The Other Guys – Supporting Cast (N)PCs in RPGS
The Other Guys. The followers. The sidekicks. Red shirts #1-5. The science guys. The servants/followers who carry the adventurers loot. Sometimes they have names, more often than not, they won’t. We all have them in RPGs.
The Stargate SG-1 TV series once had an episode called The Other Guys. It focussed on a group of scientists who were largely, em, well, inexperienced. It was from this that I got the idea about running spin-off games featuring “The Other Guys”, normally NPCs that the players could run in one-off games.
Recently I’d planned to begin the WFRP adventure Power Behind the Throne, after completing Death on the Reik (see here for a description as to how that went). However, come the day of play only half the group can make it. I could have run the session and spent most of the next session catching the missing players up. However, in Death on the Reik, the party encountered a mercenary group, the Merry Bande. I had a problem: half the group could make it. So instead I ran a one-off adventure featuring The Other Guys, members of the Merry Bande.
The Merry Bande – The Other Guys Example
They were initially a generic band that the PCs could use for training or advancement (e.g. to Mercenary/Sergeant/Captain etc.). They’re normally just supporting NPCs that weren’t fully fleshed out, just a capsule description. They sort of existed as generic red-shirts (or a specialist like Chief O’Brien before he came a regular cast member in Star Trek: The Next Generation/Deep Space Nine). They consisted of:
- Captain Kowalkski, tough guy. Hard-bitten, bit like Clint Eastwood. Usually chomping a cigar.
- Klaus Schmidt, Sergeant. Think Jason Statham and his character in the movie Snatch.
- Ostermann, Corporal. Sarcastic wise-cracker – forever a corporal. Dead-pan. Younger version of Dad’s Army’s Sergeant Wilson.
- The Norsican – only the band understand him. Easy going, speaks like the chef from The Muppets.
- Maus, the sharpshooter. Small but tough. Ferrety-looking, usually up a tree or on a roof.
- Aristmann, cold killer. The kind of person that speaks (and listens) to sock puppets. Skips among opponents, stabbing them while humming the Smurfs theme.
- Jaegerhalten, sneaky git. Check behind you and then check your pockets. Now you see him, now you don’t.
- Dizeigeler, AKA Die Scheissehaus. The group’s siege weapon, usually carrying a (excessively large) firearm…
- Hans Schup, Artillerist. Plays golf – with bombs. Makes the PCs very nervous.
- Brother Bada Boom, Dwarven Gunner. Crazed dwarf with a love of big guns, and disproportionate responses. Shock and awe!
Yes, I know some of these are pandering to stereotypes! WFRP has a long history of humorous NPCs (racially stereotyped and otherwise). The cover of WFRP 1e alone features GW owner at the time, Bryan Ansell, twice; and artist John Sibbick’s head on spike. Even some of the book’s internal illustrations are based upon then Games Workshop staff members. But I digress.
The Merry Bande are the Other Guys. They’re nowhere near as experienced as the PCs, but they are there to support them in some way as NPCs.
Why run an adventure with The Other Guys?
There’s a huge variety of advantages to running games featuring The Other Guys – even if it’s not the same group of players.
- They’re expendable. If you’re feeling particularly cruel as a GM.
- You can run adventures that your PCs would never get the chance to play. The PC group may never go to Lustria and the New World, but the Merry Bande might.
- They’re not likely to have the same experience levels as the PCs so you can still go back to earlier more basic adventures.
- They exist in the campaign timeline, but can be inserted anywhere. For instance Power Behind the Throne follows a strict timetable, which may lead to the PCs being tied up elsewhere. Meanwhile, elsewhere in Middenheim…
- They can further the plot, without a GM having to rail-road the PCs. Perhaps running an adventure will encourage the PC to investigate further.
- They can help “mop up” after the PCs. And blame them. Even better is when the PCs turn up, or have just left.
- It’s a change of pace and different, especially if your PCs have had a hard time, and everything is a bit too “Grim-dark”.
- It can help when the group has insufficient numbers, or as an introduction. Want to introduce someone to the system but don’t want to clobber them with an existing campaign or a highly advanced character? Then run a game like this – it’ll also give them a window on the game setting too.
- It goes the other way, too. Want the PCs to play their mentors or similar in a one-off? Use them as The Other Guys. A specific example of this is the Circle of the Eight (Greyhawk’s most powerful Mages) as used in the Greyhawk WGA4 Module Vecna Lives!.
Ultimately, running NPCs as PCs adds a lot to the game world as well. Yes, you do have to stat them up completely but as a GM, it’s no big deal. In my case, the Merry Bande took on a new dimensions. Whether they’re side-kicks in a superhero game, the PCs mentors, or mercs in WFRP; it’s well worth running games featuring The Other Guys.