Planning Dialogue Options

I didn’t really see a GM advice section, so if there is one this will likely get moved.

Adam Koebel’s talked a while back about how the best you as a GM are going to do at planning and predicting player reactions to things is to make an abstracted boolean tree. I would like to ament that theory a bit by stating that you may be able to write npc reactions to player input with either a “caustic” or “soothing” response system. It’s not Mass Effect’s paragon and renegade system, although they do share some qualities. I don’t believe there should be a “good versus bad” or “good versus evil” judgement on these reactions, but thinking about how an npc may react to either soothing or caustic remarks made by players and how they may alter circumstances can (at least) be a good mental exercise.

What’re your thoughts?

That’s not a bad idea. If it were too complex it might be problematic, but I think if you maybe gave an NPC something like: “How they behave if they like you” vs. “How they behave when they don’t like you”, along with NPC likes [tough guys] and hates [sycophants], it could be helpful. Prompts for GM portrayal.

Is that what you had in mind?

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Exactly. Not every npc would even respond to the same stimuli (caustic or soothing) given different circumstances. Sometimes tough characters will open up for a small time, and being sympathetic in those circumstances may be better than the standard toughness. Something to think about.

I tend not to plan or write my NPC dialog at all. The most I do when I know an NPC is going to get talked too is I give them Ambitions, Beliefs, Secrets, and Vulnerabilities. Any conversation with them is me trying to do something with those. And that’s only important people. For general, knock-off NPC’s you can just give them a single personality trait and lean into it in almost every situation.


That does make a good deal of sense. Do go on. I’d like to hear more.

In my opinion, you will never be able to accurately predict what a player is going to say or what an appropriate response will be, so don’t try. You might know WHAT your players want though, and you can put people in front of them that might react interestingly. Give your NPC’s as much as they need to function and react honestly to your players. Did you write down that your NPC is weak to flattery? Is that the approach they went with? Run with that. Did you decide this NPC HATES being pushed around? React honestly.


I believe that’s true, but in my experience players will react to a challenge in one of four ways: attack it, subvert it (to work for them), evade it, or study it, which strangely enough correlate to FATE accelerated’s player moves. I’ve had some (although not perfect) success writing reaction trees that account for these different moves.

This is, I think, ultimately the best, conventional advice one can receive in regards to playing npcs for the players.


TafKat’s advice is very good and very important. Depending on how you process media you may also get a lot of mileage out of assigning actors or characters from your film and television inspirations to embody when you play them.

I remember getting so much mileage out of mentally comparing the nightclub owner underboss in my last blades game to Cottonmouth from the Luke Cage series.

Oh and one last bit: if you ever get lost in terms of the specific thing to say at any given moment, your players will probably understand if you narrate the conversation rather than embody it. We can’t all be as inspiring or clever as our characters.