Case Study: Rationality or Cool during decision making, threats and violence – in Yellow Dawn

Yellow Dawn RPG is written around character (and NPC) interaction – and allows GMs to separate the strong and weak aspects of their own personalities, and the players, to allow the fictional characters to step forward with gusto, or crumple like cowards

Photography cyberpunk icon of mindless rebellion – Thug, Happy to Kill You, by Danielle Tunstall

Happy to Kill You – image Danielle Tunstall – all rights reserved

When characters meet NPCs – what determines how the NPC reacts to the character? The GM. Is that always wise?

THE NPC

A non-player character relies on the GM to bring them to life. But all too often, especially in the chaotic swirl of managing plot, players and game performance, a GM will make snap decisions that over time create a predictable pattern of behaviour – all NPCs are just a shadow of their own personality.  Some players take advantage of this – reading the GM and manipulating the game.  Other players feel a sense of imbalance when everyone they meet is either just grumpy, mean or way too soft.

When I bring ad hoc NPCs into play, I always roll 3d6 to determine their general outlook, either on life – are they mean-spirited [3] or good-natured [18] – or towards the character(s)… they dislike them [3] or they think they’re awesome [18], or they just don’t give a shit either way [10].  This score, x5%, gives me a guideline I use for decision-making… and how to play the NPC persona. If players are asking for something, trying to achieve something, what’s the chance the NPC simply shrugs and says “yes, OK”. Rather than every NPC always saying “No” because the GM is making snap decisions.

I’ve found this a really useful rubric. The players also come to appreciate that they can’t predict how people are going to react. Players (their characters) can influence the NPCs in these situations however.

  • First Contact.  Page 246 of Primary Rulebook. Use First Contact system to make a good impression before (or even after) you meet somebody to adjust how they respond to you.
  • Persuasion.  See below.
  • Intimidate.  See below.

Asking an NPC to do something or give you something

Every character does this. Approach NPCs and ask them to do or give them something.  Using the above result as guidance, the nature of the request, how much effort is required by the NPC and how much personal risk is involved for them, I make decision on how likely the NPC is to agree.

  1. Very unlikely
  2. Maybe / Maybe Not
  3. Very likely

I then roll xd6.

X is equal to the (1), (2) or (3) above: (Unlikely), (Maybe), (Likely).

The result is the chance the NPC complies. Use a 1d100 to decide yes or no.

It might seem long-winded but is actually very quick and gives your NPCs real variance and personality.  Keep hold of these numbers for later use.

PERSUASION: Influence the outcome

If the character or NPC makes a Persuasion skill check then increase the above score by 20 points, IN FAVOUR of complying with the request. If it’s a Critical Success then increase the above score by 40 points. This only takes a few seconds. It’s not a big debate. It’s skilled use of voice tone, eye contact and body language to better convey the point you want to make.

THE RESPONSE & FOLLOW UP

If an NPC says yes, OK, the story moves on.

If an NPC says no, then the characters are likely to respond in one of the follow ways:

> Use Intimidation / Violence

> Accept and walk away

[] They cannot try Persuasion again!

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Some people, typically not your stubbornly heroic character, just curl up into a ball or go into a flimsy state of total compliance when threatened with violence. This has always been an integral part of the rules provided in Yellow Dawn, both for physical combat and psychological violence – the use of threats and intimidation.

 

DROP RATIONAL IDEALS IN THE FACE OF FEAR

The above rubric is a great way to determine the outcome of requests and decisions when people are interacting on normal lines of communication. However, any time the NPC (or character for that matter) is forced to face a fear:

  • fear of a phobia
  • fear of being harmed
  • fear of perceived VERY bad consequences

Then they are no longer operating along lines of rational thought.

Ignore the system based on Unlikely, Maybe, Likely.

In a way, they no longer have free will. How they respond – to FEAR – under PRESSURE – is down to their COOL score. Hardened criminals and soldiers are broken down and built up to (hopefully) have a higher COOL than most regular folks. Anxiety battered characters and cultists who have dabbled too long and too deep into the horror of things are likely to have a weak COOL…. however, if they’re INSANE, i.e., their COOL is below ZERO then this is a moot point, fear has no dominion over them.

