Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Using Descriptions to Create Characters & NPCs

Using Descriptions to Create Characters & NPCs
By Jesse C Cohoon

When playing a tabletop RPG have you ever had to come up with stats for an NPC or character quickly in order to be able to keep the action going? Or have you ever wanted to take less time in order to make the generated characters and NPCs for your gaming world? With this quick and simple technique, you can create in-depth, stated-up characters and NPCs.

A Word of Caution
Keep in mind when writing a description, things won’t necessarily come out in the particular order that they’re being presented here. In fact, most of the time, it probably shouldn’t, as such a description would seem extremely artificial. This technique is designed to provide a way of looking at your character descriptions to focus on what’s important. Also, when using this technique, remember that the same piece of description may end up filling more than one slot.

Character Basics starting the actual character, it may be helpful to find a picture of the character or monster you wish to portray. As the saying goes “A picture is worth 1,000 words.”If you don’t have a picture note their name, height, weight, build, hair and eye color. 

First, choose a “numbers based” system you are familiar with to make an NPC or character. The better you know the system, the easier making the character will be.

There are generally two ways of character generation. The first is a system where you can roll or use an array to fill the stats with. At this point, you’re not looking to actually fill the array, you’re just wanting to know what numbers you’re going to be working with. Because this is a quick method of determining stats, it’s recommended that the focus be on only one “best” stat and two “good” stats and a “slightly above average,” stat, with the rest being “average” for the particular type of character or NPC. Keep in mind that “average” for different types of creatures may vary quite a bit. If you’re making a character or NPC that has more than one “best” stats, or more than two “good” stats you may want to consider delegating one stat that is “poor,” to represent an area that needs improvement.To save even more time, if the bonuses are what’s important, it may be a “shortcut” to simply choose those and worry about the main numbers later.

The second is a system where you’re given a set number of points in which to build the character, spending them to create the character. If this is the case, you’ll need to know how many points you’re building the character with, how many you can devote to each of the sections of the character, and how much each section costs.

Also at this time you’ll need to pick a race or monster type or template(s) to apply, if applicable.

Character Stats
Next pick a description in terms of the stats that the game system uses, or at least closely echoes them, so when you get to the next step you won’t have to figure out what you meant. Pick one or two “main” stats to focus on. If you go to three stats, also pick one that you’re not so good at. Some examples might be:
·         I’m quick witted, but otherwise normal.
·         I’ve got deft hands, and a keen sense of humor, but otherwise am pretty normal.
·         I’m the strongest and healthiest person I know in my entire community, but otherwise I’m “joe average.”
·         My large personality may seem to be overbearing to others, but otherwise I’m indistinguishable from the person next door,
·         I’m the best fighter in the territory, but if someone doesn’t know that fact about me, they wouldn’t pay me any mind.
·         People come to me for advice because of my wisdom.
·         I’m a bookworm, but otherwise I’m Mr. Nobody.
·         I’m a charming strong man, but an everyman besides.   
·         I’m a master at manipulation, but otherwise unremarkable.    

With these descriptions, fill in the stats with the appropriate array numbers.

Character Background, Role/ Class, Social Circles, & Personality
Following this, choose the character’s background. The more details that you can provide for the character at this point, the less work you’ll have to do later on. Explain why a character chose the role s/he is in.Talk about the character’s mentors, if appropriate. Even important monstrous NPCs should have a rudimentary background so you have some idea as to why they’re there.
·         Did they get in trouble with the law?
·         Are they a deposed leader wanting to get the power to overthrow the ones who took their place?
·         Are they on the lamb from committing a crime?
·         Do they want to avoid the responsibility of leadership?

