When we look at the people that populate a RPG world, we often think of them as part of the cultural context our characters are a part of. Aspects of tradition, community standards, practices and policies that make society work. Such behavior is how we usually judge new people we meet and if they are known to us or if they are an “other.” But the real world, especially for travelers, explorers, and adventures, often brings groups of people together who don’t share the same default states, and conflict, although unintentional, occurs on a regular basis. The Outsider is one of these others, and their approach to the players may put them off at first, because understanding cultural boundaries and pushing past them isn’t something a player may initially be willing to do.
The NPC Outsider has a great potential within a game setting. They offer a chance to break the mental shortcuts players will use with NPCs. Whether it’s the treatment of diplomatic customs, respect for religious or political iconography, or just normal manners, the chance to experience the world through another viewpoint is the heart of role-playing, and the Outsider reinforces that dialogue. Barriers such as language, upbringing, and class standing provide means for cultural impact on a game while presenting a Gamemasters the chance to expand the depth of the reality they’ve helped introduce to players.
Outsiders exist in all RPG genres as every world should feature a complex set of cultures and communities. Breathing life into these allies comes in the form of changing the norms players may be used to and twisting them on their head. In Fantasy, this may be the Druid who has come to aid your party, but their creed is one of respecting the natural order of life and so healing spells are not part of their preparations. In Science Fiction, aliens and artificial life forms may appear human but possess different biologies or forms of interaction. In contemporary fiction, the choices are myriad as the number of cultures part of our real world. The key is to not treat them as stereotypes but instead fleshed out individuals.
Remember though, cultural missteps are a two-way street. While an outsider may not fit in or understand the culture of the players, it is easy for the players to act incorrectly within the Outsider’s world view. Offense, breach of social contract, or damage to honor can turn an outsider against a party, especially if the party has been failing to be considerate of both cultural touch stones.
When unrelenting evil comes pouring over the land, the light of the angel made flesh can push them back. The party is saved as the Johnson and his goons come storming in, taking out the go-gangers. The General listens and the nuclear option is diverted, so better special forces may move in on the alien invaders. Great power sometimes finds itself an ally instead of an enemy to protagonists, but such power sometimes offers a heaven bound level of vision and small details can be lost. Overconfidence and sure, the Omni-Potent Fallacy uses their abilities like clubs to solve problems, and in many ways creates waves that break open more rifts.
This NPC is a wild card. Pointed the right way and they assume they can solve the world’s problems in an instant, but without regard to cost and loss. Their assumption on being right can put them at odds to players who haven’t earned their trust, and keeping them calm, happy, and loyal is a juggling act. Such power isn’t something a player wants to content with, whether it comes from a great Wizard, a dragon, a CEO, powerful AI, or even a god. Once they’ve assumed the players are enemies, it’ll be hard to convince them otherwise without equal force.
The Omni-Potent Fallacy exists in most genres, often in the role as a figurative or literal Deus Ex Machina. Gods and Demons in Fantasy realms attempting to understand mortal risks and solving issues with lightning. CEOs and Spy Masters trying to keep their finger on the pulse of an ever deepening world. Military leaders sure of their place on a battlefield. The NPC need not have physical unlimited powers but merely the ability to command such power even through chains of minions.
The worst position a player can find themselves is on the other side of the Omni-Potent Fallacy finding out their wrong after they’ve acted. After they’ve killed loved ones, destroyed cities, ended the lives of innocents and guilty alike. These acts can send the figure spiraling in several hostile directions. They may become self-reflective and depressed, turning inward and losing their great power. They may lash out and blame others for being fooled. Or Worse, they can assume the loss and misdirected actions as proof of their conviction and dive deeper into dangerous beliefs. At this point, the players can try to guide them back to the true path and solve the problems their misdirection has caused, or seek to destroy the omni-potent figure and dismantle them before they can do further harm.
