Where Do They Get These People, Anyway?
  • Where Do They Get These People, Anyway?

    In my previous two columns I laid out techniques for worldbuilding and applied them to a sample con game setting. In this one I am going to apply the Mindy Method and reverse-engineer an NPC to fit the requirements of a setting.

    Letís start. In this column Iím going to use a character Iíve already created for a contemporary setting and go through the process I used to give him agency, motivations, and a background. For this one it started with a picture of Julian Sands circa 1994 or so, with him squinting into the sunlight. It was a good character face, memorable.

    His appearance constrains his possible origins,which allows me to focus on the US and Europe. The plot Iím setting him in involves an uneasy alliance with the mafiya, so I think about making him Russian, for a bit, but settle eventually for him being a Finn with a Russian father. That leads me to do a bit of research on Finland and what it was like in the 80s, watching Aki Kaurismški movies for the dark humor and Croenenbergís Eastern Promises. From there I get an idea of the characterís family and background.

    Christian, as I name him, falls into a couple of Finnish stereotypes. Firstly, heís quiet and heís good with a knife. Thatís twotraits that let me distinguish him from other NPCs. As the story opens heís estranged from the Russian mob and living quietly in retirement in Helsinki,where the PCs arrange to meet him. Why?

    Well, the story provides one reason - he got screwed over in a blackmail job several years ago and wound up testifying inexchange for immunity. I think a bit about the culture of the mafiya, and decide that heís queer, as the Russian mob is openly homophobic. Thatís two reasons for his current quiet life, and I tack on a third. Christian lost his right hand after the job went bad, and heís been recovering since.

    This gives him yet another trait - heís a transradial amputee, wears a body-powered hook prosthetic, and deals with phantom limb pain a great deal. To make sure Iím going to write him correctly I read the blog of a gentleman who uses a Hosmer Dorrance hook prosthetic, and study the videos he posts of him doing mundane things, such as slicing a steak or picking coins off a table.

    The research leads me also to the existence of private investigator J.JArmes, who was a bilateral transradial amputee. Nevertheless he led anexciting life, and in a very old video clip, also had a single-shot derringer built into one of his prostheses, something too cool not to use.

    Why would a man have a single-shot derringer built into a prosthesis? Well, it seems logical if he expects danger, not in the form of a group of gun-wielding assailants, but rather something more like a single assassin. He could be concerned for his life. Or he could just be paranoid.

    I go with both, and those two motivations lead back to why heís going to be a contact for the PCs. Because theyíre after the guy who betrayed three years ago, and he wants to collect. That way theyíll have someone who speaks the necessary language (Russian) but isnít entirely on the mobís side. That allows me to set up tense scenes involving the PCs - how much can they trust this guy? What if he leads them into a deathtrap because heís so bent on vengeance that he slips up?

    The last motivation remains hanging. Why is he only enacting vengeance now, after 3 years in retirement? Why the delay? Did he try to abandon his past and start over (yes), only to realize the past wonít let go of him (yes)? Why is he deciding to risk his life right now?

    I give him a rational reason for deciding to goon his revenge rampage now - because his liver is cirrhotic, and he hasnít got much time left before end-stage liver failure. Alcoholism is a thing, liver damage is a known consequence. Hepatitis C could also be another cause if he ever did use intravenous drugs, and as a man with a shady past both could have occurred.

    The PCs will never know most of this - he isnít going to pour his heart out to them, unless they make an effort to gain his trust. And yet all these little background facts help me portray him more authentically, more like a person as opposed to a plot device, and sometimes thatís what the plot needs, right?

    contributed by M.W. Simmes
    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Eltab's Avatar
      Eltab -
      Just to bring in a stereotype, your Finnish assassin plans to make his personal getaway from the scene of the crime via cross-country skiing.
      He isn't going to invite the PCs along for this trip - or even tell them about it before they do the job.
    1. Archon Basileus's Avatar
      Archon Basileus -
      Lovely contribution, particularly on the research methods you employed! Thanks for the article!
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