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Prep-Lite Wireframe How To

Posted By Phil Vecchione On March 15, 2011 @ 4:00 am In GMing Advice | 13 Comments

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.

The Assumptions

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.

The Technique

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.

Abstract Features

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.

Corporation Example

Now with the technique explained, I will discuss how I did this for my Corporation NPC’s. This was done in two steps:

Simplifying

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.

Tiers

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?

About  Phil Vecchione

A gamer for 30 years, Phil cut his teeth on Moldvay D&D and has tried to run everything else since then. He has had the fortune to be gaming with the same group for almost 20 years. When not blogging or writing RPG books, Phil is a husband, father, and project manager. More about Phil.




13 Comments (Open | Close)

13 Comments To "Prep-Lite Wireframe How To"

#1 Comment By whodo_voodoo On March 15, 2011 @ 3:23 pm

I’ve taken a similar approach before when used around Cortex but instead of starting with a minimal build based it around whether a character is above or below average, which in the system is typically d6 for attributes and d6 if they have been trained in a skill. Then the combinations get increased/decreased as required. I’ve never sat down and used it to stat up ahead of time though, mostly as I’m familiar enough with the system to do it on the fly for non major NPCs.

I’m curious as to how you apply the non numerical aspects / abilities of the character, in Corporation the best example would be Trainings though Feats in D&D would be comparable.

#2 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 15, 2011 @ 7:39 pm

This is a great ending to the Prep-Lite series. Great work Phil!

#3 Comment By DNAphil On March 16, 2011 @ 6:49 am

@whodo_voodoo — in terms of Feats or for Corporation Trainings they really fall into two types of categories: bonus to do something or do something cool. For those with the bonus, I can abstract them into a generic bonus which for D&D would be a good idea, since the mechanics assume (for 3.x) that you have some amount of feat bonuses at a given level.

In the case of the Feats that do something cool. There is no way around that one, other than to pick it from the list and give it to the NPC. In those cases, I don’t worry about prerequisites. My upper tier wireframes are assumed to have the pre-reqs. I will then just write down the feat/training in my notes.

Thanks for the comment.

#4 Comment By DNAphil On March 16, 2011 @ 6:50 am

@Patrick– Don’t count me out yet. As a sneak peek I am working on Prep-Lite: Maps. I have some ideas on how to make prepping maps a lot faster.

#5 Comment By Patrick Benson On March 16, 2011 @ 10:31 am

@DNAphil – Awesome! For some reason I though this was the end of the series, but I am happy to be corrected in this situation.

#6 Comment By KnownWorld On March 16, 2011 @ 10:58 am

Can you post how this looks on paper, or spreadsheet, or however you use it? I understand what you are doing, but having a hard time visualizing it. thanks

#7 Comment By DNAphil On March 16, 2011 @ 12:19 pm

@KnownWorld – I would be happy to send my template out to you. My players are readers, so posting the actual numbers for 70% of my NPC’s would be a killjoy for them.

#8 Comment By Martin Ralya On March 16, 2011 @ 5:41 pm

@KnownWorld – KnownWorld, I have a copy of Phil’s wireframe PDF I can send to you — just drop me a line (not a comment, which I might miss) at martin (at) gnomestew (dot) com and I’ll shoot it over to you. :-)

#9 Comment By whodo_voodoo On March 18, 2011 @ 5:44 am

@DNAphil – I figured it would probably be something along those lines, cheers for clarifying that. Think I’ll take this approach with statting up some opponents for my game.

@Martin Rayla – Would appreciate if I can get a copy of that as well, have sent an email to you.

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#12 Comment By Nojo On April 12, 2011 @ 4:25 pm

Phil, my hat is off to you, I love this series. Keep it coming!

I came up with Rogue Trader wireframes for 5 power levels. I wrote up 5 levels for each kind of attack (Melee, Ranged, Psychic) and 5 levels of defense.

I can now create a NPC who was Melee 4, Ranged 1, Psychic 0, and Defense 3. Copy and paste from those tables, add a name and description, and done!

Right now, my levels include human equipment. For example, my level 2 ranged table includes Lasguns and Flamers, while my level 4 table has Stormbolters and Meltaguns. I copy the weapon that feels right into my NPC. Each power level has it’s own Talents (like Feats), so the bonuses to hit and damage are already included in the weapon description.

When I need to make an Ork, Eldar, or other Xenos, I’ll add just enough to my level charts to give them the right flavor.

#13 Pingback By Samardan Press | Sandbox Preparation: Home (or All Your Base Are Belong To Us)… On October 22, 2013 @ 10:28 am

[…] talking Seven Sentence NPCs, nothing more. In fact, it might be better to use Gnome Stew’s Wireframe Prep Lite approach, if you are comfortable with it. As for me, I can get away with one basic sentence, so […]


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