Not all heroes are grossly incandescent. The dark appearance, the grim outlook, the broken path are popular threads for players to follow, and occasionally allies finds themselves on these roads. For many this is a path to heroic deeds but the worth comes from coin, wealth, and legend, and these followers are numerous and loyal as long as you can pay their way. There are others though who walk through realms of shadows and dark languages not for material growth but as a temporary band on their injured honor. Forever fallen from grace, these Ronin seek to create a facsimile of a life once worth living in their eyes. They are haunted by the past and by events caused by their inaction or perceived lack of skill. The Anti-knight no longer bears bright shiny barding. They carry no banner for a living lord. They garner no favor from a lady of the land. Their only goal is the holding up the husk of their broken glory.
This NPC is fiercely loyal, but defining what that loyalty is tied to is the challenge players face. They are still bound to their code of honor and ethics provided it supports the myth of their path of redemption. They’re a volatile ally because if crossed or challenged on their past or the path they seek they may quickly go from loyalist to betrayer, and in their eyes be completely justified in their actions. An Anti-knight that has crossed fully into the swamplands of dark knight will not return to their previous role for those who ushered in their final fall from grace.
The Anti-knight exists in any genre or setting where men and women can exist with a place of honor and prestige. In Fantasy, the knight figure defines this role, and when they are disgraced by politics or a battle gone wrong they’ll seek to reclaim their honor from heroic deeds or noble actions. Pushed over the edge and they become the brigade and sell-sword with ease. In science-fiction, they exist in the role of the grey-hat hacker, skirting the edge of legal actions while trying to maintain the façade of being “one of the good guys.” In contemporary fiction, they’re the disgraced soldier or police officer, caught in the wrong moment at the wrong time and rolled from their duty into civilian life. Now they’re the guard, the mercenary, or vigilant, justifying brutal actions against criminals because criminals forced them to fall from grace.
They are a shield against the harriers on your backside, but they are not there for the righteousness of the quest. They’re there for the prestige. The consequences of their existence will follow them until the players meet them. At this point, the players can help guide them back to a true path of honor and dignity or they can pull them deeper into the dark future the Anti-knight has been forging for themselves.
This series documents a number of NPC concepts designed to give complex allies for Game Masters to present to their players. The allies here are never meant to be traitors or double agents. Instead, they have mixed backgrounds that bring them away from being the standard friendly “Good” helper. Like other Seize The GM concepts, these examples are meant to be system and genre neutral although not all of them will include a full array of examples.
Rebirth brings great change. Flesh becomes new. Personality shifts. Outlooks follow new morality. The Reborn is an ally who born of a dark past. Through the corrupt actions of their former self they’ve had a chance to become something new; someone with different morality and outlook than the darkness they held before. The very nature of their change has come with an ethical and emotional cost that haunts now even in their new existence.
This NPC is always willing to assist the players, but for the mixed reasons of trying to be the new “good” person they have become as well as to pay penance for the past sins they enacted on the world. They should always have an undertone of mistrust, of seeking to hide something. Revelations of their past may have dire consequences in interactions. They may revert to their previous form, they may lash out to desperately hide the truth, or those who have come to know them in their new form may turn on them. At the same time the players are given a unique opportunity with this event. They may be able to help heal the wounds of the past, or they may seek to bring the dark history of the NPC forward and demand justice be served.
The reborn exists in all genres. In fantasy, she is the necromancer now physically inhabiting a new body. She regrets the flesh she stole and the soul destroyed for her to become someone new. The remains of the dark ritual can still be found and she will desperately seek to hide the site of it. In science-fiction, he’s uploaded his brain into another person, or erased his memories. Files exist out there, possibly on the chips in the reborn’s head. The new identity may not even acknowledge the previous. In contemporary fiction, they’ve taken the identity of another person. They’ve left behind a criminal past and their new existence is tied to forged documents. It’s only a matter of time until the paper trail catches up to them and its best if it happens right in front of the party.
They are an ally, despite the lie of their existence. The consequences of their exist will haunt them from the moment the players greet them, and in the end their story arc should close with the price of their resurrection being paid in full.