Gamemaster’s Guidepost: NPC Frequency of Appearance in Game Time

I don’t have a ton of “house rules” – I pretty much like the GURPS 4th edition system as is, but there are a few things that irk me and one of those is the Frequency of Appearance for Allies, Contacts, Dependents, Enemies, and Patrons. In GURPS you basically purchase a Frequency for which your NPCs show up. For positive traits the higher the number the better, for negative traits the lower the number the better. As a GM, I like to cut down on the number of rolls I have to make before we even begin to game just because that’s annoying and distracting to me. So a while back (four or five years) I decided that I would roll once for all NPC-related traits to see if they appear and then be done with it. Well…that didn’t work completely like I wanted so I tinkered with it some more and then one day, while flipping through powers I saw the “Game Time” modifier and I was like “Damn…that’s perfect! How to get it to work how I want though?” So I came up with the following little system, it works best in games that feature a timetable (which most of mine do) and a cinematic tone (ditto).

Game Time Frequency
Using a Frequency based on game time vs. real time/game session makes a heck of a lot more sense for some gaming styles then the standard rules – of course, for some styles it’s probably better to use the standard system. Obviously, a appearance of Constantly means that the NPC is always there. Do not use these rules with the Summonable/Conjurable modifier – it’s perfectly reasonable for them to show up only when they can rather than for a entire adventure, story arc, etc.

Allies, Dependents, and Enemies
The prices for all traits remain the same (e.g., 12 or less is still x2 base cost), but the actual length of their appearance changes from per session, to per game week. That is, if your Ally would show up for this game session, he instead stays for a entire week (in game time), at the end of that make another roll, success means he stays another week, failure means he has something else to do and leaves. If leaving would result in a illogical consistency for the current situation (e.g., the PCs and their Ally are in prison) then he should ignore the result until the ally could logically get away. I used a “week,” but there is no reason why you couldn’t change this to “two weeks,” “a month,” or even a “day” depending on your gaming style. Enemies, while not a special case do bear mentioning: if they show up at any time during a particular story arc/adventure the GM should have them stick around for up to a game week and wreak all kinds of havoc.

Contacts and Patrons
Contacts already basically work this way, except that it’s every 24 hours versus every week. Patrons normally can only be reached once per adventure (about one week is typical here). Instead of that, use the rules for Contacts (-2 per attempt to reach them more than once during a given week). Otherwise, use the rules for both of these advantages as is.

Picking Over the Bones
Contacts should really get some kind of boost – they’re already weak for what they do, but I’m still trying to decide what. I’ll probably eventually either flesh out my thoughts on the subject as something official or post it on the blog. Like all Basic traits – it doesn’t need to be REBUILT – it just needs to be fleshed out more (ala what GURPS High-Tech did for Gunslinger). Allies need a couple of more options too, but the real “I need moar stuffz” here is Patron. Patron is awesome for what it does, but damn it I need more information. What can my Patron get me? What sort of support? GURPS Action brought about the Assistance Rolls (and GURPS Social Engineering: Pulling Rank expanded it), but it still feels like something is missing. I’ve toyed around with a few methods for organizing a given Patron as a group with definable game statistics, but I’m waiting for the pipeline to thaw some more. My players took some time getting used to these rules, but they love them now. In a “story sense” they are thematically more appropriate, you don’t see the protagonist’s friends popping in and out – they stay there till something draws them off. As a aside, sometimes you (the GM) need to remove a ally before their time is up. To do this just talk to the player and tell him what you need and a (vague) why and then give a +3 bonus to Appearance rolls the next time. I’ve done this for years and my players are more than happy to do such things in the name of story.

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