Then you’ll need to pick a role. In many games, this’ll be represented by a class; if so determine which one(s) you want the character or NPC to have, determined in large part by what the main stat(s) are, filling in the rest of the numbers as you see fit. With some it may be represented by a faction you’re helping. Still in others you’ll need to use the game world you’re playing in to help determine your role. In terms of humanoids, some classic sci-fi and fantasy sample roles are: fighter, holy warrior, mechanic/ inventor (sometimes called “mad scientist”), mecha pilot, assassin, bard, animal trainer (think Pok√©mon), magic user, and priest. Monsters, on the other hand, may or may not have a role other than a wandering monster: something seeking food, trying to protect its young, increase its hoard, part of a marauding army etc. You’ll need to determine level, if applicable.
What is their “lot in life?” What types of people do they fit in with socially? Some fantasy examples might be:
·         Professional: Blacksmith/ armorsmith, fletcher, brewer, mapmaker, artist, bounty hunter, courtesan, etc.
·         Political Leader: king, queen, prince, duke, Mayor, etc. In modern times it would be such people as a Parliament, House or Senate Representative, or Judge.     
·         Commoner: fisher/ trapper, forester, slave/ servant, sailor, farmer, merchant
·         Entertainer: traveling bard, street performer, acrobat, juggler, mime, etc.
·         Rogue: a ruffian or thug, assassin or guild thief
·         Clergy: priest, itinerant  monk, druid  
·         Sage: librarian, archaeologist, anthropologist, entomologist, etc.
·         Spell Caster: nerdy wizard, sorcerer, hedge wizard
·         Soldier: fighter, caravan guard, mercenary, ranger, etc.

Note the character’s personality. If you need some help on how to develop an in-depth personality for your character, you can visit here:
· (also has some information on background as well)

Battle Tactics
What types of things does the character do when faced with a battle situation? Do they charge in? Or do they cast “Buff” spells on themselves to prepare for battle? Do they command from the back of the lines and let their lackeys “soften up the enemy?” Or do they grapple the enemy into submission?

Character Skills
If you pick a game that you need to buy your stats and skills with a point based system, you’ll need calculate how many points the character gets or how many points you want to put into them. On the other hand, if you’re using a system where stats are based on class, determine how many you get. Explain why the character has the skills and special abilities they have and how good the character is at using them. At this stage, it's better to have a general idea as to what you want the character to be able to do than to worry about specific skills. In order to simplify things, think of groups of skills a character has. GURPS simplifies things by allowing you to give a one word description with an exclamation mark after it in order to represent this. For instance a skill labeled “Thief!” states that the person with this skill can do anything that a thief can reasonably do according to the number of skill points assigned. If there’s something the character can’t do as well as others, simply give a penalty on the rolls. If you’re going to play the character for multiple sessions, you may have to break up the skills later, but doing this should be easier since you have a starting point to base it off of. You also can make statements like this:
·         Generally speaking, I have a pretty good rapport with animals, and can often get them to do things they ordinarily wouldn’t do.
·         Even though computers are everywhere, I’m better at making them do things than your average Joe.
·         I can disguise myself to the point where my own mother wouldn’t recognize me.
·         I’m so stealthy, no one can catch me if I decide to sneak past them.
·         I’m better at Houdini in escaping the tightest of spaces, chains, and straightjackets.
·         I’m well versed in X subject through my years of study.
·         I know how to survive in the wilderness better than many of my peers.

Drawbacks & Vices
If the gaming system uses flaws, disadvantages, or weaknesses note them at this time. Some examples might be:
·       I’m extremely nearsighted.
·       I’m addicted to X substance.
·       I have an enemy who’s hunting me.
·       I’m squeamish around blood.
·       I will do anything to avoid Y situation.
·       I believe I can’t be defeated before my plans come to fruition.

Character Advantages, Feats, Stunts, Special Abilities
This section is meant to describe the special training, knacks, unique “tricks of the trade,” and talents that the character has that similar characters and NPCs do not. If there is a list, try to follow its wording, if not come up with examples of neat things the character or NPCs should be able to do based off of their skills. Some description based examples might be:
·         With my amazing speed, I can run across the surface of water without sinking in it.
·         If I fell one enemy, I turn to another to attack without breaking stride.
·         I can easily knock a weapon out of an enemy’s hands
·         I always know what direction I’m traveling in OR I always know how far underground (or above it) I am.
·         I have a secret identity that few people know.
·         I can use either hand equally as well.
·         I can cast spells of X type.

