Category Archives: Advice

Easy NPC Reactions

Michael recently posted about the 3hex style of starting a game off easily with minimal prep.

I thought I would share a technique that makes for interesting and sophisticated ‘common’ NPCs but without having to do any real prep. It can also lead to some interesting spin-off adventures in its own right.

The technique is based around a cross reference between all the NPCs as you create them. I use a spreadsheet but any grid will do. You list the NPCs across the top and down the side and block out the point where they cross reference.

The point of the grid is to map out the attitudes between all the people you have created. The actual numbers should reflect the system you are playing so in B/X, for example, -3 to +3 would be about right as that reflects the Cha characteristic bonuses. If you were playing Zweihander then -30 to +30 would work well or -4 to +4 for FUDGE and FATE.

Here is an example for a small town.

So in this case any interactions between Captain Flack and the Pugh twins would be at +2 (reading across) because he likes or respects them, but the Pughs do not really care one way or another about Flack (their reaction modifier is ±0) but between Captain Flack and the Mayor is as -2 and Philby (the Mayors manservant) is -3.

The Mayor doesn’t have any strong feelings towards Flack (±0) but Philby is at -2 so it looks like the animosity lays there.

The numbers in this case were simply 1d6-3. What this gives you is a layer of social cohesion between all the NPCs in a town without having to prep and write complex back stories.

As a GM you can ‘lend’ these reactions to the PCs when they get caught between two NPCs. For example Captain Flack asks the characters to carry a message to the Mayor. He does this to avoid going there himself. If the characters have to ask to see the Mayor via Philby he is much more likely to make them wait around and just be plain awkward if Philby knows they are carrying a message from Flack.

As GM you can use this same grid to construct all sorts of small town politics. Let us look at Dora Minton, Chippy Minton’s wife. Philby has a +3 reaction to Dora but Flack has a -3. They are at totally opposite ends of the scale. Was that the source of their falling out?

Chippy Minton has a -1 reaction mod towards his own wife but she is at +2 towards him. Does that sound like he is angry at her for something and she is desperate to make amends?

This table/grid can be a source of town gossip, local tension or even great assistance to the characters. It is fast to build on the fly. If you create an NPC you can quickly rolls a couple of D6 to see how he or she is regarded by their peers. You do not need to complete the whole table at once. If the characters ask at the tavern about a place to stay you can quickly check the reactions between barkeep and two inn owners. Maybe he like one much better than the other?

I find this grid to be a really useful ‘no prep’ way of adding a layer of depth to towns and villages and the NPCs that inhabit them. If an NPC goes missing who do the local gossips start to blame? Who do you need to win over to resolve a local rivalry?


A couple of days ago, David Sumner, co-founder of RPGSmith got in touch with me and told me about his free web application. RPGSmith is – in a nutshell – an interactive character sheet with additional features like item, spell and ability management. The current application is meant for players, but they’ll be launching a Kickstarter later this week to fund an extended version of RPGSmith which will feature a GM campaign management interface.


At the moment, the application supports the following rulesets: D&D 5th Edition, Savage Worlds Deluxe Explorers Edition, Call of Cthulhu 7th Edition, Fate Core, Fate Accelerated, and Pathfinder. It is possible to add your own rulesets though.

From what I’ve seen so far RPGSmith could be a pretty nifty tool for players regardless whether they are playing online or offline. There is a bit of a learning curve though, but luckily the site provides users with quite a few tutorial videos.

Having an interactive character sheet definitely comes in handy from time to time, and RPGSmith has support for desktop PCs and mobile devices, which is a plus in my book. You can even customize your character sheets to your hearts content. Will it change the way we play RPGs? I have my doubts, but it’s worth a look nevertheless.

What are your thoughts on RPGSmith? Have you had the chance to try it out? Please share your comment below!

All good things come in Threes…

If you have followed my blog for a while you surely must have noticed that there’s a certain white whale I am hunting for years now: an old-school D&D sandbox campaign. I’ve made several attempts to get one up and running, I switched around between various variants of the rules, sometimes abandoning D&D completely. Campaigns meant as sandboxes became more regular campaigns, and more often than not, I quickly burned out on running roleplaying games in general.

For years I have struggled with how the get things started. I either didn’t plan enough and relied on my improv skill alone or I overplanned and quickly felt overwhelmed, the fun draining out of me, like blood from a festering wound. But I think I finally found solutions to my problem. In his blog ChicagoWiz’s Games and his podcast The Dungeon Master’s Handbook he thoroughly explains his approach to old-school sandbox gaming and even provides us with countless campaign starters.

The idea behind his “Three Hexes Campaign Starters” is quite simple. You start things small. At first you come up with a short campaign idea. What is your world all about? Then you place a homebase (like a small town, keep, etc.) on your hex map. In addition to this you should come up with three interesting places to explore and place them onto the map adjacent to the homebase. This should give your players a couple of options on what to do next without overwhelming yourself of the players. Last but not least you should have three important NPCs ready: one where the party can buy new equipment and supplies, one where they can sell their loot and last but not least someone who helps them with acquiring new loot. That can be a patron providing them with incentive to explore the wilds beyond the homebase or it’s an old man sharing rumors and legends with them.

You can then expand on this by adding more hexes, more locations, more NPCs as needed. You don’t have to plan out more than what you can use in the next session. It also should provide enough options without paralyzing the players with too many option. If you want to learn more about Michael’s ideas on starting a starting a sandbox campaign, I highly recommend his post titled “Just Three Hexes”.