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Building better NPCs

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  • #16
    Now, I don't know what sort of games you run, but I tend to keep the number of NPCs to a minimum - for a number of reasons:

    1. If the players know a lot of people in the city they tend to spread up often and run about their own business, talking to their separate contacts, which gives the game a rather fragmented atmosphere, and you often end up being the limiting ST, stating "you're not here right now, so you can't partake in the conversation!".

    2. Even the most skilled actor can only come up with a limited amount of accents and styles of expression, so you easily end up blending the NPCs as an ST if there are too many of them.

    3. Even for a 6-8 hour session you should keep the number of scenes to a minimum if you want to keep them in the atmosphere - too many scenes often makes it hard for you and them to jump in and out of decor, sounds and surroundings, and the NPCs you introduce or use should also react to their surroundings.

    So my advice is to keep them to a minimum and you are thus able to give them more attention.

    As for introducing new NPCs then I often don't fully decide on them in advance. Are they gonna be part of the Camarilla or the Sabbat? Are they enemies of the PCs? And so forth.

    An example:

    I'm running a Victorian Age Vampire Chronicle. It's London 1882 and my three neonate PCs are trying to keep track of supernatural activity in Westminster while the Sabbat is infiltrating the city one brick at the time. In a restaurant on Haymarket they meet a rather odd couple consisting of an American cowboy named Marlow and his repulsive and mute sidekick called Skinny (Marlow doesn't know his real name as Skinny had his tongue ripped out prior to his embrace). Marlow is rather full of himself and is constantly talking, and not only does he talk - he also paraphrases alle the actions and expressions of the people he's talking to ... which is both mildly funny and fucking annoying at the same time. Skinny just sits there writing about all the exploits of his cowboy companion.

    This is how I start them out. I don't know what they'll become until I've seen how the players react to them. Then I'll slowly mold them into something which fits the story.

    Merely an idea.


    "They do say, Mrs. M, that verbal insults hurt more than physical pain. They are of course wrong, as you will soon discover when I stick this toasting fork into your head."

    --E. Blackadder


    • #17
      How I create my NPC's, in three steps:

      1. 25-50 word backstory. Don't need anything more or less at this level, just hit the big Q's: what was their mortal past, why were they Embraced, and what have they done since.

      2. Using that backstory, figure out that character's niche in the city. In what are they skilled, what are their weaknesses, and how would that inform their place in the city's social ecology.

      3. Having figured out their niche, with what other NPC's might they come into conflict? Who might be their allies? That's a pretty broad question, because it can encompass ideology (nature demeanor or humanity/road/path), backgrounds, skill set, clan, and alliances.

      For example, let's cut an NPC out of whole cloth. Let's say we have an attorney, who gained some renown during the civil rights movement for successfully defending a number of cases involving wrongly-charged African-Americans. That got them the attention of a Ventrue, who vetted and eventually Embraced them...but there was a slight kink in the sire's plans, since this NPC was genuinely a do-gooder out to make the world a more just place. Ever since, this borderline-ancilla vampire has been a constant pain in elders' asses, because they took to defending their fellow neonates and disadvantaged vampires before Court, between appearances at night court ensuring the accused get adequate legal defense. They're not a full-on Anarch, but they're definitely a little too close for their sire's and the Board's comfort.

      So, what's this fellow's niche? He probably has some legal, political, and maybe even the tiniest shred of LEO, influence...but he's a Ventrue, that's pretty standard. No, his niche is likely being the unofficial 'face' of the Anarchs; somebody they can call on for help now and then, especially since with a background like that he's not likely to be a ball-buster on prestation to underdog vampires, but he's still a Ventrue so he's not getting invited to any Sooper-Seekrit Anarch Parties. The Board probably thinks they can co-opt him (and they may still yet), so they put up with the shit; moreover, he's a valuable source of information on what the Anarchs are up to, so that's just added value. Not a comfortable place for a vampire, but comfortable enough to get by.

      Who might be his allies? Obviously, other neonates and Anarchs who might need his help one day, or for whom he's already rendered services. Vampires with underworld influence, too, since while he may not be dirty, he's indirectly and inadvertently helping those who are. Who might be his enemies? Well, any vampire with LEO or political influence for one, as well as those with fingers in the "new urbanism/gentrification" pie since he has a soft spot for "undesirables". The elders probably think he's a stupid idealistic child of a vampire playing childish idealist games, but that's typical of neonates and young ancillae, so he's best left ignored until he comes around (they all do eventually), unless he steps directly on their toes.

      So, what might schemes and plots might our Ventrue civil rights attorney be up to? Well, I've said enough in this post...what might he be up to?


      • #18
        I divvy my NPCs up into coteries of their own. One thing I ran into in previous games was that the PCs always became more powerful by virtue of being more united, so I really focused on giving my NPCs their own circle of friends who would support them.


        • #19
          All of these suggestions are probably better than what I do: making 50-100 NPCs, giving out tiny bits of information to players, and then keeping the other few hundred pages of backstory and plot hooks, after obsessively memorizing the details, hidden. ...I'm weird.

          EDIT: I should clarify something. I don't just keep my lengthy notes hidden from players. I actively hide them from myself, sometimes destroying a piece of material which has a list of keywords and clues that I keep. Then, based on those clues, I reconstruct my own ideas in real-time while running a game. If some parts are giving me trouble, between sessions, I'll ruminate on the character and situation as if trying to meditate intensely. So, I take it back. Perfectly normal ST behavior.
          Last edited by AzraelFirestorm; 10-27-2018, 02:04 PM.

          “Nobody is purely good or purely evil. Most of us are in-between. There are moths that explore the day and butterflies that play at night.”
          - Suzy Kassem, Rise Up and Salute The Sun


          • #20
            Ask yourself why those characters wants to help clan ventrue. Because they were saved by one of them, because they owe they money, because they want to make a business and clan ventrue can help them. Start from there and then you can create little stories for some groups. Perhaps the ones that want to make a business are three or four associates, and they knew themselves at the economics university, or they used to play golf together If a Ventrue saved them perhaps some of theme where family and were in a car accident. Etc, etc. Others pnj could be family or friends of these detailed before. Another idea : some of them could have a social club and some other people wants to take it away from them and ventrue could help in exchange of different favors.