How to handle unproductive characters?

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Amora

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How to handle unproductive characters?
« on: December 30, 2015, 11:26:34 PM »
By "unproductive," I mostly mean characters who seem to not do anything of interest when not explicitly sent out to help a different PC.

I'm having a lot of trouble, specifically, with my mom's character Grey- an Angel. She has the move Healing Hands as well as a workshop like a savveyhead's. And the thing is that she's super interesting when she's interacting with the other PCs and helping them with their problems! But, as it happens, when I throw anything her way that is supposed to be "all Grey" (because at this point in play, both the other two PCs- the Hardholder Orchid and the Hocus Omosho- are off doing their own things) she just kind of... Pawns it off to someone else.

A good example of this is a character in the holding, Clint, who has a busted arm and needs a prosthetic piece to get back to his normal every-day life. (Or at least as close to it as he can get.) I gave her a list of things she'd need to make it (per the workshop) and she immediately went to seek out Omosho to go out and find things for her (without accompanying him on the search, although that has some reasoning behind it.)

Since then I've tried throwing several other characters and scenarios that she could help with outside of the other PCs, who are doing things that she either has chosen not to help with or that they don't feel they need her help with. But each one gets batted away, usually with a statement of "Well, I don't want to pry into their lives, so I won't concern myself with it."

I'm at a loss for what to do, and whether I am at fault for it or not. Either way it's getting frustrating for me and for her- on my part for me trying and failing time and time again to get her into something interesting, and on her part for feeling her character has nothing of worth to do.

Has anyone else played with characters like this? Is there any good way to get them into the action without having to shove them into other PC's business "just because?" Or is that exactly what I should be doing?

Thanks preemptively for any responses!

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noclue

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2015, 02:31:40 PM »
Turtling is a time honored problem in games.

Omosho is PC? He just went out into danger?

 NPCs are all threats with simple motivations right? Start having NPCs make demands that she can't shrug off without consequences. She's the Angel. She can't very well ignore people in need without folks getting worked up. Don't throw her things she "could help with." Throw her things where helping and not helping both have consequences. Put her character "on the spot."

And remember, Grey's not an angel, she's The Angel. The hardhold? It's the Hardhold where The Angel lives.
« Last Edit: December 31, 2015, 02:50:57 PM by noclue »
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

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Munin

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #2 on: December 31, 2015, 03:14:04 PM »
To expand on what noclue said about putting her on the spot, I find that the best way to do that is to put her in situations that can't be ignored. So rather than say, "oh, there's this guy who needs an arm," have the guy show up haggard and gaunt and be like, "I can't earn for my family like this. Please, doc, you gotta help me or my kid's gonna starve," then hang around and be a constant pain in her ass until she deals with the situation.

Better yet, force the issue. Six dudes carrying a bloody, dripping, almost-corpse bust into her infirmary. The biggest one sticks a sawed-off shotgun in her face and says, "Fix him. Now." Which you of course follow with, what do you do?

Does she have hired help in her infirmary? These NPCs are people, with their own wants and desires and foibles and fetishes. Maybe she notices her medical supplies start to come up short, or critical tools go missing. Who is responsible? How can she catch them, and when she does, what will she do about it.

The important thing to remember is that the Angel exists to do more than just fix people. Yes, they're really good at fixing people, but just like any of the other characters, you need to find where she's not in control and push there. Put her in situations where passivity is the worst of all possible choices.

Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #3 on: December 31, 2015, 11:44:38 PM »

Yeah, like the others said, try to stop giving her 'opportunities to help' and start giving her 'problems that need a response'. The difference doesn't need to be as dramatic as a shotgun to the face.

If the character is known never to pry into other people's business, then maybe it's time for some NPCs to start confessing truly alarming things to her, blithely assuming she would never get involved. If she always helps when she can, maybe it's time for someone to ask for help who might not deserve it; who might do upsetting things with it.

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Amora

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #4 on: January 03, 2016, 04:55:47 AM »
Omosho is PC? He just went out into danger?

Yes. Omosho is basically a 12 year old kid who was raised by a cult who believes he is "The Holy One," and all his life has only been around people who loved and adored him and believed that what he did was what was best for them.

So he's been really upset confronted with the people of Orchid's hold, who do not like him (and are generally annoyed by his "greater than you" attitude.) Naturally, Omosho wants people to like him, and believes that going out and doing this will prove to them that they would be happier under his rule as a religious leader. So that'd be why he went into danger on his own (or, on his own other than a few of his followers, anyway.) He thinks it'll prove something to the people.

