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When should Extras be Wildcards?

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  • When should Extras be Wildcards?

    How do you determine when an Extra is a Wildcard?

    I'm running an NPC heavy game; the players have a starship and about 40 NPCs under them. Around 7 - 10 of these NPCs have been unique, have made significant contributions to the team, and they are at a higher power level than the rest of the Average Joe crew members. At this point, the seven special NPCs are not Wildcards . Only the PCs are Wildcards.

    I think all of those unique NPCs may meet the criteria for jumping to Wildcard status. My concerns though are balancing combats and/or slowing combats down. With only three PCs and an extra or two, my players already destroy most everything I throw at them. Dealing with seven Wildcards in combat seems difficult .

  • #2
    Wild Cards are important to the narrative. They're a big deal, need to be larger than life, and need to be highly capable and / or extremely durable.

    Sometimes I'll make an unimportant character into a Wild Card to make a combat more interesting, but that's just for combat fun. Outside of that specific encounter, those characters are almost always Extras.

    I ran 50 Fathoms some years ago, and one of the starting NPCs is an English sailor named John Smith.
    Over the course of the campaign John Smith:
    • was the first mate.
    • successfully fought and defeated three pirate ships at once, while the player characters were doing other stuff.
    • navigated the Flotsam Sea.
    • sailed a sloop so that the pursuing frigate wrecked on rocks.
    • survived four ship wrecks. Including one in The Teeth.
    • name dropped Will Shakespeare. (I decided he was from earlier than indicated.)
    • earned over 50,000 doubloons.
    • piloted The Teeth twice, successfully.
    • stayed an Extra.
    When that campaign comes up, two player characters made a real push to be the central hero but all of the players remember John Smith. John was never important to the plot, but he was a great addition to the cast.
    John Smith was in a similar position to your named NPCs. He had a name, a personality, made major contributions, was a big deal, but was never a Wild Card.
    I hope you find the above post useful. And not insulting, because I was trying to be helpful, not insulting; being a pedantic jerk, that isn't always clear.


    • #3
      The way I see it, Wildcards get top billing if the story ever gets made into a movie, and are featured on the movie poster.

      You don't need to be on the poster to be important to the story.


      • #4
        I am very generous when it comes to WC enemy NPCs, and very stingy when it comes to allies. WC would make a character very potent, so if your enemy is a WC it's dramatic, not so much if it's your friend.
        As a rule of thumb (and of-course YMMD), any enemy NPC who can boss (at least some) minions around is a WC, as well as any somewhat competent NPC with a personal grudge against a PC.

        Allies would usually be WC if they are meant to be perceived as powerful and important to the game - such as a PC's mentor, a legendary archmage etc. Usually not someone who would tag along with the party.
        I do occasionally have an ally who is part of the gang be a WC, but it's usually an investment to a dramatic effect later. It emphasizes how cool this ally is, helps the players in tough encounters, and when the villain kills it, it shows how dangerous they are (and often also makes it personal for the PCs). But such allies are rare. They take space in the spotlight (even if much smaller than the PC's space) and thus should be used sparingly. I never have more than one such ally at a time.

        An NPC who is not an enemy or an ally will be a WC only if they are "wild cards" in the movie-thrope meaning of the phrase - if they are an unpredictable third party that have the power to turn the tides or change the course of the game


        • #5
          It might be beneficial to compartmentalize the various different types of "companions."

          Crew are needed to run the ship, and little else. Think of them as an extension of the vessel; if the ship is understaffed, it's performance will suffer. Maintaining a crew is a logistical measure at best. On ground missions, Crew members can be "recruited" into a party as Allied Extras.

          Allied Extras accompany the player-characters and aid them, but rarely have the same degree of impact on the story. They don't gain the recognition when things go well, but they also don't receive the blame when things go wrong. While some Extras can be named and even hold prominant positions, most tend to be "red shirts."

          Allied Wild Cards are potent, but ultimately temporary, members of the party. They might accompany the characters on a single quest that holds some significance for them, but will leave when that quest is completed.


          Using these definitions, decide where these 7-10 characters fall. If they become Wild Cards, you are saying they develop their own motivations that, although may align with the players' goals, are largely independent from them. Such characters may decide to buy their own ship and hire their own crew; they won't feel comfortable walking in the shadow of the main characters.

          To make up for this loss, you might award the players with a Connections Edge to use their services in the future. Replace them with fresh new cadets from your crew.