Group character generation for NPCs

When I first started posting about group character generation, I did not expect it to be such a theme of my blogging. And yet I find that I still have things to say about it. As I have not been able to play in a single RPG this week, this is what I’ve been doing instead…

The Court of Miracles

My friend Louis is running a game based on the Three Musketeers stories. My character in this game was raised in the criminal underworld, the Court of Miracles, and in the next session we’re going to explore it a bit.

As a conscientious player, I didn’t want to give Louis the task of inventing a ton of characters from my backstory, so I decided to invent a few NPCs that he could use (or not). To do this, I decided to follow my own advice (from my first group character generation post) and randomly generate some Relationships using a Fiasco playset. Since this is about the criminal underworld, I used a Mafia-themed playset called Hit the Mattresses! by Loki Carbis, and tweaked the results to suit the specific time and setting. For example, “Third Family mediator and the one who doesn’t trust them” came up a couple of times, and I simplified this to “one doesn’t trust the other”. I also ignored options about law enforcement and civilians.

The result? It worked amazingly! The relationships web gave a very solid framework to build characters on, and I’m really excited to see how these characters are used. I’m not going to give any information here just yet about the characters I came up with, since they haven’t appeared, but I can confirm that Fiasco playsets can help generate some really interesting groups of NPCs for your game, in any system.

NPCs have feelings too, you know

I mentioned that one of the options I used to develop the Court of Miracles was “Third Family mediator and the one who doesn’t trust them”, and I cut this down to “one doesn’t trust the other”. The important thing about this is that the relationship I ended up using has nothing to do with the objective connection between the characters. It’s all about how the characters feel about each other.

If I had been using this playset with a group of player characters instead of NPCs, this option would have been less useful. Perhaps the players (of this hypothetical Mafia game) would decide that one of them was a mediator from a third Family, but unless the game is a full-on story game like Fiasco, the section about lack of trust them would have to go. You can’t use this tool to dictate how player characters feel.

One of my favourite games is the Smallville RPG (I’ve mentioned it before). In this game, every character (including the NPCs) has a statement for each other character that summarises their feelings about that other character. So, if we have characters called Vito, Michael, Sonny and Tom, then Vito would have statements for Michael, Sonny and Tom and they would each have a relationship statement for Vito. But Vito’s relationship statement for Michael (“I do not want my favourite son to join the Family business”) does not need to match Michael’s statement for Vito (“I have to avenge the attack on my father”).

The point is, and this is made explicit in Smallville‘s character creation, you can’t tell another player what their character thinks or feels.

This is one of the reasons that Christopher Allen’s Generic Relationships playset, which I mentioned last time, is such a good option for tying player characters together. It focuses on the concrete connections between characters, but removes the bits that try to dictate how characters feel.

This does mean that the Generic Relationships playset is slightly less useful for NPCs, for whom it would be very useful to dictate their feelings. Perhaps a new table could be created, a Generic NPC Feelings playset? Separating feelings from connections could lead to some very interesting combinations. Friends who don’t even like each other? Rivals who are secretly attracted to each other? Not to mention the asymmetrical relationships.

Speaking of which…

Since my last post, I’ve spoken to Christopher Allen about some of the other things that can be put into Fiasco-style playsets. He’s now posted a Generic Plot Twists playset (of which I reviewed an early draft and offered some suggestions) and a Scene and Conflict Resolution table. We’ve also been talking about his Generic Needs / Character Motivation playset, which will probably be posted in the near future.

2 thoughts on “Group character generation for NPCs

  1. lokic March 16, 2015 / 4:50 am

    Glad you found my playset of use. I’ve got some more coming (just as soon as I can clear some other items from my things to do list).


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