Monday, January 21, 2013

Old Dogs Says...Mass Produce

The post below is a long time coming, having originally been written a week and a half ago. Between January 9th (my last post) and today, January 21st, I have worked nearly 14 days straight without a day off because of my two jobs and one client in particular needing some weekend assistance. Add to that the preparation for running two games at RECESS and then the actual running of said games at RECESS this past Saturday and you can imagine how title time or energy I had for posting.

I am pretty darn exhausted to be honest with you, metahuman endurance or not.

Now, as I get back to production on my upcoming Traveller campaign (which is slowly but surely adding players*), I really want to get these GM advice posts out of the way. I want them over and done so I can talk about so many other things, including my experiences at this past RECESS event and of course the aforementioned Traveller.

While I really can't say if my posts here have been any help to anyone, I can say that I feel validated and more than a little ego boosted thanks to the people at RECESS and NerdNYC. I had one player send his girlfriend to find me and when check to see that it was definitely me running the second session event he was interested in. He had previously been in my Galaxy Quest game and liked it so much he wanted to be in another game of mine. He may end up a regular in my Traveller game as well. I also got the usual kudos for my Muppets RPG (this time featuring Fraggle Rock) and a fellow GM bummed that she had to run something. She apparently told a mutual acquaintance of ours, "Damn. I wouldn't have run something in the first slot if I knew he (Me) was running Fraggle Rock at the same time. I would've played."

So in the end if there are those who read my GM Advice and think, 'Well this guys ideas don't sound all that special', that's just fine. Real people in real games really like what I do. I'm in happy land.

Last thing two things and we can get to the last of the 'Old Dog' posts for now...

I now have 149 followers. Wow. That is awesome. But...I want more. That is, my goal for some time now has been 150. If you don't hate this blog, please recommend it to a friend. Thanks.

Happy Birthday to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.!

OK, let's get to it...


This post is not so much GM advice but rather an explanation of how I do a thing that a lot of gaming people see and ask me, "How do you do that and still have time to eat, sleep and pee?"

Well, I eat quickly, don't sleep much and sometimes forget to do that last one.

Where was I? Oh yeah, the actual question is, "How do you generate so many NPCs?"

It's actually really simple. Don't use the system and don't create what you don't need.

I don't think I have ever rolled up a NPC. Ever. I didn't know that anyone did that when I started. The guys who made those TSR modules didn't roll-up the goblins in it. Did they? Or the lord of whatever keep was important to the preface? There were just goblins there. The lord was your patron and they needed a patron lord for the fluff so, they made one. So if I know I need a Spaceport Dockmaster or Captain of the Royal Guard, I don't roll anything, I just write down 'Dockmaster' and 'Captain of the Royal Guard' and throw on some appropriate numbers.

You don't need to know all the stats of a Shuttle Pilot in Star Trek or a Bank Clerk in Deadlands or the guy who sells the adventuring gear in Dungeons & Dragons. You need to know what they're good at and it should be their jobs. If not, that's interesting too but the point is, it isn't necessary to write up a whole sheet on someone who is only there to drive you to the adventure and back.

Here's what a typical D&D NPC 'Record Chart' looks like for me:

NPC Record Chart for Character in a High Elf City

The first thing I need is the character's name. Why? 'Cause somebody is going to ask. It's often the first thing people ask when they meet a NPC and decide to talk to them. For this particular list of NPCs I am using the naming convention my players and I devised for the High Elves of Aerth, my homebrew D&D-But-Not world. Their first names generally sound Kryptonian. Seriously. Not my idea but it was me who first noticed an Elf named Kal-El or Dev-Em StormStrike would not be out of place. Last names are based on the High Elven Family Houses which, for the most part, are based on foul weather. The most popular and common family names are Rain, Hale, Gale, Snow, Blizzard, etc. Noble families include Thunder, Wind, Lightning and Storm, which is the last name of the King and Queen.

The oddities in the above chart are those citizens of the High Elven City who are not, themselves, High Elves. These characters therefore have names that reflect the naming conventions developed for the other Elven cultural subgroups.

Race and gender are next and pretty self-explanatory. Notice that the first names are not always gender specific (meaning there are a number of female characters with male sounding names and vice versa).

