As I have noted elsewhere, I have played and GMed (or DMed) for a long time. During that period I had a core group of Regulars who played in most if not all of my campaigns and their presence had the effect of cluing in new players to how I ran things. Now that I am playing on line I have opened my campaigns to a much wider audience but at the same time I have lost most of my ‘Old Regulars.’ Consequently I now need to explain things myself.
First, let me say that I run ‘realistic campaigns.’ I know, i know… It’s Fantasy Games with Magic, Demons, Dragons and a cast of thousands of fantastic and improbable creatures. How can it be realistic?
By Realistic I mean that things happen in my campaigns for sound, logical reasons. I try and make my NPCs and the events surrounding them as ‘real’ and as genuine as possible. You won’t find mountains of treasure guarded by anemic Goblins. Magic and magical items, though not always rare, are proportional to the circumstances and people attached to them. By that I mean that ‘Griswald the Grunt’ doesn’t have a Sword of God Slaying and if by some strange twist of fate he did come across such he would either A) Quickly learn how to use it and employ it to cut off the party’s nads. Or, B) Quickly have it taken from him by someone who does know how to use it and is able to turn Griswald, and anyone else who gets in his way, into lawn fertilizer.
Realistic also means that events, good or bad, have consequences that fit the circumstances. If you break the law you can expect to face consequences. You may be able to evade justice, but that will require some effort on your part. By the same token, doing something outstanding will be to your credit. But don’t expect the Keys to the Kingdom because you skrag a couple highwaymen.
In many games the NPCs that players meet fall into one of two categories, those who have useful information/goods/services to sell/buy/trade and those that the party kills/robs/cheats. In either case they are basically there for the party to exploit. My NPCs are not so accommodating! I once overheard one of my Regulars telling a new player that “His NPCs are all either Smart, Powerful or well connected….”
While not literally true it does capture an essential point…. All the NPCs are part of the society in which they live and even if they aren’t capable of taking care of themselves they have value to other people and harming the NPC will ultimately irritate somebody who is capable of taking care of the players. At it’s most basic level this will be the local lord who relies on that now dead serf to pay his taxes, work the lord’s fields and serve in the lord’s army. The lord may not have any personal or emotional stake in that dead serf, but allowing the player (s) to go unpunished is bad for the other serf’s morale and, ultimately, bad for business. In short, just because the NPC seems like a worthless slob to you, it doesn’t mean everyone else sees him that way.