This is the one hundred twentieth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

This next random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality has nearly as many faces as there are things in the bundle. It’s The NPC With a Thousand Faces, by Firgof (AKA Forgotten Workshop), and its tagline in the bundle reads:

Ultra-fast NPC Generation from 15 years of DMing!

That’s a lot of jargon in one tagline. “NPC” stands for “Non-Player Character” and refers to characters that are not controlled by players, usually in role-playing games. “DM” is “Dungeon Master” (often called “Game Master” or “GM” instead) and refers to someone who facilitates a tabletop role-playing game for the other players, setting up scenarios and describing how the world and its inhabitants react to player actions. Therefore, before even reading it, I can conclude that The NPC With a Thousand Faces is a guide to help a DM/GM create characters for the players to interact with. But don’t worry, I did read it, and yes, that is what it is.

I’ve never tried being a GM, but I have played Dungeons & Dragons with someone who was a first-time DM. It did look like creating and narrating NPCs was one of the trickier things he had to contend with. The player characters are highly unpredictable, often going off in weird directions and trying absurd things, while the GM tries to gently guide them towards the larger story they have prepared. NPCs are a way to do this: characters temporarily inhabited by the GM who ask the players for help, or otherwise indicate where adventure might be found. Particularly important NPCs will be designed ahead of time, but the GM often needs to come up with new ones on the fly, as players decide to ignore the major characters and run off somewhere else instead. Making fleshed out and memorable NPCs is difficult, but Forgotten Workshop is here to help.

The NPC With a Thousand Faces outlines a six-step procedure for generating interesting NPCs, which can be shortened to three or even just two steps for incidental characters. First, one decides on a central character flaw that dictates much of the character’s behavior. This can help dictate the next step: struggles, which outline events the character is embroiled in. The author describes struggles as “like quests for flaws”. From there, one chooses props for the character, which are external things that others identify with the character. Things like the ornate cane they always carry, or that big scar on their cheek. Next, one determines the character’s connection to the larger world, any noteworthy physical or mental attributes they possess, and finally their hooks. Hooks are ways to get the player characters interested in this NPC’s story, so they will engage in any associated quests or activities. The author gives a lot of advice for how to integrate these hooks in such a way that even the flightiest of players will be intrigued enough to bite.

Each of these six steps is accomplished with dice rolls to select things from random tables. Specifically, rolls of a 100-sided die, or more practically, two ten-sided dice, with one determining the tens column and the other the ones column of the final result. Here, the author makes a mistake in how probabilities work, claiming that using two ten-sided dice will make results near the center of the table more probable, and noting that the tables were designed with this weighting in mind. This is incorrect, as outlined in the comments on the page. Dice result probabilities are only weighted towards the middle when rolling two or more dice and adding the results together. This creates more than one way to, for example, get a result of seven from two six-sided dice: a one and a six, a two and a five, etc. But when rolling two ten-sided dice to approximate a 100-sided die, the results are not added together. One die will determine the tens, with even probability, and the second will determine the ones, with even probability. So the final result probability is exactly the same as rolling a single 100-sided die.

Which is what I did. Or rather, I used a virtual dice roller — the same one I use when picking entries from the bundle for this series — to get random results between 1 and 100. My new NPC started with the Depressed flaw. For struggles, I rolled one external struggle and one internal struggle: Bloodthirsty, and Anti-Social/Talkative. Already, I am imagining someone who has a hard time interacting with others and often reacts with violence, which fuels their depression. As a prop, I rolled a brass monocle. Hmm, maybe needed after an eye injury? For the character’s connection to the wider world, my roll revealed that they are a current or former slave. This is where the character really started to come together in my mind. They had been enslaved by whatever evil group I, as GM, am hoping to set the players against, before finally escaping in a violent uprising in which they killed several of the slavers. Afraid and ashamed their violent tendencies, they tend to avoid interacting with others. The rest of the process slotted in nicely with this: for attributes I rolled Charm – Exaggerated (I actually rolled this result twice, but decided to re-roll the second one) and Flexibility – Flamboyant. The character has little experience interacting with others in a “normal” social setting and tends to act in obviously exagerrated and flamboyant ways, and is then quick to anger when others are put off by this behavior. Lastly, the hook I rolled was that the character is seeking help gathering information on a group or organization. That would be their former slavers, surely. From the advice about hooks, I thought a bit about why they needed the players’ help. Why not do it themselves? Perhaps they tried, but ended up getting enraged and killing the informant before getting the answers they needed (which only further fed their depression). Now, they’re hedging their bets by hiring others to help canvass for information alongside them.

The author claims the system works regardless of the setting or type of game being played, but it seems to be specific to fantasy settings and I suspect it was first designed for Dungeons & Dragons specifically. Several results on the random tables explicitly discuss things like magic, gods, curses, shapeshifters, liches and dragons, which don’t really make sense outside of a fantasy game. That said, there are also a variety of “superfast NPC” options included, where GM/DMs must simply close their eyes and stab at the page with a finger to quickly choose a few characteristics for a new NPC, and these include options for Fantasy, Western, Eastern, Horror, and Science Fiction settings.

If you don’t want to roll physical dice or use a virtual dice roller, there’s also a companion app for Windows included. It’s still an early version, with some features not active yet, and it seems to work a bit differently to the full dice table version. For each of the six steps, it shows three options, and clicking on any of them will generate a new option instead. Following the dice rolling guide, on the other hand, adds extra rolls for e.g. how many struggles the character has, and what type they are, before rolling again for the final result. Still, the app is way faster, and also includes an option that just creates a full NPC instantly rather than proceeding step by step.

Overall, this seems like a really helpful resource for anyone running a tabletop role-playing game. It’s full of different options for how to create characters, and as it says on the first page, users are free to change any part of the process if they wish. Don’t give a character a prop if they don’t need one, re-roll results that don’t seem to fit, etc. Even just using the tables as inspiration rather that a creation tool could be useful. If The NPC With a Thousand Faces has designed an effective enough hook to interest you, I recommend taking a look. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $2.50.

That’s 120 down, and only 1621 to go!