No matter how intelligent or organized you are, it is impossible to prepare for what your players will do during a game. If you think of, and prepare for, 100 possible responses, the players will find the 101st in five seconds flat. When that happens, you will either have to force them back within the confines of your preparation, or you have to be ready to improvise. This series is aimed at preparing for the latter. What you need is enough preparation that you have a good mental grasp on the NPC without preparing more than you can easily keep track of.
Instead of wasting hours preparing for a hundred alternatives that won’t happen, how does preparing for just two key ones sound?
Once you know what the NPC wants from the PCs, you should ask
- What will the NPC do if the PCs give him what he wants?
- What will the NPC do if the PCs say no (implicitly or explicitly) to what the NPC wants?
Once you have these two down you can
- deal quickly with the two most likely scenarios
- quickly improvise responses to the vast majority of likely scenarios, which will be variations and permutations of these two cases, although it may need a little practise like any other skill does
- leave your players free to react how they want (since you are prepared to improvise) rather than following your prepared plot
You should also be able to remember the answers for the most important NPCs without looking them up. Try that when you try to prepare for every possibility.
Why and To What End?
Asking “why?” to the answers to these questions will usually lead back to the NPC’s agenda, the same way that “What Does the NPC Want from the PCs?” does. Occasionally you may be able to anchor some of the NPC’s quirks in concrete actions, though, so don’t forget about asking, just don’t expect much.
“To What End?” will lead back to the NPC’s larger agenda even more often than “why?” does.