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NPCs

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Julius
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Joined: 12/31/1969

I'm wondering what are common ways to handle NPCs (non player characters) are -- in any non-computer game.

A few I could think of are 'fixed movement' (aka Kill Doctor Lucky), player choice (each turn, one player moves part of the NPC's units), and player vote (all players decide what the NPC does).

What other options are there?

Krakit
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Joined: 11/26/2011
NPCs

Are you talking about for movement, ala Finster Fluer?

You could always use a movement deck with specified rules for the directions drawn.

Carl

Julius
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

Well, not specifically movement, but mechanics to handle the decision making for an opponent who is not a living, breathing, human being.

NetWolf
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

I guess you could technically call the zombies in the game ZOMBIES! npcs. At the end of each player's turn they get to move all the zombies on the board 1 space. While this may seem like it's time consuming, most of the time players only move zombies that are either close to themselves or close to opponents.

TheReluctantGeneral
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

I've got a similar problem in one of my games in progress - which I intend to handle via a bidding mechanism. Making this work requires that players have some visbility of the likely near future advantages controlling the NPC will confer.

If such visbilitiy extends suffiently far into the future, you can make players bid to control a future turn of the NPC, such that a succesful bid cannot be acted upon until a turn or few into the future, requiring careful planning ahead.

You can take this scheme in two directions - have all bids open such that players currently controlling the NPC can act to thwart the value of future controlling actions, or have all bids hidden, with bids revealed on the turn they take effect with the winnin gplayer immediately taking control of the NPC.

In the latter case there is more record keeping required but the benefit of the hidden information _might_ add something to your game.

RobBartel
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

I'm also using a bidding mechanic for one of the games I'm working on and the mechanic is working quite well on our current playthroughs.

The gameboard is a depiction of London with a limited number of discrete locations. In an effort to have the nature of the game evolve over the course of play, I added in a Queen Victoria NPC who begins the game safely ensconced in Buckingham Palace but begins to roam in the midgame, with significant penalties to the players she catches.

By tying the bidding to 'screw-your-neighbor' resources that the player does not have at the start of the game really doesn't want to acquire, I was able to keep the queen ensconced in her palace until the startgame firmly established itself.

In my mind, mechanics that put NPC movement under the player's partial control are most effective because they give that NPC a sense of intent and purpose and provide players with another means of interacting with each other. Automated and chance-based mechanisms tend to be either too deterministic or too chaotic for my tastes.

MusedFable
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NPCs

Either one player is set up to be the "bad guys" and plays the NPCs.

Or every player is allowed to move or affect what the NPCs do. Sometimes this is as small as the robber in Settlers of Catan, or the zombies in Zombies!!!. Other times its a bit more complex with special moves, orders, cards, and subsystems that add a lot of complexity to controlling NPCs. In the end the same result happens. The players all try and use the NPCs to there advantage just like any other part of the game. NPCs just become mutually controlled game piece(s).

Lastly you can have the game system itself control the NPCs. This "programmed" a.i. is usually very simple and mindless. The NPCs won't be making decisions. They'll just be randomly acting scenery.

Boardgames are about the players at the table. They don't emulate things very well. What they do well is prompting interaction between the players. Boardgames, card games, role-playing games, and every other tabletop game is about the people that gather at that table. Tabletop games take those players and give them something to collectively mutate, argue over, contribute to, and generally interact with each other.

With that said. NPCs will never be more than just another part of the game engine. You don't need to concentrate on them any more than you would any other game mechanic. NPCs are no different than a boat, dinosaur, or any other mechanic in the game.

Is there something specific you needed to do with the NPCs?

jwarrend
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Joined: 08/03/2008
NPCs

I think the mechanics you devise for NPC actions depends a lot on what the NPC is supposed to represent. There are several games in which there is a "king" pawn that is "making a tour" of his kingdom, and rules that govern how the king moves and what kinds of actions occur during his movement.

