NPC Quick-Prep: The Chunk Method

[Once again I have come to apologise for my slackness… I cannot promise this will not happen again, but I solemnly swear I will attempt to prevent it. Anyway, here goes.]

NPC Quick-Prep: The Chunk Method

Lately, the idea of having a method for quickly generating NPCs very quickly has become important to me and (apparently) to many other RPG bloggers out there. As such, I thought I would have a swing at the conundrum.

DNAPHIL, over at Gnome Stew wrote a wonderful article back in February about Wireframes and Skins and what that analogy has to do with prep-lite NPCs. After reading that again, I think I can take it one step further:

Convert NPCs into ‘chunks’ then create new NPCs by rearranging them.

Simple in premise, simple in execution.

What are Chunks?

Chunks are basically NPC building blocks. They are standard sections of a character (like his ability to fight, etc) which can be matched up with other chunks to create endless types of characters whilst only prepping for a few different chunks.

Defining your Chunks

This step is where most systems will vary, but the same advice can cover practically everything. Look at what your system needs most: different kinds of combat characters? Different kinds of intrigue characters? A mixture of the two? This will help you discover what different kinds of chunks you will need.

Once you have these concepts created, you can start thinking about the chunks within each category. Here are some chunks from my A Song of Ice and Fire RPG game:
  • Leader: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to a command or charismatic role. Generals, Kings, Viziers, Commanders, etc get this chunk.
  • Honourable: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to an honourable character. Knights, (some) Kings, (some) Thieves, Guards, Gentlemen, etc get this chunk.
  • Wild: This chunk details skills and attributes relevant to a less civilised character. Barbarians, Thieves, Bandits, Tribesmen, Woodsmen, etc get this chunk.
  • Warrior: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern a fighting type. Knights, Guards, Warriors, Barbarians, etc get this chunk.
  • Rogue: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern a stealthy type. Thieves, Bandits, Courtiers, Assassins, etc get this chunk.
  • Schemer: This chunk details skills and attributes that govern an intrigue focused character. Viziers, Courtiers, Gentlemen, Kings, etc get this chunk.
There can be many more, but this is just a sample, and you can make them as you need to. Now, from this pool, you can get a thousand characters. For example:

Leader + Honourable + Rogue could equal an honourable Bandit Lord, or it could represent a court Bard, or a Pirate Captain, etc. Just change one chunk, maybe ‘Honourable’ to ‘Wild’, and you have Barbarian Kings, tribal Shamans or Wise Men, etc.

Stating Up your Chunks
Once you have your chunks defined, you are ready to give them meaning. Simple alterations on the standard model human, or elf, or dwarf etc are required (if your system has one such model. If not, make this another chunk). So, a ‘Wild’ chunk might give access to Frenzy skills or a 1 to Strength, etc. Further, they might give negatives to things, such as to Willpower etc.

This is purely dependant on your system and your definitions, so I’ll leave this one up to you.

Combining your Chunks

Now, simply add your stat blocks together and you’ve come up with a character! For characters that are stronger than others, simply give them a chunk twice, or thrice, etc. If a character is more a Leader than he is a Warrior, then give him the Leader chunk twice and the Warrior chunk only once.

I prefer to write these all down separately on index cards and then draw them randomly when I need a random NPC. This is VERY useful when surprised. Furthermore, when prepping for your game, all you need do is make a make next to the name of the NPC saying which chunk cards to use and you’re done!

What do you use for speeding up prep? Tell us in the comments section below!