Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Adventure Quarterly #5 Preview (Wide-Open Sandboxing Part II: Instant NPCs)

Wide-Open Sandboxing Part II: Instant NPCs

This part of a Wide-Open Sandbox article for Adventure Quarterly #5 on sale tomorrow in full color print and PDF, I designed to show you how to create great Non-Player Characters without spending a great deal of time doing it.

Step 1 Appearance: Show you don’t tell (or write), go get a picture. Do not spend time describing what your NPC looks like just show them the picture. You can find a great deal of public domain and creative commons art by using some creative Google-Fu, you can even put this on your campaign website, wiki, or blog if you plan to go beyond the simple personal use of an image. I always avoid images that have appeared in the gaming books my players have actually read; you want them associating the image with your character, not distracting them with references to where they saw it originally. If your Google-Fu is not strong, find your favorite artist, and go find his online portfolio. Look for his work on things beyond the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game, perhaps for a card game that none of your players enjoy. 

Step 2 Background & Personality: Steal the Npc’s background from a novel your players have never read or from a historical character. For example many of my players know who Arthur Conon Doyles’ Sherlock Holmes, but none are familiar with his works in the White Company. I am also the only real history buff in my group; so historical characters can easily be adapted, and even if they were, most folks have a section of history they are not familiar with.  My previous gaming group knew virtually nothing of the famous personages during the American Civil War. Yet even if you take a popular character from literature like Sherlock Holmes, if you change the name and appearance of the character your likely to do just fine. Just look at the TV show House to see what you can do with a Holmes variation.

Step 3 Name: Find a naming list you trust and use it. I prefer Gary Gygax’s Extraordinary Book of Names or Owen K.C. Stephens’ series in Dragon Magazine “By Any other Name,” but there are host of online resources like, Seventh Sanctum, or any baby-naming site. Chose a name that suits the characters appearance but also one you can easily pronounce.  

Step 4 Stats: I like to take my time with stat blocks, but sometimes when I am in a hurry, I will use Hero Lab or PC Gen. However for on the spot needs, or if you can’t afford to keep up with all the latest toys, loot one from the Npc database over on Also do not forget Sean K. Reynolds’ File Off The Serial Numbers, this lets you just use a monster's stat block as a stand in.   

Example: So let us start with our most prominent villain for The Damn War, who is going to be an NPC meddling in the affairs of the PCs, the Kingdom of Torduum, House Joyce, and the disputed lands in-between. Having found a great creative commons picture, I have decided that this will be my mercenary captain. She will lead a literal amazon brigade and she is secretly directing the brigands through her couriers. I will base her background and personality off a young version of Cyrus II of Persia, commonly known as Cyrus the Great. For your ease of reference I will format, this via C.M. Cline’s article from Dragon Magazine #184 (also found in the Dragon Magazine Compendium V.1) entitled “The 7-Sentence NPC.” I will also be adding an 8th line based on Ray Winnger’s Second Rule of Dungeoncraft: Whenever you design a major piece of the campaign world, always devise at least one secret related to that piece (see Dragon Magazine #256). To finish out the format we need to choose a name, I have decided I will use a Greek name since she is an amazon, and add a descriptive epithet from my article in Pathways #34.

Cytherea the Guileful is the Captain of the Termagant Free Company, having traveled to the lands of Questhaven from across the sea 5 years ago. She is a tall, majestic woman with a dyed mane of purple hair, unsettling blue eyes and an obviously magical double bladed staff.  Cytherea is a skilled personal combatant, general, and politician, but her greatest skill is her pragmatic approach to all situations, she only does what is in her best interests. Cytherea is devoted to leading the members of her company, and eventually creating a new home for them, be that through bribery or conquest, she is also extremely devoted to husband who travels with her and acts as her personal attendant. Cytherea has great respect for the rites of hospitality, and while she cultivates both love and fear in those around her, she strives never to let folk hate her and as such always acts honorably. Cytherea has an extensive network of scouts and couriers as well as contacts with many of her company’s previous clients who often still make use of her messenger network; as such, they keep her better informed of what is happening in the world around her than anyone else. Cytherea’s one vanity is her headdress, which folk never see her without; she plans to make it the hereditary crown of her empire. Cytherea the Guileful’s secret is that the Dwellers in the Darkness have actually hired her to destabilize the surface folk so they cannot mount an effective defense against the World Below.

