Hi yall, couple sessions into my first Burning Wheel campaign. I feel comfortable working in NPC’s from relationships or circles tests. However, I find myself a little unsure of how to go about introducing NPC’s from a PC’s circle when they are not actively trying to make a circles roll.
As an example to hopefully show this better, one of the PC’s is a member of a gang. Suppose I want to introduce the gang’s accountant so they can cause some problem for the PC related to a belief of theirs. I’m not really sure what the best intended procedure is for bringing them into the picture and fleshing out their current relationship with the PC. Do I say “PC, the accountant Joe is at your door. You obviously know Joe being a member of the gang, let’s do a circles test to see if it’s a good relationship”? The PC wasn’t looking for them, so it doesn’t feel like the proper time for a circles test.
Or do I say “Joe is at the door, he always causes you problems and it looks like he’s here with another”? I think this is part of a broader uncertainty for me right now, in that the game is so driven by the characters and their pursuit of their beliefs, that it kinda feels a bit off for me to decide things like that without a roll. It’s one thing if I introduce an NPC that had no connection to the PC’s at all, since then I feel like I have full authority over what their deal is. But when it’s me introducing NPC’s from the PC’s background/circles to challenge a belief, is it OK for me to have full authority over what their deal is since they didn’t seek them out with a circles test? Any advice for dealing with this kind of situation would be greatly appreciated!
No Circles test there, no.
The disposition of the NPC is entirely up to you, but if how they feel about the PC matters right now, it should be based on confronting a PC Belief. Otherwise, maybe you’re just using the NPC as a vehicle for information, and the NPC’s feelings don’t matter: in that case, skip it and get to delivering the information. (In that case, the info should impact, threaten, or nudge a Belief.)
If you’re just introducing the NPC but don’t know why, it’s not time to introduce the NPC or decide any details about them. Wait to pull them in until you need to touch a Belief, and this NPC is a good way to do it.
To flip this on its head: if you introduce NPCs because they matter to a Belief, how they feel about the PC and what they mean to the PC will be nice and obvious and not feel arbitrary. Remember that players write a given Belief to see it complicated and see plot focused on it, so an NPC that does so isn’t you just being arbitrary!
I will give you an example how I handle this. I rarely create NPC out of the blue. I always let my players create their own problems. Less work for me, more engagement from my players. And each and every one of them becomes memorable.
Last game one of my players was the servant girl of a spitefull lady in waiting. The plan was to have here make the pc run errants when inconvenient for the PC, spread gossip and get her in trouble.
By accident, this NPC became an evil sorceress trying to usurp the sultans throne. (Long story, failed wises, a couple of circles gone wrong, something about genies being summoned). Whenever my players would want information or get an enmity clause, it would be linked to the plot of the evil sorcereress.
They got allies close to the sorceress too and some in different circles too.
We ended up with a really intriguing story where every NPC and PC mattered for the plot. There was not much fluff.
My point here is, intoducing NPC should either help or hinder PC now, not in the future. Until they do, they are not important. I don’t plan to introduce new npc’s until the PC’s create opportunity.
I do always have a plan, a sketch or an idea. But if there is no opportunity, I let the plan go. Kill your darlings, and corrupt the PC’s
In the case of Joe. Ask the following questions.
Do the pc’s need an accountant now?
What do they want from the accountant?
Is there a complication you can think of should a circles test go wrong?
Let them make a circles role to introduce him. If they succeed they get a accountant.
If they succeed over ob. They get to name him ‘Joe’ but it is not the joe you had in mind.
If they fail… you get ‘joe, the rat’ that will make the PC’s lose resources by just looking at him.
Chances are if you just drop him in the game, no one will care about Joe and he will be ignored.
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