When you’re in the thick of GMing a game, usually it’s pretty easy to come up with an NPC here, an NPC there… I always have a sheet handy that I can write names (and a few key descriptive elements) on when I GM to capture details I may need later. And that’s great if you’re in the groove… But what happens when you’re not?
Have you ever been running a session and when the moment comes to describe a particular NPC your brain freezes up? Maybe you have a name and a rough profession (i.e. innkeeper, barkeep, farmer, etc.) but when they ask what he looks like you’re at a loss to come up with anything on the spot?
Never fear… So What’s the NPC Like, Anyway? is now available from Raging Swan Press. Creighton Broadhurst has put together a short (5 table) process for quickly rolling up a few descriptive details as they are needed. And if that’s not enough, he’s also created a table of 20 pre-generated NPCs that you can use in a pinch. But I’ll get back to that in a bit.
First, let’s walk through the process of creating one of these on-the-fly NPC descriptions.
There’s a table on page 4 that gives you a pattern for your new supporting character. I rolled a 9, which means this character has 2 rolls on the physical table, 1 emotional, 2 mannerisms, 2 activities, and 1 profession. So let’s chug through the tables. Each of the tables requires at least one roll on a d100, so that’s easy enough.
- To get our two physical traits, we roll twice on “Table A: Physical Traits” and I ended up with a 60 and a 64. So the character is “missing a hand” and “partially bald.” Poor chap!
- To get our single emotional trait, we roll once on “Table B: Emotional/Behavioral Traits.” This time I rolled a 17. So our balding guy with one hand is “clever.”
- For our two mannerisms, we roll twice on on “Table C: Mannerisms.” Now I rolled a 94 and a 2, so our character “uses complex words” and “appears bored.”
- For our two activities, we roll twice on “Table D: Activity.” This time I get an 81 and a 5, so our balding clever man with one hand who appears bored yet uses complex words is “shouting at strangers” and “accompanied by 1d4 children.” I roll a d4 and get a 1, so this poor guy has a kid who’s being subjected to all of this.
- Lastly to determine his profession, we roll on “Table E: Profession.” I rolled a 51, so we find out this poor guy is an innkeeper.
I can work with this. In a traditional fantasy world, I might like to know what race our guy happens to be as well as his height and weight. I can probably find those details in whatever game book I need from D&D or Pathfinder, but it might be nice to have some simple tables we could point to in the book.
In this case, let’s say our friend the innkeeper is a human of average height and weight. Since he’s balding, let’s put him at old for a fantasy campaign – maybe he’s in his 30s. So we have Paul, an innkeeper at the Starry Eyes Inn who’s yelling in the street with his one good hand hanging on to a child. The child just happens to be a street urchin who managed to get into the inn’s kitchen and steal some food. I can imagine Paul yelling… “Will someone please claim this miscreant child whose reprehensible hygiene and behavior has caused some of my clientèle to flee the premises!”
That could definitely work to introduce not only an inn, but the innkeeper, and a bit of the life on the street around the inn.
Now, the table of 20 pre-made NPCs is a great start. But if your players are going to be in a town or city and encountering NPCs more frequently, I’d recommend you roll up a few of your own NPCs ahead of time. Create a list you can just work your way through during a session as you need a new NPC description.
The fun part is the randomness of the whole thing really can spawn some interesting creativity on the fly. I have no idea what is going on in the town where Paul is yelling, but I’d be curious to find out!
So What’s the NPC Like, Anyway? is a great resource to have in your arsenal when you need some inspiration for NPC traits. I’d like to see the lists expanded to include more physical description – from race, age, height, and weight, to even hair color, what they’re carrying, and so on. It might get a bit unwieldy if they go that far, but something to consider.
- So What’s the NPC Like Anyway? from G*M*S Magazine (gmsmagazine.com)
- Supplement Review: Caves & Caverns (PFRPG) by Creighton Broadhurst and David Posener from Raging Swan Press (gameknightreviews.com)
- Supplement Review: So What’s For Sale, Anyway? II by Julian Neale from Raging Swan Press (gameknightreviews.com)
- Ring of Five Questions: Creighton Broadhurst from Greyhawkery (greyhawkery.blogspot.com)
- [G*M*S Magazine] Raging Swan: Behold! Ten Villainous…Villains! (gmsmagazine.com)
- Raging Swan Releases Aasimar: Heirs of Glory from G*M*S Magazine (gmsmagazine.com)
- How to Present Canon NPCs without Antagonizing Your Players from Life and Times of a Philippine Gamer (philgamer.wordpress.com)
- [Reality Refracted] Naming NPCs (realityrefracted.com)