agree upon is that Star Wars is populated with great characters, though what counts as a ‘great character’ depends on your point of view. This is one of the things that attracts players to the game. They want to fly the Millennium Falcon with Han Solo, or spend five minutes in a room alone with Princess Leia, or be Force-choked by Darth Vader. Of the last, I can think of a rather amusing situation: “I was just Force-choked by Darth Vader….that was SO COOL!”

It’s not just on a player level; I admit that I am attracted to having canon characters in my game. Not just because having an instantly recognisable character seriously adds to the coolness factor of a campaign, but there’s a lot of fun in actually playing the characters. Though, I do admit, that I have had trouble saying “May the Force be with you” and keeping a straight face. Samuel L Jackson was right.

However, despite these advantages, canon characters come with a great big glaring WARNING sign above their heads. Remember how I said that visiting planets can lead to a fantasy tour of the galaxy? The same situation exists with characters, and it could get to the point where it feels you are at a science fiction convention. Except, it’s all real. Well, sort of.

The strange thing is, the rules about being careful with characters are similar to those about planets. However, I see there is much more reason to take them seriously given that characters, particularly central characters like the Skywalker-Solo family, have a lot written about them. It’s particularly hard to keep within canon if you want to have a canon character, but it can be done.

And like with planets, some characters have only limited times that they are “active”. Take for example Padmé Amidala, a G-Level canon character and one of the central characters of the Prequel Trilogy. Despite this, she has a lot of holes in her story (that I am still waiting for the Expanded Universe to fill up) that could make her a good NPC as long as you picked the right time. However, a lot of her plots are going to central around Naboo, the Clone Wars or politics.

A better example, perhaps, could be Darth Vader. Now, he does have a lot of coverage (perhaps the most out of any one character with the exception of his son, daughter and son-in-law), both before and after he put on that sexy armour, but in an Imperial-era campaign it is not a strain at all to have him showing up and stomping about once in a while.

Some of the best examples I can think of would have to come out of the novels of the Expanded Universe. It’s often been my opinion that the authors, and perhaps even the publishing company, have ‘favourites’ which leads to other characters being left on the sidelines. Such is the case with Talon Karrde. He’s only had a very casual reference ever since the ending of the New Jedi Order novels, and any information since then is that he is still in business. Perfect NPC fodder.

There are characters that I would hesitate to put in a game: any one you could count under the Big Damn Heroes banner. Anakin Skywalker, Luke Skywalker, Kyle Katarn, Zayne Carrick, Jacen Solo…You get the picture. It goes back to what I said in an earlier post about making the players the heroes of their own story. That’s not to say don’t include them, but they come with hefty price tags.


~ by katanageldar on September 12, 2009.

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