View Full Version : NPC's On The Fly

23 August 2002, 12:30 PM
Alright all those experience GM's out there, this ones for you. How do you generate NPC's with some depth, on the fly, in game. I have no problem using the templates in the core rules and source books but I just have general difficulty coming up with some thoughtful characters in the time of need. I've considered a simple list of adjectives to get the brain jumpstarted when needed. Any other GM's do something similar? Any one else got any files that might help my wee lil mind?

23 August 2002, 02:15 PM
If you want some Dark Side NPC's, you can quickly make some here:

If I need some major NPC's while playing, I just think of what skills, feats, attack bonuses, saving throws or weapons do they need now, then I give them that and make the NPC later.

Hope that helps.

23 August 2002, 04:59 PM
Okay, I'll put in my thoughts on this, as I am constantly generating NPCs "on the fly".

When you ask "with some depth", I wonder if you mean creating a more major NPC, or just making an NPC so that it's not like the other 45 NPCs in the same general area.

I'll try to give a brief synopsis of how I do both.

Variable NPCs:

First thing I do is ask myself "What's the NPCs name?" Come up with it quickly, or have a list of names (or use the handy website that dgswensen is creating). After that, I ask myself, "Is this NPC going to be Helpful, Unhelpful, Ambivalent (the "typical" person out there is this...willing to help if asked correctly by someone that they don't view as weird) Skeptical, or Hostile (though admittedly, not many common NPCs fall into the Hostile frame of mind...as there's little reason for them to be). The next thing I ask myself is "What, if anything, makes THIS NPC unique from any other". This can be as simple as outward appearance (scar on face, bright colored clothes, handlebar mustache, sores on skin, whatever) or voice (speak with a drawl, speak another language, speak softly, mumble, mouthy, etc) or as detailed as their motivations. I try to remember that every NPC is an individual with a life outside of that one moment when the players are talking to them. Perhaps the person is having trouble at work and is cranky, perhaps the person just won some money, and wants to celebrate, or perhaps that person just got done doing something slightly illegal and finds it strange that some people he doesn't know are suddenly talking to him for no reason.

So what that gives me is a name, an attitude that I can generally use to guage how the NPC will respond to the players, and something different about the person that makes them stand out. Mind you, some of these "stand out" things may not be readily noticable about the NPC, and if your players don't talk to him/her enough, they may never know some things about the NPC. That's what makes it good for an everyday sort of NPC...specific enough to provide some flavoring, but vague enough that you don't have to worry about making notes.

Semi Major NPCs:
As above, plus with a couple of add-ons. First, I ask myself "What is this particular person good at?" Well, if the person is in a profession, that makes it simple (or does it?). A Taxi cab driver is probably a good driver, but I may also mentally note that he's excellent as gaining information about things on the street. I then jot down his specialties, throwing on a particular number for the skill. Sometimes I may find that the number I've allocated is low, so I may bump it up a bit to make it fit better with what I have envisioned for the NPC. If I think that the cabbie should be able to easily get uncommon info from sources, and my roll tells me that he wasn't able to, I may boost the number for his skill to acquire the info. Next, I ask myself "What are the immediate and long term motivations for this person?" The immediate ones are the most important at first, so focus on that and fill in the long term later on if you have trouble coming up with both quickly. Is the person simply trying to make a buck and get home for the night? Or is the person trying to make a buck, get home, and then head out to hook up with some friends and raid a warehouse where weapons are being stored? That's immediate motivation. Long term would be: He's getting the weapons because he's part of a seperatist group that's against the government because word has made it to a seperatist in the government that the planet is going to make a deal with the Empire, and the freedom loving people of the planet must fight against the corruptness of the government and the Empire. A lot of time, the long term motivations can be taken directly from the immediate motivations simply by extrapolating.
With that done, I then quickly come up with a couple two or three important attributes for the NPC. Even semi-Major NPCs don't need ALL of their attributes done right away, so you can get away with some of the attributes for their major skills, and maybe the attributes associated with combat, and that'll cover your immediate needs. Later on, you can flesh him/her out, but at the start (and in a pinch), only 3 or 4 attributes are necessary to have numbers for. Same goes for skills (feats). What types does this NPC need for his/her job? Combat. Intelligence Gathering. Hacking. Running. Pick the major ones that you think you'll need right away and slap some numbers in that look like they'll accomplish what you need to make the NPC do his/her job the way you want. Remember, not every NPC is going to be excellent or highly skilled at everything. There can be some semi-major NPCs that pretty much suck at everything, but just happen to know key information...so they're important. Don't make all your NPCs competant. Ask yourself how many times you go to a store or someplace public and notice someone that you just have to shake your head at. The same applies for NPCs.
Finally, ask yourself, "Does this NPC have anything that's useful or can be used by me (the GM)?" What is this, you ask? A ship, a car, a weapon, a family, a job, lots of money, information, etc. This is something that you can use to either rope the players in or make the NPC helpful (or harmful) to the players. Not every NPC will have something, but most times they will, otherwise they would probably fall into your "generic" NPCs above. Semi-major NPCs will typically have something. Just make sure you don't make it overly powerful or what have you, so your players don't decide to bump off the NPC (or if you kill off the NPC) and use it for themselves.

