21
\$\begingroup\$

For reasons that would take to long to explain here, my campaign requires are certain feel of fear and paranoia for my PCs. There will be quite a few failed assassination attempts and so on. I'm running The Dark Eye, which is an extremely realistic game.

To really deliver this feeling of threat and fear for the lives of character, I want to kill an NPC in a fashion that the death is most dramatic and touching.

The NPC is a member of the watch and will only be around for somewhat 3 to 4 hours (3 days in the game) [1]. He will save the lives of my PCs 2 times.

Are there any other measures and improvements I could take to make the death as dramatic and with as much impact as possible?

[1]: 2 days is not much in "real-life" to get attached to someone, but I assume that if there was a policeman or policewoman protecting you over 2 days and they suddenly get slaughtered, you would be quite scared.
In a role-playing game, you have one more layer or abstraction and players will usually not relate to the fictional world as much. This is the main difficulty that I can envision.

\$\endgroup\$
  • 23
    \$\begingroup\$ If you've already decided this much, your biggest barrier to getting PCs to care about things might be the railroading... \$\endgroup\$ – Erik May 1 '17 at 14:09

11 Answers 11

16
+250
\$\begingroup\$

I will share with you my experience and methods about bringing tears to my players' eyes. I find that I'm quite successful at it, and there are things the other answers have not touched on that I feel are very core to creating drama.

Conduct a Session 0

The most important bit that lays the foundation for everything else is that you must hold a Session 0 and tell your players that this campaign is going to be serious and dramatic. You need to get your players' buy-in that they want to play this kind of game.

Unless everyone is in agreement that they want to participate in a more narrative campaign with dramatic elements, and that they're supposed to participate in this story as well, you really have no guarantee that any of this is going to work.

So hold a Session 0 and get their buy-in. If you can't, then don't push through with it or find a different group that is more into your kind of game (if possible).

Warming up

First, recognize that an NPC is just like a bench. NPCs are just fictional people who are unremarkable in that they cannot affect your players in real life at the moment of their introduction. Your NPCs are just like any other NPC ever made -- except for the meaning your players give to them.

Just like the bench in the video, your NPC is given life by what the players bring to the table. Not you -- the players. You are giving them a bench, but it is just a bench like any other. The interaction your players do with that space is what gives value to that interaction, and that is what differentiates that bench from every other bench.

Why is this important? Because it is a metaphor for every real life interaction we do, everyday. The things that are important to me are important because I say they are important, and I give them value. These same things may not be important to you, but you have your own set of things that you value. Their value comes from the meaning you assign to them, rather than any intrinsic property your things have.

Once you recognize this, you should also make the leap to the conclusion that any NPC -- family member, stranger, savior, or damsel -- can be assigned this value. It doesn't matter what they are because NPCs are just like benches: they are thoughts in your head; they have no intrinsic worth; they gain importance by what your players bring to that interaction.

Introducing a valuable NPC

Appeal to player emotions

Just as you cannot force me to care about a random bench, you cannot force a player to care about a random NPC. Even if they were their character's mother, father, or child, they are still fictional people. You have to encourage your players to assign value to this otherwise unremarkable NPC, but you cannot force them to do so. So the secret is in knowing what your players -- not the characters, but the players -- value. And then, align those with the characters.

Roleplaying is human interaction. If you want to create drama, then you have to place humans first, characters second. And then you have to make sure to align the human values with the character values. In this way, when you introduce your NPC, you are appealing to the emotions of both the players and their characters.

Practice your acting

People know what other people are feeling on an intuitive level. When someone is sad or angry, it comes off as an aura you can detect. Other people are good at hiding this aura, others are more obvious. But the key is, anybody can know that someone else is feeling some kind of strong emotion.

The best way to show the players that this NPC is important is if you can show that the NPC is important to you, the narrator. This isn't to say you must treat them as a DMPC or anything like that, but if you want to optimize for drama, you must care about the fate of this NPC on an emotional level.

How to do this, you ask? Empathy. You must empathize with the plight of this NPC, and when the NPC speaks through your voice, you must feel the weight of your words. You must act, in the sense of acting in a play. I'll give examples of this later.

The scene must be set for drama

You can find touching moments in any scenario, but to optimize for drama, the moment must be geared for it. This is a difficult and non-trivial thing to do, though, because when we think of "dramatic" we think of throwing sad things at the audience. This is actually not the way to go.

