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Yora
2016-04-27, 06:19 AM
I've become very much interested in the idea of open world campaigns in which the players are given free rein to get involved and interfere with a handful of ongoing conflicts and crises. Build a big house or repair a ruined fortress if they want; hiring troops and servants or gathering allies; whatever they want.

But while there are a lot of guides and introductions in making a map for a hexcrawl and filling it with ruins and dungeons and preparing random encounter tables, nobody seems to have ever really gone itnto adressing NPCs. Adventure hooks are often mentioned as being vital to get the campaign going, but I have not been able to find any piece of advice for preparing a rooster of NPCs as potential antagonists and allies.

Does anyone have experience with this subject or knows of some helpful reading?

SirBellias
2016-04-27, 06:54 AM
What I do is make them up in the fly. Everyone has a name, and a problem. Think about where they are in the world, and what the most obvious problem for them is. If there's bandits nearby? Escaped prisoner! On the road? Obviously an honest trader down on his luck. Maybe. In town? There's probably plenty of random people going about their business. But who would the characters talk to? People who look like they have problems, or stories. People yelling for help in the street is a good start. Then there's the shopkeepers, who grumble about low good stocks, and bar people, who have their own slew of problems they'd love to tell you about. Just do what makes most sense and is most interesting at the time. If possible, try to keep multiple interesting hooks at a time, and have the situations get worse over time. Keeps it interesting. Also, most people have a profession. Keep that in mind whenever you introduce someone, because whatever they do to make a living probably shows in their attitudes and what not. That's what I do, and it works out alright.

RazorChain
2016-04-27, 07:12 AM
I've become very much interested in the idea of open world campaigns in which the players are given free rein to get involved and interfere with a handful of ongoing conflicts and crises. Build a big house or repair a ruined fortress if they want; hiring troops and servants or gathering allies; whatever they want.

But while there are a lot of guides and introductions in making a map for a hexcrawl and filling it with ruins and dungeons and preparing random encounter tables, nobody seems to have ever really gone itnto adressing NPCs. Adventure hooks are often mentioned as being vital to get the campaign going, but I have not been able to find any piece of advice for preparing a rooster of NPCs as potential antagonists and allies.

Does anyone have experience with this subject or knows of some helpful reading?


I had once a decent book about game mastering, don't recall if it was Robin's Law or something else. But I just use a simple system. I give NPC's 3 stats. Fighting, Diplomacy and Resources. If they become relevant I flesh them out better. The often I write a few lines about the NPC's and mention a hook, plan or what they are up to.

ImNotTrevor
2016-04-27, 07:20 AM
Some of my favorite advice on NPCs generally comes from a variety of sources, but I'll see if I can't vomit up as much of it as I can...

1. Name everyone. If the PCs interact with them, they have a name. Keep a list of names handy. (I have a list of more than 700 names for Apocalypse World alone)

2. Every NPC follows something. Their God, their nose, their wallet, their genitals, their stomach, something. Pick one and see where it takes them.

3. Create uneven PC-NPC-PC triangles. Make them friendly towards one PC and dislike another. Or be rude to one and flirtatious with the other. Give good deals to one and rip off another. They flirt shamelessly with both!

4. NPCs have wants and goals. These goals should very rarely be "murder this band of heroes" by itself. Goblins have the goal of "defend our hovel from gross civilized people and steal their babies to turn them into goblins." This puts them into opposition with what the PCs and their friends want, but their purpose is not to be bags of xp for adventurers.

5. When picturing the world's future. Behavior, plan as if the PCs weren't a part of it and let their actions change those sequences of events (or not). Look into the Fronts system of Dungeon World for a really good, modular system for this kind of thing. You can also modify the Faction Turn from Stars Without Number.

6. Above all, the NPCs need to feel real. When the PCs push, they push back. Diplomacy wears off. NPCs act in their own self interest. They're hypocritical. They react out of emotion rather than logic. Let them be people, and they may surprise even you. (I didn't think Three was going to attempt to kiss Dia until 5 seconds before it happened. And it was one of the most awkward, human, and real things that ever happened in any rpg and my group still talks about it sometimes.)

7. If your game needs statblocks, just make like 10 generic blocks and use those. I honestly wish more systems provided these, but oh well.

8. Write stuff down. All the time. Even out of game. See a nifty character in a show? Write down their characteristics and steal them shamelessly. Do the same for themes and plot twists and aesthetics and everything else. Embrace narrative in the most mentally lewd of ways. ;D

Anyways, that's all I have for now.

goto124
2016-04-27, 08:31 AM
8. Write stuff down. All the time. Even out of game. See a nifty character in a show? Write down their characteristics and steal them shamelessly.

But how am I supposed to watch shows if I'm playing RPGs with people?

kyoryu
2016-04-27, 08:44 AM
The most important things an NPC should have:

1) A name
2) A goal
3) An agenda to achieve that goal

Their agenda will change during play, but it gives them an initial direction and will help fill in a bunch of gaps.

Even minor NPCs should have a goal! The goal is what makes the guard do his job, and provides avenues for non-combat resolutions! If Guard A wants to pay off his gambling debts, a bribe might convince him to look the other way. If Guard B wants to get his family out of this accursed town, it might require a larger bribe. If Guard C wants to build his fighting experience, a bribe might work - but setting him up with training very well may.

