NPC Creation | KingSpoom's RPG Design & Theory Junkyard

NPC Creation

NPCs are not only an important part of the game, but they are such a large part of the game that any noticible improvement is going to make an impact. Recently, some 4e propaganda stated that NPC creation would be streamlined, and take only a fraction of the time to complete. Seeing as this is one of the big complaints/factors for prep-time, this would be a great accomplishment for the series... but how do you go about streamlining a process when the finished product is a living, breathing character?

One important factor in reducing the time it takes to make an NPC is rules knowledge. The more rules you can recall, the faster you can recall them, and the quicker you can link bits together, the less time it will take. The main problem here is that this takes time. Any new GM (or old GM with a new system) will need to improve in this area. Depending on the system, it can take a few minutes or a few hours to make a full-fledged NPC.

NPC creation is slowed down by a lot of sequential design, and the restriction of abilities by requisite. Sequential design is when you are required to make a character in order, and often re-evalutate your options, during the many steps of creation. This is usually tied in with the restriction of abilities by requisite. Take for example D&D 3.x. The order you select skills can have an impact on if you qualify to take a prestige class, which you want because many abilities are restricted by class. You cannot simply determine your max skill points and apply them as if you were at the real level you are making the NPC if you want to remain true to the system.

In order to speed up NPC creation, some GMs do not create a complete character. Often, a creature intended for combat will not have a detailed background, and many will not have an extensive list of skills. Similarly, a bartender might be a few skill points at a certain level, and a random commoner might just be a rough voice. Most systems won't interfere with this type of prep, but sometimes PC actions will. It is important to remember that players usually only know what you tell/show them about an NPC. On the same note; reuse, recycle, repackage! Just because the party killed Lord Count Duke doesn't mean you have to burn his statblock and start from scratch.

However, it is important to remember that some things should not be skimped on. Whenever I create an NPC more important than a random commoner, I give him a goal and a disposition towards the party. As such, it can be handy to keep around a list of common goals that the denizens of your setting might have, so you can cycle through them at a moment's notice. Merchant? He's greedy and he expects the party to spend money. Barkeep? He's friendly, but only if the party softens him up with a war-story. Government Inspector? He wants to help his country, but hates anyone who makes his job difficult. You should also remember to use a variety of... well anything. Every merchant can't be a greedy rat, out only for himself, who hassles the party to buy and scoffs at their attempts to haggle.

1 Comment:

thanuir said...

I think that most rpgs allow the GM to set suitable stats for NPCs without breaking anything. D&D is the big expection. There are probably others.

I'd go as far as to say that, unless design goals include GM resource management (D&D is borderline), making a system so that it is not possible to stat NPCs based on what looks good is simply bad design.

Solid rules or guidelines for improvising NPCs are good. Especially if they help in making interesting NPCs.