See this video about how Pixar makes you cry. You don't throw sad music over a sad scene and expect tears: you throw happy music over it and let the sadness play out. Why? Because the conflict between the scene and the music creates tension, and tension pulls at the heartstrings of your players. When the tension is too much, you can't hold back your tears.

This is also why Adele's Someone Like You makes people cry, especially when it was first released. She makes use of "appoggiaturas" or "grace notes." These notes are sung in contrast to the overall melody of the song, and these departures are jarring to listen to, creating tension. However, she then returns to the "correct" melody, relieving the tension. This is when you start to cry. The release of tension is cathartic.

So how do you employ this in your games?

  • Play happy music. In Finding Nemo, as the linked video points out, you listen to a happy melody celebrating familial bonds while Marlin holds Nemo's egg close to him, a father hugging his last surviving child. The tension overlaid with the sadness of the moment adds gravity to the scene. Find something like this and make use of music in your games.

  • Even without music, find a moment of tension in your game and amplify it. I will give an example of this below, but the idea is your players must make a decision that contrasts with their beliefs and values. This dissonance will really hit them hard, and you will find your players teary-eyed.

Optional: Give the scene a purposeful resolution

Most scenes you see will follow the dramatic structure. You have a build up/exposition, then rising action, followed by the climax or the point of highest tension, rapidly falling action, and finally the dénouement or resolution. You expect the tears to fall during either the climax or falling action. But -- and this is really important -- the drama does not end there.

To achieve the satisfying, dramatic impact you are looking for, you must follow through with a resolution. And if you believe in Pixar's 22-rule approach to storytelling, you must always keep in mind that the story must have a purpose. That is, you must know the answer to this question: why must I tell this story?

The answer should not be "because it's cool, fun, or dramatic." It can be, but that makes for a very undramatic scene. Instead, try to answer it in a manner like the following:

  • To explore the human condition

  • To teach the virtues of cooperation over pridefulness

  • To come to terms with the death of a loved one

  • To overcome challenges in pursuit of your passion

Why? Because it makes the scene and the characters of the scene more sympathetic. It enables human connection, which enhances that scene even more. While having a dramatic moment for the sake of drama can be good, you also risk making it fall flat after all is said and done. But if you support it and ground it in a resolution that is propelled by a purpose -- a lesson, a value, or a message a la Pixar -- you can put a very satisfying ending to that scene or story that your players will remember.

Case Studies

Watch these sad videos (warning: tear-jerky videos ahead)

You may not cry watching all of these videos, but it's important to understand why they can evoke emotions in others. Then you should apply that knowledge to construct a sad scene.

The above three videos capitalize on vulnerability. And each of them is sad in their own way. The last one is a true tragedy. This could be something you might not be comfortable with running, because showing a true tragedy to an audience is tragic for the storyteller too.

But even tragedies have silver linings. In the case of the third video, if you are able to simulate this level of drama in your games, then you can use this to punctuate the story with a very powerful and meaningful message: one about the importance of human life.

So, do not be afraid to explore drama and tragedy to any level. So long as you know why you're telling that story and deliver that message through your storytelling, it will work out.

A story about a stormtrooper

Here's pulling an example from a more famous DM, who seems to have created a dramatic scene by accident. This is the story of a stormtrooper's death. This is an example of the party making a decision that goes against their values -- an example of internal tension, and an example where you can create dissonance without using music. The link starts at the relevant part of the video at 11:52 and the story ends at 13:58. It's a really good story to learn from.

A personal anecdote

I've recently made my players teary-eyed in the first 15 minutes of a session I ran. I gave one of the characters -- who had been stolen from his family from a young age -- a video recorder. In that recorder, he found one video per year that he had been away. And they were all recorded on the same day of each year.

They played the first video and I opened with a lighthearted scene: the father adjusting the camera, not figuring out how to do it properly; a "dad moment." This sets the happy tone, therefore letting their guards down to allow me to punch them with emotional tension.

And then his mother comes into frame. She calls him by a nickname the player has never heard yet before, telling him that they're looking for him and they won't give up until they find him. But it is his birthday today, and it didn't feel right to let it pass without a celebration. But, a party wasn't right, either, and so she wrote him a present instead.

And the mother put her fingers on the grand piano and started playing a song. This is when I played Nemo's Egg.

I also acted for this scene. It was important that they understand the loss of a mother looking for her child, and the love she had for him that she wanted to bring back that time they lost. So when I had this emotion down, I spoke with the voice of someone holding back tears. And then actual tears followed.

There was not a single dry cheek this session. I felt accomplished for pulling it off.

