Bonus Experience 15: Making—and Playing—Great NPCs

NPCs—never just sentient quest boards. Today we’re talking about how best to use your NPCs, how to make them believable and interesting, and how to give them all different voices even if you’re not a professional voice actor running a critically-acclaimed Actual Play. We’re also talking about how to pronounce Chejop Kejak, how to avoid doing accents, and paying clumsy homage to Sweet Brown.

Anomaly of the Week – an SCP-flavored MotW Campaign

When You’re Tired of Hot Vampires and Sexually-Frustrated Angels

I’m notoriously bad with campaigns, as you’ve probably heard. That said, I’m always returning to Monster of the Week to run my one-shots—my table group keeps requesting it, in fact.

I’ve decided it’s time to bite the bullet and run a campaign again.

That said, I don’t want to run another Buffy, or Supernatural. They may be Peak Source Material, but I’m a sucker for that unique shit.

I tossed it to my group—”is anyone, by chance, familiar with the SCP wiki?” One of my players lost his shit, so that settled it. I’ll be running a Monster of the Week game set in the SCP Foundation “universe.”

This isn’t about how to run a Monster of the Week game. There’s lots of resources on that! This (mini?) series will be solely about how to run Monster of the Week using the SCP wiki as source material—potentially with advice on how to adapt other, similar sources. I’m going over it in detail at first, with a TL;DR at the bottom if you just want the facts.

The First Session

If you’re not familiar with SCP, here’s a quick and dirty breakdown: it’s a collaborative supernatural horror anthology. Lots of people writing lots of short stories that are sometimes sort of connected. There’s a hall of fame of top-rated stories here, if you want to get your feet wet and your blood curdling.

Due to the collaborative part, it’s not accurate to say the Foundation has no canon, so much as the Foundation has hundreds of canons. That said, the common thread among all of them is that Weird Shit exists and there are regular people trying to research and catalog and restrain it all. You know, Secure, Contain, Protect. It’s really a shoe-in for the Monster of the Week style. A little X-Files meets Men in Black by way of pants-shitting terror.

Changing Playbooks

The first thing I had to change was the list of available playbooks. Since anything intrinsically “anomalous” would be subject to SCP protocol, only the strictly-mortal playbooks would be available. Those are:

  • The Crooked
  • The Expert
  • The Flake
  • The Mundane
  • The Professional
  • The Wronged

I also explained that “knowing” magic was not a thing for any of them—that if they had the right resources and shit they could attempt Use Magic that way, but nobody would be shooting lightning bolts from their asses. Wizard-magic, not Sorcerer-magic.

One of my players asked about playing something Weird and I repeated to him the line about how he’d end up secured-contained-protected. That said, I have not ruled out allowing any of the players to become Weird through the course of play.

In fact, I’m absolutely planning on this happening.

But don’t tell them.

I came down heavy on encouraging having either an Expert or a Professional in the party, given that they would all be playing a field team in the Foundation’s employ. An Expert gives them access to a lot of tangible resources (explained as the character having higher security clearance), a Professional gives them a leg-up in dealing with the Foundation’s bureaucracy (explained as the character having more clout and respect).

The Professional playbook is especially interesting (maybe critical?) because of how much work they put into detailing the “Agency.” The only restriction I put on our Professional was that he had to choose the “Live capture policy” red tape, and everything else was up to him.

Basically, our Professional decided what flavor the Foundation would take for the entire campaign. (He ended up going with weird gadgets, deep funding, and a secretive hierarchy.)

In the end, my table settled on having a Crooked, an Expert, a Flake, and a Professional. We have a fifth guy who shows up occasionally and I’m still working out if I’ll give him the same chargen process or hand him a different premade every time—he’d probably love it either way.

Changing Moves

Given that they are all working for the same agency, it didn’t feel right allowing only the Professional to interact with the Foundation via his moves. I created a custom move for the rest of the party:

When you deal with the Foundation, requesting resources, permission, or forgiveness, roll +Sharp. On a hit, your request is granted, but choose one. On a miss, your request is denied, and choose two.

  • Your request flags your personnel file, and you can expect a later enquiry
  • Your request is inconvenient, at best, and you take -1 forward when next you deal with the Foundation

Not nearly as good as the Professional’s version, right?

  1. The Professional’s “Deal with the Agency” is still relevant
  2. In the event that the Professional can’t field the request for them, a player is left with something that is guaranteed a narrative consequence
  3. If the team screws up and they all have to answer to the Foundation for it, only the Professional has a chance to get out scott-free…

That said, I wonder if it’s too shitty. A miss means you don’t get what you want and you’re double-boned? 🤔 I’ll probably revisit this before it ends up being used.

Anyway, I also wanted a move for one more thing the Foundation is known for—namely, obliterating memories MiB style.

When you administer A- or B-rank amnestic, follow procedure for correct administration and roll +Sharp. On a hit, the amnestic is administered with no further complications. On a miss, the Keeper may choose one or both of the following:

  • Subject is resistant to the amnestic—later follow-up may be required
  • Subject experiences side-effects of the amnestic—medical attention may be required

I haven’t put any restrictions yet on amnestics, how much they have or when they can get a hold of them. So far, they have used this move twice in play: once to circumvent a nosy security guard, and once to clean up after interrogating a witness. I’m waiting to see if they come up with something unusual or abusive. Strangely reactive for me, but 90% of that comes from a genuine interest in seeing what happens, lol.

