A few days ago, I posted something about PCs handling downtime. Since then, I have gotten a few remarks about how NPCs should be responsible for the handling of downtime. “That is what they are supposed to do, right?”
Well, yes… NPCs and GMs are there to entertain you. It is why you paid to go to an event. However, they aren’t supermen, and can’t be with you at all times. Sometimes NPCs have to all go away to set something up. Some of the onus of responsibility for entertaining the players MUST go to the players.
Having said that, there are a few ways you can deal with downtime at your game without using too many NPCs.
Give your players a puzzle that will take them a while to solve. It is nice to have these sitting around and ready for if you need to distract your players for a while. These puzzles can include long cyphers, or physical puzzles that they need to put together. I had my players work with two separate puzzles that I had spray painted white with a message on each. It took them a while, and kept a number of players busy and chatting.
You have to make sure that you don’t do these too often, and be sure that they aren’t too hard or annoying, because then your players get bored and frustrated.
Angry Ex-Boyfriend (Or angry anything)
Send in an NPC, just one, with great fighting stats. Have them there to challenge the lover of his ex, or the person who stole his bread… It doesn’t matter WHY he is challenging the players, just so long as he is loud and distracting for some of the downtime. The players will have a good time dealing with the angry person, and you will have avoided some downtime.
Competition Loving Noble
Send out a noble character, who wants to find the best (fighter, singer, crafter, whatever) and have them arrange an impromptu competition, with prizes! This can be put together quickly, and gets the players to compete amongst themselves.
Back Story Relevant Folks
Lots of characters have a “long lost” something. Send an NPC out to fulfill that role. But put in a twist. Long lost love staggers into town, but with no memory! Long lost father comes back, and wants you to help him somehow!
Whatever it is, it may take two people, but you are involving people’s backstories in the game, and it makes them feel involved. Not ONLY are you involving them, but you are doing it with the least amount of effort on your part. Heck, a backstory relevant mod can be handed to someone who you are currently testing out as a GM. If they mess up, it doesn’t effect the entire game, and is only relevant to that one story-line. Really, it tests them out on their ability to run serious, thoughtful mods, and makes a player feel like they are loved!
This one can be set up in minutes and doesn’t require a lot of planning. Have an NPC draw a map, and make it TERRIBLE. Then give that NPC a treasure chest with some loot in it, and have him/her go out and get the players to help him/her find it. Depending on how bad the map is, the NPC can have the players wandering around the property for ages, bumbling and hilarious. Get one of your more inventive and entertaining NPCs to be the bumbling treasure hunter.
Gamblers, Drunks, Merchants, Trainers
These are things that you can give to ANYONE and then turn around and ignore them. The players can interact with them, and if you give them free-reign to do what they want within their skill-set, then Huzzuah! You have new blood out there, making your game interesting and odd.
In conclusion: having a few NPCs out to distract people while you set up or tear down mods (or just nap… I love naps) is a really good idea. It tricks the players into thinking that you are clever and had more things planned, and keeps them out of your hair while you set things up and get things done!