So how do you make an NPC valuable in the space of 2 days?

You can make him important in the space of 10 minutes if you plan it right. You must first make the NPC more life-like and human. And then introduce the dramatic elements to fully flesh out the interaction between the players and the NPC. If you do this by employing the advice I said in "Warming Up", then you should:

  • Remember that NPCs are benches: any NPC you make, even if it's the long-lost parents of your player's character, the final heir of the Lost Kingdom, or the most powerful Wizard in the land, will not be valuable to your player out of the box. That NPC is just like a bench: unremarkable and without intrinsic worth. Remember that their value comes from the players assigning that value to them, and it is not in the power of the DM to force players to make that value judgment.

  • Appeal to player emotions: give him a quirk that defines him. It can be a funny voice, a signature gesture, a dominant personality trait, etc. Write it so that it appeals to the emotions of your players and their characters. Do not be afraid to use tropes for this: the jerk with a heart of gold, the caring mother, the man with a funny laugh. Whatever it is, the trait must stand out. This is important because when the NPC dies, the loss of this trait will create a palpable void

  • Practice your acting: the difference between a villain and a supervillain is presentation (at least, according to a certain Megamind). You must act dramatic to create drama. You don't need to be able to cry on cue, but you should be able to personify the valuable NPC without being shy about it. And the scene must be just as dramatic for you as it is for them

  • The scene must be set for drama: setup the music, follow the principles of creating tension, create dissonance and then relieve that dissonance

  • Give the scene a purposeful resolution: as part of designing the scene, ask yourself "why does this story need to be told?" and have your resolution or follow-through be informed by this answer

  • Watch the Case Studies: watch sad videos, internalize the reasons what makes scenes sad, get yourself into a state where you can draw on that emotion before you run your scene

Hopefully, in following this, you will find success in any given dramatic scene you want to run. Happy gaming!

\$\endgroup\$
21
\$\begingroup\$

At DragonCon in Atlanta, GA, USA, I attended a panel in which an author stated something like this about writing vs. gaming in the horror genre:

Horror is not the threat of injury or death to yourself. It is watching the ones you care about be injured or killed and not being able to prevent it.

(Sorry, I don't remember who the author was.)

If you want the Players / PCs to care about your NPC, they should have more emotional investment than just "Oh, that's the MacGuffin the GM used to save us..."

Give the NPC some direct, intrinsic link to one or more PCs. Make him/her a friend or family member going back years into the backstories. Make sure to work with the player to build that out, not just dictate it to the player. Maybe, during the game, use some specific statements to remind everyone that the NPC knows the PC or PCs. "Wow, that was close! Kind of like that time we escaped the Sarlacc Pit back on Tattoine, eh!?" Reinforce the bonds. Try to stretch that bond out over a couple of gaming sessions, if you really want it to matter.

Also be aware... If you go to great lengths to make the NPC matter, then the NPC will matter. The Players may get mad at the loss. The PCs may, too, but it's the players you need to worry about.

To avoid being overly railroad-y, have at least one backup plan for if the PCs are resourceful enough to prevent the NPCs death. That's one of their goals, if they care. So they may come up with a plan to pull it off. Don't force it by using a MacGuffin-brand assassin's bullet or whatever. That feels like a cheap hack to the player. Don't make NPC's survival easy. But don't make it impossible, either. The more effort they spent on the emotional investment, the more they're going to try to save his/her life. That isn't necessarily a bad thing.

Also remember that any NPC you kill off today is one more reason for your players to never care about an NPC in the future... if you build up the emotional impact now, you're risking making it harder to do so later.

\$\endgroup\$
12
\$\begingroup\$

In my experience, you're coming from the wrong direction. This NPC shouldn't save the PCs, they should save the NPC.

PCs are the Heroes of the Story. Even rookie PCs still want to feel like alpha dogs, so having some NPC pretty much appear out of nowhere just to show they've vulnerable and possibly incompetent will not generate a lot of game traction. It's also damned tricky to set up a scenario where an NPC can legitimately save the day.

("The city guard jumps in the way of the arrow" "I'm faster than him. I'll use my ninja feat to block the arrow." "You weren't aware of the arrow." "I want to make a perception check. We all said we were being alert." etc etc etc)

SO, have a scenario where they can save the Watchman NPC. He's been bushwacked in an alley by serious thugs. He's a rookie or an old duffer near retirement or was just caught drunk while off-duty. The PCs get to feel rough and tough and protective of this poor bugger.

