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[V5] Tips to create NPCs ?

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  • #16
    HoneyArty

    It all depends on what you need.

    Throwaway NPCs
    If you need an npc who is onstage for less than a full session, and who is not a major part of the plot, spend as little time as possible on it.
    (Note: Consider why you need such a minor character at all. Isn't there an existing npc, or an agent of them, who can fulfill the role? No? Okay, then...)

    This system should let you design extras on-the-fly, though it requires some prep for a few short lists.

    Roles and Goals Why are the pcs meeting the npc? What is the npc's role in the story? Choose a personal goal for the npc that supports their following that role, and another goal that makes them want to avoid it.

    Examples:
    Is it a pc's neighbor who hears loud noises from next door and goes to investigate? She is hoping all that noise is a party she can get invited to, but is scared she might be walking into a fight.

    Is it a random person on the street the pcs grab to feed from? He wants to get home as fast as possible with the medicine for his sick kid, but would welcome a good-looking stranger holding him for a few moments.

    Has somebody gotten a bestial fail on their hunting roll? This particular vessel loves his life and does not want to be killed. The pc has accidentally made the fact that this is a vampire attack obvious... and made it look super-cool. The vessel wants the embrace very badly, so he can continue this awesome life.

    Is it a shovelhead encountered by chance, so the ST can let the pcs know the Sabbat is in town? The shovelhead is desperately looking for the pack that embraced him last week, because they left before he came out of the ground. Gehenna and the sect war was explained to him before the embrace, so if he discovers the pcs aren't Sabbat he will gladly throw his life away to kill them.

    Is the session getting boring, and you need something memorable to wake everybody up? The pcs get mugged by a street thug wielding a knife. How cute. Anyway, the mugger needs money for her kids' daycare or social services will take them while she is at work. She's terrified and exhilirated to be back in the mugging game after so many years in retirement. She will do anything to avoid being arrested and sent back to prison.

    Concept Just like making a pc. Choose a one or two word description of the npc's concept. Read that again, "one or two word". Not an essay.

    Demographics Pick the npc's gender, age, ethnicity, social class, and appearance. If a vampire, choose clan, sect status, and relative power level.

    Name Keep three lists of interesting or memorable names, ten each: one for male first names, one for female first names, and one for family names. Each time you introduce a throwaway npc, use the most appropriate names and cross them off. Replace it with a different name after the session.

    Nobody's Perfect Assign the npc a flaw appropriate to their role. This needs to be immediately detectable to the pcs. I keep a list of ten flaws that I cross off and replace as I go. Some recur because they are useful.

    Examples: terrible smell from their day's work, fat as a walrus, carry around a yippy little dog, expensive looking but entirely fake jewelery and designer clothes, a large stain on their shirt, suffering from a bad cold, just came from being mugged, convinced of their own superiority, lost their way while looking for a bus stop.

    Mechanics Assume mortals have a two in all attributes and a zero in all skills. If the role they fulfill implies a higher level, make it three in those. (Example: an emergency room doctor has two in all attributes and zero in all skills, except Intelligence, Medicine, and Science. These are all three.)

    Assume a vampire has between one and three dots in each of their clan disciplines, depending on their power level. Also, assume they have a favorite discipline power they use whenever possible. Bonus points if between sessions you make up a few discipline spreads for each clan you can use anytime. Make one weaker than the pcs, one about the same, and one stronger for each clan. For fun, include one that is a horribly planned power set, like a Tzimisce the pcs will face in direct combat who has all their dots in Auspex.

    Denouement Decide ahead of time how the npc leaves the pcs' world. What do you plan to do to write them out of the story? Dropping over dead from a heart attack, getting on a subway train, running like hell, annoying the pcs until the pcs run like hell? These are all classic options.

    Check your work Compare your final product to the Roles and Goals. Make sure the npc matches their narrative role. Make doubly certain the npc neither expands nor narrows the role. So, if their role is to drop a piece of gossip, don't narrow the role by making them a deafmute, but also don't expand it by giving them the habit of lecturing people on 19th century folk dances. They should fulfill their role, and nothing else.


