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I'm considering putting some of my spare time into writing detailed NPC profiles and making them available for a small price (around 50p or 75 cents each, with bundle deals) on DriveThruRPG. Releases would be put out on a regular schedule.

My current vision is to write about a thousand words of backstory for each NPC, flesh out about 2-3 of his goals with a break-down of what he needs (similar to the 5x5 method) and some notes on his reactions to common situations.

These aren't intended to help someone who thinks, "quick, I need someone to fill x role". Instead they are intended to be characters that the players create long term relationships with. Imagine the NPCs in White Wolf products or the major players in a D&D adventure.

When you answer, can you touch on the following points?

  1. What are the key indicators of quality in a small press product?
  2. What situations would a GM expect to find in a list of common reactions?
  3. Do pre-written NPCs (and other setting detail) even work well in a game like FATE where so much is player driven?
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closed as primarily opinion-based by Wesley Obenshain, doppelgreener, GMJoe, Wibbs, Zachiel Apr 7 '15 at 10:44

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise.If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

There's already one entry into this space: Masks: 1,000 Memorable NPCs for Any Roleplaying Game by Engine Publishing aka the blogging crew at Gnome Stew. There's a preview PDF on that page—it might be worth looking at to see what the competition thinks the market wants in an NPC writeup collection. – SevenSidedDie Oct 21 '12 at 16:40
I'm voting to close this as primarily opinion-based. The three questions are really at least two or three different questions to enable each to be answered properly in its own right, and the answers here could do with being more citation-based - and having such quality being requested of them. – doppelgreener Apr 7 '15 at 4:40
up vote 4 down vote accepted

Why not individuals

I'd never buy individual NPC writeups.

I've bought a few NPC books that include a variety of materials. When I buy a book, I expect a number that won't get used, and hope a significant number will.

My expectations of an NPC book

I'm couching my expectations in terms of letter sized pages.

I expect a significant NPC writeup to include a full character sheet, ready to play. Print and go. It also needs a 1 page writeup, and either a half-page or whole page illustration. Moreover, it should be PC-legal when possible, so that it can be used as is as an emergency character for when a player suddenly needs one.

Minor NPC's, I expect a short-form (Full stats, in paragraph form, but not a full character sheet, or long-form monster data) box, a quarter or half page illustration, and the rest of the page being description.

Spear-chucker types I expect a 6th page of description, and about a 6th of a page for for illo, and 6th of a page for a data-block in monster-type short data block.

I would expect cover art of decent quality, clear cover fonts, and a preview PDF with chunks of two different characters' write ups in the detailed and minor NPC modes. (Sheet for one, data page for another).

I would prefer to have story hooks and adventure seeds for all the NPCs above spearchucker level. And the spearchuckers should be reasonably tied to making the NPC's useful.

EG: If you have a Gang Leader as a major NPC, his typical gang members should have spearchucker entries, and his lieutenants as minor NPCs.

Where not core to the concept, male and female writeups for the same sheet are a nice touch, as are alternate race conversions.

I would expect, for $5, to get some 32-40 pages.

For comparison, you may want to look at A Cast of Thousands for Arrowflight, or Into the Cosmos for Cosmic Patrol. (Into The Cosmos isn't just a Characters book, but includes full character sheets for everything except mooks...)


As for Fate... the various Fate Games are actually quite different from each other, so I'm concerned that you may be setting too broad a goal to do it justice. For SOTC, for example, such a book would be a potential godsend. For Diaspora, it would likely fall quite flat, as it's going to be a nightmare to work in to the customized setting for each home game.

Legends of Anglierre, Star Blazer Adventures, Dresden Files, and SOTC all can readily make use of NPC books tailored to their individual tweaked systems... but likewise, only SOTC is likely to be allowed to be done of those, and even then, you need to discuss that with the publisher.

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I'm not sure I'm your market for this, but I think you're going in the wrong direction. What I'm looking for in an NPC is a quick sketch about them and what they want, along with possible interactions with other NPCs and hooks for the players. I don't have time for a thousand words for an NPC.

Lately I've been running a lot of player-driven one-shot games, usually with shared world creation. For NPCs, I try to narrow them down to one or two Burning Wheel-style Beliefs. I'd be more interested in networks of NPCs that I can assemble and apply as a plot depending on what the PCs are up to.

