Wednesday, 7 January 2015

Creating NPCs on-the-fly

Once again this is a subject I've posted about before, but I feel is important enough to be worth repeating on my blog.

One of the big advantages of Savage Worlds in terms of preparation time is that it's very easy to make up generic NPCs on-the-fly - for complex monsters I still prefer to have a proper statblock, but simple NPCs such as shopkeepers, thieves, town guards, etc, don't usually need to be written down. Instead, I mentally put them into one of three categories and make up their stats in my head when needed:
Basic Extras
These have d6 in all attributes, and d6 in all skills appropriate to their concept. If you're unsure whether or not a particular skill is important, leave it at d4. You can also lower one or two attributes to d4 if you wish, if they're the sort of thing at which the character concept is typically bad.
ExampleA basic thug might have Smarts d4, while a basic priest might have Strength d4, but they'd both have all other attributes at d6. The thug would also have Fighting d6 and Stealth d4 or d6, while the priest would have Faith d6 and Knowledge (Religion) d6, but the priest's Fighting would be either d4 or unskilled.
Experienced Extras 
These have d8 in one or two attributes that are particularly important to the character concept, and d6 in their other attributes. They also have d8 in their primary skills, and d6 in their secondary skills, with d4 in any other skill they might feasibly have and require. You can also grant them one or two appropriate Edges (even if they don't meet the requirements), or a +2 bonus in one or two non-combat skills.
Example: An experienced city guard would probably have Strength and Vigor d8, Fighting, Shooting and Notice d8, and a couple of appropriate Edges (such as Alertness and Combat Reflexes). An experienced diplomat might have Smarts d8 and Spirit d8, Persuasion d8, Streetwise d8 and Notice d8, but Fighting d4, as well as a couple of Edges such as Charismatic and Connections.
Elite Extras 
These have d10 in one or two attributes that are particularly important to the character concept, and d8 in secondary attributes. They also have d10 in their top skills, and if they're combat-oriented they gain one Improved Combat Edge (as well as its requirement) in addition to their one or two other Edges.
Example: An elite bodyguard might have Strength and Vigor d10, Agility and Spirit d8, Smarts d6, Fighting d10, Shooting d10, Notice d10, Improved First Strike, Alertness and Combat Reflexes. An elite thief could have Agility d10, Smarts and Spirit d8, Strength and Vigor d6, Stealth d10, Lockpicking d10, Climbing d10 and Fighting d8, as well as Acrobat, Thief, and perhaps Improved Extraction. 
This approach makes it very easy to think up an NPC Extra on the fly. All I need to remember is something like "basic blacksmith" or "experienced ranger", and that gives me enough information to mentally calculate the stats. I can also use the same approach for unimportant NPCs when writing down notes for an adventure, on the off-chance that I do later need some stats for a particular NPC.

Memory-hook Minions

The previous approach works well for individual NPCs, but often I just need a load of identical minions or faceless cannonfodder, and I like to make those even simpler so that I don't need to calculate anything. To that end, I use four types of combat NPC that are extremely easy to remember: 
Frail-Four Fighter
Trappings: Elderly farmer, sickly slave, street kid 
Stats: Strength d4, Vigor d4, combat skills d4, Toughness 4, Parry 4, damage 2d4 
Gear: Club, dagger or sling. 
The Frail-Four Fighter is very weak, and usually represents someone who fights by necessity or opportunity. 
Standard-Six Soldier
Trappings: Bandit, mercenary, soldier, town guard 
Stats: Strength d6, Vigor d6, combat skills d6, Toughness 6 (1), Parry 6, damage 2d6 
Gear: Shortsword, shield, leather armour. Sometimes a bow, or spear. 
The Standard-Six Soldier is the standard combat NPC, suitable for a wide range of roles. This is the typical opponent that PCs are likely to encounter in combat. 
Experienced-Eight Eliminator
Trappings: Mercenary captain, sergeant, veteran soldier 
Stats: Strength d8, Vigor d8, combat skills d8, Toughness 8 (2), Parry 8, damage 2d8 
Edges: Block 
Gear: Longsword, shield, chainmail 
The Experienced-Eight Eliminator is the more experienced melee NPC. One might be encountered as the nameless leader of a group of Standard-Six Soldiers, or several might be encountered as an experienced fighting unit. 
Topflight-Ten Tank
Trappings: Elite soldier, royal guard 
Stats: Strength d10, Vigor d10, combat skills d10, Toughness 10 (3), Parry 10, damage 2d10 
Edges: Improved Block, Weapon Master, Master of Arms 
Gear: Greatsword, breastplate 
The Topflight-Ten Tank is extremely tough, and should be reserved for only the most powerful of NPC Extras, such as a king's personal guards. Generally speaking an NPC this powerful would normally be a Wild Card in its own right. Be aware that the Topflight-Ten Tank can slow down combat - you might use it to delay the escape of an important NPC, but don't use it as general combat fodder. 
As you can see, the NPCs are numbered based on their combat values and their names are memory hooks, so that I never need to look anything up or work anything out. If the PCs are facing six mercenaries and a mercenary captain, all I need to remember is that the mercenaries are Standard-Six Soldiers with 6 in everything, while their captain is an Experienced-Eight-Eliminator who has 8 in everything. 

