An often overlooked aspect of Dungeons and Dragons are the events taking place behind the scenes. Much care and planning is spent by every good Game Master in making sure that the story scenes featuring the players are vivid and exciting enough to draw them deeper into the narration. But equally important are the things happening that the players don’t know anything about.
A number of years ago there was a movie called “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead”. This should be required viewing for every Game Master. It shows quite plainly that not all of the story is presented front and center. There is a tremendous amount of drama, comedy, tragedy, and just plain jackassery happening out of sight and earshot of the players. I would argue that some of the most important story elements are hidden from the players until key moments wherein clarity is provided. Game Masters absolutely must insure that offscreen their NPCs (non-player characters) continue to function and carry on their existences. As vital to the story as the main characters are we must not forget that tossaway background characters such as Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are (fictional) people too, and have their own crap to deal with.
Reminding the players of this fact does several things that a Game Master will appreciate. First, it makes NPCs seem less disposable. Nobody wants a game wherein the players are slaughtering the hapless NPCs just because they want to build a castle where a village currently sits. Second, it gives the Game Master even more opportunities to plant even more subplots and adventure ideas. Players thrive in a world where there is no shortage of quest type things to tackle. Third, it bonds the players even more closely to the key NPCs in the game: perhaps a spouse, child, or valued henchman of a player will take on more depth simply based on their having interests outside of the player themselves.
All of this is to bring into focus a couple of NPCs in my current game. The character that has been in the game the longest has something of a guardianship over an orcish whelp who was orphaned. For the last couple of weeks though the player has been engaged in a damnably dangerous adventure that is ill-suited to having a five year old child tagging along. So, he did the only rational thing that a dutiful father would do. He entrusted the whelp to the care of a staggeringly beautiful foreign princess in a strange land filled with lunatics and rode off trying not to think of all the dangerous things that poor orcish child is even now being subjected to. As a Game Master I live for these moments. Here I am checking off days on the game calendar and crafting an entire story around what this whelp has been up to with his noble-born babysitter. Honestly I have come up with some positively hilarious things if I do say so myself. In fact they are going to be the material for my next book. Because nothing is ever as interesting as what happens when you aren’t there to appreciate it.
Really. You should have been there.