Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Mook and You

Mooks[1] play an important role in many RPGs, but a few problems can arise from their use. I intend to go into these problems and to give methods of making them more vibrant and exciting (hopefully, that is).

The Purpose
Mooks fill the niche of minions, critters, and fluff enemies. I.e. they are all the enemies that exist that aren’t bosses. This could be town guards, cultists, wolves, goblins, you name it. Why they are there is to make the big bad evil guys (henceforth BBEG) seem more important. If everyone your players face is a super powered sorcerer, then the main villain just won’t seem scary. However, if the party has just killed 20 goblins and they come up against an Ork Warboss… Well, let’s just say there shall be lead in their pantaloons.

The Problems
The problem with running mooks is that they either feel like filler, or they feel tedious. Filler is bad, because you don’t ever want your players feeling out of the story (side-plots are just as much story as the main line, so what I am talking about here is dead space – random encounters). Tedious enemies are bad also, for they feel more like work and boxes to be crossed off (or ticked) than challenges to be overcome. The job of a good GM, therefore, is to make mooks interesting.

The Solution
Make them smart. Or, more broadly, play to their strengths. A handful of goblins against a party of adventurers isn’t going to last long… So you have to ask yourself, “How the hell did these goblins survive in this world before they encountered the players?” Your answers are very varied here:
  1. They hid. This then raises the questions of why, where and how they hid, as well as why, where and how they were found out by the party. This is a weak choice for a boss lead-up, but can make an interesting RP opportunity; these people were living peacefully, and just want to be left alone.
  2. They were prepared. Basically, they had fortifications or methods in place to prevent the enemy from taking them down. This is a fine choice, as it can turn a handful of goblins into a fort-occupying tribe armed with traps and possibly allies!
  3. They have a leader. They have a mini-boss basically. Someone bigger and tougher is looking out for these little guys, and he won’t be happy when the PCs come a-knockin’.
  4. They have connections. This could be anything. Someone, somewhere, needs these guys to be around, and so has allowed them to live for the time being. This could be the BBEG who is protecting them whilst they mine for him, or it could be that these creatures are the only ones capable of controlling a specific machine/magical force/whosawhatchamajigga, and so need to be left to deal with this.
After you have answered this question, you know why they exist, so you can make them seem like they fit in the world. This should also make them less tedious as well: your players will have something to think about as they bathe in their blood. Should we really be slaughtering these people? Are they necessary? Who is going to care if we take them down? Are we just bashing in a hornet’s nest and waiting to be stung?

I hope to talk to you again soon,

Ben Scerri

1 A ‘mook’ is any enemy or NPC that is itself not named or singularly important. Examples of this are goblins, kobolds, wolves, giant rats, lowly cultists, etc. These should be enemies that are easily killed by your players, and should serve as nothing more than a lead up to the final fight.