If possible, soon afterwards, have their new cop buddy grease the wheels in their favour. A 'fix a parking ticket' sort of favouritism to show his gratitude. Maybe his wife or mother or girlfriend finds the PCs and insist they come to dinner by way of thanks.

He's now their friend, their responsibility.

And then you kill him.

But, as CM_Dayton suggests in his answer, playing with such emotions might have risks.

\$\endgroup\$
6
\$\begingroup\$

I'd have a few differing opinions about that, but I hope they're of help/interest.

I'd say that for anything like this you want to handle it really carefully, depending on how switched-on your players are.

Introducing a character and making him likeable and relate-able only to kill him a few scenes on is a very fast way to make things cliched and bland. It's very easy to look at an NPC, and if he saves the party, is friendly, then introduces his wife and young child for a lot of players to see them and think "you're dead mate"; that this NPC is going to die because it's all set up in advance. Which can be either frustrating because it's clear the plot is just going to punk you or boring because you know it's going to happen and the GM probably won't let you stop it.

If you want that kind of effect I would only plan out the basics in advance, the villain will make a move and try an kill some close to the party. Then introduce 4-5 NPCs, have them all different and interest. If the PCs latch on to one in particular, then the villain makes their move. Targeting that NPC, maybe specifically because they have a good relationship with the players.

For the actual killing I'd suggest:

  • Don't have the PCs held in place, stopped by henchmen or behind indestructible glass (a la video-games). It's very done.
  • Try, having PCs discovering about the killing but being on the otherside of town. Or being lured across town deliberately.
  • Or, the weight of duty: A lawman going out to face a criminal who he knows will kill him but resigned to their fate because it's their duty.
  • Do, make-sure that really clever/good plays by players can avoid the death. If it's unavoidable then why would anyone care, it was going to happen along. But the trick to avoiding the 'trap' might need to be seen early on. ie the PCs not travelling across town, once they have, then it's too late.
  • To be properly horrific a death should be unexpected, or at least unpredictable until the final beats of the scene.

Good falls or failures should come together like a the gears of a clock; when the overall scheme is revealed then the parts make-sense. That's why A was doing this, that's why there was a break-in at the old mill etc. If the PCs can see how they could have intervened and how they are partially culpable then the weight is harder to bear.

By the same measure, if things come together slowly then the PCs might be able to stop things. And if they know that as a GM you will never punk them, or railroad the story, then they know that to avoid trouble they need to be on game. If the plot just happens, why care, it's just going to happen whatever they do.

I'm not sure the overall feel you want but the death of an NPC might not the best for paranoia, if you want that suffocating closeness of suspicion and doubt something as cut and dry as a death might actually defuse mood you are looking for.

Hope that's useful, I've tried to keep this concise but if I've skimmed over anything, please just let me know.

Cheers

\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

Horror is not the threat of injury or death to yourself. It is watching the ones you care about be injured or killed and not being able to prevent it.

Someone else already quoted this and I think it's great but I'd like to take a try at the emphasized part of this sentence.

The point is the italic part. Not being able to prevent it. That is the tragedy. Having to witness it. This can come in many ways: maybe the assassin used poison nobody knows a cure for. Or he was pushed to fall of the city wall and your PCs find him alive, but too badly hurt to make it back to a healer in time. Or maybe he just took an arrow to the neck and is unable to speak and just stares at your PCs while he dies in their arms. Or they only watch through a scrying device while he is overwhelmed by foes. Obviously, you need to find a way for him to actually die (not end up dead, but die) in their arms (or at least while they watch) without a player having a means to help him. That's up to your knowledge of your parties abilities. Playing DSA will make this a bit easier, with less access to high magic.

The point is that feeling of helplessness. If you just say:

They found Joe McGuard dead in an alley

there is no such feeling. The PC weren't helpless, they simply weren't there. The same happens if you just say:

Although he was standing next to you just a second ago, the next time you turn around he's lying on the ground, dead. A dagger sticks out his back, buried deep into his heart.

This is not helpless. He is beyond help already. The feeling of helplessness is only there if there is a glimmer of hope. If he is still alive when you start the narration.

TL;DR

Don't just tell them he's dead. Make sure your victim dies while the PCs are present and unable to help.

\$\endgroup\$
5
\$\begingroup\$

The Tone

First of all, do you think you've done a good job of establishing the tone so far? Is this just one step in creating the fear and paranoia that you're going for, or is the core that most of those feelings are built around?