This is a purchasable psychometric personality type test, but the Fascinate system is also helpful in character development, with 7 levels (advantages) and a combined 49 different character archetypes which can come from a primary and secondary character trait trigger.

Little details
At this point you also need to note the movement speed of the character. Don’t forget alternative movement types, including: flight, burrowing, swimming, and climbing. You can use the following descriptions:
·         I’m a fairly decent flyer
·         I can outswim most of the fish in the ocean
·         Hummingbirds have a hard time matching my maneuverability
·         I’m so fast on land, blink and you’ll miss me.

Equipment, Weapons& Notable Magic/ Technological Items
If you haven’t done so before this point you’ll talk about the character’s notable pieces of equipment, weapons, armor, wealth, etc. If it’s a magical item or some sort of technology that isn’t widely known, note that and its power source. Even if these items aren’t always on the character, note them, as well as where they’re usually stored when not in use.

If you are used to doing characters the “old fashioned way,” using this system to create your characters will seem unusual, but with a bit of practice, it’s sure to revolutionize the way that you make them.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Ten Road Adventures

Ten Road Adventures

By: Jesse C Cohoon

If going by what happens in most games, travel on the roadways are mostly uneventful and boring, save for the few times that you’re stopped or delayed due to plot complications. But travel can be much more than a way to get from point A to point B, it can be a hook for potential plot lines, a character’s past, and more. Read on:

1.      Individual Travelers
a.      The Roadway Pickpocket: a seemingly helpless bystander is on the roadway, and asks the PCs for help getting back to town. When they agree, she robs them blind of all their loot while they sleep. If the PCs pursue, they soon lose the trail. When they get back into town, they see her again. Do they chase or not? 

b.      The fleeing victim: a bedraggled, and half-dead traveler stumbles upon the PCs, grasping one of them, saying “They come; flee before it’s too late!” before passing out. When the person comes to again, they can attempt to find out more details about what she or he was fleeing from and what type of a danger it is. 

c.       The plague victim: A person with some sort of pox stumbles upon the PCs. As they go to help, the person grabs onto one of them, infecting them. In a modern day setting this could be the beginning of a zombie outbreak.

d.      The lost innocent: a person was kidnapped and then later abandoned. Due to their age, a disability, or confusion they are unable to tell where they came from. It’s up to the PCs to solve the mystery and get them back to where they belong.

e.       The Wandering Bard: a traveling bard runs across the party and starts asking them about their adventures, about what challenges that they’ve faced. Parting ways after a bit news of the party’s exploits spread far and wide do to the bard’s influence. Are the stories accurate or do they paint the party in a bad light?  

2.      The Troll Bridge: this is similar to the classic tale “Three Billy Goats Gruff,” with the troll being any nasty monster seeking food (i.e. the PCs) or passage in order not to harass them. This can be twisted in that those guarding it could be a polymorphed creature cursed to collect tolls until someone sees through the curse to the true nature of the person. Another twist might be that the bridge (or other suitable roadway) could be manned by governmental officials, or other such personnel.

3.      Bandits have taken up the roadway robbing any who dare to pass, but leaving them otherwise unharmed. The PCs are on a very time sensitive mission and if they delay – even to fight, it may end up costing them the mission. Do they allow themselves to be robbed so that they can get going or do they fight in order to keep their stuff?  

4.      The Tinker: an old tinker in a wagon is blocking the entire roadway, because it seems to have lost a wheel. The PCs have the time, and well within their skill level to do so. Do they bother to stop and help? Talking to him will give them clues they otherwise would not have had. If they have any broken equipment, he can see if he can fix it for the PCs for doing this favor for him.

In modern times it could be a junker whose car broke down and the PCs are able to fix it.  
5.      The “Road Closed” / Redirected sign. There can be a variety of reasons why a road might be closed or traffic might be redirected.
a.      Flooded Road: The road or bridge may have washed out either due to a flood or to an angry water elemental playing havoc on the local waterways. It also could be too muddy to pass and any attempt at doing so would leave the PCs sunk up to their knees in mud or washed away due to a strong current. Who knows what nasties are in the water? In modern times, it can also be electrified as well!

b.      Construction: This is a type of a thing that takes place mainly in cities. If there’s heavy construction equipment, scaffolding, or ramps that block the road may cause a road to be closed. The PCs hear a cry for help within the construction zone. The workers say that they’re not allowed to go investigate. Do they disobey the order and seek out whoever is asking for help, endangering themselves by not having the proper equipment?     

