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A question to gamemasters: How many npc's for a rpg session?

Fellow gamemasters, I need your input; I'm trying to create a game preparation formula that can be used for most games. For this, I need some input from you. I'd appreciate if you can tell a bit about your game preparations, mainly how many and how well prepared npc's you need.

So - how many npc's do you need for a rpg session? We're assuming that the session takes perhaps  4-6 hours using a system where combats (at least most of them) don't take 1+h and the game takes place in an environment in which social contacts are meaningful. I want numbers that lets you run a game with no shortage of npc's even if players get creative (but not intentionally trying to meet as many characters as possible). The format I have in my mind is a semi-sandbox that's supposed to be enough for one session's needs.
 
-How many detailed npc's, like main villain, his right hand etc? 
 
-How many less detailed npc's - just statistics with little details or perhaps a lot of information or other details but with little or no statistics?

-How many npc's with just a few details and a function?

Do you think this is a good categorization for detail level of npc's, or do you have a better suggestion?

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Comments

I think the goal of making a

I think the goal of making a system like this is difficult. Groups of players are different, as are their responses to different campaigns and rule sets. Here is what I do, if that's helpful.

* Set benchmarks. That way you have quick stats in mind for untrained, student, teacher, master, to pick an example. It's shorthand that helps you respond consistently and quickly if a need for stats is unearthed.

* Stick to the wall. Provide lots of NPCs, but let the PCs choose which ones are developed. ("Throw 'em all against the wall and see what sticks.") They are likely to ignore your lovingly crafted NPC (they hate the feeling they're responding to a controlling impulse) and focus on somebody you just tossed out there on a whim. Plan for that. Be prepared to spend your focus on characters the PCs pick and find interesting, not you.

* Web of Conflict. If the PCs are interested in an NPC, give that NPC one or more conflicts; goals with obstacles, or providing obstacles to other NPC goals. The players chose to care about this one, so use the chosen NPC as a gateway to further adventure (not always threatening or disadvantaging the NPC--no one should be punished for PC interest in them!)

I hope that's helpful.

Thanks for your comment

Submitted by Shaper and Maker on

Thanks for your comment Fictive!

What I'm trying to find is a good approach for providing npc's, both that carry the story forward and those that can be thrown in for flavour or or temporary need - and to stick if needed. While basic statistics are easy to throw from the head, I think some help for improvisation is needed. To create unique, memorable and surprising characters isn't always easy. To have a pool of personalities helps in this.

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