Pathfinder's recent Horror Adventures book makes an interesting point about how the atmosphere at the table can interfere with this sort of tone. Most tables tend to be fairly light - people joke around, take time out to mention something about how their week went, that sort of thing - and while that can be a lot of fun it can also remove a lot of the tension that you're trying to create here. If you haven't done so already, I'd talk to your players about this and make it clear what you're trying to do and what cooperation you need from them to make it happen.

This might sound a bit weird to you (or other people reading this answer); if it does, consider whether an atmosphere of paranoia is right for your group.

The Death

I like @ThunderGuppy's idea of having the PCs find the NPC's body, since it seems like a good way around the problem of having to work his death into combat mechanics without making it feel like railroading. At the same time, I agree with @nvoigt's point that having him die in front of the PCs is much more dramatic and effective. So, can we do both?

Well, not exactly, but I think we can come close if the PCs show up just a second too late. Maybe have a shadowy figure push the NPC off the ramparts so that he falls dead right in front of the PCs. Or have the PCs go to visit him in his home and see the murderer stab him just as they open the door. Or maybe he was already dead, but the murderer waited there to taunt them and rub it in their faces. If he's a guard and they've come under attack from the villains before, maybe he volunteers to keep watch on their house while they're away on some other adventure and the villains decide to make an example of him.

The Aftermath

Once it's over, don't let the NPC fade into the background. Have a funeral for him, and ask the PCs if they want to speak at it. Have other NPCs refer to him in conversation.

If the NPC has a family, maybe they fall on hard times in the future without the income that he provides - have his widow ask the PCs to deal with the vagabonds who stole the pension money they were supposed to receive. Or maybe his teenage daughter becomes a recurring NPC herself.

If he's a guard, make sure the other guards in the town are on edge in the future - it's not every day they lose a man in such a gruesome fashion, and none of them wants to be next.

\$\endgroup\$
4
\$\begingroup\$

There are many great answers here already, but I feel that one very important point has not been touched on yet. While it is very important to think about the character's past, connect them to the players, and when they care, make sure they're powerless to stop the death, you (and the players) also need to think about the character's future.

Having hopes, dreams, and plans to perform makes it sting all the more that the NPC will not be able to accomplish any of them. This works doubly well if one or more of the players are involved with those plans.

Show them a future that will never be, because of what happened. Have your guard dream of one day being the grizzled tavern owner, and make sure he tells your players what he's going to call the tavern, and how he has contacts with a Dwarf who is going to provide the best of ales, and that he already has a building he's trying to buy that he's saving up for. Let him offer one of the PCs a job in the tavern, and promise them all free room & board whenever they're in town. Let the PCs dream with the NPC, and get them invested in this idea. The closer he is to completing his goals, the better.

Then cut all of that away. They'll remember what could have been, every time they get shitty ale at the pub, or need to pay for their room, or see the new name-sign delivered to the watchhouse.

Memories of the past stay with you, but the future that might have been is lost forever.

\$\endgroup\$
3
\$\begingroup\$

If you want some impact make sure the NPC isn't just another tool like a sword, a no-name guard, give him a backstory, a family/friend or something, that point that he is somebody.

  • make him drink/play with them at the tavern/cantina
  • help them with a superior they accidentally (or voluntarily) pissed off
  • show them some cool spot or street to pass by, like the one with the bakery offering some leftovers
  • make him owe money to the PCs, or know something the PCs want to know...

You know your players better than us, and know what they want, create the NPC with that in mind.

Then kill him, but let the player think that they could have saved him if they acted differently, like using the street showed by the NPC, longer but where they could run, or simply rolled better :)

Or if the player give you the opportunity, make the PCs the cause of the death.

Either way, you can have the blame taken on PCs, or as the witness of his last instant have the PC says something at the burial/cremation/submersion.

As a GM, most of my NPCs, have a backstory, motivation, personality so making one like that one is not unusual (and my players sometime want to recruit them, they event recruited someone sent to spy on them :D), but be aware that making one shiny NPC in the middle of a tons of nobody is bound to raise suspicion so be careful that the player doesn't suspect that the NPC was bound to die early.

\$\endgroup\$
2
\$\begingroup\$

I played a game recently with a remarkably similar situation, and can tell you what really drove home the emotional impact.

