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Some friends have asked me to master a game for the first time. We are going to play All Flesh Must Be Eaten (It's fun, easy and rules are not as important as actual roleplaying).

I have created the main storyline, maps for important places so I don't have to come up with things that may contradict what I previously said, a bunch of sidequests so there is plenty to do even if they decide to simply screw around and some random encounters so the game doesn't fee like going on rails. I've also made myself a 4 page guide with tables, damage values and such just in case someone does something unexpected and I have to check something I can't make up.

I have a problem with NPCs thought. I created the main antagonist following the rules on the book. I gave him the stats and chose the skills, and then I created a main henchmen to make things more even.

Then I started creating the rest of the NPCs. It was a royal pain in the ass, so instead of that I took a piece of paper for each one and wrote only the basic and secondary attributes, name and relation to other characters and clipped them all together.

That is, I have the main antagonist and two other important NPCs very defined (Attributes, qualities, drawbacks and skills) according to the rules, and the rest of them stored in pieces of paper.

-Should I make a full character sheet for each NPC?

-Should I give all of them qualities, drawbacks and skills or I can make them up if needed?

-The important NPCs that are fully created, should follow the rules? should I boost random feats, skills or attributes?

-I have also created two of those very simple NPC sheets for zombies, soldiers and random people running around, allowing me to generate random encounters with two or three rolls. ¿Is this a good idea or should I make myself a good stack of generic NPCs just in case?

I have read this Q Are there any guidelines or samples for creating Henchmen or Villains? and this one How do you come up with attribute values and skills for your NPCs but I am still unsure about following the rules for NPCs or not.

Edit: If anyone is interested in an update, Rob's answer was extremely useful. I made myself a handy dandy NPC generator and it worked like a charm. The players liked this way of coming up with NPCs and everything went smoothly, so I'm definitely keeping this approach.

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@LitheOhm Will do next time, thank you. It's just that they all boil down to the "Should I apply strict rules to NPCs?" question, so I decided to write them all in the same place for convenience. I hope it's not a problem. –  Achifaifa Nov 21 '13 at 14:12
    
Doubt it's that big of an issue -- you've already got a couple of answers from well-established members of the SE. I read them as very linked as well. It's just that strategies for major NPCs and minor ones are different enough to warrant their own questions, but as I re-read it now, you are focusing on that distinction. Carry on :) and welcome to the site. –  LitheOhm Nov 21 '13 at 14:28
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3 Answers

up vote 11 down vote accepted

The most important aspect of an NPC is presenting a persona that the players can interact with realistically and consistently.

Stats will not do that - they'll help and give you guideance on what a character can and can't do, and for some GMs (and possibly systems, but that's debatable) that is essential - but it's not required.

Believe me, I generated dozens of 20+ level NPCs for Rolemaster for my campaign before I realised this, I only wish I'd known it sooner.

Ad-libbing

A very very helpful skill with NPCs, but try to avoid NPC growth; like suddenly giving an NPC a skill that are exactly right for the situation that they're in, that they wouldn't have. Now and again drop a skill on them maybe (and note it down, always note what you add or change) but not always. The players are the "do-ers" not the NPCs.

Sticking to the rules

Do stick to the rules for your NPCs, one or maybe two can have some kind of exceptional skill or ability - but make this a special, if you litter your NPCs with things that are "impossible" to the rules, you'll just nark your players off when they realise this, and they will.

What do you need then?

All you need is as much of a summary of the NPC on a card or a sheet that you can keep the NPC consistent with what the players have seen before.

  • Personality. Write down what the NPC is like, their persona, their quirks and a couple of likes/dislikes. This is what players interact with.

  • Appearance. You don't need to write a saga and not every NPC needs to stand out; but one or two appearance quirks that players remember define an NPC. "Ah, it's Bob the wizard, he always wears that battered old green hat."

  • Stats; scribble down a few critical stats for them if you really need; for AD&D it'd be things like HP, AC and a couple of skills and attack bonus if they're going to hit someone. Combat based characters may need full fleshing out, but Bob the Shopkeeper doesn't need any of that.

  • Skills/Perks; mostly like stats; make a note of a couple of key skills and either their level/rating/bonus/etc or just a word description and one obscure (hobby) skill for the NPC. "Bob the Shopkeeper, Bargain +10, Rumourmonger +8, Taxidermy +6". The hobby skill gives the NPC something to talk about.

  • Relationships; who the NPC likes and dislikes and also any events that have happened with (or without) the players that are significant to the NPC. You don't need full details either, just a short phrase to kickstart your own memory about what happened. Like "Bob gave Fred magic sword as thank you for putting out fire"

That's it, that's all I roll with now and that's what keeps the NPCs alive; you need to make them convincing, not detail to the Nth degree - I've found that to actually be more limiting for them and not to mention time consuming!

Major NPCs

These are worth detailing in full - or at least a lot more detail, again especially for combat based NPCs; these are your major supporting cast to the story and I take more time and detail in these NPCs as well as adding more background, really just fleshing out what I've put above.

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I thought about appearance and personality but didn't actually wrote those down, thanks for the tip. Interaction-based NPC creation is something I'll add to my notebook :) As for the other things, apparently I wasn't so far off as I imagined. We don't look at the rules or roll stuff if it's not necessary, so those tips are going to come really handy. And for the skills, I somehow felt I SHOULD add them. We are all unpredictable players and I know what happens when you give any of us room for backstabbing or playing dirty with an NPC. –  Achifaifa Nov 21 '13 at 11:45
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Sardathrion and Rob cover most of my NPC generation process, but sometimes (most notably when the party discovers one I haven't planned for) I just consider them a +X NPC. For example, in AFMBE I might make a random Normie citizen a +2 NPC - their rolls are typically just the roll +2 unless I decide it's a skill they should have. So John Doe over there is just another bland member of society but if the players write themselves into a corner or start planning for something they don't possess the skill to do, John Doe might become John Gardner, with a +4 to his farming/gardening skills. He might one day be a real boy instead of just a plot puppet, but we'll leave that up to Gepetto.

Another method I very often employ is the Carbon Copy method. I think of what generic characters the player might encounter and do a stat block with just a little wiggle room if the scenario shifts. Usually I can have a full cast of carbons on one sheet of notebook paper and it's sort of an atlas for the undefined.

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+1 I like this +X npc idea indeed Mr. Puppetmaster –  Rob Nov 21 '13 at 15:25
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Like a Potemkin village, all my NPCs are but a few sentences on a card. Note that the card can be digital in the form of a wiki entry, a markdown/LaTeX file, etc... or it could be a paper card. The sentences themselves describe: The general appearance, the general skill set, and one or more interesting background elements. That is it. So, for example:

Dominique Costal

  • Tattoo of dragon on left should, long black hair, half Thai-African (Congo) métis.
  • Solider, ex-Légion étrangère, favours knifes and CQC attacks.
  • Father was head of biological hazard terrorist company Tricell.
  • Immune to all Biohazard virii due to special blood manipulation from daddy.
  • Hates her dad -- thus why she ran away.

IF she becomes part of the main plot and interact with the characters, then I will flesh her out making relevant notes of what I just made up. If they players do not care about her at all, then I have not wasted precious time detailing someone that ended up being a card board cut out.

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I really like this answer - but you should go through and fix your spelling and grammar mistakes, it makes it very jerky to read. –  Inbar Rose Nov 21 '13 at 13:23
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