Monday, July 8, 2013

Money! Science! Musing! A bit of SUE!

This won’t be a full post; it’s more of a musing.

“It’s my money, and how I spend it is my business”

To his credit, GM!Marty has never said this in defense of his own decisions. It is, however, the first defense of any of his characters, and the funny thing is he actually believes in it. Once he’s said that, any criticism of the actions of his (N)PCs is utter folly, and the NPC in question will usually set the hounds on anyone too persistent.
See, GM!Marty is like a lot of people up here, in that, in short, money is the center of their moral code, kind of like a religion. I’m not about to start flipping money-changers’ tables over, here; I don’t mean they’re profaning any sacred anything. I just mean they tend to operate on the idea that anything they can buy, they should be allowed to have, because blah blah free market; there’s a sort of sanctity of money at the core of their ethos, stretching from beyond "do not tell me how to spend my money" to "anything I spend money on is morally unimpeachable". They brazenly buy essays, pay people to take tests for them, bribe anyone who will take the money, and that’s just what they do in school. I hesitate to guess what they do in their home lives. GM!Marty, to his credit, has not bought any grades that I know of. He’s more of a fanboy, defending the plutocrats on the above logic largely because he’s convinced he will one day own at least as much.
This leaks into his gaming in a big, bad way. His rich people are invariably eccentric to the point of insanity, and the PCs are, as often as not, hired to see to it that they get what they want; the assumption is always that if they fail, there’s always more people willing to take the proferred reward or less, so they’d better not negotiate—and if they try anything, there’s always the funds to buy assassins pointed at them. They’re neither amoral nor immoral: they’re wealthy, which means they speak…slowly and make…the rules.
This reacts very poorly with his players. We’re fairly normal products of our generation; in general, our opinion of the upper classes of any given setting varies from wordless, choked-off cursing to punching a hole through the nearest wall. I’ve learned to use that to get money to the PCs; the more ludicrously childish and insane I make my wealthy, the more they believe them and the more energy they’ll put into taking them down. The worst risk I run is them forgetting the actual theft and going directly to horrifyingly imaginative violence, but that’s what their private police are for: mooks! I use the rich like WH40k uses orks: an endless source of violence, comic relief, and swag. By and large my players seem to like it.
But then there’s my own Mary Sue archetype. I generally employ technical people in the same light Marty employs the super-wealthy; they’re generally right within their areas of expertise, they tend to float rather than freeze, and my players frequently come to depend on them for missions – even if their boss is someone else entirely. I blame my own thought process for this. It’s just easier to explain what the PCs are doing, especially in an investigation-type game, as some sort of experiment. Here’s what we know, here’s what we need to find out (and what we think it might be), here’s the minimum definitive set of data to determine that, so please go find it. (A similar thought process works synthetically.) It flows more naturally from my coroners and my mad scientists than my chiefs of police and generals, I suppose; I try to structure things so that coming out of the investigative phase they’re largely self-motivating. Still, it's a typecasting, and I keep finding myself making all of my intelligent villians take after Ozymandias.
That’s all I really have for this one. I’m curious, though, if anyone else out there has NPC types they tend to associate with being fairly hoopy froods by default, and how well the association is received by their players.


  1. Wizards. Wizards are always the ones looking for a way to make water run uphill, simply to say they can. Basically, imagine Discworld wizards: every single wizard in Griffonford and beyond is like that.

  2. Elderly peasants, and related. Urban campaigns I've played in tend to have intelligent/charismatic leaders, guards and lieutenants of middling mental acuity, and a broad base of Monty Python skits around them. Some working folk have good sense if no education. However, if you make the mistake of saying "The closest person" or "The first man I come across"...

    Well, it's comic relief.

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  4. Reasonable Authority Figures are my go to. In universes full of both awful monsters and politics, a get-his/her-hands-dirty type of guard captain, commander, agent, sheriff, or other authority figure with enough clout to give the players permission to do potentially questionable things without too much hassle, without being such big names they can move mountains for the players (Thus making the players do some things themselves) are excellent sources of direction for me. Usually they break the rules a little too, for the good of everyone, because wading through red tape slows down things the people need right then, even if the red tape exists for perfectly legitimate reasons. For instance, a colonial security captain might encourage the PCs to lean on a suspect harder than would normally be allowed to get him to spill the beans on a killer, because using physical force (Not torture, of course) to get a suspect to talk is faster than a formal investigation, and might save a lot of lives. Its both a boon to the players and a character flaw, and it can come back to bite this PC benefactor if the PCs play a little too loose with the rules and then namedrop him too many times or he has to keep covering them. Usually the players tend to like these characters, seeing them as relatable, dependable, and knowledgeable, while still having distinctly human qualities and motivations. Plus, I can usually give him a snotty stick-up-the-ass rival or senior officer who can make life hell for the character, and use that character as a quest to help their benefactor (The snotty officer is, of course, totally unwilling to help the players and is more of a bureaucrat than any sort of reliable assistance).

    The tricky part is making the character less-than-by-the-books without letting them slip into sliminess or depravity. Knowing which rules s/he breaks, and which rules just get bent, and which rules have to be maintained is important.

    Then on my end, my way of inspiring hatred in my players is two things: Organized terrorist groups, and selfish pig-headed officials who are after one thing only: Advancing their own career, even if that means climbing over everyone else's career to get there. The first is usually some group with an unreasonable motivation or demand, and the size, cleverness, and funding to actually make themselves a threat, and the second is usually a very effective foil to the NPC go-to I've established for my players, as some tight-ass who uses the helpful NPC's rule-bending as an excuse to come down on them mercilessly and make a big scene, ensuring their name gets brought up everywhere as the one who put a stop to all the corruption. They will of course be totally inept at actually DEALING with all of the problems the helpful NPC deals with, instead filtering them through the inefficient bureaucracy to get dealt with "eventually".

  5. "We’re fairly normal products of our generation; in general, our opinion of the upper classes of any given setting varies from wordless, choked-off cursing to punching a hole through the nearest wall."

    You and I clearly have different definitions of "normal" - mine doesn't involve becoming incandescently rage-y just because of the amount of money someone makes.