Similarly, a road can be closed due to road construction or rebuilding. Some materials may be safe to pass over (drying concrete, tar) but may leave evidence of being passed over. If the PCs need to get through the area quickly, do they risk leaving evidence of their passing?

c.       Crime investigation: Sometimes the authorities will want to close down a street in order to ensure there is nothing to contaminate the crime scene. The PCs have committed a crime and must get into the active crime scene investigation – through force, guile, or stealth.

d.      Accident: This happens mainly in more modern day settings. Vehicles crash into one another and ensnare traffic to the point where the authorities need to close the roadway down. If the PCs are in a vehicle, they may need to find a different route.

Similarly, a train might have derailed causing a spill of dangerous chemicals, gasoline, causing the entire area to be evacuated.  
e.       Roadway conditions: icy conditions, excessive amounts of windblown snow, or destroyed roadways due to missing paving stones, potholes or sinkholes all might be responsible for road closures. In mountainous areas the authorities close down the roads for an entire season because they can’t afford the manpower to rescue vehicles that get stuck in the snow. The PCs facing such a situation may be able to get through if they are careful about it, but they may also get stuck… Do they risk it?    

f.        Plague: a group of people has blocked the road going into town and they won’t allow anyone to pass because there’s a plague in the town ahead. The PCs have the cure for it and need to get through. It’s up to them to convince those blocking the road to let them through.
g.      Town Held Hostage: A town is being held hostage by some outside force that comes into the town. The townsmen finally got tired of it so it’s blocked the road to prevent anyone from coming in or out of the town. Do the PCs see how they can help the town?   

h.      Fugitive: A group is looking for a fugitive, which can either be the PCs or someone they know. This can work one of several ways. It can be a roadblock where a person or some group is searching for someone. In this instance the PCs can try the scene from Star Wars in which Obi Wan Kenobi said “These are not the droids that you are looking for.”

Conversely a person or group of people could be on the roadway going from group to group to question them, and/or search for their fugitive.

6.      Groups
a.      The Traveling Caravan: The party comes alongside a merchant caravan and the PCs are hired as guards to protect its cargo. What the PCs weren’t told is that their cargo are something that they would object to (an addicting drug, slaves, black market goods, etc.). Once they find out do they fulfil the terms of their contract or not?   

b.      The Circus/ Musical Troupe: The PCs run across a circus or musical troupe and in order to infiltrate an enemy kingdom, they join it in order to slip past the country’s border unchallenged. If found out, they have to talk their traveling companions not to give them up. Conversely, a circus or musical troupe might join the PCs that are up to no good and the PCs have to stop them from causing irreparable harm.  
7.      Traps: Someone could have dug a spiked pit for the unwary, harried, or stupid to fall into. In this case, the PCs must find out who’s responsible and why. Other types of traps that may be appropriate for the road are bear traps, and spiked log traps.         

8.      Fleeing
a.      People Fleeing Disaster: there is a group of people coming towards the PCs who are fleeing from something: a fire, flood or barbarians that are pillaging and burning the town up ahead. What can the PCs do to help, if anything?    

b.      Monsters Fleeing: some much more powerful monster has moved into the area and even monsters that will generally tolerate one another’s presence are fleeing, not even bothering to take account of the fact that the PCs are in the way. The PCs need to find out what’s going on and fast before the situation becomes problematic for the nearby towns.  

9.      Army on the Road: An army is marching on the road. The PCs need to find out what’s going on without causing problems for themselves or anyone else in the area. What tactic can they use to do so without getting caught?  

10.  Cultists: a group of cultists is spreading death, and decay for some evil deity or demon. Because their pattern is at random where they strike, it’s up to the PCs to cast a wide net to be able to catch and stop them before the whole area falls to this evil influence.