Sunday, February 1, 2015

Gamemaster's Guidepost: The Art of Making NPCs

The title says it all, When GMs create NPCs they can do so for a myriad number of reasons. Maybe the PCs need a antagonist or perhaps a PC purchased a Ally maybe the GM just wants to have the NPC fleshed out in case the PCs have need of him. Maybe they are bored and want to create something that may be useful later. Whatever the reason there are a number of ways the GM could go about it. As a GM, I use the following "classes:"

Fuzzy NPCs
A "fuzzy" NPC is one that has a blip of a entry - if that. It's basically a bunch of cobbled notes that I'm sure many GMs are familiar with.

"Wren the Blacksmith - stubborn and obstinate, but skilled. Armoury skill of at least 12 along with any other skills needed for the making of weapons, armor, etc."

Entry NPC Write-Ups
Entry write-ups are similiar to those in GURPS books for abbreviated NPCs or creatures. They require no point calculation - just GM arbitration.

Wren the Blacksmith
A small, but muscular woman with black hair and black eyes and a tongue sharper than any blade she could possibly forge.

ST 11; DX 10; IQ 10; HT 11.
HP Will 11; Per 10; Speed 5.50; Dodge 8; Parry 7 (Axe/Mace); Move 5.
SM 0; 110 lbs.
Traits: Artificer 2; Appearance (Attractive); Bad Temper (12); Gifted Artist 2; Lifting ST+1; Odious Personal Habit (Curses like a sailor); Single-Minded; Stubbornness; Temperature Tolerance 2 (Heat).
Skills: Armoury/TL3 (Body Armor, Melee Weapons, and Missile Weapons)-14; Artist (Metalworking)-10; Axe/Mace-9; Leatherworking-12; Prospecting-10; Sewing-12; Smith/TL3 (Iron)-13.

Fully Fleshed NPCs
Written up, fully calculated, and otherwise treated as a player character fully-fleshed NPCs (and the work they involve) should really only be done for NPCs you know are going to be reused (like allies, antagonists, or closely associated contacts). When I do write up such characters fully like this for NPCs not bought with points I use a rough scale to determine their point value. First, I add up the entire point value of the PCs and average it. Then I apply the following: 25% of that value for "once-off" NPCs; 50% for "reoccurring" NPCs; 75% for "co-stars"; and 100% to 200% for "stars" or other very important folks.

Wren the Blacksmith
75 points

A small, but muscular woman in her early 30s with black hair and black eyes and a tongue sharper than any blade she could possibly forge.

ST 11 [10]; DX 10 [0]; IQ 10 [0]; HT 11 [10].
Damage 1d-1/1d; BL 24 lbs.; HP 9 [0]; Will 11 [5]; Per 10 [0]; FP 11 [0].
Basic Speed 5.50 [0]; Basic Move 5 [0]; Dodge 8; Parry 7 (Axe/Mace).
5’2”; 110 lbs.

Social Background
TL: 3 [0].
CF: Tredroyian [0].
Languages: Anglish (Native) [0].

Artificer 2 [20]; Appearance (Attractive) [4]; Gifted Artist 2 [10]; Lifting ST+1 [3]; Single-Minded [5]; Temperature Tolerance 2 (Heat) [2].

Bad Temper (12) [-10]; Odious Personal Habit (Curses like a sailor) [-5]; Reputation -1 (Sharp-Tongued Harriden) [-5]; Stubbornness [-5].
Quirks: Caustic-Tongued; Dislikes people who thinks she "can't do the job;" Likes mining her own ore for forging; Keeps her hair shorn short; Responsive. [‑5]

Armoury/TL3 (Body Armor) (A) IQ+4 [8]-14*; Armoury/TL3  (Melee Weapons) (A) IQ+4 [8]-14*; Armoury/TL3 (Missile Weapons) (A) IQ+4 [8]-14*; Artist (Metalworking) (H) IQ [1]-10; Axe/Mace (A) DX-1 [1]-9; Leatherworking (E) DX+2 [1]-12; Naturalist (H) IQ-2 [1]-8; Prospecting (A) IQ [2]-10; Sewing (E) IQ+2 [1]-12; Smith/TL3 (Iron) (A) IQ+3 [4]-13*; Survivalist (Mountains) (A) Per-1 [1]-9.
* Includes +2 from Artificer.
† Includes +2 from Gifted Artist.

Picking Over the Bones
I personally never fully write-up a NPC this way until the PCs have requested to go see them at least three times. What's more, I typically use entry write-ups for antagonists, unless I expect them to live more than a encounter and then I'll flesh them out fully. As a good friend of mine is fond of saying "If you give it stats - it can be killed." Basically, I'm lazy when it comes to NPC write-ups and really, as a GURPS GM that's the only way to be. If you get obsessed with the full stats of every pig herder, sheepfarmer, and goatswaddle in one tiny hamlet the PCs will pass through once you'll use up your creative juices for the next place and the next. Keeping up at the level of detail is a Sisyphean task of epic proportions and I don't know any experienced GM who has a regular gaming group that does This is a trap that newbie GMs tend to fall into. "ZOMG, GURPS characters haz points. Therefore all beings must be stated. LOLz," No...just no. Stat what you need and bluff your way through the rest - or if you must have stats go see if someone did the work for you already. There is probably some lonely bastard out there stuck in Pathfinderlandia or on WoTC Island where no one will even look at GURPS, much less play it. Like Tom Hanks he starts creating his Wilsons so he doesn't go mad. Find that guy's lonely creations via your favorite search engine and use his work. I promise he won't mind. You'll be like a ship passing by his lonely corner of the world and give him a moment of GURPSian hope. You'll also dash it on the rocks, but don't worry about that. 

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