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I'm running a game of Diaspora, which is my first FATE based game. The manual talks about playing with everything in the open and I'm all for that, but when should I actually make up a card for an NPC and put it in front of the players? Only in combat (social or otherwise) or any time they run into one?

I'm concerned that writing up or pulling out a card every time an NPC (minor or otherwise) is introduced would interrupt the flow of play, and showing skills and aspects to my players for minor NPC's would be a distraction. In particular I fear it would introduce red herrings when a player see's that a girl has apex Computers 3. That's not particularly relevant to her role in the scene, but my players tend to latch on to something like that.

When should I create and show NPC cards in Diaspora?

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3 Answers 3

You may as well define a NPC with a single aspect like Linda, the curly computer genius and then only start to detail them as they become more relevant to the story. Once it becomes clear that they need to be more than a scene aspect, you can break out a blank NPC card for them and fill it out on the run as needed.

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When they are or become mechanically relevant:

  • They are involved in a roll
  • An aspect is applied to them
  • The players start treating them as mechanically interesting
  • They're already statted up

Any time before that is premature or distracting for minor NPCs.

However, I do keep a roster of generics on-hand – soldiers, guards, scientists, those green things in the forest shadows – any NPC type that has been relevant gets stats, and then I use them as defaults for new NPCs. That they are minor characters is obvious by the way I treat them mechanically and narratively (I literally think out loud, "Ok, she has standard Marine stats plus Pilot 2…", so my players are privy to the process).

All that said, I tend to roll with it if the players take an interest in a minor NPC. I could make them important, but I could also just leave them minor and accept that the players have adopted a pet NPC / have found a red herring. In that case, again, I can indicate that the NPC is unimportant by steadfastly refusing to take them seriously mechanically, even as I give them that extra bit of "players' favourite NPC" personality.

In Diaspora it's 100% OK to show or tell the players which NPCs are important and which are just extras. It's part of laying everything on the table and not keeping unnecessary secrets. It prevents red herrings almost every time, and keeps the players moving forward.

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The key reason to play with everything in the open in a FATE game is to give the players enough information so they play a part in making the game interesting.

If you've got a pre-prepared card for an NPC before a conflict starts, the players should get to see that when the conflict starts. If you're making things up on the fly, scribble down the important stuff (relevant skills and aspects you think are worthwhile) then let the players assess/declare any remaining ones. This gives them enough to play with during the conflict.

When it comes to minor NPCs and their random skills, it's valid to let them dream up uses for the girl's skill in Apex Computers. If they are interested enough to engage with it, then it's important enough to weave into the story. This means that there are technically no red herrings.

If the girl is such a minor NPC she comes and goes in a scene without getting involved in conflict, then there's no need to mention anything other than what she's there for. If the players want to assess/declare something else on to her, you can start keeping an NPC card for her then.

As a side note, Spirit of the Century talks about Guessing Aspects. Any skills or aspects that people try to hide should only come out if another player makes an effort to discover them. This may have been overridden in Diaspora but it's worth bearing in mind.

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