Biblyon the Great

This zine is dedicated to articles about the fantasy role-playing game Gods & Monsters, and other random musings.

Gods & Monsters Fantasy Role-Playing

Beyond here lie dragons

Prepping non-player character dialogue

Jerry Stratton, February 17, 2007

Martin Ralya over at Treasure Tables asks “do you prep NPC dialogue?

Absolutely. There are two types of dialogue that I pre-write: monologues and responses.

Prepared monologues

By “monologues”, I mean any piece of text that the players are likely to hear but that isn’t part of a conversation or ongoing exchange. I can recall four monologues that I’ve needed over the past few years. The song from Lost Castle of the Astronomers is a monologue. It’s something they hear at the beginning of the adventure that starts the adventure along. I used an overheard conversation for an adventure that began in Weaving. There’s also a short dream sequence in the next adventure that I’ve been prepping; that’s a monologue, too. It’ll be about two minutes of text that some of them are very likely to hear. Finally, the characters’ adventures in Weaving have become a legend often told around campfires and in bars.

I needed to completely prepare three of these four. If I happened to forget something in them, the adventure loses important clues and important flavor. The fourth one isn’t going to be necessary—the story will be told in different forms by different entertainers—but there are important bits of flavor that I don’t want to forget.

Here’s an example of the monologue from the Weaving adventure. It’s a conversation that the player characters overheard in a tavern:

John: “Lillian, where is Amelie?”

Lillian: “I’m not Lillian, dad.”

John’s answer will get the entire tavern’s attention:

John: “I don’t care who ye are girl, where’s your sister?”

Lillian answers quietly enough that the tavern cannot hear her.

John: “Bevan Casady? She went outside and you didn’t tell anyone? Were you dropped headfirst from the crow’s nest? Stay here with your mother.”

At the mention of the name Bevan Casady, a man at one of the tables puts his hand to his head and mutters, “Oh, shit.” This is Bevan’s dad, also named Bevan.

Bevan the Elder: “Ryan, Carlin, come on, we’re going to get my son.”

There is quite a bit of information in here: the kinds of names in this part of the world was one; John’s reference to the crow’s nest another, and the general fear of someone’s daughter being outside at night was another. And of course that their dad can’t tell Lillian and Amelie apart.

Prepared responses

I’ll also—and I’ll do this whether I’m the adventure guide or a player in the game—prepare responses to imagined questions. For any important non-player character I’ll have an idea of how the player characters will encounter the NPC, and it isn’t too hard to imagine some of the common questions that players will ask.

I try to imagine myself as a player character meeting this NPC. Some of the questions that I ask won’t have to do with the adventure. Knowing the answers to those questions can really improve the game’s immersion, or verisimilitude if you like big words.

It’s awfully silly to know exactly what an NPC is going to say about the adventure, and then get stumped when the players ask for their name or what village they visited most recently.

But I’ll also try to imagine unlikely questions and unlikely meetings, and then script the response to those as well. Donald Rumsfeld famously remarked that there are things we know that we know, things we don’t realize that we know, things we realize that we don’t know, and things that we don’t realize that we don’t know. Players are adept at zeroing in on the last category. I like to have as much in the first two categories as I can.

Some ways of getting to unlikely questions from players:

  • Pretend that the player thinks that they are still in the previous adventure.
  • Pretend that the player thinks that they are old friends of the NPC.
  • Pretend that the player thinks that something completely different is involved.
  • Ask yourself what is the one most important non-adventure-related thing that this NPC wants to be asked about?
  • Ask yourself what is the one most important non-adventure-related thing that this NPC does not want to be asked about?

Depending on how much interaction I expect with this NPC, I’ll have one to five expected responses and one to four unexpected responses prepared.

I find that prepping dialogue is especially useful when a non-player character has some important bits of information and if the non-player character has a distinct personality. Prepared responses help to enforce their personality and ensure that the appropriate information is imparted when the player characters take the conversation into the right direction.

Monologues generally go into the adventure text, but I’ll put prepared responses on the NPC’s character sheet or 4x6 card. If the responses are general responses from townsfolk, they’ll go into the adventure text unless I give “the townsfolk” a 4x6 card.

Here’s an example of prepared responses for the same adventure that the above monologue was from.

“She’s right, though, she wasn’t alone.”

“She’s taking after her old man.”

(John) “I’ll cure her of that soon enough.”

“Why can’t they go into the back alley?”

(John) “Hah! You get to the heart of the matter, don’t ye, lad? I met her mother in that alley, and I’ll be damned if they’re going to marry someone like me, right boys?”

“How many have disappeared?”

“Four. Four, right? Sullivan’s daughter was the first; the stranger’s girl, down riverside, married Winnie Cooper, (Nelson Grover, he took over the barrelshop from Winnie’s father); Tom Sheehan up by Shea’s Dell, his daughter Aileen was taken two weeks ago; and Evan Curt’s Evelyn three weeks ago.”

“We almost got Evelyn back. Whatever took her dragged her through the forest outside their farm (east, northeast). Then the trail vanished.”

“Flew away, that’s what.”


If they show the scraps of cloth they found:

“Hell… Eric, didn’t Tom’s daughter have a blue dress on when she was taken? Where did you find this? Mary, come over here. Wasn’t Tom’s daughter wearing blue when she disappeared?”

“Yes, Aileen’s dress was blue, god bless her. We dyed it woad not two months before she disappeared.”

“That’s easily Aileen’s dress. Where did you find it?”

If they say a side road or spur, there is a momentary silence.

“There is no spur off the High Road there. That’s the Wood.”

“Were they all virgins?”

(John) “Aye, I suppose they could have been. They were all young. With rascals like Bevan Casady about, it may be too much to ask that they’re virgins.”

“Do you think it’s druids?”

“It’s something from the wood, that’s for sure.”

For me, prepared dialogue is first and foremost about flavor, and then second (but also important) about information. And, of course, often flavor is itself information.

There are two recommendations I can make regarding prepped dialogue. First, don’t confuse responses with monologues. You can’t prepare a long exchange and expect it to go anywhere near what you planned. Monologues are only for things that either can’t be interrupted by the player characters or that can be resumed after an interruption.

Second, when you prepare responses, you need to be careful not to force the prepared dialogue into the game. If the opportunity doesn’t come up, then don’t use the dialogue. But I find that even if I don’t use the prepared dialogue, having prepared it helps me ad-lib other exchanges.

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