So you have devised the perfect location, plot, or adventure for your next game session but need a cast of characters to make the setup complete. Your brain has other ideas however and is rebelling. Here’s a quick way to kick your creativity into high gear to describe somebody.
Step 1: Roll a d6. On 1-3, roll once on the following table. On a 4 or 5, roll twice. On a 6, roll three times.
Step 2: Roll a d20 as many times as you determined in the first step.
So let’s see what we come up with using this method:
- (Overweight) Otu is no stranger in the kitchen, but today he sits at his corner table all alone nursing a single glass of ale.
- (Obtuse) Though Tuck listens to what you have to say, you’re not sure that any of it is filtering into his brain. He stares at you with his one good eye and slowly shakes his head when you tell your story.
- (Weak) Edre sits at the bar holding his beer mug with both hands and straining to lift it to his mouth.
- (Dismissive/Delicate) Illay is a lovely girl who must be paid to work at the bar purely as decoration. If you approach her and ask to order a drink, she waves you away with her tiny hand as though you were the one serving drinks in the bar instead of her.
- (Disbelieving/Supportive) Tuck sports a thick mop of hair that not only supports a hat three sizes too big for his head but seems to ripple as well when he shakes his skull in disbelief.
No, those are pretty boring NPCs. Let’s try something a little different. Instead of simply using those terms to describe them in broad terms, let’s roll three times to determine a descriptor for their appearance, their inner behavior, and their outer behavior.
(Catatonic/Clumsy/Thirsty) So our NPC appears to be catatonic, thinks of himself as clumsy, and seems thirsty in public. Using this approach I might end up with:
“Filfin is standing at the end of the bar stock still as he ponders the bottles behind the bartender. Clutching a few coins in his hand, you can tell he’s dying to order something but can’t make up his mind what to order…”
Ok, so that gives us a bit more to work with. There’s a character there with some hooks I could play with as a GM. So let’s try a few more:
- (Flexible/Dismissive/Obtuse) The first few things you hear out of Zac’s mouth are “Sure!” and “I think so, too!” as he talks to his friend at a table. But it’s when he gets up to stand near the dart board that you really take notice… somebody’s convinced him he should put an apple on his head so they can chuck a few missiles at it. Nobody else is getting up to stop the madness and the poor guy doesn’t seem to notice that his “friends” are picking on him. But it’s when you notice the way he moves his body to avoid the darts with the grace of a dancer that you become really riveted to the scene.
- (Grandiose/Overbearing/Thin) Vaggan dresses like a royal, wearing layer after layer of fine, frilly clothing to disguise his sickly frame. And he acts like one too, looking down his nose at everyone he meets as though he was the better man regardless of who he was talking to. Without a doubt, this was not going to end well for little Vaggan.
- (Disbelieving/Helpful/Handy) Rosz was a nice lady and one of the first to offer help, but she couldn’t believe what poor Tup was telling her. He was asking Rosz to help build a trap for a strange beast he’d seen near his farm. A thing with the body of a lion, the head of a bull, and the wings of an eagle. He didn’t have a name for it yet, but was imploring his handy friend for her help…
- (Stalwart/Supportive/Hungry) Woodrow, sandwich in hand, watched as his friend Zeppa made the town bully more and more upset. Eventually he was going to have to step in and stop a fight, but he couldn’t do that on an empty stomach so he just kept watching while he took another bite…
Yes, these are better. I don’t think I could detail every NPC this way, but I might have a collection of pre-rolled descriptors handy that I could pull out when I needed one and quickly bang out a more memorable character on the spot. The framework is there to offer a few key pieces and allow your brain to put together a profile with a few hooks to sink a story into.
With more descriptors, you could have thousands of possible combinations available. And if you mixed the two approaches, even more.
A fuller version of this approach will be available in a product soon, but in the meantime feel free to play with some of the random generators (I used the one for LPC Fantasy Names I for the names found in these descriptions) or pick up one of our other products at RPGNow, DriveThruRPG, Paizo, or d20pfsrd!