My L5R game is entering Winter Court and that means politics and NPCs. How many NPCs? Well, I'm averaging 10 named Samurai per Great Clan, with a few extra named characters for important Ronin, Minor Clans, Imperials, and some extra for the host clan. All in all I figure I'm going to have 80-90 named NPCs going in. That's a lot of NPCs. Fortunately, with a little forethought the prepwork is going real smooth. Today I want to talk about that.
Start With The Basics
The first thing I did is start with the basics. I made a spreadsheet with a page for each clan, and I made a column for the following information: Name, School (class for non L5R folks), Rank (Level), Age, Sex, and Notes. This gives me all the quick vital information that I need for any character in a quick and handy format, while Notes let's me specify important things like if two NPCs are siblings, rivals, lovers, or sworn enemies; or if an NPC is secretly the nephew of a great clan champion.
With this sheet done I now know who is coming, and honestly if that was all I had I could work with it. Name and School gives me an idea of their rank. Age gives me an idea of their experience. Rank gives me their approximate power. Age vs. Rank gives me a story of them being a prodigy, a slacker, or a more average samurai. And Sex lets me fit them in to the most basic political game Rokugan has: marriage. (in Rokugan marriage is about creating offspring and politics, so marriages are male:female regardless of the sexuality of the characters involved. It's cold and calculated, and that is how it is supposed to be.)
Identify The Key Players
So I have a list of my 80-90 Samurai, and they're broken down into clans. The next step is to identify the key players. By 'key' in this regard I mean the characters who are going to be shaping the action for what happens in game as much as I mean those with the most political clout or power inside their clan. A young prodigy swordsman I want to use to torment my Scorpion "Lover Not A Fighter" is just as much a key player as the new Scorpion spy master coming in with an agenda.
I try to have one primary key figure for each clan, and then a few secondary figures. The primary will be crucial to the metaplot. The secondaries will have tie-in secondary plots. I don't expect the PCs to engage with all of them, but plots that aren't engaged with are still planned out because they're still going to happen. It's just how the world works.
Add Flesh and Muscle
I have my key players, which means I also have an idea what I want them to do. Time to figure that out. I don't add all the details here - I almost never do for games - but I handle the broad strokes. What does this character want? Why can't they have it? What are they doing to deal with that? What are they willing to do to get it?
Honestly, just answering those 4 questions tells me a lot about them. Around that, if necessary, I'll make them a full character sheet. I'll also spend more time figuring out who they are. That secret nephew I talked about? I'll add more details. How well do they like their family? How have they been raised? What have they been doing with their life?
When this is done I have the broad strokes for both a character, as well as their goals and what they're willing to sacrifice to accomplish said goals. We're basically ready for players now.
The last part is to bring this all to the table. Plots can hit the players over the head, or just be dangled threads for them to engage with or not. Some plots may not even be noticed for a while because they just wouldn't involve anyone the PCs are around. Other plots could involve someone getting murdered right in front of the PCs. At least one plot is specifically set up for an individual PC, not necessarily designed to make them grow but just to see how they react and how that shapes the world around them. Besides, it's always fun to put a player in a position where they have to choose between standing up their rival for a duel at dawn, or leaving another PC to face his alone and with no backup. It makes for great drama.