SiskNY are working on a game that has a deduction element, and we're trying to find a way to have an NPC who can "beat" you in the information game. I think the way we're going to do this is to have a track representing "how many turns the enemy needs to solve the game", and the track is decremented each turn AND any time any player makes a public revelation of info (which is something you'll want to do for a game-specific reason).

In these examples, the NPC is really just a gussied-up game mechanic, but thinking of it as a "king" or "adversary" just makes it easier to learn the mechanics than if you think of it as a "region that will score this turn" or "game clock".

Another idea I had this morning that might work in some games. Envision a game sort of like Puerto Rico where there are N players and N+1 available actions, denoted by tiles. Players go around the table and each choose an action tile, and then the remaining tile represents "the action chosen by the NPC", which is then carried out according to some simple AI.

My GDW game "Disciples" has a hybrid NPC that moves according to a specific AI but also can perform actions in a way that is basically player-controlled, but there are restrictions as to when and where the player can cause the NPC to perform an action.

I think that what you do with an NPC really depends on what the NPC's role in the game is supposed to be. I strongly believe that good mechanics can be derived that are neither too deterministic, nor too random, nor completely player controlled (this last I tend to find athematic in general). What is the context in which you need an NPC mechanic?

-Jeff

Emphyrio
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NPCs

The trouble with giving all the players the opportunity to control the NPC is that the NPC acts in a very inconsistent manner, according to which player controls it at the moment. If it is important to the theme to have the NPC act as an intelligent adversary, I think you're better off having one of the players control it all the time, either by promoting it to a player character with a different goal, or by giving the other players some compensating advantage.

Hedge-o-Matic
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NPCs

One idea is for rapid-elimination types of games, where characters are being killed of somewhat regularly, is to have NPC's act on occasion, but, since they are the pool from which the players pick their replacement characters, the NPCs tend to act for their own good, rather than that of a player. Also, if a given character is forbidden from choosing a given NPC, or must choose from a select group(and having the players NPC groups overlap a bit is even better), it would give the players reason to have the NPCs act "among themselves" rather than just being glorified pawns in the schemes of the players.

TheReluctantGeneral
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

Emphyrio wrote:
The trouble with giving all the players the opportunity to control the NPC is that the NPC acts in a very inconsistent manner, according to which player controls it at the moment.

This is a good point which cannot be completely solved. However one way to address the 'split personality' NPC problem is to have players bid for control of the NPC, but give the NPC a default action (perhaps determined by the NPC's current location on the board) which has it's own bid strength. If no players bid high enough then the NPC takes the default action.

The default actions and associated bid strength can be varied according to position etc (for example, when a 'thief' NPC nears a potential robbery site the NPC is overwhelmingly likely to move into the robbery site and apply his professional skills).

The bidding scheme could be augumented or supplanted by a scheme more tailored to the game theme itself (such that players wishing to prevent an NPC default action can only do so by playing a card which makes sense in the game context). To continue the thief example, playing a 'watchman' card on the location that would otherwise have been robbed prevents the thief from moving there, and possibly transfers control of the NPC to the player who placed the appropriate card.

larienna
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Joined: 07/28/2008
NPCs

Here is a thread that I started in the past about "Sharing the role of the villain". I think it is appropriate for this discussion :

http://www.bgdf.com/modules.php?name=Forums&file=viewtopic&t=3228

MattMiller
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Joined: 12/31/1969
NPCs

One problem with bidding for control of the NPC is that it basically means the NPC will be controlled by whomever is most desperate to control it. This will often be a player whose goals are at odds with the goals that the NPC should have. For example, if an NPC thief is heading for my unguarded art museum, I might bid like mad to control him and move him away -- a very unlikely behavior for a thief.

I think, if the players are going to control an NPC, the method of selecting which player takes control when should be based on which player's goals are most likely to align with those of the NPC. A very simple example of this is the way that Makhno's anarchists are handled in Ted Racier's wargame of the Russian Civil War, "Reds!". Makhno's forces, being anarchists, fought against both the Reds and the Whites, and never cooperated with either. To simulate this, the game gives control of his troops to the player whose forces are currently farthest away from them. This means Makhno always end up attacking whomever is closest.

-- Matt

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