I collected these two moves as well as screenshots of the amnestics guide into a handout, and printed a few copies for the table to reference. I also printed a very, very brief primer (complete with [REDACTED]s and ████!) for each player, since only one of them was a super-fan and everyone else would need a little bit of info on the setting.

My biggest challenges so far?

  1. Worthwhile props that enhance the atmosphere while also serving information
  2. Surprising the One Guy who knows fuckin’ everything SCP already…

TL;DR:

  1. Restrict the playbooks to Crooked, Expert, Flake, Mundane, Professional, and Wronged (nobody should have intrinsic magic)
  2. Encourage having an Expert or a Professional in the party (both doesn’t hurt)
  3. If there is a Professional, require that they take the “Live capture policy” red tape tag, and pay attention to the other tags they choose since they will determine what “flavor” of Foundation you will be running.
  4. New custom move (entire party): When you administer A- or B-rank amnestic, follow procedure for correct administration and roll +Sharp. On a hit, the amnestic is administered with no further complications. On a miss, the Keeper may choose one or both of the following: Subject is resistant to the amnestic—later follow-up may be required; Subject experiences side-effects of the amnestic—medical attention may be required
  5. New custom move (non-Professionals): When you deal with the Foundation, requesting resources, permission, or forgiveness, roll +Sharp. On a hit, your request is granted, but choose one. On a miss, your request is denied, and choose two: Your request flags your personnel file, and you can expect a later enquiry; Your request is inconvenient, at best, and you take -1 forward when next you deal with the Foundation
to be continued…

Bonus Experience 12: Listener Mail and GenCon18 Wrap-Up

Wait, you actually emailed us? Like, we asked you to do it, sure, but you… really and truly sent us email??

Today, Monica and Rai address questions and dispense advice as suggested by YOU, the listeners! Monica also gives a breakdown of her experience of GenCon. Please keep in mind: Rai is sick, and both podcasters had one hell of a ADD day, so, uh. We talk about punching dynamite.

Bonus Experience 10: Tips for Running One-Shots

How do you manage your time effectively? How do you keep players on-task? How much planning is TOO much planning? One-Shots: How Do? Lucky for us, Rai specializes in single-episode gaming, and has some suggestions for increasing the danger you pose over short distances. Questions also posed: Does Rai drink carbonated water because she hates us? Have you heard of Microscope? How does brain, when the words can’t and you have to, like, you know?

Bonus Experience 9: Tips for Running Long Campaigns

What do you plan for? How detailed should your notes be? How do you stay committed? Long Campaigns: How Do? Lucky for us, Monica has quite a lot of experience running the serial epics, and she has some tips and advice for GMs who want to up their campaign game. Also discussed: Pretenders to the Pepper throne, fart-based Evocations, and a dog that sorta sounds like Liam Neeson. Kind of.

Bonus Experience 7: What’s Real When We Play Pretend

Some stuff in your game is more real than other stuff. What does that even mean? Why talk about it? If we don’t want to get mired in what exactly “sorcery points” are to our bombshell tiefling sorcerers, then we have to talk about diegesis.

Also, it being Pride Month in 20gayteen, we’re a little gayer than usual this week.

Bonus Experience 6: Dealing with Garbage Players at the Table

We’ve met them. Heard the legends. Sometimes, we’ve BECOME them. How do you identify disruptive players—garbage people, if you will—and how do you deal with them without losing your game to discomfort, bad vibes, or the dreaded Missing Stair? Monica and Rai have a few ideas.

Also, we struggle to remember all seven sins without the help of anime, take a bean break, and fan out over Blades in the Dark.

Bonus Experience 5: Games and the Art of Railroading

Who would’ve thought train tracks could conjure so much hate? Today we’re talking about railroading, and why it’s not such a big deal—why it is, in fact, necessary and useful for running games. We’re also making doe-eyes at Apocalypse World for what is probably the fifth week in a row.

Bonus Experience episode 3—uh, 5: Player Engagement and Trust

Episode 3—er, 5—is a misophobic nightmare, and we apologize about that. It was an adventure just to recover it, frankly.

This week, we’re talking about player engagement and trust, how to earn these nebulous things, and why they’re important to begin with. We also hear from every organic creature within 20 feet of either microphone, as well as initiate some discussion of the La Croix Mysteries.

The kickstarter for Dragon-Blooded: What Fire Has Wrought has 9 days left! Monica’s put a lot of work into this! Give it your support!

Game Scheduling: How Do?

Literally the only thing I miss about high school is how easy it was to get together for games. Now that I’m in my 30s, its impossible to get any number of grown-ups in the same room at the same time once a week (sometimes we can’t manage twice a week).

Luckily, there’s Doodle (https://doodle.com, iOS, Google Play).

Doodle is a scheduling service you can use from your browser or your intelligent device of choice. It allows you to set a time frame and location, and you can invite users even if they don’t have an account. Every participant selects the time slot/s that work best for them (with an optional “I can go if you really NEED me” option), and now you have everybody’s availability at your fingertips!

My real-life table games involves five other adults from four other households, so Doodle has been invaluable. I make a poll for every new month and we pick our best game days from there.

How do you guys get around the perils of adulthood and schedule for your games?