    Minor NPCs
    This is a minor character meant to advance the plot, and the npc will only be onstage for one or two sessions. Possibly, they will recur in small roles or be mentioned by other npcs after that. Keep it as simple as possible, but still give them enough depth to be interesting. In a V5 game, this usually will be a vampire, but a mortal could be one, if they have close ties to the story. This is where Touchstones and characters tied to a pc's backgrounds live. Most pc's sires will be one of these, if they reside in the city.

    These should generally be designed ahead of time, between sessions. I wouldn't suggest never designing them further ahead than you need for the plot, since your needs will change as the story progresses.

    Narrative Role Decide what role the npc plays in the story. Do you need someone to become friends with the pcs and later be executed by the Prince to show strictness? Do you need a source of gossip from another city? Is the npc a member of the Sabbat pack assigned to scout the city? Are they the ghoul the Prince relies on to explain the modern world?

    Concept Decide the npc's name, clan, generation, blood potency, and overall concept. (Example: Bob, Gangrel, 10th, BP3, truck driver who transports vampires) For a human, name, occupation, demographics, and over-all concept.

    Power Level How powerful is the npc relative to the pcs? More, less, or the same? Does their actual power level match the power level they appear to have?

    Attributes Get the pcs' sheets and look at their attributes. Figure out the highest score in each, the lowest score in each, and the average. So, if the pcs have Intelligence of (1, 1, 2, 4), the highest Intelligence is 4, the lowest is 1, and the average is 2. (Note all these for easy reference with later npcs.)

    If the npc is weaker, give them the lowest in each attribute. If the same power level, give the npc the averages. If more powerful, give the npc the highest in each. Then, for all npcs regardless of power level, add one dot in an Attribute appropriate to the concept.

    Disciplines Get the pcs' sheets and look at their disciplines. How many total dots does each pc have? Again, figure average, lowest, and highest among the group.

    If the npc is weaker, give them the lowest. If equal, give the average, If stronger, give the highest. Pick the powers they have to fit their concept, or just take the first ones listed in the book, in order. Skim through those powers to make sure you are familiar with them.

    Distribute these dots as equally as possible among clan disciplines. If there is a remainder, put it in the discipline that best fits the concept. Or, just design them as desired, but don't spend too much time on it. Most people aren't optimized, and neither should most npcs be.

    Skills Choose any three skills which match the concept, and give the npc a 4 in all three. Give them a zero, one, or two in all other skills depending on whether they are weaker, equal, or stronger than the pcs.

    Description Find a picture that looks like the concept you can show the pcs. Decide on one personal characteristic that you can use to describe the npc. (examples: an accent, a smell, an odd way of walking, emerald eyes, or a personal habit, like being a hugger or not making eye contact)

    Nobody's Perfect Give the npc a flaw appropriate to their concept. This need not be a mechanical flaw, just a personal drawback the pcs can note in the planned encounter. A visiting Harpie might not be entirely fluent in the local language. A Sabbat footsoldier might have a sword that will break after it's first use. Make sure it is something that will come up. Having a fear of children in an Elysium at midnight, where no kids are present, is a waste of time.

    Check your work Compare your final product to step 1. Make sure the npc matches their narrative role. Make doubly certain the npc neither expands nor narrows the role. So, if their role is to drop a piece of gossip, don't narrow the role by making them a deafmute, but also don't expand it by giving them the habit of lecturing people on 19th century folk dances. They should fulfill their role, and nothing else.


    Major NPCs
    There should only be a handful of these per chronicle, certainly no more than there are pcs. After all, who are the stars of the show?

    That said, all of them should show up in most sessions. There should be an occasional session revolving around what one of these npc needs, especially if the pcs seem to have run out of ideas for what to do next.

    I like to have one major npc who is friendly, neutral, or mildly antagonistic on some matters, but mildly helpful in others. I like to have one who is neutral or antagonistic, but fun for the pcs to encounter. And, there has to be one who is the big bad of the chronicle.

    Note, there is no law which says the pcs have to know which of these is which. The pcs should have difficulty figuring out who to trust. (Think of Harry Potter, where Minerva MacGonagell started as mildly antagonistic, and Severus Snape ended as secretly benevolent.)

