Monday, May 6, 2013

Tracking NPCs

I've talked about trying to make your game world seem alive and persistent I don't know how many times. I've talked about ways to do this, and I've given various bits of advice on things that can be done. However, whether you're trying for a living world feel, or just running a game where the PCs tend to hang around - or at least return to - similar areas, you need to keep track of your NPCs. I'll admit, it's not an area I'm super great at, but here are some of the methods I've attempted thus far, with mixed results.

Session Notes
Whether or not you are trying to keep track of NPCs, session notes are a good thing to have. You don't have to cover everything, but jotting down a few notes about what PC has done what, what fight happened where/when and for what reason, and what certain PCs intend to do. When it comes to tracking NPCs though, session notes are just as good a place to start as any. If the PC meets an NPC you think might be important - or that gets a small amount of screen time - then mark it down. If you give the NPC a name, write that down as well. Then, in future sessions, if the name or details are needed you can just go back and check your notes.

The downside to this method however is that as you get further from the session an NPC was introduced it becomes harder and harder to find where the notes of this particular NPC is to be found. Notes you can't find are just as bad as notes you never took...

Excel Spreadsheet
I've toyed around with this for a while, but essentially it boils down to this: excel is a powerful tool that can track a lot of data. So how do you do this? After you've introduced an NPC you enter them into the spread sheet with all the details you may need for them. You then have a tool that is handy enough to sort and search through and a form you can put almost endless .

On the down side though, this either requires you have a computer at the table (in which case that can be a distraction, but also read the next section downside) or you have to remember the important details until the end of the game when you can finally get to a computer and type in your notes for the NPC.

Note Cards
Note Cards are the method I'm using right now in my current L5R game. When an NPC gets named I make an index card for them. I classify them by their clan/affiliation (clan name, ronin, peasant, etc,) and the fill the card with notes about the person. When I need them to pop back up, I grab the card and I am back where I started.

On the down side this is more work than it seems, especially for longer games. You either have to remember the details until the end of the session, or you slow down the game while you fill out the card. Also, and the thing I've been messing up lately, is you have to keep the cards up to date and use them...otherwise, what's the point?

Your Method?
Do you have a method you use for NPCs? If so, I'd love to hear it.


  1. I create a mnemonic for each character, either a physical or verbal trigger, and use that as a device for remembering the core of each character. I keep loose session notes for their actions, but for the core actions and style of the character it's mnemonics and action style.

  2. I'm using Obsidian Portal to host a website for the campaign I'm running. It's my first campaign website & I don't think I'd run a campaign without one now.

    It facilitates keeping an Adventure Log, and thereby keeps track of what your players have been up to in their exploits. Since it's on the website it also serves this purpose for the players, too. I commonly have the players take turns posting an Adventure Log for the last session to further involve them & I then add anything missing that I want to see noted. You can make any reference to a PC/NPC a link directly to its profile (see below) on the website.

    Your campaign website has a section for storing PCs/NPCs. For each NPC (& PC) there are sections for stats & bio that you and the players can see. For each there is also a section that only the GM can see. Lastly there's a section that can be seen by the GM & whatever players the GM chooses. There is also the ability to place an unlimited number of "Tags" on each NPC so that you can search for them later according to their class, the town/planet that the PCs met them or any other classification Tag you can think up. My practice is during the session to simply note the name of all new NPCs that the players meet. Then in between sessions that list prompts me to add them to the website; I don't usually have a problem remembering who they are or what happened with them - I just need the name to prompt my memory.

    The website has other functions but I'll leave it there. You see the question posed fairly often how can all the available tech these days can benefit us pen & paper gamers - this certainly offers one answer.

    Yup, it takes some work to pimp out your site but I enjoy it. It costs $40/year or more if you pay monthly. I have no affiliation with the website besides being a customer. Sorry for the length here... but thought it was an interesting answer to your question A.L.