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how do you set "level" of NPC?


tgcb

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In my experience, there is very little that a determined and well-organised party of PCs cannot defeat. Perhaps not the first time, or the second time, but eventually the PCs will come back and defeat the foe.

Agreed. If they live to fight another day there is always some other stategy that can be tried. In my games it isn't always player combat or magic.

Combat autopilot mode is something that a lot of parties fall into. It is very dangerous. The way to beat it is not to put a hideous undefeatable foe against them but to give their kill-crazy actions consequences. If it makes them outlaws or puts them in peril that should work.

Consequences, yes. And one of the possible consequences in my games is tpk. If you frontally assault a brood of dragons after being warned that better dragonslayers' bones litter the floor and the dragons have heard/smelled/seen you coming a long way off then DEATH will be the probable outcome. (personally I don't resurrect much and almost never when the players are reckless).

My reasoning for sometimes (very rarely) having something deadly is however more to do with making them think before rushing in. There may be a way of dealing with it using wits or tech or whatever. If the possibility of something that is beyond them doesn't exist then sudden violence becomes the easy choice.

Suitable prompts beforehand do not always work, believe me.

Agreed. I like to try anyway.

In summary, no matter how gross you make an NPC, the PCs will always find a way of killing him/her

There is always a way of defeating an enemy. It might even involve killing. I never make an NPC/monster invulnerable but sometimes I make it 'better left for later'

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The story of the two nigh unkillable trolls going at it hammer and tongs is hilarious.

In my (mostly Champions, Traveller, TOON) campaigns, though, I never threw an opponent at my players that I didn't think their characters couldn't beat. A tough fight, yes, but the concept of tossing in a foe they must run from wasn't part of my thinking. After all, the PCs are heroes, and running away is unheroic. Besides, surviving in Traveller is tough enough as it is. Then, I never ran sandbox type games with random-roll opponents, either. I always had a definite plot in mind. And if a critter was there, it was there for a reason. Different gaming culture and GM mindset, I guess.

Edited by seneschal
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The story of the two nigh unkillable trolls going at it hammer and tongs is hilarious.

The player said afterwards that he realised he'd made a mistake when he saw my face upon him attacking Uzarl, but he'd made his decision by then.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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I ran a scenario where

By the way, if anyone hasn't been over there yet, you should really take a look at soltakss site. It's FULL of fun gaming stories and it's one of the few sites that kept me going in the dark times when there was little talk of BRP.

70/420

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The old Flying Buffalo Citybooks had a pretty good rough guide for strength of NPCs, dividing fighting prowess and magic ability into five grades:

Poor -- (01-40%) unfamilar with combat, easily wounded or killed

Average (41-59%) run of the mill type, no hero

Fair -- (60-74%) better than average and will acquit himself adequately

Good -- (75-84%) can go one-on-one with seasoned fighters

V. Good (85-95%) this person can cause a lot of trouble in combat

Excellent (96-100%) if blood is spilled, it's not likely to come from this character

and of course, for those who play Elric! I can add:

Master (101%+) champion level

So, in answer to the original post, you can judge both your characters and the opposition according to this scale (bearing in mind that most bad guys will probably be in the lower part of the chart). Works for magic ability too.

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By the way, if anyone hasn't been over there yet, you should really take a look at soltakss site. It's FULL of fun gaming stories and it's one of the few sites that kept me going in the dark times when there was little talk of BRP.

I had never seen this site, Chaot. Thanks for the tip. :)

You can follow me on Google+ here: https://www.google.com/+PaulVasquezE

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions....but still feel kind of "dense" on this. And I do understand that with practice it would both make more sense and get easer.

Having said that , does anyone want to take a stab at writing up a "real world' example of play where the GM makes up some NPC's "on the fly"? Say your a new GM and don't have a lot of pre-made NPC's and your characters do something you hadn't planned...you need an NPC and want to keep the game moving. You don't want to take a 30 minute break while you figure out NPC/creature stats. Obviously the NPC or NPC's don't have to be "perfect"...but what are you looking at on the characters sheets to base your NPC stats and or abilities on? I guess I need a specific example before my brain will grasp onto it.

Thanks!

