I’ve been nibbling around the edges of Courtney Campbell’s On the Non-Player Character, but have thus far been dissuaded by price tag (a whole other topic: he can of course charge whatever he likes!)
What do we do when we see something shiny but unavailable (unpalatable, just out of reach way over there, scuffed up, it looked at me funny)?
We make one of our own!
Lay of the Land
5e gives us NPCs with loyalty scores that are a sort of “passive reaction check” (dmg 93). It gives NPC followers a “cost”, lifestyle expenses and a share of experience (the latter of which I don’t use).
They begin Friendly, Hostile or Indifferent (dmg 244), and can be temporarily or permanently shifted a step via interactions in a loose, story-based way. They expose their traits via insight checks and suggests waiting until the point is reached and then making a single charisma-based check, outcome determined by current friendly-level.
Good, but (modulo specific numbers), I have summarized the whole if the rules system as provided. The rest are left to squishy DM adjudication.
Let’s see what we can do about that! Throw the above system out. We’ll be rebuilding it; we’ll wind up pretty close to that, but not identical.
Let’s give the NPC some social stats.
One wisdom save isn’t enough to represent willpower; let’s split it in thirds.
Loyalty: by default, this is the creature’s Wisdom (charm) save. For loyal or trusting but dimwitted creatures, you might substitute Charisma as the base statistic. This statistic generally opposes Persuasion.
Morale: by default, this is the creature’s Wisdom (fear) save. For brave or disciplined but dimwitted creatures, you may substitute Constitution as the base statistic. This statistic generally opposes Intimidate.
Insight: by default, this is the creature’s Wisdom (insight) skill, but one might usefully substitute an Intelligence-based score or a perception based score. This statistic generally opposes Deceit.
Now, give the NPC Ideals, Bonds and Flaws like a PC would have.
These get a call-out, because they come with a rating, sort of like an attribute
The rating of a bond varies between -5 (extremely weak) through +5 (extremely strong), and applies to Loyalty, Morale and Insight checks when appropriate.
Flaws, in particular, might be used to “cut against” Bonds and Ideals; if a guard has the following stats:
IBF: My King +2, Alcoholism +5
then we’re in trouble. If a spy catches wind of the guard’s Alcoholism, they might attempt a bribe; they can roll (the spy’s) Persuasion + (the guard’s) Alcoholism vs (the guard’s) Loyalty + (the guard’s) My King . I’d rather take a +5 to my roll than a +2 — wouldn’t you?
Only ever roll one bond per die roll, like proficiency. Both IBFs should always come from the same character — the passive one.
This gives us a good mechanism for individual interactions — does the NPC betray the party? Roll Loyalty + Bond against a DC set by the temptation and find out! Does the NPC break under pressure? Morale + Bond!
Naturally, we’ll want everyone to have hugely positive bond towards us. We can do this by inducing or creating one, a skill check which is opposed by their insight (if no more appropriate stat) and to which the bond strength itself harms us! (The more friendly we already are, the harder it is to get friendlier-still).
No matter how high you get a bond, it returns after a short rest, usually.
How about a framing scene? Now that we have a way to track an NPC’s state and loyalty over time, we need a way to tell when they get fed up and leave.
The answer: depends on scene. Pick a number of “exchanges”, and freeze things after that many. I suggest a charisma check — 1 + 1 per 5 points on the check.