So by the time you're done with a semi-major NPC, you'll have a name, a general guage of their helpfulness to the players, something that makes them different from the other NPCs, what the NPC is good at, what the important attributes are, what some of the NPCs skills are, and something that they have that can be used. That'll get you through any standard gaming that you do for the night (most times) and you can flesh out the NPC later on if you know that the NPC will be sticking around for future gaming.

I can generally make Variable NPCs in about the time it takes to think. You hop in the cab and see an alien with blue skin driving. He literally has eyes in the back of his head and the ID on the dash says "Klob". He blinks his back eyes at you and in a clicking voice says "Where-k too-k?" I immediately decide that he'll be a talkative, almost nosey cabbie (due to his ability to see a lot) and may help the players if asked the right question.


Semi-major NPCs I make while moving the game along. In the case of the cabbie, I may decide that he secretly works for a crime lord and smuggles illegals. Conveniently enough, one of his pick-ups is coming up, so he'll take a quick "stop" to pick up a package and when he's got it, the police will decide to bust him (unlucky enough for the players). I give him outstanding ability to notice things, good driving skills, maybe some blaster, but not much, and running. If I give him blaster, I may provide him with a small, concealable holdout blaster for his "item"...and, of course, the package and taxi cab.

So that's how I do it. Hopefully this will help you out. Sorry it went on so long.

23 August 2002, 05:08 PM
Thanks for the plug, Grimace :) By the way, the random names website is here: http://www.dimfuture.net/starwars/random/

Incidentally, reading over this thread, I got another brainstorm -- would people get any use out of a "random NPC" generator that would generate appearance, features, and base personality on the fly?

It would basically use a lot of the same programming conventions as the SWRNG I have put together now. I know such things exist elsewhere, but again, I don't know if there are many geared towards Star Wars.


(P.S.: NOT trying to hijack the thread here, just wondering as an aside.)

24 August 2002, 09:48 PM
Grimace...as far as a response goes you went above and beyond what I had expected to hear about. Thanks alot, it should help out quite a bit.

In response to the random character gen...descriptive character gen...that'd be pretty interesting. Possibly have categories like Clothing, Smell, Species, Personality, Mental Capacity...etc etc etc. Sounds like it could be a handy tool.

8 September 2002, 05:48 PM
I tend to write up a variety of descriptions, malleable characters and personalities that can be drawn on at any time. Just keep them in a folder or something for easy reference during the game.

The website that dgswensen has created is excellent, its something I was planning to do some months back but never had the time to get it finished. I'm glad to see I wasn't the only one with the idea, good job mate! And yes, a random personality/description/etc generator would be good.