NPCs are all threats with simple motivations right? Start having NPCs make demands that she can't shrug off without consequences. She's the Angel. She can't very well ignore people in need without folks getting worked up. Don't throw her things she "could help with." Throw her things where helping and not helping both have consequences. Put her character "on the spot."

And remember, Grey's not an angel, she's The Angel. The hardhold? It's the Hardhold where The Angel lives.

That last line is something I do need to remember a little more.

Better yet, force the issue. Six dudes carrying a bloody, dripping, almost-corpse bust into her infirmary. The biggest one sticks a sawed-off shotgun in her face and says, "Fix him. Now." Which you of course follow with, what do you do?

Does she have hired help in her infirmary? These NPCs are people, with their own wants and desires and foibles and fetishes. Maybe she notices her medical supplies start to come up short, or critical tools go missing. Who is responsible? How can she catch them, and when she does, what will she do about it.

The important thing to remember is that the Angel exists to do more than just fix people. Yes, they're really good at fixing people, but just like any of the other characters, you need to find where she's not in control and push there. Put her in situations where passivity is the worst of all possible choices.

This is helpful advice in general! Although I don't think I'll be going with anything quite as extreme as the first example in the quote I'm replying to. At least not right now; I can imagine an opportunity for something similar, but I feel like it'll probably take a few more sessions to set up, if it happens at all. (Then again that is never a definite- a lot of times possibilities end up hurling toward the players way quicker than I ever thought they would, or things that I had planned end up being completely destroyed and thrown off into an entirely different direction, which is probably one of my favorite things about this game.)


Yeah, like the others said, try to stop giving her 'opportunities to help' and start giving her 'problems that need a response'. The difference doesn't need to be as dramatic as a shotgun to the face.

If the character is known never to pry into other people's business, then maybe it's time for some NPCs to start confessing truly alarming things to her, blithely assuming she would never get involved. If she always helps when she can, maybe it's time for someone to ask for help who might not deserve it; who might do upsetting things with it.

This, I think, is more in line with what I want to do to get Gray into things- partly in line with the last one (I.E. I feel like it might take a few sessions to get up and running.)

I did have an idea, though, of what I might do next session. I was considering having Omosho's mother (Natascha) come to her. The cult has never been without Omosho (who has decided to go off with only two of his followers) and have the option that they rely on him for just about everything. We've set them up to be people who listen to what he has to say even if they're uncomfortable with the commands (at least at a general level,) but I note down all the NPC's modivations and her's is simply "Does whatever lets her remain closest to her son, despite religious or moral obligations."

She's going to need help getting out of here and after him- she's never had to deal with the spores before, you know? (The spores are nasty things that go off in the summer, and do awful things to anyone they touch. Omosho and his cult all go underground in the summer to avoid them.) And it's not like she has any way of getting the masks and suits needed to resist them, not on her own. She can't ask the other followers for help- as far as she's concerned, it will be considered blasphemous, and the other followers may react very badly.

So I figured who better to ask than The Angel? The only one who's gone out of her way to be kind to Omosho and his followers, the one that she's heard so many kind things about, and the one whose job is already to help people in need? (Although in an entirely different way.)

I figure there are consequences either way. If she helps, she'll be leaving the Holding and (if she does it the way Natascha wants) will not be able to tell anyone where she is going or why. Or at the very least, will have to lie about it (again, if she does things the way Natascha pleads for it to be done, which I can see her going either way on.)

If she doesn't help her, well, she's desperate right? None of them have ever been up top while the spores are in full effect. She doesn't know what will happen, and even though she probably can't help, it's her natural instinct to think her being there will somehow protect him. So maybe she makes a not-so-trustworthy deal, or steals something, or panics and has to figure out what to do. And that panic leads to some other undesirable situation.

There are a lot of possibilities depending on where play goes, so I think I like this idea! I'm mostly writing it all up to see if this sounds good to other people or not, because I definitely need to get better with giving consequences to things.

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noclue

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #5 on: January 03, 2016, 04:58:02 PM »
Seems like Omosho being away is a big deal that should start a bunch of things in motion.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #6 on: January 04, 2016, 03:06:35 AM »
There are a lot of possibilities depending on where play goes, so I think I like this idea! I'm mostly writing it all up to see if this sounds good to other people or not, because I definitely need to get better with giving consequences to things.

Sure, it sounds good to me. Just remember to look at your NPCs through crosshairs. It seems like in this case Natascha's motivations are very likely to get her in trouble -- regardless of what Gray decides to do. Either she'll be in trouble with the spores, or in trouble with the cult, or both. Don't shy away from making the consequences irreversible.