ATHATH
2016-04-27, 09:53 AM
Here are some sample encounters, with NPC's:
http://archive.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/arch/re

Here are just some NPC's that have small, prewritten backstories:
http://archive.wizards.com/default.asp?x=dnd/arch/fc

wumpus
2016-04-27, 10:55 AM
First, find out how the players will dealing with a "Potemkin Setting". If they decide to go to a city, can you use your default city and change the facade of the buildings to match (with a few class changes of special NPCs if that was the reason the party choose that city)?

Also note that in an ideal situation, you should be doing this with the monsters as well. In this case you probably need some sort of computer NPC generator and adjust the NPC traits to the monsters as appropriate. This would work best in a B-2 (keep on the borderlands) type setting, and wildly improve the thing (even if you barely fleshed out the monsters).

Yora
2016-04-27, 10:58 AM
I am afraid I don't quite understand what kind of method you are proposing there, wumpus.

What do you recommend to do?

ImNotTrevor
2016-04-28, 07:51 AM
But how am I supposed to watch shows if I'm playing RPGs with people?

What do you think the DM is looking at behind that screen?

goto124
2016-04-28, 08:42 AM
Another screen, of course!

ImNotTrevor
2016-04-29, 11:19 PM
Another screen, of course!

Exactly. That's the real reason why the DM ccasionally giggles or seems lost

lacco36
2016-05-03, 01:36 AM
@Yora: The method that works for me is - make yourself a huge list of various traits (I use a very tightly handwritten A4 sheet) - not for rolling, but to select these. Don't separate them into categories - write them down as they come to you. List voice types, deformations, body types, styles of walk/movement, even archetypes or fight styles...

In my list, you can find entries as "bruiser", "large ears", "loud", "smells of garlic", "aggressive", "limps", "prefers left hand", "speaks gibberish", "lazy eye", "can't hide secrets", "god-fearing", "mismatched clothes", "uses words he doesn't understand", "cat-like agility", "talks faster than thinks", "bad hearing", etc.

Add to this list a list of random names. Again, use many sources - and mix/match them together.

Then, when the PCs ask who applies to their posting "Guards wanted" in tavern, I just choose two or three traits and a name. And here he comes, Rishnak the rogue, whom the players will address as "the thief with lazy eye we hired", who will talk faster than they think and smell permanently of garlic.

I don't need to know anything else about him at the moment. If need arises, I will stat him further, but for the first impression, this is enough.

One thing I usually aim for is - not everybody has an agenda that includes the PCs. It's the lazy GM approach. If the PC's don't interact with Rishnak, he will just be another guard to fall in some meaningless combat. If they do...

...then I think of a good motivation and think of what would make a good story. Rishnak suddenly disappears with their money - well, he was a thief, what did they expect? His motivation? The PCs killed his cousin as they fought-off the bandits, and he took it as his due. If I feel particularly cruel, he took it to have money to bury him...:smallsmile:

Basically, for open-world campaign, keep in mind that not everyone has ties to PCs. And - don't prepare lots of NPCs, if you need to, do it like Wumpus suggested - prepare a set. E.g. homestead with two adults, their adolescent son who killed - in selfdefence - a nobleman and they buried him into the garden; he is wracked with guild and the adults are clearly hiding something... don't name them - but once in a while offer the PCs sight of such homestead (one in viking-style, one in cat-people-style, one drow-ish, one gnomish...) and when they enter... there are two adult vikings/cat-people/drows...etc. Prepare stories, improvise NPCs.

Since you asked for some sources:
Good source for traits is HyperHalfling's Book of Lists - while not too large, it's sufficiently generic. But there are lots of lists that help (I recently found one dealing only with voice types and explaining most adjectives used to describe a voice...). It contains lots of interesting stuff that can get your creative juices flowing.
Also, dictionaries/vocabularies - just take random adjectives or nouns and let them inspire you.
There are lots docs with pre-prepared NPCs, but I seldom use them. I have the Shady Dragon inn - or something like that - which I use sometimes as inspiration.

Remember, it doesn't make sense to prepare 100 NPCs from which the PCs will interact only with 2. Either do the "potemkin village" setting, where you prepare people with motivations and without any description, and you just paste them whenever it seems appropriate (what is the difference between the dishonest drow merchant and dishonest dwarf merchant, roleplaying-wise...?), or flesh people out only as much, as the PCs interact with them.

Eldan
2016-05-03, 06:19 AM
I create NPCs topdown, so to speak.

First, decide on an area the game is set in. This can be a country, a duchy, a city. Let's go with a city for this. Decide on a political system, too.

Second, I create some 3-10 broad political groups for the area the campaign is set in. So, for our city, let's say we have a three noble families who mostly rule the local council, a union of craftsman guilds, a crime syndicate, the temple of the National pantheon and the smaller temple of the local gods.

Third, I like to have a splinter group for every political group. The noble family has a cadet branch who would really like to take over. The National Temple has a heretical sect driven underground. The local gods have a mystery cult. The crime syndicate has assassins worshipping a death god in their midst without knowing it.

Finally, I create a few NPCs for every splinter group. Broadly, I like to create one offical the player characters can meet (butler for a noble family, Seneschal to the king, secretary for a guild, etc.), one public leader of the group (the High Priest, the King, the Pater Familias, the Guild Master) and one lower ranking member that would be up for helping the group on their adventures (Initiate who would be willing to look up secret knowledge in the temple library for a good cause, guard sergeant who would tip off the heroes that they are to be arrested, something like that. The group's potential friend). For about half of them, I create a Grey Eminence behind the Public Face, too. (The vizier, the family matriarch, the ancient mystery priest, the demon mind controlling the mafia don, etc.).

Then, a good handful more of "unimportant" characters like business owners, guards, local guides, etc. to add some colour.