LARP NPC mindset (part 1)
Let’s address the elephant in the room. Lots of folks come into a NPCing with an adversarial mindset. A lot of that comes from being PCs as recent as 5 minutes ago. Yes, when you were PCing, you had everything on the line. You needed to “win”, which means you needed to defeat the NPCs and not die in the process. The “fun” of PCing is victory over adversity, hazards and enemies. Some of the best techniques to effective PCing is to shut down the NPCs as quickly and brutally as possible.
A proper NPC attitude isn’t simply being the opposite of that. It’s taking a 90° turn from this. You still need to be an effective combatant. However, you shouldn’t have the mindset of winning by exacting a death on the PCs, or dumping one of them at least.
There are two “wins” to try for as an NPC, and I think you should try for both.
#1. Enable the “story” of a PC.
#2. Make the fight exciting, scary, long or all three, but without exacting a heavy price on the PCs.
A PC’s internal story
Everybody when they make a PC has an internal story, and it’s usually pretty short and simple. Most folks stories follow this pattern.
My character <name> is a badass with <this weapon/spell>.
For that story to come true, they need to feel like that signature badass effect is well.. effective. Here’s some techniques I’ve picked up.
“The ranged guy”
This is the guy that has a bow, throwing daggers, or a signature spell they like to joke people with. Now, if they are cray-cray powerful with that bow or spell, it’s just gonna joke you anyway as an NPC, and you need no special effort outside of just letting it joke you like the rules say it does (I’m looking at you Mesmerize). Don’t fight it, just let it work.
However, there’s a lot of rules systems where bows just suck. There are spells that hit you for “1 Fire”, because that’s the best that guy has. Countless times I’ve gotten hit with these, and I just feel bad for the guy, knowing that he could unload his whole quiver on me while I stood still and probably not drop me by the stats I was given. NPCs are stated out to be a melee challenge. That means they can mostly laugh at the DPS put out by bows compared to foam.
There’s a couple techniques I use here. First, I make sure to verbally acknowledge the hit from the ranged, and will often break away from melee to chase them a bit, as if the attack was dangerous to me, or at least annoyed me. This plays to the “Ranged” story that their bow/spell is awesome, even if it really isn’t.
The other thing is that I’ll give the Ranged guy a lot more “fudge” factor. The fact of the matter is that in the heat of battle, NPCs can forget all the damage and counters they have taken to exactitude, since they only got their stats about 10 minutes ago. As an NPC, I try to make sure that I “fudge” that math on the light side. For a ranged guy, I will often let that “Arrow, 2” finish me off if I have any doubt at all about where I am. I’ll even do it when I’m sure about my math, but I’m close enough that I want to make sure that the ranged guy gets the kill. If I’m low on health (which means I’m also probably a bit winded), I’ll try to let that person just hit me and kill the kill legit.
“The melee guy”
This guy has sticks and wants to hit you to death with them. There’s a ton of these in any given fight. Pick one of them. Pick somebody near your skill level, and play with them. Make them earn the kill on you. Run around a lot and try to single folks out. Nobody remembers when they and 12 of their friends played foam pinata with a single NPC. They remember the story when they got caught out alone in a fight and were victorious.
If you’re a good fighter, up the game and fight 2-3 people at the same time, but single one of them out as your “choice”. To the others, lock them out, and don’t let them touch you. To your choice, they are the one you’re going to enable their story. Give them openings by attacking the others. Make sure they get the killing blow. They may not have bragging rights, but they are going to be LOVING that fight where they fought better than those other two fighters.
You can also enable a specific weapon style, depending on the weapon combo. A shield chick has a story of “my shield is awesome and protects me well”. So.. make easy to block shots at times for that shield to block. Let that spear fighter think they are keeping you at range with their awesome spearness, even if you know that you can just wreck them with a step, block and two-sword foam hugs. Dodge in and out, and act frustrated that you can’t get it without getting hit.
None of this means fall on your sword or take hits on purpose. It’s just a matter of manipulating things to make one person feel awesome.