Should they require non-combat skills that fit the concept, I'll base those on the minion type as well. For example an Experienced-Eight Eliminator cavalryman would have Riding d8, a Standard-Six Soldier assassin would have Stealth d6, a Topflight-Ten Tank bodyguard would have Notice d10, and so on.

Defining an "average human"

Although there is no official definition of an "average human", it's possible to extrapolate by looking at various statblocks in the official books. If you look at the typical "soldier" in the Allies section of the core rulebook, for example, you'll see it has d4 in Smarts, d6 in all other attributes, d4 in Stealth, and d6 in the other skills (including combat skills). The "experienced soldier" has two attributes at d8 and the rest at d6, combat skills at d8, and a couple of combat Edges. The Fires of Ascalon one-sheet adventure in the back of Savage Worlds Deluxe also lists "Village Fighting Men" as having d4 in Smarts, d6 in their other attributes, d4 in Fighting and d6 in Notice. 

There are some even better examples in the Fantasy Companion, such as: 
  • Bandit: d6 in all attributes and relevant skills. 
  • Citizen: d6 in all attributes, d4 in combat skills, d6 in other relevant skills. 
  • Mercenary: Vigor d8, all other attributes and relevant skills at d6. 
  • Courtier: Smarts d8, other attributes d6, primary skills d8, Fighting d4. 
  • Town/City Watch: d6 in all attributes, combat skills d8, other skills d6. 
  • Militia: d6 in all attributes, combat skills d6, other skills d4/d6. 
We can see that citizens (covering "everything from farmers to crafters") and courtiers would typically have Fighting d4, while most bandits, mercenaries and village militia would have Fighting d6, and the Town/City Watch (described as competent guardsmen) would have Fighting d8. The Horror Companion also has a "typical cultist" who has Smarts d4, but all other attributes and skills d6, as well as a "Police Patrolmen" who has Spirit d8, other attributes d6, combat skills d8, other skills d6-d8. 

From that I've extrapolated that most humans have d6 in all attributes, sometimes with a single d4 or d8. Most also have d6 in skills related to their profession, or d8 if they're particularly well trained, but only d4 (or unskilled) in other skills. 

Real Professionals have Professional Edges

It's not uncommon to see people describe characters with a high skill die as being renowned experts or athletes in their chosen field, however the skill die alone is a better representation of raw talent than of professional training; an Extra with d12 in their chosen skill still has a 25% chance of failure at standard difficulty (TN 4) tasks. To represent professional skill levels, you should also apply a Professional Edge. Savage Worlds Deluxe describes Professional Edges as reflecting "many years of practicing a particular trade", and many of them grant a +2 bonus to their associated skills, meaning the character will only fail at standard difficulty tasks on a roll of 1.

Thus the Professional Edges help to differentiate between a skilled professional (d8+2) and someone with exceptional talent but without professional training (d12). Both get the same result on average (if you ignore the Wild Die), but the professional is far less likely to make silly mistakes (12.5% chance of failure at TN 4, instead of 25% chance for d12). For a Wild Card, d8+2 is far superior to d12 - not only because the +2 is added to both the trait die and wild dice, but also because it means the character will only fail at standard difficulty tasks if they roll snake eyes.


  1. This is a very useful post. I will incorporate many of these elements in my current game. The memory hook minions are very helpful indeed. Furthermore, the note about the Professional Edge is very well stated and noted.