R.TALSORIAN GAMES ONLINE MetaCharacters: The Referee as a Player
One of the things that bugs me about being a referee is that I'm often a babysitter, not a player. As Referee, my NPCs should be my main method of expression-the characters I play in the game, but since they are cast in opposition to the players, they become faceless threats (like level bosses in a video game), rather than interesting characters to play.
Let's take a corporation, for example. As a Referee, your typical corporation is an amorphous mélange of bad guys, stuff, offices and plans. But there's no sense of the corporation as an ENTITY. It has no personal goals-no real direction. Which makes it a really boring villain. An exciting villain has goals. He has weaknesses. He has master plans. He knows when he's been hurt and exacts revenge. In short, a good villain. But Corporations in the Cyberpunk world are rarely, if ever, more than one dimensional.
But it's not really true. Four and a half years working at Microsoft has taught me one lesson I never knew-Corporations ARE entities. Microsoft has a body-that's all of us 'softies working in the trenches. It has hands; the various VP's running the divisions. It has a brain-two in fact--Bill G. and his right hand man Steve "I wonder if he's gonna keel over at the company meeting this year" Ballmer . And it has weapons, armor and tools-its hardware, software products, lawyers. Heck, Microsoft even has its own language, which took me most of a year to learn, even "drinking from the firehose" as I had to.
So what if WE treated the corporations of Cyberpunk not as faceless enemies, but as real live NPC's? What if we gave them a brain, hands, parts of the body, weapons and defenses-just like an integrated "real person?" What if it had a Lifepath-a character sheet even? I call this the Meta Character. The meta-character represents a character built out of an entire section of the world. A meta-character is no longer just a faceless amalgamation of bits, but a living organism that protects itself while moving towards distinct goals. It thinks smart, acts smart, because if it doesn't, it loses "body parts" and "dies."
MetaCharacters have a:
Let's try this on the obvious level-our aforementioned Corporation. Let's call it Megatechnix. It's brain is going to be it's founder, Dr. Roberto Lanzing. As Brain, his goals are to dominate the world's market for consumer electronics and to make enough money to forget his upbringing as the son of a once high level Corp thrown out onto the Street in a layoff (the Lifepath)
Its hands are it's two Vice Presidents; Ms. Jax Staley, the sociopathic Operations VP who controls Megatechnix's Marketing division, and Dr. Klaus Hammersmith, who runs the R&D Group. Jax's goal is to supplant Dr.Lanzing and move Megatechnix into military hardware; however, they share the goal of dominating consumer electronics first. Hammersmith's agenda is to combine all the functions of cellphones, digital media and wireless into a single handheld device. He doesn't care about personal power, but he will support Lanzing's goals becaue this will get his dreamed of device built. The body of Megatechnix is incorporated in its Corporate Headquarters in the SanDiego Zone of New Night City; the body includes three main Projects controlled by the Brain and its two Hands, 100 million dollars in capital, and a secret research lab in the Nevada Wasteland. If these are destroyed, Megatechnix will also "die." To defend the "body", Megatechnix's Defenses are a horde of robotic soldiers and factory workers controlled by Dr. Hammersmith's advanced telemetry programs, plus ten super powerful ninjas who carry out Jax's black operations against the Corp's enemies.
Now Megatechnix is more than a faceless enemy, It has several goals, several weak spots that it will defend rabidly, and a specific way of defending itself. This will drive much of it's actions against players-if the 100 million in capitol is threatened, odds are Dr.Lansing will act first, because money is key to his well being. But if the labs are threatened, Hammersmith may drive the reactions, protecting them, with the robot workers. Thwart Jax in her quest to get military contracts and he's more likely to send her ninja after you. In each case, the Referee plays the corporation as a character, not just a target. He gets to really invest Megatechnix with personality, reactions and ambitions. And if he sees Megatechnix's starting to lose "body" points on the character sheet, he may elect to strike back, find a way to heal back by curtailing operations, or even enlist other "friends" to help in an operation.
Now let's go a bit further down the scale. The MetaCharacter this time is the Totentanz, a bar in the lower levels of New Night City. Its brain is One Scar Max, a shadowy broker of information. Its Lifepath shows that it was inherited from an old war buddy of One Scar who died in a turf dispute with a rival owner. Its hands are Rafela Chance, the bartender, and Silent Bill, a gambler who watches the bar when Max is out. Its weapons are an integrated laser system with four remote lasers that can attack one corner of the bar. Its other weapon is an AV4 delivery van with a chin mounted machinegun.
The Totentanz has far fewer "body points" than Megatechnix. So you can expect that the AV4 will NOT be showing up all the time, and neither will One Scar. Threats will be dealt with in the bar, but anything that threatens the bar itself will be dealt with using maximum force. Already, you can probably see that you're going to need some motivations for this MetaCharacter-what are One Scar's goals for the Totentanz and how do Rafela and Silent Bill support them? What are their goals? Since Totentanz hasn't got much in the body and weapons area, you can already surmise that One Scar's going to be trying really hard to increase these areas-maybe by recruiting some regulars to help defend the place, or by adding a few new side businesses (maybe a takeout service or a gambling op in the back room) to generate more "body." In short order, the Totentanz will evolve from being a place you layer storylines onto, into a character which generates its own storylines from its needs and fears. And that make it fun for the Referee to play.
Looking at a group of NPCs as MetaCharacters can change how you relate to your Cyberpunk gaming, by giving those characters some solid motivations and adding a real "global" threat to how the MetaCharacter deals with the world. They have things that really scare them-stuff that motivates them despite the actions of the players. It's an interesting way to look at the art of being a Referee, and a great way to get back the excitement of playing a character in your game, rather than providing cannon fodder for your players.
maxmike says check it out sometime.