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Ok, let's see if I can help out. You should know what sort of range your PC's skills are (at least for combat) so if they are at 85%, roughly, you look at your NPC's (I tend to have a few sheets printed out with lists of lowish level NPCs on (bandits, undead, thugs, etc.) and find that the average bandit on your list has combat skills around 45% so one-on-one they'll get whipped. So examining the ratio of skills I judge that I'll need twice the PC's number of bandits. Now if they have missile weapons and stand off and shoot they'll be harder to beat so let's instead add 60% more bandits over the number of PC's i.e. 1.6 times the PC's number. Some of these could be in hiding and either come in later or snipe from cover or run away depending on how the situation goes. With my list of bandits I can easily add more if I need to.

You can keep a list of PC skill levels to assist you making these decision on the fly. There's no point in calling for a skill that only one character has and that's so low as to be used only for a 'hail mary' situation.

Re: the list of npcs - I put the standard stats at the top of the sheet and the variable HP and armour in a table so that I can see at-a-glance that bandit 7 has leather armour and 11 hit points and cross off those HP as he takes damage. I do that in pencil so I can erase it for re-use.

Nigel

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Having said that , does anyone want to take a stab at writing up a "real world' example of play where the GM makes up some NPC's "on the fly"?

I'm leaning very heavily towards doing an Actual Play thread at RPGnet which would involve Magic World Characters running through the In Search of The Unknown module using the Mythic Emulator to determine what the PCs do. If I do this, it will involve posting all of the stats used as well as the rolls. Serves as both being fun and getting Magic World in front of more people. Debating on whether I have the time to do it though.

70/420

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I'm leaning very heavily towards doing an Actual Play thread at RPGnet which would involve Magic World Characters running through the In Search of The Unknown module using the Mythic Emulator to determine what the PCs do. If I do this, it will involve posting all of the stats used as well as the rolls. Serves as both being fun and getting Magic World in front of more people. Debating on whether I have the time to do it though.

Oh, you have the time. ;-D

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Thanks everyone for the suggestions....but still feel kind of "dense" on this. And I do understand that with practice it would both make more sense and get easer.

Having said that , does anyone want to take a stab at writing up a "real world' example of play where the GM makes up some NPC's "on the fly"? Say your a new GM and don't have a lot of pre-made NPC's and your characters do something you hadn't planned...you need an NPC and want to keep the game moving. You don't want to take a 30 minute break while you figure out NPC/creature stats. Obviously the NPC or NPC's don't have to be "perfect"...but what are you looking at on the characters sheets to base your NPC stats and or abilities on? I guess I need a specific example before my brain will grasp onto it.

Here's what I actually do.

1. Prepare a quick set of guidelines as to how powerful certain people are (Town Guards, Rookie Soldiers, Experienced Soldiers, Veterans, Young Bandits, Grizzled Bandits etc)

2. Quickly work out the strength of the party compared to what is being encounterd

3. Adjust numbers accordingly

So, if a party of 6 beginning characters meets a group of veteran soldiers, I would use 3 soldiers for a fair fight, 6 for a party defeat and 1 or 2 for a party win. The same party meeting a group of young bandits would need 6 for an even fight, 3 for a party win and 9 for a party defeat.

Most of the time the party surprises me with their tactics and usually win fairly easily.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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But Sinbad movies absolutely have weird mutant people, usually feral descendants of whatever lost civilization he's discovered this time, and these nasty little dire dwarves qualify. Give 'em squad tactics and a shaman with a dirty magical trick or two up his sleeve, and let 'em be recruited as henchmen by your Harryhausenian Big Bad sorcerer. Nothing says "creepy" like horny little man-things drooling over the captive princess.

Totally! Call them "troglodytes" or "ghuls" or whatever, and off you go.

Please don't contact me with Chaosium questions. I'm no longer associated with the company, and have no idea what the new management is doing.

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This is actually quite tricky, especially if you want every encounter to be balanced.

"Game balance is for pussies." -- Greg Stafford, 2005

Please don't contact me with Chaosium questions. I'm no longer associated with the company, and have no idea what the new management is doing.