The closest thing I own that's similar to what you're asking about is Vornheim: The Complete City Kit which includes random city dwellers and aristocrats, a method to combine them into networks, and a random list of encounters. Each gets a few sentences, and this is about ten pages of the 64-page book. What I like about it, quality-wise, is that it's both useful and occasionally amusing, but also provides an outline I can use as the PCs wander about the city.

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Same here. I wouldn't have need for 1000-word backgrounds. I might have need for a few hundred NPCs with stats and names. So if I need a thief, I just look it up. But then again, since I already started coding an automated NPC generator (DnD3.5E, which is what I play the most), I probably wouldn't buy it as a document. Even if it costs only $0.50. Of course, this might just mean that I'm not in your market, like @okeefe said. – Roflo Oct 20 '12 at 21:35
@somori Yes I understand. Which only leads to concluding that I'm not in the market you expect to reach. – Roflo Oct 20 '12 at 23:59
+1 for the idea of NPC networks/groups rather than single NPCs. – Cristol.GdM Oct 21 '12 at 0:33

These aren't intended to help someone who thinks, "quick, I need someone to fill x role". Instead they are intended to be characters that the players create long term relationships with. Imagine the NPCs in White Wolf products or the major players in a D&D adventure.

There's your problem: Either a GM wants to save work, in which case they really need entire prewritten adventures of which detailed NPC profiles are just one part, or they want to be creative story-tellers, in which case the major NPCs are, as an important part of the story, the last thing they'd take prewritten from someone else.

Think about it: you're probably considering doing this because you enjoy creating detailed NPC profiles. Well, so do other GMs - why would they buy yours instead?

Your hypothetical customers would be GMs who write their own adventures but don't like creating exactly those NPCs that are most important to the story. I doubt they exist.

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I agree, this is an "unhappy medium." Too much detail for "I need an interesting guy to plug in here," too little for "A character driven plot arc." – mxyzplk Oct 22 '12 at 3:43

I'll try to put things down in a FATE perspective. FATE puts a lot in the hands of players. The ability to declare and assess aspects about the game world, including the NPC's, is a major feature of FATE based games. By putting such things down in advance, you would take away that power. It would be hard to declare that the old soldier you meet at the pub has a slight limp, courtesy of the great war, because the detailed background mentions something else.

So, especially for FATE games, I'd recommend that you take a different course, and develop a way to inspire GMs to write interesting aspects, in advance and on the fly.

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I have in the past bought adventures from DriveThruRPG. Not NPCs or any other type of lists, but I might still be able to help with my experience as a buyer.

Wrap it in a pretty box.

When I did buy documents I was, of course, interested in the content (which is, in the end, what you're selling) but the presentation is important even if we don't admit it to ourselves.

I ended up buying the PDFs that had a drawing in the cover. I ended up buying those that took the time to select a nice font that's comfortable for reading.

Why? Maybe because it makes me feel that they took time to do things right. That they made that extra effort.

Personally, I find it easy to come up with personality and motivation details for NPCs; but that does raise a point on your second question:

Different GMs have different needs.

I'm taking a wild guess here, but I think that the newer you are to being a GM, the more likely you are to buy digital downloads. After some time, you learn to lie, cheat and steal (more effectively, anyway).

When I was new to GMing, I often had trouble figuring how to match someone else's material to my adventure's course.

The material was a lot more useful when it presented options. Motivations are a good example of this: a well-rounded NPC may have amazing level of detail that may explain why he acts the way he does, but if it doesn't fit into my adventure, it might make things more complicated.

You might be able to get around this by simply adding sidebars (one-liners, maybe?) with other possible motivations for the same NPC.

As for your last question. I'll leave that out for someone else to answer because I'm not familiar with Fate.

A final note on length though (says the guy who's writing a lengthy post): Yes, I believe a lot of your potential clients might find it overwhelming to read lots of text for a single NPC.

One way to work around it would be to separate into sections. Those of us who are too lazy to read everything, might just skip the "Personal History" section, but dive into the "Motivations" section.

Other ways to make it an easier read are proper use of emphasis (bold and italics) and bullets. Or sidebars, as I mentioned above.

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For some games, like Arrowflight, the NPC book is an excellent tool for getting a feel for the setting, but it also is an excellent tool for on-the-fly GMing, by providing stats for a variety of mook-type NPCs... town guards, etc. Even for an experienced GM, it can make both on the fly and prep much easier. – aramis Oct 26 '12 at 7:42

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