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The Douchey DM » Advice, Inspiration, Opinion » JiB on GM’ing: Dealing with Multiple NPC’s At Once

JiB on GM’ing: Dealing with Multiple NPC’s At Once

One of the problems that comes up for gm’s (Ok maybe it’s only me but I’ve heard other gm’s bemoaning this problem so I don’t think so.) is that horrifying moment in time when two NPC’s end up talking to each other but you need for this conversation to take place to impart information or exposition to the player characters. The purpose of this JiB on GM’ing article is to talk about this situation and ways to deal with it without turning the players into audience members watching a one man show.


The first question that needs to be asked is, “Why would my npc’s need to talk to each other?” The short answer is because they have something to say. To be more precise they have something to say that the pc’s need to overhear. A classic example would be the pc’s eavesdropping on two enemy agents discussing their plans to try to figure out where the secret base is so they can infiltrate it and accomplish their mission. Usually these situations come up when the gm needs to do one of two things. First impart information that the pc’s need to further the story of the game. The second is when the gm needs to impart exposition or flavor that matters into the game.


So why would this be a problem? The players are (rightly) expecting to be the center of attention for the game. They are the main characters. They don’t want to sit around while the gm plays with himself. They want to be at the center of the action. It’s going to get very boring very quickly to watch the gm talk to himself, no matter how important the information actually is.


Ok, what can I do to make this easier and more fun for the players? To begin with, keep it short. This sort of interlude works best if you make it quick and keep it to the point. Avoid (if at all possible) the tendency to ramble on about things that don’t have anything to do with the information that you need to get across to the player characters.


If possible paraphrase the entire thing and give the players the information they need. Something along the lines of:


Having infiltrated the club and gotten into position you overhear the two suspected agents of Dr. Evil talking about the warehouse on 3rd Street and what they’re going to do to the blonde once the boss is done interrogating her.


This will impart the information without putting the players in the position of having to listen to the gm talk to himself.


Have a co-gm to play one of the parts while you play the other, or by extension if you have a player who can’t be involved in what’s going on right at the moment (ie the blonde who’s gotten captured in the previous example). This serves a couple of purposes. First it gets the information across in a dramatic fashion. Second it keeps a player who may be out of the action for a bit involved in the game. It can also make a player feel special to be involved in the gm’ing part of the game and make them feel like they’re “in the know” as it were.


Just a few thoughts on how to deal with situations where the gm has to play two parts who are talking to each other at the same time. The main thing to keep in mind is to keep it short and to the point.


I hope this helps or at least gives some food for thought.



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Software developer, gamer, ice hockey player, sometime musician.

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One Response to "JiB on GM’ing: Dealing with Multiple NPC’s At Once"

  1. tentagilNo Gravatar says:

    I actually had an encounter with my layers where they were working a negotation to free one members tribe members from slavery. So they start working through a merchant prince to get an interview with the guy who has the slaves. We go to his compound and I figured they’d want to do the talking. Instead they look at me and assume the merchant will work the deal. So next thing you know I spend a good five minutes talking to myself in two different voices. Best part was the two npcs were enemies but business men, so they kept throwing subtle jabs at each other and the party was howling with laughter.

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