Part 3: Locale and Groups (Assigning NPCs)
by Mike (Rhishisikk) Kochis
Okay, now the moment you've been waiting for is almost here. Get ready to touch that paladin. No, not the second level one, one of the first levelers. I know, I know. The temptation to put the big blocks on top is almost overwhelming, but they won't stay there if the little blocks aren't in place to support them.
Does this mean we can't start with the mayor and garrison, or with the salt works, or the most powerful NPCs we can select? No. But if you start large, you'll be agonizing over where to cut. I prefer to agonize over who gets the promotion and why.
But in general, you should start where your PCs will. For Broken River, this could be the Church of the Light, the Garrison, the Salt Works, or even the docks or a city gate. But for most groups, it is easiest to start at -
The Local Watering Hole
Remember how when building the infrastructure of town, I made certain to put in a variety of inns, taverns, and a brewery for a variety of alchohol? Yup, we're going to start there. After kicking around a variety of smuggler's pubs, I realize that isn't the flavor I want at all.
I want the Sow's Ear. It's a pub that has existed under different names, but it is everything zero level adventurers could want. Small fireplace, throwing the two corners near the door into shadows? Check. Tinker-farrier working out the back so that their horses can be cared for? Check. Poor food, passable drinks, and loose women? Check. No, wait, we'll get to them later.
NOW we start at the top. "Captain" Sowsberry has never set foot on a boat in his life, nor does he intend to. He's got a good setup – he's near enough to the docks for "package delivery", but far enough away to avoid most of the unsavory night activity. If it does find him, he can send the busboy uphill to the Garrison for help. He spends his days and nights either in the common room, or his private offices and bedroom, all on the first floor. Whenever he needs something, he just sends someone else to do the work.
So – commoner. Clearly not a first level commoner, and more distinct than a second leveler. No, I feel third level is about where I want the Captain. As it happens, I have over three dozen of those. This is another reason why we start with commoners – it's easy to grab one out of the available pool. Craft and Profession are still class skills, so I could model the entire tavern out of commoners if I wanted to.
Obviously, I don't want to. As stated, every tavern has bar wenches. I have a vision of a buxom, chatty, witty, well-educated barmaid, one who is uncannily connected to the gossip and news of the entire town. So, I do two things. First, I assign her an uncanny Charisma of sixteen. Yes, fourteen is about where the town should cap, just hang for a sentence. Second, I have the perfect race for her – half-orc. NOW her charisma is where it should be. Right... I'll wait for you calm down.
There are many reasons to make Sumi Dragonrage a half-orc. First, beautiful charismatic tuskers draw attention – exactly what I want for Sumi. Also, most PCs are going to dismiss her as a romantic interest, which also plays into what I envision her role as. Lastly, I just love the internal foil, characters who slap your preconcieved notions of what they should be. I try not to over-use this tool; as with any tool, it dulls with over-use.
So – class. I sure don't want her to be common. So expert jumps immediately to mind. I consider it a while before scratching it behind the ears, telling it "nice idea" and sitting it on my lap to wait for the proper time. No, I need social skills and a focus that says connected. Yup, there's an obvious choice for that – aristocrat.
Yes, we've got an aristocrat working for a commoner. If it works well, I don't care about snobby preconceived notions of what the classes should be used for.
But – I don't want her rivaling the town's "nobility". So I set her level to one.
Okay, that expert idea is whining for attention. There's a place for it – we have a farrier working in back, if you remember. Although we could and probably should just make him a commoner, I want the Sow's Ear to shine. So the role (and level one expert) go to Alexander Hamsteader, halfling tinker. I like assigning halflings to non-cook and non-rogue roles, for reason that most halflings are drawn to such activities. Also, people just want to plug gnomes and dwarves into blacksmithing roles, which is just creatively lazy.
For lazy, we can go with our next role – bouncer. Club, fighting ability, especially unarmed – we should make him a monk. Nope. First, no more than one PC class per site unless there's reason to gather them in one spot, such as the church and garrison. I already know where I want that singular role. So, much as I want Saul Kerns to be remarkable, I have to assign him as a warrior. After much debate, I decide that first level is good enough, but make notes to promote him if I have spare high-level warriors (I don't expect to, but notes like this help later).
Although D&D and Pellatarum in particular have magic, it really doesn't belong staffing the local water holes (exception: bards). So, no adept on staff here. Besides, you really wanted to touch that first level paladin, right?
Enter Harver Trask, bright shiny first level paladin. No, this is my world, so he's a down to earth, landless knight sort of person. And he's part of the Sow's Ear, so he's open, friendly, and personable. But there's no role for a paladin, right? No, let's put Trask in charge of the "package delivery" service next door.
What is that noise you're making? Motorboat? Chicken? Shrieking bird?*
Yes, our paladin is a smuggler. Broken River has more than it's share of poor people, and no public hospital. This means a large number of people, getting injured with no way of affording medical treatment. Plus, it puts him in a position to "anonymously" report to his brother (yes, more on that later) any unduly onerous packages slipping through customs. Harver Trask is a genuinely good man performing a shady and dubious duty because the sort of person who wants that job is the absolutely last person he wants doing it. He knows one person he implicitly trusts to run things right – and he's doing that job.
