Thursday, March 29, 2012

NPC Tracking

Apologies for how late this is going up but, amusingly enough, my time for writing the blog yesterday was used up by game prep and then I had an early night due to not feeling the greatest. All that said, today will hopefully be short but useful. Namely, I just want to speak about tracking all the NPCs in your game and something that it has taken me a very long time to see the use of.

My Problem
I'm listing this as my problem, as I don't know how common it is. Getting to the point, the problem I often have in games is keeping track of NPCs. This can become a real problem in games like L5R where you can have a lot of people with very familiar sounding names (most people will have similar family names at least.) Normally, I would jot the person's name down in my notebook for the day's notes, but this doesn't help too much when the NPC then shows up several sessions later and you have to go scrambling through your notes to find their name. This can also happen with less important NPCs that you don't expect to come back but the PCs take a shine to. Often it just ends up with a rename and that's it, but a good GM should be able to keep track, right?

My Solution
Spreadsheets. Yeah, that simple. For whatever reason I've been resistant to bringing more technology to my game preps. I don't mind word documents too much, it's basically just paper you've written on, and you can do the exact same effect with that, but spreadsheets are designed for keeping track of this sort of information. With just a few clicks and some time setting up formatting you can have a page for each PC - easily reachable without a lot of scrolling - to list the NPCs they've met or that are important to them. Another page is listed as miscellaneous where NPCs who could be important but aren't tied to a specific PC can be listed.

For example, under one of my L5R PC's sheets - Daidoji Uji - he has a listing for the courtier he is supposed to be protecting and the two women he has been romantically entangled with. The Crane Clan Emissary to the city the game is in is on the miscellaneous page though because while the Emissary is important, she isn't all that important to Uji himself as much as she is an important figure in the city.

Another way this works is that some NPCs are listed on multiple PCs' pages. For the most part the information is similar, but it also means that I can have different information if the NPC acts differently with one PC rather than the other. The organization of the spreadsheet means that when I go to grab that NPC for that specific player, I'm only presented the information relevant for the NPC with that player.

The Setup
For those who don't already do this, my setup for the page is simple. At the top of the each sheet are the categories: NPC Name, Affiliation, Profession, Relation to PC, Important Thing 1, Important Thing 2, Important Thing 3, and Notes.

The first three are fairly self explanatory (name, affiliation, profession.) The three Important Things are 3 key facts to keep in mind about the character when playing them. Things that may not be the end-all be-all of the character, but important none the less. For example, one of the NPCs has the 3 facts of being "Pretty," "Petty," and "Mischief Maker." Another NPC has "Crafty," "Loyal," and "Out of f**ks to give." Then, finally, the notes is just a quick and short paragraph that further describes the NPC and gives other relevant information about them. All in all, it should only take about 5 seconds to go over the line of an NPC and be able to jump in. Significantly less time than it used to take to just find a name buried somewhere on a notes page.

The Hope
My hope for this is to become a significantly better organized GM. I have been trying to take session notes, but often fall behind on those when I am also trying to run a scene with one player and keep tabs on the IC conversations going on elsewhere at the table. With this to help with the NPCs I can hopefully at least keep them more consistent and free myself up to keep better/more relevant notes and all around make the game more consistent and fun to play in.

Your Advice
Do you have any other organizational advice to give to players/GMs looking to get things more organized? Sound off in the comments.

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