Sunday, December 16, 2012

Towards Visual NPCs

For me, keeping track of who the players have met, what they talked about, and what those npcs want, is one of the last big bookkeeping hurdles that gets in the way of my game.  I want the world to be about more than just exploring dungeons but to do that I have to set up some simple infrastructure to help me deal with all the information.

This is a rough draft trying to get at that.  I talked about npcs as locks before.  That was thinking certain topics would unlock new information and finding the topics would lead players to talk more with npcs.  Here, I made it a little more video gamey; a specific approach or activity will get you new knowledge.  So, you can see with this gentleman if you drink with him and you learn something.  Gamble with him a bit and the conversation will reveal something else.  You might find out what activities work best by asking a different npc: "Hey what's your boss all about?"

But I could easily see a different set up with a topic-unlocks-topic focus.  Some of the things revealed could be npc secrets

The bottom two bits are another idea where what is revealed isn't a rumor or bit of personal info but a hook that leads to something in the world. So, intimidate the guy and he'll reveal the location of a rare spell he's heard of.  Seduce him and he'll tell you about a treasure trove, or maybe the purse is more a score you can make if you want to rob someone.

Under his name are some traits.  I see no reason to list out full stats for every person in the world.  I'll assume they are all average unless noted otherwise.  We can see he is not talkative but quite strong.  If you want to generate some more from these terse details-- maybe the fact that he can be intimidated even though he is strong means he's a coward, or maybe he's just a pacifist.  Uhh, maybe not if he's involved in Nidus' brutal animal arena where exotics go to die.

This is assuming some prep-- you know they might interact with the heads of the big animal fighting clans or whatever.  But I can see a totally different set up for impromptu npcs that would allow for recording bits you generate each time they show up like this.  I guess it's not good to have too many different npc forms, but we want the tools that help us do the job.  Actually, I could just put that on the flip side of this 3x5 card.  It might actually help me keep track of which npcs players have met and which they haven't.

You know what, let me go and mock up something to use that make-them-as-you-need-to format of Zak's. . . .

Okay, about forty minutes later here's what I've got:
Blank spot to sketch or paste a portrait in.  Blank spot for name and for traits underneath.  Then the spots to record info for each additional meeting with the npc.  (and I'm thinking space age again-- a tablet app that randomly came up with the result from the appropriate chart when you tapped those line would be sweet.  Then it would let you lock it in or re-roll).


  1. I like this idea. I always have trouble with my NPCs, and something like this would certainly help.

  2. Did you ever play the board/book game Tales of the Arabian Nights?

    "Do you grovel, seduce, rob, pray, bargain, attack, flee..."

    What do the bottom two icons in the second version signify?

  3. Thanks, Simon. I'll keep thinking about it/revising it.

    @Roger: Nope. Had similar "moves" you could choose from, huh? The icons were meant to be "childhood event" and "teen event." They are from the post of Zak's but based on another blogger's random traumatic events tables. Basically, NPCs are blank slates until you start interacting with them and then you determine traits and stuff and record them.

  4. I like this system. It gives the players a reason to keep coming back to the same NPC, and makes them feel like a real person. I hate when my NPCs just end up being one time plot hooks. I'll have to try this out.

  5. Thanks, keep us posted on how it works in your campaign.

    1. I haven't had a chance to use this yet, what with all my players being out of town for the holidays. I've been working on a similar system though of town events that unlock other events and NPCs. Things like holiday festivals, performances and guild meetings. I think a combined system, where players could invite NPCs to events and vice versa, would work well to simulate town life.

    2. Thanks for the link. A way to generate what's going on outside of the players and DM's influence seems like a really useful thing to have. You could probably make a more generalized "spur" that needs some interpretation (an important poor person dies, etc) so you wouldn't need to make tons of calendars ahead of time. Also, interpretation is a cool way to get players creating (what does that mean?) maybe call it "What happened in Town Today?"

      I like how you started thinking about which factions were involved.

      Check this little post out for a possible way to make players more interested about festivals and such:

    3. I like the idea of randomization. The biggest flaw with my current system, I think, is that it's hard to plan more than a few weeks, especially without getting repetitive.

      I saw your post about bonus HP for festivals. I like the idea mechanically, but it's the opposite of reality in my experience. Maybe there could be bonus AC or charisma instead of health for occasions with heavy drinking and no sleep.

      I like the part about burnt forests too. I have one right next to the city in my current campaign. Interesting coincidence.

  6. It looks like a useful tool for keeping track of more important NPCs. However, would it be useful to have boxes at the bottom for listing two other NPCs that this person links to? It seems like NPCs are most useful in a web, where meeting Jonny means that you can find Frank and Paul to learn about their various rackets.

    Maybe you could have the "related to" boxes at the top and bottom for more of a hirarchtical situation, where one is a subordinate, and one is a superior.

  7. Hey, thanks. Yeah relationships definitely need to be tracked. How is the hard part to figure especially when you think about prepping before hand versus randomly rolling someone up. Here are a couple links where I tried to see how to record relationships in factions:

    But you might just use 3x5 cards and then put them in a folder like this:
    that could represent relationships.