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What Does it Mean to NPC?

When it comes to LARPing, the usual goal is to embody a noble hero, a devious villain, a cunning rogue, a ferocious warrior- a multitude of powerful fantasies facilitated by the game and its world. That world however, needs to be populated by someone; someone the player characters (also referred to as PCs) can triumph over. This is where NPCs, or non-player characters, come in.

Hector and Alia of the Pale Cross- NPCs from Alterra

NPCs exist to fill the game world with all sorts of people and creatures, be it a common farmer, a sly raccoon, or the godlike emperor. Not all NPCs are created equal, and in fact oftentimes more critical NPC roles will be reserved for people with more knowledge of the game lore, mechanics, or who have proven themselves able to react well to many different scenarios appropriately and quickly. This shouldn’t discourage you! In fact it should help you feel more confident that the NPCs of higher plot relevance, often referred to as Face NPCs, will be capable of interacting with you and those around you in an immersive and fulfilling way.

A wedding in the fae wilds presided over by a fae lord- Alterra NPC characters

You may even work up to becoming a Face NPC or Boss NPC by putting in time and effort, learning the game lore and mechanics, and more importantly, showing the ability to improvise both in and out of combat (depending on if combat matters to you or not). But how do you do that? What makes for a good NPC even if you aren't Lord Rogaine of Castorius? Well, while many LARPs operate in different ways, there are a few things you can do to improve the experience for both yourself and the PCs interacting with you. 

Combat Roleplay as an NPC

Let's start with combat, as that's a bit easier to outline and employ. First and foremost, combat roleplay is the single most impactful thing a PC or NPC can do to heighten the LARP experience (at least…when combat is involved…). Figure out how the NPC you’re portraying would move, would attack, would react to being hit- even depending on what hit them. If you’re a basic undead, consider lumbering a bit, more slow and pronounced movements. If you’re an assassin, do your best to skirt the outside of a situation and look for vulnerable targets to sneak up on and then don’t just tag their back with a dagger and run away, surprise them! Let them know you’ve caught them by surprise and you will relish in their misery before you strike. You don’t have to do this every time, but things like this will not only enhance your experience as an NPC in the game world, it will give the PCs something more to interact with beyond a jarring smack in the back while you shout “Assassinate, 70 Body” and prance away while they try and respond.

A female alterra character fights an NPC bear

It should be noted that sometimes PCs take combat a bit too seriously and will take your combat roleplay as opportunities to go all-in on you, unleashing a flurry of [poorly] roleplayed attacks. Some games may have a system in place in case this happens, but generally speaking, your two main options are to consider that as one hit instead of multiple (depending on your game's machine gunning rules) or take all the hits and react appropriately. If it deals 90% of your health? Stagger and stumble and react. If it outright kills you? Drop dead. At the end of the day, the player who killed you that way may [hopefully] realize combat is less fun when things just drop without any play. And if not, assuming you have multiple respawns (which is often a technique used by NPCs to account for PCs outnumbering NPCs), you can get to respawn faster and can look for a different PC to interact with who may be more open to enjoying the combat roleplay interactions.

An Alterra NPC is portraying a bull running away

Improvising in Non-Combat Scenarios

So what about NPCing a character out of combat? Well, the answer will depend on how much guidance your NPC coordinator gives you. Sometimes you’ll have a pretty rigid outline of your purpose and objective, other times you may not; like if you’re sent out as a roaming drunk for example. Maybe you’ve never had a sip of alcohol in your life so you have no clue how to roleplay being drunk- no worries! Maybe you roleplay someone who “is totally drunk, I’ve definitely had alcohol, why would I be lying about that?”. Or maybe you do know how to roleplay being drunk- so you can give yourself a reason why you are. Are you just a person who had a good- or bad- day working the fields and wants to enjoy yourself and are looking for others to join you? Are you a recent divorcee or widow(er) and are trying to forget your sorrows? Maybe you recently watched a wererat massacre your favorite horse and the trauma has driven you to drink so you can suppress the memories and realization that you are, in fact, the wererat (definitely seek approval with a coordinator before claiming to be a werecreature at your game).

NPCs Enable the Success of the PCs!

There is so much more that can be said about NPCing- how NPC Shifts usually work, the dos and don’ts- but the best way to learn is to engage with it. Understand we’re all giant nerds playing dress up in the woods and swinging foam sticks at one another shouting things. Everyone can be the hero, but every hero needs a foil over which they can triumph, and that should be your goal when all is said and done. Don’t hand PCs victory, but remember that you aren’t there to be the heroes. NPCs exist to flesh out the living (or unliving) people of a story in a world, you are there to empower the enjoyment of the PCs just like they do the same for you when it is their turn to NPC. This doesn't mean you can’t have fun as an NPc too, just keep in mind that if the coin is flipped 100 times, the PCs should win 51 of them.

A gathering of Alterra NPC characters

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