Next up is class and level. I have never understood the concept of NPC Classes. I mean, I barely like the idea of classes at all, now you're going to make these things PC and NPC specific? Please. For me, the Baker is the Baker but if I need to know what he attacks as, how many hit point he should get, etc. I have a guide line. Baker - Rogue, 5th level. Sage - Magic User**, 4th level. Blacksmith - Fighter, 6th level, etc. The Baker can't hide in shadows, the Sage doesn't know any spells and the Blacksmith doesn't wear a full suit of Chainmail all the time. The Class/Level combos are just easy ways for me to figure out how skilled and experienced these people are and how many hit points they might have.

Important stats are just that; These are the stats that are important. Everything else is a 0. Average. Don't worry about it as it isn't important. Writing them out this way also means the chart is useful regardless of edition (for the most part).

Something makes this individual special. Somethings it's what they can do, sometimes its what they own. On some characters what I write is more specific, on others more vague. If I were statting out the average citizen as opposed to those  who might be more involved in an adventure, their Ability/Talent/Item entry might be Can Talk Fast, Dwarven Desserts, Heirloom Necklace.

Finally we have notes. These are the things that make this person matter in the adventure or encounter in which you meet them. I usually start small and often more specific than many of the ones I have listed on this particular chart. These are sometimes catalysts for more in depth descriptions later on if the NPC becomes a reoccurring part of the campaign.

So that's basically it. I figure out the bare bones minimum of what I need for quick reference, set up some ground rules, make a chart and then start filling it in. Sometimes it's simple, sometimes it's more elaborate.

Check out this one for a TMP era Star Trek campaign:

Well that's about the size of it ladies and gents. Nothing more magical to it than that. My one special gift as a GM may simply be that coming up with names, an element that seems difficult for many, is really easy for me. Yes, my names may seem corny (especially in D&D - but then, D&D names are always corny. Bilbo Baggins. Jon Snow. Krull. Really? Krull is your character's name?!?)

That's the end of the Old Dog segments for now. Need to get to work on Traveller. So happy to finally be back doing Science-Fiction I can't even put it into words. Yet. Maybe next post.

Barking Alien

 *A number of players I met at RECESS are interested in joining in on my upcoming Traveller campaign at the Compleat Strategist in NYC starting this February. NerdNYC - Gamer Networking That Works!

**I wrote Magic User, a name I generally despise, because I don't know what Wizards are currently called in the game of your choice. Mage, Wizard, Sorceror...figure out what works for you.


  1. Boom. And now you're at 150, pal!

    1. I have arrived! Bless you sir (bites gold coin to make sure it's real).

      Barking Alien No-Prize to those who can identify the reference. ;)

  2. I like what I see here BA and your Kryptonian Elf Names may be borrowed for one of my campaigns as that's tough to resist.

    I use an index-cards-in-a-box system for NPC's myself but the data looks pretty similar to what's on your sheet.

    In defense of NPC classes it was an attempt to show that not everyone in the world needed to be defined in terms of Fighter/Thief/Cleric/Magic-USer - perhaps not totally necessary and perhaps not completely successful but that was the intent anyway. I think it was easier when they were just 0-level humans but there are options for those who feel the need.

    Looking forward to the next several updates.

  3. I think the notion of just documenting what you need isn't a bad idea at all.

  4. One of the reasons I do it in this format is that it can fit into my campaign binder, a book I use with each and every campaign that keeps everything I need it one place.

    Entries into the binder are down alphabetically so if I want to see the crew of the USS Arcadia I go to 'A', Arcadia, USS, ah here it is, the Crew Manifest. The citizens of the Mithrindel (Capital city of the High Elves) is under 'M'. First entry is Army, second entry is Citizens, third entry is Dungeons, etc.

    I've mentioned my 'campaign bibles' before on the blog but I've never really shown you all what one looks like in it's entirety. I want to take a lot of pictures of the one for my upcoming Traveller game so you can see what I'm talking about. Each player receives a smaller version as well.

  5. I'd "follow" but I don't know what that means or how to do it...I assume it means something other than checking out your web log to see what you've written.

  6. Somewhat yes.

    It mostly deals with a button you should see above little pictures of faces and such on the right hand side of my site/your screen. It says 'Join This Site'. It will then tell you when I have posted something new by listing it on your blog roll.

  7. My screen must be different, nothing like that shows on the right. "Blog roll"?

  8. Odd.

    The first thing on the top right should be my profile, 'About Me' it should say. There is a picture of a Green Dog in a Spacesuit next to it.

    Below that is my award for 'Best Sci-Fi'.

    Next is 'Followers'.

    If you are not seeing that than there is a formatting issue that is beyond my ability to solve. Are you using Firefox or something more exotic?