USE INTIMIDATION / VIOLENCE

This doesn’t even have to include violence, but it is the threat of violence, the suggestion that harm will follow if the character does not comply. The moment INTIMIDATE is used, switch to using COOL & THREAT SCORES.

Page 242 (top left panel) contains quick rules for determining the COOL score of any NPC, modified by whether they are toughened, trained, in a group, etc.

Page 144 & 145 contains rules for the use of INTIMIDATE skill.

Once intimidated, an individual will follow all instructions and not fight back**, they will comply, until they roll a ‘1’ on 1d20, one roll per minute. At which point they will need to be subdued again – or they act with free will.

Whilst intimidated, the individual will comply with basic commands, they will even sustain kicks, shoves, punches… whimpering or silent. Their COOL is broken, their resolve and confidence to fight back is missing. Until they roll that ‘1’.  The GM needs to stick to this wherever possible, allowing the rules to work.

However being intimidated does NOT automatically mean a person will reveal everything they know; certainly not in one sitting: that comes down to use of INTERVIEW or INTERROGATION skill checks.

 ** If an NPC or Character is about to be murdered; if their life is in absolute peril, then they ALWAYS get a Fight / Flight response. Even if they are currently subdued under the rules of Intimidation. People are unpredictable when cornered like this and can make them extremely dangerous. That’s why it’s a good idea to have them restrained or to deliver a killing blow without warning.

FIGHT OR FLIGHT.

Make a COOL check and the NPC / Character can do this. Otherwise, they struggle and resist, but ultimately give in to their fear, they roll over ready to die or simply plead and beg, not believing they are actually going to die…

You cannot intimidate or reason with a person who has entered Fight of Flight. They are now operating on the most primal level of survival.

EXAMPLES OF USE

Character has no money and asks an aerodyne pilot if he can use his PA (phone)

I rolled 3d6 to determine the pilot’s general personality. I scored 17. So I played this NPC very friendly and approachable. When the character asked to use the PA so he could call somebody urgently, I thought the pilot would be (3) Very Likely – because of this high personality score – but, decided to drop this to (2) Maybe as the PA is an expensive luxury and why would the pilot let a random stranger use it. Rolled (2)d6 I scored 11, which x5% meant there was a 55% chance the pilot would let the character have what he needed. It actually worked out in the character’s favour and this character was able to make contact with people to get him out of a bad situation.

Character or NPC shouts: “Drop the weapon!”

This is potentially a rational decision. Roll xd6 for the NPCs motivation to comply (or character just says what they think).

But more likely, the NPC or Character feels they would be in mortal danger… and so they are no longer rational and will be using COOL. The GM has to consider this and choose accordingly.

Character or NPC shouts: “I am warning you – do as I tell you!”

As above, but now much more likely to force the use of COOL – especially if this comes across as a final warning before shit hits the fan.

Grab and drag / hold / attack

If character or NPC grabs somebody roughly with a view to moving them, restraining them, or even hurting them – then this is INTIMIDATION (use page 144 & 145).

They’re most likely using words with an aggressive tone, making threats, barking commands. The victim does not get to make a rational decision about whether to comply or not. This is now down to COOL (check the THREAT SCORE).

  • If the COOL check is made, then the NPC / character can do what they want in response.
  • If the COOL check fails, then the NPC / character complies, allows themselves to be dragged, shoved around, beaten and subdued. They are now classed as Intimidated until they roll ‘1’ on 1d20, one roll per minute. But the second they become aware of (or believe) they are about to be murdered, make an immediate COOL check for Fight or Flight: if they fail this final COOL check they will simply comply until their death, maybe begging, pleading, but never really putting up a fight.

It doesn’t matter how tough the player thinks their character is (that’s the player ego getting in the way), the true reaction within the game is based on the character’s abilities, and their COOL.


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