And I agree with noclue -- a Hocus who picks 'my followers rely on me for everything' and then leaves them alone in an unfamiliar Hold is clearly not expecting things to work out. Especially if the Hardholder is another PC -- this is also a great opportunity to set up some triangles between the Hocus, cultists, and 'Holder. Which is of course beside the point of this thread, and something you may already be doing.


Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #7 on: January 05, 2016, 03:16:17 PM »
Oh my, deliberately unproductive characters are the worst. I think some people are used to either having plots to follow, or GMs that turn any sort of interest or concern that their characters have into a weakness to exploit, so they shy away. I find with these people that opportunities to get involved are not enough - something has to walk up to them and demand a response. Like, what happens when the second most important woman in the compound turns up at the infirmary in labour, after keeping the pregnancy a secret, and is then desperate for Grey to help hide the baby. Can she ignore that?

And I find a good place to start is with relationships. You may not be comfortable asking your mum who Grey is hot for, but you can ask her who her friends are, what she likes doing when she's not in the infirmary, whether she has any family. You could even just straight up ask "Hey, Grey. What's one thing you would change about your setup here if you could?" If she doesn't like making stuff up (and I've had unproductive players who really don't like making stuff up.) then it might not go anywhere, but if you can get her creating details of the world then that's inspiration for you to play with and your mum is likely to be more invested because she made it up. You can also push characters into more precarious positions with love letters if there's a break in play - making her choose, say, between using up large amounts of resources or not saving people. But fundamentally, unproductive characters is not your problem. It's unproductive players. So chat, ask what would be fun for her. Find out if she's actually bored, or if she really enjoys just being there and joining in when it feels right. *shrug* I can't imagine playing like that, but some people are very different.

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Amora

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #8 on: January 18, 2016, 01:52:20 AM »
Update: We just played a session for the first time since I made this thread! (Mostly because mom was sick and couldn't play for a few weeks.) All this advice really helped!

Grey, of course, had no qualms about leaving as soon as someone came begging for help, and has decided (a little bit surprisingly, actually) to not tell anyone why they're going just because Natascha asked her not to. This includes leaving her cousin (Orchid, another PC) out of the loop and... apparently traveling away from the holding while things are being stolen and there's word of people with big guns doing suspicious things out in the forest, which she's going to be heading directly into.

It actually surprised me that she had such little problem with packing up shop to help one person, and although she has an infirmary with some helpers, it's still no secret that she is The Angel and generally the most well-versed in medical things. Not to mention that she's taking one of her assistants with her, which means there's... one medic left in the holding?? Technically two, but one of them is part of Omosho's cult and only really has a basic understanding of herbs and how to help people when they've got little problems, not how to stop people from fucking dying. (And, funnily enough for me, she's happening to leave the one assistant that has a morphine addiction with some of her supplies, alone. THAT'S going to be interesting when she gets back, anyhow.)

It's really interesting, but I'm also not entirely sure how I'm going to juggle all the horrible things that should come about from all of this short-sighted decision-making! And I don't know if it would be in bad taste to punish her for taking up the situation that I presented her with, even if she was entirely capable of denying it or trying to think out a better way of doing things.

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noclue

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Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #9 on: January 18, 2016, 02:52:08 PM »
Welcome to the apocalypse.
James R.

    "There is a principle which is a bar against all information, which is proof against all arguments and which can not fail to keep a man in everlasting ignorance-that principle is contempt prior to investigation."
     --HERBERT SPENCER

Re: How to handle unproductive characters?
« Reply #10 on: January 18, 2016, 11:02:23 PM »
It's really interesting, but I'm also not entirely sure how I'm going to juggle all the horrible things that should come about from all of this short-sighted decision-making!

The best way is to have it create problems (or opportunities) for the other PCs; then, however those PCs react, this becomes a point of conflict/interaction between them and the Angel (and the problem) when the Angel returns. Not only is this an example of the wonder of PC-NPC-PC triangles, but it also reveals the whole idea of 'punishment' as the reductive notion that it is. Having a bunch of bad stuff happen invisibly, then waiting to reveal it to the Angel upon their return... that feels like punishment. Showing the other PCs (who are still in the Hold) the consequences and giving them an opportunity to do something about it before the Angel gets back -- that's going to be much more interesting.

If there are literally no PCs left in the Hold, that's obviously not going to work as well; but you can still think about these problems not in terms of 'well the PC isn't there so a bad thing is just gonna happen' but more in terms of 'how will other NPCs react to these bad things, to shore them up or make them worse or take advantage of them?'