    Usually, major npcs are more powerful than the pcs. Think about it, these npcs are important to all the pcs as a group, so they need to be equivalent in power to the coterie as a group. If an npc is the equal of one pc, they wouldn't be able to have a major impact on the whole coterie.

    If one of these major npcs dies or leaves the city, consider replacing them. They are a necessary part of worldbuilding, except in very unusual cirumstances, like a chronicle run as a bottle episode.

    Ask the players, on occasion, how they feel about each of the major npcs. If they hate them or love them, good. You've done your job. If the players' reaction is neutral or uninterested, kill off that npc as dead weight, and replace them.

    There's not much to say as far as tips or tricks for building these folks. They should be built with as much care and creativity as a pc.

    For power level, take all the experience points used to build the pcs in total. Make sure to include a few major flaws, especially if they are ironic or support the major npc's concept. Also, include a reason they interact with the pcs so much, and place them on the relationship map.

    Other than that, creativity and individuality is key.

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    • #17
      Hi people,

      Thank you so much for your time ! Before, I tended to consider the city characters as a vast mechanial puzzle (which I like to fulfill). This topic remember me the importance of the story to create them : if NPCs are here, they have a narrative role to play, or something to teach to the players about the universe.

      I gonna think a lot about this, and maybe take a look at the Chicago by Night book, in order to create valuable and worthy characters.

      Thank you again !

      Comment


      • #18
        Originally posted by HoneyArty View Post
        Hi people,

        Thank you so much for your time ! Before, I tended to consider the city characters as a vast mechanial puzzle (which I like to fulfill). This topic remember me the importance of the story to create them : if NPCs are here, they have a narrative role to play, or something to teach to the players about the universe.

        I gonna think a lot about this, and maybe take a look at the Chicago by Night book, in order to create valuable and worthy characters.

        Thank you again !

        One can also do a little bit of both - sometimes i look at a city's history, sometimes at a certain position one might expect to see in your typical domain - who is the prince, who are primogen (which wants to be prince instead, which prefer to be powers behind the throne or just do it out of some twisted sense of duty to clan, brood or whatever), who are the elders (who want to be primogen or prince, who's confortable where they are, who doesn't care and is an elder simply because it's too old and powerful to be carelessly trod upon), who are ancillae & neonates and wwho do they relate to not. Frequently i adjust or twist things up as the PCs bring me their sheets (generation 5 & mentor 3? guess someone might be under a primogen's wing here....), backstories (ohh, you had a husband and children before being embraced? how much time has passed? do they live in the same adress? what part of the city it is? have you ever visited or watched them from a distance?) and ideas, interests or even characters of their own for me to season the mix with.

        [In fact i frequently use some little tricks and house rules - like requiring them to have either at least 1 dot of mentor per 2 dots of generation or getting a flaw related to sire or enemy complications, for example - to make the players do some of the setting-building work for me]

        Me i love to play with city's history through its kindred, having one or more NPCs to show different viewpoints of certain events, maybe throw some much older individuals (who might or not be kindred - remember, other critters may exist who are also immortal, or at least long-lived, in the World of Darkness) if i want to mess with some bit of history (French Revolution, fall of Constantinople, Thermopylae) or canon (Anarch Revolt, Omen War, razing of Carthage) in my chronicle - or you know, one or more players brought it up, because they are such fanboys & gals.
        Last edited by Baaldam; 09-16-2019, 08:31 PM.

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        • #19
          Originally posted by GilbyTheFat View Post
          Have you considered using the CbN SPC template for the big cheeses and then using the method you outlined for the rest of the SPCs? That might allow some liberty to flesh out the really important folks without having to go nuts on every SPC.

          Actually, that's very good advice. Thanks. I hadn't considered doing different write-ups depending on role of the SPC in the chronicle/city. Thank you. Although, I would probably use a more in-depth description akin to CbN depending on the immediacy of the SPC to the coterie. So, the closer the connections are, the more detailed the write-up. On the other hand, sometimes the impact of an SPC isn't clear from the beginning.

          In the past, I've thrown plots and SPCs at the player characters and pursued that met with interest from the players.

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