The characters are not the only ones who change in response to events in the game. Player characters leave their mark on locations (and their faces) with their passing. Things that were crises and major issues at the start of a game get addressed, resolved, or changed. Things that weren’t major problems before suddenly blossom with new severity and life. Old adversaries fall to the wayside and new ones rise.
GMs, when the players are changing their characters through milestones, you should also be looking at whether or not the aspects you originally placed on the game during game creation need to change in response to what they’ve done, or simply because of lack of use.
Here are some guidelines regarding each milestone.
For Minor Milestones
- Do you need to add a new location to the game, based on what the PCs have done? If so, come up with some NPCs to help give more personality to the location and add an issue to the place.
- Have the PCs resolved an issue in a location? Get rid of the aspect, or maybe change it to represent how the issue was resolved (In the Shadow of the Necromancer becomes Memories of Tyranny, for example).
The group reaches a minor milestone because they rescued the Lord of Varendep’s son from some of the Smuggler Queen Barathar’s minions. It was a small victory that could pay some pretty nice dividends because they now have an ally in Lord Bornhold of Varendep.
Amanda thinks about what might change as a result of the group’s victory. She doesn’t need to add a new location, but she thinks that Barathar might have a grudge against Varendep for getting out from under her thumb now that their Lord’s son has been rescued. She decides to change Varendep’s issue of Secret Fealty to the Smuggler Queen to At War with Barathar to represent the shifting power dynamic, as well as Lord Bornhold’s willingness to stand up to her now.
For Significant Milestones
- Did the PCs resolve an issue that was on the whole game world? If so, remove (or alter) the aspect.
- Did the PCs create permanent change in a location? If so, create a new issue to reflect this, for better or for worse.
Later, the group drives Barathar’s lieutenant, Hollister, back out of the Sindral Reach. Barathar is still a threat, but her power is significantly diminished; this is a major victory for the party. Cynere skewered Hollister in single combat, so he’s no longer a threat at all; this resolves a world-wide issue, Everybody Fears Hollister, so Amanda crosses it off. She’s not quite sure what to replace it with yet, so she’ll think about it for a bit.
They also created permanent change in the Sindral Reach; that area of the world is no longer under Barathar’s sway. Most of the people are grateful, but a few of Barathar’s thugs remain to make trouble for the party. Amanda replaces the issue Seat of Barathar’s Power with a different one, Smiles in the Open, Knives in the Dark to represent how things have changed.
For Major Milestones
- Did the PCs create permanent change in the game world? If so, give it a new issue to reflect this, for better or for worse.
Finally, the heroes confront and defeat Barathar in an epic confrontation. Barathar held a lot of power in the underground throughout the world and her defeat will cause ripples. Someone’s going to want to step in and take her place (probably a lot of someones), so Amanda creates the issue Underworld Power Vacuum to reflect this.
You don’t need to make these changes as precisely or as regularly as the players do—if anything, you should be as reactive as you can. In other words, focus on changing those aspects that the player characters have directly interacted with and caused the most change to.
If you have aspects you haven’t really explored yet, keep them around if you think they’re just waiting their turn. However, you can also change them in order to make them more relevant to what’s going on in the moment, or simply to give the PCs more of a sense of being in an evolving world.
Barathar wasn’t the only game in town. The Skull-King lurks in the north, and Lord Wynthrep is stirring up war in the east. Amanda likes the idea of the PCs facing down a powerful necromancer in the near future, so she decides to keep the issueDarkness Creeps from the North in place.
The other issue, Saber-Rattling in the East is also interesting, but she thinks that all this confrontation with the Smuggler Queen probably gave Lord Wynthrep the opportunity he needed to escalate things. She changes Saber-Rattling in the East to The East at War!. That should give the PCs an interesting decision to make.
Also, keep in mind that if the PCs remove an impending issue, another one must arise to take its place. Don’t worry about this immediately—you need to give your players a sense of enacting permanent change in the game world. But after a while, if you notice that you’re low on impending issues, it’s probably a good time to introduce a new one, whether on the game world as a whole or on a specific location.
Dealing with NPCs
Remember, GMs, when you add a new location to the game world, you want to add at least one new NPC to go with it. Sometimes, that might mean moving a person from a location you’re not going to use anymore.
Likewise, when there’s a significant change in an issue for a location or the game world, you need to evaluate if the current NPCs are sufficient to express that change. If not, you might need to add one, or alter an NPC you have in a significant way—add more aspects or revise existing aspects to keep that character relevant to the issue at hand.
Most of the time, it should be pretty obvious when you need a new face for a location—when the old one dies or is somehow permanently removed from the game, or is boring now, it’s probably time to change things up.
When the heroes rescued Lord Bornhold’s son, Carris, from the Smuggler Queen, Lord Bornhold became indebted to them. To reflect this, Amanda changed a few of his aspects to make him more friendly to the PCs and less subservient to Barathar.
When Barathar was defeated, Amanda figured she needed someone to step in and take over the underworld. Carris and Barathar had become lovers during Carris’s captivity, and he’s not happy about her death. He’s so unhappy, in fact, that he decides to take her place and become the Smuggler King of the Sindral Reach. Because he’s vowed to retake the underworld in Barathar’s name (and because Amanda didn’t have any stats prepared for Carris), Amanda writes up new NPC stats for Carris and turns him into a brand new villain for the PCs to confront. This one could get a bit sticky!
There are essentially two ways to reuse NPCs. You can either use them to show how the PCs have grown since they started, or use them to show how the world is responding to their growth.
With the former, you don’t change the NPC, because that’s the point—the next time the PCs meet them, they’ve outclassed them, or they have new worries, or they’ve somehow grown past that NPC, who remains static. Maybe you even change the category they’re in—where they were once a main NPC, now they’re a supporting NPC because of how the PCs have grown.
With the latter, you allow the NPC to advance like the PCs have—you add new skills, change their aspects around, give them a stunt or two, and otherwise do whatever is necessary to keep them relevant to the PCs’ endeavors. This kind of NPC might be able to hang around as a nemesis for several story arcs, or at least provide some sense of continuity as the PCs become more powerful and influential.
Barathar advanced right along with the PCs. She was a main villain and Amanda wanted to keep her relevant and challenging right up until they defeated her, so every time the PCs got a milestone, she applied the same effects to Barathar. She also made minor tweaks here and there (changing aspects, swapping skills) to react to what the PCs did in the world throughout their adventures.
Sir Hanley, the knight who tried to prevent them from entering Varendep when they first got there, was pretty challenging when they first confronted him. He was a major NPC, and the fight was meant to be the culmination of an entire session. They got past him, convincing him to let them in, so he became less relevant after that. He was resentful and got in their way a few times, but he didn’t advance as they did so the PCs quickly outclassed him. The last time they had a run-in with Sir Hanley, they spanked him pretty hard and sent him running off to lick his wounds.