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If you want to know how much work it is to construct a measure of 'monster threat' you could look at the very early editions of White Dwarf where Don Turnbull spent three articles outlining the 'Monster Mark' system for D&D. I remember using it when I was a young GM. When we moved to other systems I never felt motivated to do the same for them. Perhaps for me the need had passed. Maybe some young mathematician will volunteer to do something for BRP.

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"Game balance is for pussies." -- Greg Stafford, 2005

I agree, but that's what the OP was asking for help on.

I throw in challenging encounters every now and again, but am always surprised at how weak even the very strong ones actually are.

Simon Phipp - Caldmore Chameleon - Wallowing in my elitism since 1982. Many Systems, One Family. Just a fanboy. 

www.soltakss.com/index.html

Jonstown Compendium author. Find my contributions here

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  • 1 month later...

My settings are "sandboxes", and like the real world they contain weak, average and

powerful characters and creatures. It is up to the player characters to gather the ne-

cessary informations to decide what they can do or not, when to fight, when to avoid

and when to run. I would dislike a predictable setting where the player characters can

expect to only encounter suitable "challenges" for their "level", this would seem too im-

plausible for my taste.

Was re-reading this thread and thought of another way to put my question.

Basically, how do you avoid having the game feel like an advanced version of the game Clue? By that I mean say you set up a town and therefore setup some locations and some NPC's. But, instead of going to the tavern as you expected them, the players go to the butcher shop. Or to the dress maker. Or to whatever. To use my Clue example - what if instead of looking through the mansion you want to go outside and look in the guest house? Well, in Clue you can't because the entire "world" is on that board. I don't want the dress maker to just say "why are you here, aren't you supposed to be in the tavern (hint hint)". I suspect you'd want this encounter to feel somewhat natural - you want the entire town to feel "real" and not just the 5 (or 10 or 20) sites you had setup prior. And what if your players go into a building/room/place and for whatever reason some conflict breaks out (could be mental conflict, conflict of skills, physical combat, etc). And what if you want to make this encounter "interesting" and not just a "throw away"? Being a new GM, I would need to whip-up something right there and again wonder what an experienced GM looks at to do this. And by "interesting" I don't necessarily mean the players need to win...maybe they lose...maybe they get the crap kicked out of them. But, I still need to know what "markers" on their sheets to look at to set the "level" to what I hope it should be.

I know with experience this would get better - you'd be more natural, you'd have a bank of NPC's to use, you'd know the rules much better....just wanted some tips in the meantime.

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I usually have a few basic buildings (store, tavern, etc.) and a number of typical NPCs

prepared and can use them whenever I need such an everyday encounter for the play-

er characters. In my settings I use two generic types of civilians, the more common

one has average stats and skills plus a high professional skill, the other one is a mem-

ber of the local militia and therefore also has a low level weapon skill or two. If I want

to make a conflict more challenging, I can always have a patrol of the city watch or a

small mob of angry citizens nearby. However, I rarely need to improvise, the players

and the actions of their characters tend to be rather predictable, the characters nor-

mally have obvious intentions (relax, gather informations, buy equipment ...) which

enable me to plan the relevant encounters in time, random movements through the

setting and thelike are extremely rare. It certainly helps that I ask the players at the

end of each session what their characters plan to do during the next session and pre-

pare accordingly for that session, keeping the characters busy with and interested in

whatever they had planned.

"Mind like parachute, function only when open."

(Charlie Chan)

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most NPCs I take from the BGB-Creatures-NPC Section (p.360). If I need some professionals, or the NPC's in the book are not sufficient, I simply make up skills in relation to the Skill Ratings on page 48 in the BGB (Novice, Neophyte, Amateur, Professional, Expert, etc.).

Or my mook rules: easy/average/hard: 30%/40%/50% in everything. Numbers appearing: 1d6. Hitpoints: 6 to fall unconscious. Armour: none/2/4.

For their personality (if needed), I look at the Personality Traits rules (p.294) and find real persons (or movie characters) to remind me how to play them.

NPC creation time: 5 seconds to 2 minutes.

BRP can really be that simple. Most important rule: the players never need to see their stats.

If more set-up time is available, I go with the HeroQuest 2 rules: write 100 words to describe the character, use it to find attributes/skills, assign the numbers to fit (see above), check personality, done.

