Love, Death and RPGs

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Let me begin by saying that I’m no media critic, but like most people over the last 18 months, I am an avid viewer of Netflix.

I’m also a keen proponent of using anything and everything to inspire your roleplaying games.

I’ve used ideas from all sorts of films, TV and books to fuel my homebrew campaign. Storyhooks, settings, location ideas, monsters and most of all NPCs.

Like many GMs, the thing I struggle with most is consistently coming up with engaging and believable NPCs. After all, I’m only one person, with one person’s perspective and ideals. It can be a real challenge to immerse my players with characters which are relatable or detestable or even just what’s necessary for my part in driving the story forwards.

Enter Love, Death and Robots.

An anthology show now into it’s second (but significantly shorter) season, every episode is unique, following a different person’s story in a different setting. Some stories are more bizarre than others, but one thing rings true for almost all of them – fantastic character writing. I’m not going to give you an in-depth review of the show itself, you can find loads of them on the internet, but I want to share what I’ve taken away as inspiration from this short-format entertainment for use in my campaign.

(Spoilers ahead)

From the measured and calculated reflections of the narrator in ‘The Drowned Giant’ to the raw emotion driven fight for survival in ‘Sonnie’s Edge’, there are ideas for whatever type of NPC you need to voice next.

‘Pop Squad’ follows a cop in a futuristic world who is tasked with keeping the population controlled to allow the upper-classes to continue living their life of luxury. His inner conflict is most evident in the penultimate scene, coming close to tears as he is brought face-to-face with the reality of the atrocity he’s been supporting for decades.

If you want an ally in need, or a hardened veteran to help your PCs out of a jam, look no further than ‘The Tall Grass’, where curiosity turns quickly to panic for the protagonist as he steps out from the train while travelling across the American prairies.

Snow is a long-lived bad-ass who doesn’t suffer fools gladly, but reveals his softer side and troubled past with a confidant in ‘Snow in the Desert’. We see a man who holds the answer to many of the world’s problems, but fears for his life in the event his secret is found out.

In ‘The Secret War’ we see Lieutenant Zakharo display grim determination and acceptance at what must be done for a greater cause. With deep respect for his soldiers, he makes a series of more and more difficult decisions and ultimately prepares to die trying.

Perhaps my favourite though, is Ugly Dave. The ridiculous and indignant resident of ‘The Dump’ who has a rather unsual story to tell.

Of course, there’s plenty of inspiration for backdrops too. The little glimpses through windows onto alternative realities, futures and pasts is enough to reignite the fun in any campaign. But it’s the nuanced characters and varied perspectives which will keep me coming back to my favourite episodes of this show again and again.

It’s worth mentioning that this is definitely adult viewing, some episodes cover difficult themes and viewer discretion is advised. Even so, the gritty nature of these stories made them feel more real to me and more worthwhile exploring as concepts in our games.

So when you’re lacking inspiration, I hope there’s something in this series which can help you breathe new life into your NPCs!

Hit me up on twitter @harrythegm and let me know which episodes or characters you’ve pinched!

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