In my last installment of Prep-Lite, I talked about the concept of Wireframes & Skins; using and re-using condensed NPC stat blocks, as a way to reduce prep time. In this article I am going to discuss, in more detail, some of the assumptions I was working under, how I condensed the stats I needed, and how I populated different tiers of NPC’s.
So lets start with a few assumptions that guide this whole process. You may or may not agree with all of these, and they may or not work for the specific game you are playing, but you need to understand them in order to understand the process I took.
Some NPC’s are Stars…Most Are Not
The first assumption is that most NPC’s are not that important, and do not need to be fully fleshed. The security guard, the android miner, the member of the thieves guild in the pub, likely do not need full stats, equipment, etc. It is this group of not-so-important, or ordinary NPC’s that this technique works with best. The star NPC’s: Evil Overlord, Big Bad Guy, etc, those are NPC’s where having full stats and details make sense.
Not All Stats are Important
For those ordinary NPC’s, knowing the security guard’s mental attributes is likely not as important as their physical stats (assuming that guard is about to get into a fight), or what his Knowledge:Religion skill is vs. his Perception. Therefore we do not need to invest as much effort in attributes and skills that are not central to the role of the NPC.
Tiers of NPC’s
Even ordinary NPC’s are not all the same, and there are going to be some tiers or power levels of them. How many tiers will depend on the GM. I like no less than three (easy, medium, hard), but prefer around five.
GM Does Not Need To Play By The Same Rules
Yes that is true…to a point. I am not saying the GM gets to cheat, but as a GM I do not have to create an NPC with the Character creation rules that the players used. I also do not have to assign all my stats a value, every skill a level, buy equipment, etc.
Understanding the assumptions above, what is the goal for making up these wireframes? As mentioned in the previous article, we are looking to create a set of generic stat blocks that represent several tiers of NPC’s whose actual stats will be determined by the role they fill. To do that we are going to use two techniques which will allow us to condense all the stat blocks into something more manageable:
Important vs. Non-Important
In any given role, some attributes and some skills are going to be considered important and non-important. Which ones fall in to which category will be determined by the role that the NPC plays. Here is a quick example:
|Role||Important Attributes||Non-Important Attributes|
|Fighter||Strength, Constitution, Dexterity||Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma|
|Mage||Intelligence, Wisdom, Charisma||Strength, Constitution, Dexterity|
Now if I said that for a given tier that the bonus for Important Attributes was +4 and the Non-Important was +1, we now know the attributes for both the Fighter and the Mage with the same two numbers.
In addition to condensing attributes and skills, there are other bonuses to be considered in some games. In 3.x D&D the game assumes at certain levels that characters have a certain number of bonuses from magical items. In Corporation different levels of characters have access to cybernetics in the forms of limbs or other implants which also grant bonuses. These can be painful to figure out item by item. In this case I have condensed them into a single bonus that represents whatever I need: attack roll, perception check, saving throw, etc.
Now with the technique explained, I will discuss how I did this for my Corporation NPC’s. This was done in two steps:
I took the skeleton for the NPC Stat block and did a little condensing to make it simpler. Here are some of the changes I made.
- Attributes and Skills — Here I did exactly what I said above, I reduced both attributes and skills into two groups, Important and Non-Important.
- Weapon Damage — I created three potential types of weapons an NPC would have: Ranged, Melee, Support (read:grenades). For each type of weapon I would need to know rate, damage, and any special effects (stun, plasma, EMP, etc).
- Cybernetics-– here I opted to use my Abstract technique and rather than listing cybernetics, I assigned a single abstract value for the bonus the NPC will get for the implants they have.
- Combat Stats — There were a few important combat stats I could not simplify: Armor Value, Shield, Hit Point. I would need those.
I reviewed the NPC lists in the core book and all the supplements and initially created 3 tiers: easy, medium, and hard. I came up with the simplified attribute and skill levels for each of these tiers based on the the full stats for the NPC’s in the books. For weapon damage, I noted the average weapon damage, special effects/attacks, etc. For Cybernetics, I looked at what were the common cybernetics that each tier had, looked up bonuses from them, and abstracted a single bonus value. When I was done I had three simplified stat blocks.
After I had the initial three tiers, I added two more: one between easy and medium and one between medium and hard. For those stats I took the middle values between the original tiers. Now I had a range of five tiers, which would encompass most of the ordinary NPC’s players would encounter.
Where The Tire Hits The Road
So I have had the stat blocks together for a few months now, and I have been able to run a number of games using them. They have worked great in cases where I was writing up a session and need some NPC stats. In these cases I have used the block untouched, and I have gone into the block and adjusted a few values based on the type of NPC (higher weapon damage, or more cybernetics bonus, etc). In both cases it was much faster than making up a full NPC.
There have also been cases where I have used the stats during the game when an NPC was needed but not planned for in my prep. In those cases I picked what tier the NPC was in, and used the stats right out of the table. The end result has been awesome, having an NPC who I felt made mechanical sense right on hand.
Keep It Simple..Makes It Fast
So that is how I built my wireframes for Corporation. I fully plan on doing this exercise again with the next game I run. Having an array of NPC stats that can be quickly applied to a role and used in a game, either during prep or in mid-game, is a powerful tool in your GM toolbox. While the initial creation of the wireframes may take a little effort for the number of NPC stats you will need during a campaign, it will be worth the effort.
In the last article, a number of you said you had built wireframes before. Is this method similar to how you built yours? If you have not made a wireframe for your game, do you think you will? Do you have a game that would be easy to wireframe, or difficult?