As for game balancing stats: never gave a thought about it. Characters either overcome the enemy or find an other way around it. They will find out early enough if the enemy is tougher than expected. If all is too easy: throw in more mooks to support the main characters.

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And what if you want to make this encounter "interesting" and not just a "throw away"?

What you need to make an encounter interesting isn't stats - it's personality.

What makes an encounter not be a throw-away encounter is consequences.

The first can quickly be made up on the fly. There are also a number of tools you can use. Here's an example of one posted by a smart guy named Acev on another forum I frequent. I'm sure there are more like this:

The DNA method is the way I came up with to help me make my NPCs more recognizable. I started noticing that my players were having trouble telling my NPCs appart. Because I was basically playing them all more or less the same. So I mishmashed a bunch of stuff from a bunch of sources into my method. It helps me greatly in portraying my NPCs differently.

A characters DNA is just a set of keywords and short sentences organized into three categories: Demeanor, Nature and Agenda.

Demeanor is the face the character puts foward to the world. This is what the players see when they interact with the NPC. I find Demeanor helps me a lot with how a character talks, so I include catch phrases in this category as well.

Ex.: Always smiling, rude, respectful, Bingo!

Nature is what the character really is on the inside. This helps me choose what the character does when it's time for him to act.

Ex.: Loyal, egocentric, asshole, a good person

Agenda is what the character wants. I find 2 or 3 short term and 2 long term goals works best for me. I don't include step by step plans.

Ex.: Become Prince of the city, have sex with as many partners as possible, get revenge on Johnny, has the artefact George wants

So an NPC that wears his heart on his sleeve will have very similar keywords in Demeanor and Nature. One who is two faced, will have very different ones. Agenda is how you tie in the NPC. If his agendas intersect with those of the PCs then the character will see a lot of use. If not, then he won't show up much in the story.

As for consequences, it's up to you to make sure that they are followed through in your game. An encounter in which the PCs win a fight easily isn't necessarily a throw away encounter if there are meaningful complications that arise from it. But an encounter where the PCs actions have no meaning? - that is a waste. Stats don't give you meaning - follow through does.

"Tell me what you found, not what you lost" Mesopotamian proverb

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Thanks again to all for the tips and suggestions!

I may take the responses and type them up so they "make sense" to me. Basically as I tried to say in the beginning "tips for GM's, especially new GM's, on making NPC's".

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Keep in mind that the only thing that's actually 'real' in your game is what comes out at the table. Your notes aren't the game world, they are prep for the game world. The stories that the players tell themselves in their head might inform their characters actions but they are not actually part of the game world until they are shared.

With that in mind, you now have to decide what level of prep you have/want to do in order to run a relatively seamless game. I find that I can go into a game with some very basics of a character's mechanics decided (she has these two spells and is a decent Fast Talker) and go from there.

More important is deciding on a way to represent the character. The players need a hook, a mental bookmark, something that they can hold on to so that the character can take shape in their minds and around the table. Sometimes you provide the hook but sometimes the players do it themselves. If they do, they're giving you a gift. They're showing you what they are interested in. If you embrace that and roll with it they are going to be more invested in your game.

The mechanics can follow. Though I don't broadcast it to my players, often I am discovering aspects of NPCs as they occur in game. It's not a hard and fast rule though. I might be inspired to do a full write up. I might swipe something from the Digest. I might wing it. But when a decision is made at the table I write it down and set it in stone.

Which brings me to my last thought. Sometimes it boils down to making a decision at the table and rolling with it. When something comes up I'll ask myself, 'why not?'. If I can't come up with a good reason I accept it and roll with it. 'Because I didn't plan it that way' isn't on my list of good reasons.

This is how I run now. It's not how I have always run. Preferences differ and all of that.

Ok, real last thought. Don't be afraid to gloss over stuff. Your players want to go someplace off the beaten track, ask them why. Then quickly narrate the result. You don't have to role play through everything.

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A random thought just occurred to me, you could probably portray a "realistic" version without prep by using a d100 roll and using a bell curve to see how good a random NPC is at something. Most of the time you'd get the stereotypical "average", but every once and a while you'll have some deadly bandits and some hilariously incompetent guards.

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