Surfing channels late Saturday night, I stumbed across John Sayles' Lone Star, and ended staying up way past my bedtime to watch the last hour or so of one of my all-time favorite movies.
And watching the movie into the early hours of Sunday morning, I was reminded of a conversation with one of my players over dinner awhile back. We were talking about my preparation for our Flashing Blades campaign. He explained that his D&D games tend to be largely improvised, with more of a focus on action than intrigue, and he was impressed by the depth of the machinations revealed in play so far. I told him that it was actually pretty easy for me - any time I created a non-player character, my first thoughts were always along the lines of, 'Okay, who's his brother? his sister? his uncle? his wife and his in-laws? What does he do for a living? who are his allies? his rivals? To what orgaisations does he belong? to what communities? In this way, I explained, conflicts and opportunities cascade out of the characters into the game-world, a flood of ideas on which to embellish.
John Sayles' Frontera, Texas, reminds me so much of how I build non-player characters that it's hard not to wonder if I was subliminally following his script in my head. Sheriff Sam Deeds, the present sheriff of Rio County, is the son of the legendary Buddy Deeds, who happened to be one of the deputies to the missing Charlie Wade and who possessed ample motive to want Wade dead; thus, Sam finds himself investigating the disappearance of Sheriff Wade by way of unexplored corners of his own past. Another of Charlie Wade's former deputies, Hollis Pogue, is now mayor of Frontera and a civic booster; he and others in Frontera are pushing for construction of a new county jail, a move opposed as a wasteful boondoggle by Sam. Hollis and Buddy both benefited from some shady land deals in the past; Mercedes Cruz, a prominent business woman and Fronter city council member, received money from Buddy which allowed her to start her successful restaurant. Sam is conflicted over their adoration of Buddy, a man both vstly corrupt and justly wise, particularly in the naming of the Frontera courthouse over the former sheriff. Mercedes' daughter, Pilar, is a teacher at the local high school, and both she and Sam have their own reasons to dislike Buddy, after their budding relationship was broken up by Buddy, ostensibly over the fact that Sam is white and Pilar a Latina.
There is a local army base commander whose estranged father owns a bar catering to the small African-American community of Frontera, the Latino undersheriff who plans to run stand for sheriff in the next election, and on and on, characters woven into the setting and through one another in surprising ways which the movie reveals strand by strand.
This is the same approach I use to creating characters for my settings, and I've found it to be particularly appropriate to swashbuckling campaigns, considering how little separation exists between the personal and the professonal in the Early Modern world, where family relationships and personal connections are as integral influence and status as offices and titles. Lone Star provides an excellent primer on how to fit these relationships together to build a game-world filled with intrigue.