In my group, we have a tradition of the “Lucky.” In any game where our PCs are part of an organization where we might have a lot of filler NPC help running around, eventually one of those NPCs manages to survive surprising odds or accomplish something else really useful by dint of the GM’s dice luck rolling for him. That NPC now gets named “Lucky” (whether or not the GM already had a name for him) and becomes our most important henchman, trusted to help out way beyond his NPC levels in the hopes his dice luck will hold out.

I’ve been watching a lot of Archer lately, and one of the cool thing the show does is round out the personalities of upwards of a dozen paper-pushers at the spy agency that were initially just one-note jokes. Similarly, Avengers features an Agent Coulson who’s evolved significantly over his appearances. The following system is designed to accomplish that kind of outcome. It’s heavily inspired by D&DwP’s multidimensional NPC advice. It’s intended to create NPCs over several sessions in any game where the players have nameless, low-level helpers running around (from the followers from Leadership to the crew of a starship). By participating in the growth of these NPCs, players should become more attached to them (and maybe remember their names) than if they’d just been prepped totally in advance by the GM.

This will be most useful in three types of game:

  • The PCs are lacking anyone with several useful skills and need to rely on NPCs to shore up their deficiencies.
  • The PCs will frequently need to delegate NPCs to perform essential but non-core functions (e.g., pilots, security staff, medics).
  • The system gives a good bonus for having lower-skilled help on tasks (encouraging a player to bring along an NPC buddy with his or her skills).

Setup

Prepare cards that are easily distinguishable for the following groups:

  • Core Competency: The NPC’s major role in the organization (e.g., security, driver/pilot, diplomat, engineer/crafter, etc.)
  • Cross Training: A skill package that any member of the organization might be encouraged to pick up (e.g., hand-to-hand, ranged weapons, languages, mental fortitude, etc.)
  • Name: The name of the NPC (implying or including sex, race, and nationality)
  • Hobby: A skill package potentially useful to the organization but non-essential that the NPC has as a hobby; detailed enough to create color (e.g., freerunning, MMA, stunt driving, movie reviewer, etc.)
  • Quirk: A foible of the NPC’s that is often a slight drawback but might sometimes be useful; mostly for easy characterization, but might be an aspect/distinction if the system supports it (e.g., smoker, pedantic, neurotic, effusively cheerful, etc.)
  • Specialization: Another hobby or cross training the NPC has picked up since palling around with the heroes (copies of the other two groups focused on generally useful abilities)
  • Home Life: Something interesting about the NPC’s time away from work that might eventually be an asset or hindrance; mostly for easy characterization, but might be an aspect/distinction if the system supports it (e.g., three kids, just moved into a fixer upper, swinging single, dating a musician, etc.)

Make sure that there are enough core competencies to cover as many NPCs as you expect to be available during adventures (e.g., if there are only a dozen such NPCs, split them into core competencies and only make a dozen core cards). Create the same number of names to fit the sex/race/nationality breakdown you want for the organization. You can create more than that many of the other cards, but don’t create an unlimited number (e.g., if the players are looking for someone with piloting cross training, there may be only one such card so they’re stuck with the first NPC that gets it).

In Play

When the players are taking NPCs with them, lay out the core competency cards that represent them. These should have basic stats for the NPC in your system useful in situations that are expected to come up (e.g., combat).

If a player asks whether one of the NPCs has a skill not in the core competency, pull cross training cards equal to the available NPCs that don’t have a known cross training. If the skill is on one of the cards, add it to one of the NPCs that doesn’t currently have a cross training. If a player just takes an interest in an NPC, allow the player to pick from three cross training cards to assign to that NPC.

As soon as an NPC gets a cross training card, also allow the players to pick one of three name cards to assign to that NPC. You now have a named NPC with a core competency and a cross training.

If that NPC gets called on again at a later session (likely because the PCs specifically requested him or her due to a known cross training), at an appropriate juncture pull three hobby cards and three quirk cards and allow the players to choose which to assign to the NPC. Begin playing up the quirk (if it’s different from the previous session’s attitude, it’s because the NPC is getting comfortable enough around the PCs to let his or her real personality show).

After a few more sessions of using the NPC, allow the players to pick from three specialization and three home life cards. The NPC is now a fairly fleshed out individual that the players are likely to take an interest in. If they do, at this point the GM can flesh out his or her stats and backstory further.

Once cards are pulled and combined at all stages, paperclip them together into a packet. This effectively becomes the NPC’s character sheet (and ensures that traits don’t get back into general circulation).

Example

This is done in FATE to keep the system simple. It’s for a SHIELD- or ISIS-style spy organization.

Core Competency:

  • Analyst: Empathy and Investigation +1
  • Junior Field Agent: Contacting and Deceit +1
  • Operator: Alertness and Burglary +1
  • Scientist: Engineering and Science +1
  • Security: Alertness and Guns +1
  • Transport: Drive and Pilot +1
Cross Training:

  • Counter Interrogation (Resolve +1)
  • Covert Ops (Stealth +1)
  • Defensive Driving (Drive +1)
  • Flying (Pilot +1)
  • Languages (Academics +1)
  • Krav Maga (Fists +1)
  • Range Certification (Guns +1)
  • Wilderness Survival (Survival +1)
Name:

  • Conti, Giada
  • Hall, Sebastian
  • Hassani, Taufic
  • Mikhailova, Irina
  • Munoz, Carmen
  • Roux, Kevin
  • Schafer, Luis
  • Taylor, Sienna
Hobby:

  • Bodybuilding (Might +1)
  • Camping (Survival +1)
  • Freerunning (Athletics +1)
  • Heavy Reader (Academics +1)
  • Magic Tricks (Slight of Hand +1)
  • MMA (Fists +1)
  • Model Trains (Engineering +1)
  • Mystery Fan (Investigation +1)
  • SCA (Weapons +1)
  • Superlight Planes (Pilot +1)
  • Target Shooting (Guns +1)
  • Track Days (Drive +1)
  • Urban Exploration (Burglary +1)
Quirk (Aspect):

  • Barely passed psych review
  • Doesn’t like heights
  • Extremely competitive
  • Mildly claustrophobic
  • Militant agnostic
  • Perfectionist
  • Perpetually late
  • Recent vegetarian
  • Slightly agoraphobic
  • Spoils movies
  • Thick accent
  • Trying to quit smoking
  • Very religious
Specialization:

  • Back to School
    (Academics and Science +1)
  • Best Not to Talk About It
    (Burglary and Drive +1)
  • Detective Training
    (Alertness and Investigation +1)
  • Deep Wilderness Missions
    (Pilot and Survival +1)
  • Gunsmithing Class
    (Engineering and Guns +1)
  • Hitting the Dojo
    (Endurance and Fists +1)
  • Infiltration Training
    (Sleight of Hand and Stealth +1)
  • Influencing People
    (Deceit and Empathy +1)
  • Kendo Training
    (Resolve and Weapons +1)
  • Making Friends
    (Contacting and Rapport +1)
  • Working Out
    (Athletics and Might +1)
Home Life (Aspect):

  • Dating a musician
  • Just had third kid
  • Married to the job
  • Nice apartment in a bad neighborhood
  • Perpetually single
  • Recently inherited a reasonable sum
  • Sleeping on a friend’s couch
  • Spouse is a teacher
  • Still lives with parents
  • Swinging single
  • Trying to have first child
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