NPCs for Martial Arts Campaigns

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Much of Cinematic vs. Realistic Campaigns discusses what the GM lets PCs do. That's only half the picture - the players of martial-artist PCs will grow bored without enemies to fight and masters to learn from. Because martial-arts styles have the potential to add many skills, techniques, and perks to character sheets, martial-artist NPCs can be time-consuming to design and play; therefore, it's wise to "triage" the supporting cast and match bookkeeping efforts to relative importance.

Cannon Fodder: Cardinals Guards, students of rival schools, gang members . . . these are NPCs whose role is to harass the PCs while their leader escapes, plots, or sets an elaborate ambush. Ignore character points and full character sheets, and don't bother writing down full-fledged styles. Such NPCs know their style's realistic skills (never its cinematic ones), use techniques at default, and lack perks beyond Style Familiarity. Aside from skills, all they need is ST, DX, HT, HP, Basic Speed, Basic Move, and damage for their main attack. In combat, they're subject to the Cannon Fodder (p. B417) rule. In a realistic game, modify this so that wounded NPCs flee, feign death, or surrender instead of collapsing. Most real people don't want to die! If the NPCs are low-grade thugs, consider using Untrained Fighters (p. 113) regardless of actual training.

"Name" NPCs: These include the leader of a Guard patrol, the star student of a rival school, and the boss' lieutenant. They might merely be high-value targets, but their wit, social skills, and so on can become important, so build them as full-fledged characters. To save time, select a template from Chapter 2 (or another GURPS book) and make few changes. When adding a style, focus on skills - but select a few "signature" techniques, a Style Perk or two, and perhaps an optional trait to give the NPC some depth. A single cinematic skill is also appropriate, in a cinematic game. If there are multiple NPCs like this, distinguish them by giving them different styles, or different skills and weapons taught by the same style. In a realistic campaign, most NPCs should be like this unless you want to send the message "life is cheap." Even a hulking psycho is a person. In any type of game, NPC allies should use these guidelines, too.

Masters: True masters are rare enough to be built the hard way, like PCs. They should have all of their style's skills, many of its techniques, and multiple Style Perks (possibly including custom perks). Most have optional traits, too; after all, such abilities are optional because some master, somewhere, believes they're important. In a cinematic campaign, add cinematic skills and techniques freely. Note that in a realistic game, the boss needn't be the master. A crime lord or enemy officer might be in charge, but an underling who's dedicated to fighting - perhaps the boss' guard or private fencing instructor - is more likely to be a martial-arts master.

notable, not ordinary Joes. In addition, the PCs shouldn't have character-point investments in combat-ready martial arts that outstrip what's realistic for their occupations. Martial-arts skills should fill one of the roles that they fill in real life:

Hobby: Most students of the martial arts are dabblers, studying the martial arts out of curiosity, with neither the intention nor the training to enter combat. They rarely have anything more than a few points in Combat Art and Sport skills. If they study a style, it has the "Self-Defense" or "Trained by a Fraud" lens (see Choosing a Style, pp. 144146). They don't use any of the templates in Chapter 2; their occupational templates are things like "Cook," "Duke," and "Reporter."

Backup Skills: This is the most realistic role for combat-effective martial arts. People in dangerous occupations, if they think they might have to fight without ranged weapons or the support of allies, often study a martial art for survival's sake. Their style typically has the "Military," "Police," or "Street" lens. To have the slightest chance against better-armed foes or superior numbers, they need to invest a lot of time - potentially more than they put into their job skills. The Assassin, Crimefighter, Spy, and Warrior templates in Chapter 2 reflect this.

Specialized Career: Full-time martial artists in the real world are usually athletes (the Contender, Instructor, and Student templates), ascetics (use the Monk template), or from a time or a place where it's possible to make a living with martial-arts skills (the Duelist, Movie Star, and Stuntman templates). Most are acutely aware that, outside their rarefied specialty, their skills are of limited value and no match for the weapons and training of soldiers. Their mental disadvantages might reflect such concerns; Pacifism is reasonable, and even Cowardice isn't out of line for someone who avoids real fights.

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