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I have a bit of a problem, that I require some input on; those of you who ever visit my website know that I have a pretty extensive database of npcs in my game, all of which with their own background, ideas, ideals and goals. But not only that, they all have their own personalities. And it's that last bit that I'm having trouble with. If I sit down here, with you guys, I can type out every personality nuance for every character in my shadowrun universe, but during play, I have a lot of trouble not to let them blend over into one another, especially if I have to switch npcs quickly and often - which happens quite a lot.

Give me your hints and tips that will allow me to retain my npcs' individuality! Teach me your tricks! Let me tap into your collective subconscious to study!
I'm not very good at the process, either, but I find that my best tool is voices (and accents). Nothing snaps you into a character faster than trying to do a bad accent wink.gif
Talia Invierno
I try to hook into a specific mannerism of each NPC (tapping fingers, twirling hair, a habit of sliding cyberspurs in and out).

Any NPC I consider "major" usually has a distinct way of looking at the world which usually manifests in specific things which catch attention. At NPC creation I try to identify those things - and later, any attempt to "catch" those things and I'm into the NPC's personality.

For example, one of our major NPCs just automatically checks out every good-looking woman in the area - it's as natural as breathing for him. Another moves with a distinct sway to her hips and picks up on textiles and weaves of clothing (how could that be woven into a focus?). A third finds himself glancing at watches and clocks every time one comes into focus - constant focus on deadlines and budgets. A fourth has an internal clock ("perfect time") and, although he's mostly broken himself of the habit, anything which suggests a deadline will still evoke his automatic saying the time out loud to the person(s) he's with (in conversation I mean, not just to random strangers). A fifth, a former street kid, has a habit of rolling her eyes whenever she finds the person she's talking to even a bit slow - like, duh! (She's highly intelligent and quick, so this happens quite a bit.)

So I make a point of glancing at a clock or whatever within that context and "priming" the first appropriate reaction. The rest (being linked with that mannerism) follows. Switching between NPCs then becomes a matter of shifting the object or action of focus and letting the context follow appropriately.

(I still owe my GM an active friendly [if reluctant - one of those things not wanted to be talked about] "interview" between two of my PCs [the reporter and the ex-cop]... so I will get to put these principles seriously to the test in the very near future. Fortunately one's a babbler - of the kind that drops useful information from time to time - and the other's more than willing to let her - he's well aware that he doesn't know enough to ask the right questions, and who knows what might come loose on its own? The hook for back-and-forth shifting, there, will be to catch the parts of one PC's stream-of-consciousness that the other might try to direct toward a specific event.)
Hooks and accents are both great tools for keeping different NPC's vibrant for the PC's. There are two other tricks that spring to mind at first to make this easier.

Answering Machines. After a few runs a group of runners will normally have a good sized list of contacts, and when it comes time to start doing legwork some PC's tend to call anyone and everyone they know. As a GM if you don't feel up to doing a certain NPC, or you think it would be a blanket waste of game time to spend five minutes talking with a colorful but extraneous NPC just have them not be home. Leave a message Beep. In real life there are plenty of times you can't reach the person you need to talk to. On the shadowed streets there would be many more.

Actions speak louder than quirks. Sometimes it is better to stop worrying about the cartoon trappings that you hang on an NPC and just have them DO SOMETHING memorable. I have a Mr. Johnson NPC who was tremendously bland and cookiecutter, but he consistently played the characters. This earned him a special place in their hearts, normally reserved Azzies and giant bugs. A contact who goes out of his way to save the PC's hoops will be better remember than a contact who wears a pimp hat and calls everyone "Jack" or "Jill". This isn't condemning NPC hooks at all as they are invaluable, just another tool.
Talia Invierno
(You had to go and mention answering machine messages ... rotate.gif )

I just found out this last Saturday (returning a call) that my FFL decker contact had changed his answering machine message:
Visual: This is Grail.  I'm not dead yet.
Grail's voice (slightly altered to seem deeper) off-screen: Brave sir Grail, you shall not have died in vain!
Visual: No, really, I'm not dead yet!
Off-screen: Well, you shall not have been mortally wounded in vain.
Visual: I - I think I could pull through.
Visual: arm sneaking in from off-screen to catch him around the throat.
As he is being dragged off-screen: No really, it's just a flesh wound.
Sound of "bonk" off-stage.
Leave a message at the - arrgggggghhhhhh!

Hmmm, apart from the answering machines - an idea I really really like, and will most assuredly try to bring into my games - I do all these. Habits, tics, accents, demeanors, etc.

But the real trouble lies in switching them quickly. I was wondering how other GMs manage to switch them without letting one and the other blend and blur. A crisp, clean switch.
Props might work in a pinch. A different hat or scarf, a cigarette holder(or cigar or pipe), a monacle or glasses, etc might just do the trick.
Swapping between them quickly huh?
Practice Practice practice.
and try and avoid having one npc talk to another if you can, nothing is more confusing to a GM and boring for players than seeing two NPCs having a legnthy discussion. Just have them cut to the chase and move on.
Well, I can practice some more, but I don't think it would help, unless I go and take a couple of improv acting classes. Don't get me wrong, you can tell one character from another, it's just that short of stopping what's going on, taking fifteen seconds to close my eyes and concentrate in order to get into the part, and act it out properly, I'd like to hear how you guys do it.

NPC discussions; yeah, I agree. No way. smile.gif
If you can tell the NPCs apart. The players don't complain I wouldn't sweat it. Just play. Have a good time. From the sounds of things you are doing everything just fine but you aren't 'feeling' right. odds are your players don't notice.

Fifteen seconds of silence isn't a big deal to get into character so long as there isn't a big production about it. The more you do it, the faster you will get and soon you will be jumping from npc to npc like a trucker pops through low gears. or like a trucker pops pills.
Talia Invierno
You'll have given your NPCs histories, yes? So you'll know the one or two events (or sometimes persons) which the NPC finds most important in their life at that moment. Those are the things that colour everything else. Time comes to switch, maybe thinking of those events might help.

Switch: I was betrayed by that runner's father.
Switch: I've got to get that project done or the department head will have my hide!
Switch: I wonder if she'd go out with me if I asked her? No, she'd never fall for a guy like me ...
Switch: These runner types are even more unnerving than the seminar said they'd be. I'm going to end up over budget and I don't even know how it happened. I should have let one of the others handle this job.
Switch: It's got to be getting close. But she said she'd call if she started getting contractions. (glances down at telephone) But maybe she can't get to a phone. Maybe I'd better call her again ...
Switch: Oh my God! I'm going to die!
Switch: Well? What is it? Hurry up, spit it out. I'm late for my golf game.
Switch: And you see the system is completely self-contained, after we rewired everything in microconducting ... (continues until forceably interrupted)
Switch: I'd be so much better at his job. I wonder ...

But I'll absolutely agree with Jpwoo: really try to avoid anything but the briefest of situations where NPCs talk to each other. It can be pulled off, but it can easily get boring for the players. At the very least, they'll be less likely to interact with the GM and more likely just to watch.
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