Now if I was doing a long hand stat block I might go grab Owen K.C. Stephens the Genius Guide to the Talented Cavalier by Rogue Genius Games and create a really detailed amazon, but for this example let us say I was doing this at the table and I need to use it now. Therefore, I will loot the Lady of Wrath NPC write up from the bestiary section of the which itself is looting from a Pathfinder Roleplaying Game OGL product. I will make changes for Improved Two-Weapon Fighting and the twin-bladed staff, switching the Craft skill for Knowledge (local), and making a few changes to her languages to reflect her mercenary background.

Cytherea the Guileful    CR 15
XP 51,200
Female human fighter 2/evoker 5/eldritch knight 9
LE Medium humanoid
Init +3; Senses Perception +0

AC 28, touch 16, flat-footed 25
(+10 armor, +2 deflection, +3 Dex, +1 insight, +2 natural)
hp 132 (11d10+5d6+52) (includes 15 from false life)
Fort +14, Ref +10, Will +12

Speed 30 ft., fly 60 ft. (good)
Melee +1 adamantine flaming two-bladed staff +20/+15/+11/+20(1d8+9 plus 1d6 fire damage 17-20 x2 /1d8+7 plus 1d6 fire damage 17-20 x2)
Space 5 ft.; Reach 5 ft.
Special Attacks Intense Spells (+2 damage)
Spell-Like Abilities (CL 13th; concentration +18)
8/day--Force Missile (1d4+2)
Wizard Spells Prepared (CL 13th; +17 melee/ranged touch; 5% spell failure, concentration+18)
7th--delayed blast fireball (DC 24), empowered cone of cold (DC 22), mage's sword
6th--chain lightning (2, DC 23), still cone of cold (DC 22), forceful hand
5th--cone of cold (2, DC 22), empowered vampiric touch, maximized scorching ray, wall of force
4th--empowered scorching ray (3), empowered still magic missile, shout (DC 21), still fireball (DC 21)
3rd-- fly, greater magic weapon (already cast x2), haste, keen edge (already castx2)
2nd--blindness/deafness (DC 17), displacement, false life (already cast), scorching ray, still magic missile (2)
1st--magic missile (2), ray of enfeeblement (DC 16), shocking grasp (2), true strike (2)
0--detect magic, flare, light, ray of frost, read magic
Prohibited Schools:  abjuration, conjuration

Before Combat Cytherea casts greater magic weapon and keen edge on her weapon daily, and false life on herself. (These spells are included in her statistics). When she sees that battle is imminent are nearby, she casts fly then displacement herself as well.
During Combat She casts haste immediately before combat begins, and then uses her cone of cold spells. She favors spells like blindness/deafness and her still spells, since they aren’t impacted by her spell failure chance.
Morale If faced with a losing battle it is likely that Cytherea’s scouts or couriers arrive with reinforcements based on one of her contingency plans, if this is not the case she flees back to her reserves via her fly spell


Str 16, Dex 17, Con 14, Int 20, Wis 10, Cha 8
Base Atk +13; CMB +16; CMD 31
Feats Arcane Armor Training, Combat Expertise, Craft Magic Arms and Armor, Craft Wand, Craft Wondrous Item, Empower Spell, Greater Spell Focus (evocation), Greater Weapon Focus(two-bladed staff), Iron Will, Maximize Spell, Scribe Scroll, Spell Focus (evocation), Still Spell, Improved Two-Weapon fighting Weapon Focus (two bladed staff), Weapon Specialization (two-bladed staff)
Skills Acrobatics +18, Climb +21,  Intimidate +18, Knowledge (arcana) +24, Knowledge (Local) +22, Sense Motive +19, Spellcraft +24, Swim +21
Languages Aklo, Common, Draconic, Undercommon,
SQ bonded item (flaming ranseur), mark of wrath
Combat Gear wand of lightning bolt (10th, 25 charges), wand of clairvoyance/clairaudience(32 charges);
Other Gear +4 mithral breastplate, +1 flaming twin bladed staff (both blades), amulet of natural armor +2, belt of physical might (strength and dexterity) +2, headband of intellect +2, ring of protection +2, cloak of resistance +3, spell component pouch, spellbook

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