Ever since we introduced Wicked Uncle and the Ivy Throne back in Drama!, a major showdown has been brewing. And ever since we introduced the Heroes’ minions back in The Help, they’ve waited patiently in the background. They’ve acquired backstories. Aristocrat has even done a bit of nefarious plotting. And now at long last, in the wake of Wizard’s adventures in gender bending, the ambitious NPC has seized her opportunity. None of this was planned.

When you’re telling a long-form story, it’s important to maintain some sense of continuity. You want the early episodes to pay off. You want your players to shake a fist and grit their teeth and cry, “I should have known!” In my experience, the way you do that doesn’t involve plotting out your adventure within an inch of its life. The trick is to be like Aristocrat, and to seize the opportunity when it arises.

This is one of the (many) ways that TRPGs differ from novels, screenplays, or any other medium with a fixed script. You don’t have the opportunity to go back and revise earlier scenes in a TRPG. You can’t retroactively seed a plotline, adding appropriate foreshadowing to your first act. Once something’s happened at the table, it’s happened. The unforeseen vicissitudes of dice and PC antics mean that planning is, at best, a narrative crapshoot. In the case of Handbook, the voting over on our Patreon has a similar randomizing function. (If it didn’t, Wizard would still be a dude).

My point in all this is to describe the sort of narrative flexibility that’s indispensable to GMs. It goes hand-in-hand with improvisation, and involves rethinking and reconfiguring storylines after each and every session. And because storylines rise naturally from a game world’s web of character interactions, the easiest way to do all of the above is to make like Aristocrat: to allow your NPCs to react to the heroes’ actions.

That leads us to the question of the day! When have you encountered an “active NPC” in one of your games? I’m talking about characters with their own agendas. Characters whose plans and plots adapt, interacting dynamically with the PCs. So what do you say? Let’s hear all about your opportunistic innkeepers, long-lost siblings, and squirrels returning favors down in the comments!


EARN BONUS LOOT! Check out the The Handbook of Heroes Patreon. We’ve got a sketch feed full of Laurel’s original concept art. We’ve got early access to comics. There’s physical schwag, personalized art, and a monthly vote to see which class gets featured in the comic next. And perhaps my personal favorite, we’ve been hard at work bringing a bimonthly NSFW Handbook of Erotic Fantasy comic to the world! So come one come all. Hurry while supplies of hot elf chicks lasts!