The Captain whines constantly about security, accuses Harver daily of sabotaging his own operations (and he's right). He threatens Harver every other day, and fires him weekly – but the Trask family, as it turns out, is one of the major families in the small town. Besides, he's less annoying (and lower paid) than putting a rogue in that position would be. So, tense as it might be, the business arrangement between the Captain and Harver Trask continues to this day.
And that roughs out the parts of the Sow's Ear that I need at this stage. Everyone else is a commoner, and probably first or second level. (The bartender, in particular, is a good candidate for second level.)
So, on to my next lead.
Groups, Guilds, and Other Power Structures
As noted, Harver Trask is a member of the Family Trask. In small towns, politics tend to run in families. Yes, one could argue they do that in the larger cities as well. I'll detail the families in my next posting (as well as other organizations); for now, I'm just focusing on the Trasks.
The Trask family was founded on (mostly) legitimate trade concerns, steered clear of government, and gave many favors to the Church of the Light – including four of their seven children. Harver Trask, as we already know, is a paladin of the light, who seems to have an unending stash of medical supplies for the poor and downtrodden.
Anton Trask (Yes, CJ, I stole Antoine Trask. Send your Sith assassin lawyers; see if you can get him back.) is a character from a game I enjoyed. I absolutely hated Antoine Trask, spymaster. That kind of hatred comes only to well-crafted NPCs; I knew, when I knew inquisitors were part of the Church, that Anton Trask would be one of them. We grab that second-level inquisitor; if somebody deserves it more than Anton Trask, I've yet to despise them.
So – cleric and oracle? Oh yes, the family divine. I like treading on pre-conceived stereotyped notions, but this one is worth snagging and treating well.
I like the character of Yorick from the play Hamlet, but Yorick is an over-used name. Yavic is close enough, and sounds like a Pellatarum name to me. I'm tempted to grab the higher level clerics; I resist. First level for you. Still working your way up that gilded ladder in the Church. Besides, I know exactly what I want to do with the church, and I want Yavic to be the naive-eyed novice with true goodness in his heart.
Okay, too many males. One daughter was born – different. The Light itself shines from her eyes, so brightly that not even she can see through her eyes. From birth, it has been obvious that the Light itself has chosen her to see things no other mortal can bear. As I will detail later, there is another oracle who will have more experience than her, though, so poor little Miriel Trask (her mother wanted to give her an elvish-sounding name) is first level.
And – there should be a fifth Trask, with associations to the Brotherhood of Shadow. We'll detail Scott Trask (yes, pun intended) later. For now, we only need to know that he's the outcast of the Trask family, yet still important in his own way to Broken River.
Now, to the family patron, Oliver Trask. Aristocrat all the way, right? Nope. Expert, second or third level. We could even make him a commoner. Unfortunately, I have plans for Oliver that require a LOT of skill points. Between expert and rogue, the choice is obvious. Given his success, I really want to give him third level. Unfortunately, we only have two of those, and other NPCs have more right to claim those slots. Dang. Okay, second level it is.
On the other hand, his wife, arranging all the social and political arrangements for the family, has a clear right to the aristocrat class. She also has a number of divine-class chilren, so she could claim cleric or adept with ease. Nope, we have plenty of second-level aristocrat slots, and Susan gets one.
So who are the other two Trask children? Well, the eldest daughter runs the family trade company. Since she spends a lot of time on the docks, she needs to be tough and nimble in a fight. Rogue sounds right for Naomi, though I stop at making her a second leveler. Note on Naomi Trask, to come back later.
And, a trick I strongly encourage – I put a faceless grey blob as the other child, although I assign her the female gender to balance the family out. She's probably going to be a fighter type, but not with any level of certainty.
Take a Break
Notice that it's hard to remain focused at this stage; it is easy, for example, to make every single member of the Trask family an adventuring class, and to justify each decision. I let most of them keep their lofty classes because I have great things in store for the Trask family.
Also note that we'll be coming back to both of these at later stages in the design process. Right now, you've seen hints that Broken River is already taking form. Each character has required decisions that point to other NPCs, or even whole organizations.
My desk, at this point, is a mess of notecards, sheets that will end up filled on both sides with notes, and ideas on which miniatures and paint schemes I want to use to convey the right impression in game.
In particular, I have seven sheets of paper with the available slots organized by class and level. As I assign slots, I write in the name, race, gender, role, and default location of each NPC. This is critical for two reasons. First, to make sure I don't over-use any slot type. But also, so that I can find at a moment's notice, who's who and draw connections between the NPCs.
Ah, but ties to the PCs? You guessed it, next article.
* That strangling sound was me, Erin. I've talked to Mike about this and he assures me he knows what he's doing here, so I'm content to let it play out for now. I really, really want to see how he manages to reconcile a paladin's desire to do good with the conflicting ethos of "Don't break the law" and the Church of the Light's edicts that "Secrets are Bad." If anything, poor Harver is going to make a spectacular flame-out as he falls from grace...