Get players attached:

(Obviously.) In my experience, down to earth, relatable, and often amusing characters are the easiest to get attached to. When you RP the NPC, talk to the PC's the same way you would talk to your players as your friends. You know your players better than I do, so just be gregarious to them. Humor is also super effective. I'm not talking comic relief here, as that can get annoying, (You don't want Jar Jar Binks in your campaign!) but a character that maybe has a crappy sense of humor (Who doesn't love puns!) or is simply a caricature is pretty memorable. (perhaps a medieval city guard with a deep love of donuts) As for the time, a few days in game should be enough, but if you can spread that out over 2 or even 3 game sessions, the players will normalize the NPC's precense, helping to make his loss more significant.

Make the death unavoidable:

Obviously you don't want to railroad the players, but there's a lot of ways you can keep the players from interfering that doesn't compromise their free will. Even if they see their beloved NPC walking into a dangerous situation, either their own duty or his own pride could make their desire to "help" seem inappropriate. Perhaps they can't protect him because they're busy protecting a helpless innocent? Or perhaps he simply refuses their protection. (He's a cop after all, I'm sure he can take care of himself!) Let the players feel uneasy about the situation, but give them easy reasons to not do anything about it. When their vague fears are justified, they'll be upset (in a good way), and will have a real appreciation for the Looming Danger(tm).

Let the PC's find the body:

The death can happen off screen, but let the reveal be personal. Its one thing to have a distressed messenger say that so-and-so was found dead, its another thing entirely for the PC's to find his broken and bleeding body themselves.

Possible example:

After finishing with the second/third successful operation, the NPC decides to walk back to the precinct alone at night. Maybe the players let him, maybe they offer to walk him home. That should be hard for them to sell though, since such an offer is also kind of an insult. When a message arrives an hour later asking where he is, the players should realize he's missing, and and a Looking Dread(tm) will start to build. When they find him dead in a ditch, your point will be made.

Optional Bonus Sadness:

Drive home the emotional impact by giving the PC's something to do after the death. Such as taking the news to his family. Remember that they don't have to forgive the PC's. In my situation, I informed the NPC's widow that he had given his life bravely for his country. She responded:

It wasn't his to give. It was ours: mine and his. We shared it, and he threw it away for...you.

Needless to say, I felt pretty bad, but it really drove home the harsh realities of the setting.

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

It's always hard to get players to care about NPC's. I find that details make them seem more real. A pile of stats is hard to relate to. Quirks about how the guard tends his a flower garden in his free time, or that he has been teaching himself archery, or that he stitches his name in all his uniforms, etc.... help him seem more real.

The PC's might also have time to meet his family, perhaps his wife brings him hot stew between shifts and his infant son runs around playing with a wooden sword.

Have names for everyone, this is always true. Names for the guard, his wife, his 2 children, etc.... Guard #3 isn't very special and breaks immersion.

Also, don't let the scene end with his death, maybe his hardened tough-as-nails buddy breaks down crying when he is killed, or the young recruit drops out of the guard when he sees the mentor he thought was impervious can be killed so ruthlessly. These help frame the NPC as "someone" om the community.

The absolute best way to get players attached to NPCs is of course to have them be recurring over multiple adventures but obviously that can't always be leveraged.

\$\endgroup\$
1
\$\begingroup\$

As in many things, avoiding the middle road is a good start. When you plan for an NPC death, there are two elements: The meaning and the effect.

Other answers already elaborate on the meaning. Basically, the NPC must be close to the PCs, he must mean something to them. The easiest way to achieve this, if possible, is to basically play him as a PC. If you have a small group, you sometimes fill it out with NPCs out of necessity.

The second part of the whole thing is the effect, i.e. how the NPC dies. To have an impact, there are two ways: Shock or drama. They are polar opposites. Both of them can be seen in many, many movies.

Shock is when it comes completely out of the blue, total surprise. NPC talks to the PCs, they talk among themselves, walking through the old library looking for that book, turn around a corner, BAM, axe to the head, blood and brain everywhere, he's dead with mouth still forming his last word.

Drama is a drawn out struggle against the unavoidable. Poison, disease or magical curses are great. The strongest drama often is when it is clearly futile, but anyway the characters fight, out of loyalty and virtue and the one-in-a-million chance. These are the movie deaths where the minor character is hanging from the building or helicopter and looking into the main characters eyes and we as audience know that his death is certain, but the main character will not let go of his hand no matter how tiny the chance is. And we can relate - if it were your friend, even if you knew for sure there's no way you can pull him up, you definitely wouldn't just let go, right?

The impact on the characters can come from both the meaning or the effect. There are many movies where a minor character dies in the beginning, setting off the whole chain of events. Those characters are generally not fleshed out much, we only learn they were the protagonists brother or something, but the way in which they went had a serious effect on us.

\$\endgroup\$

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.