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Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

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  • Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

    As a Gm for 2 PbP games and a live game, I've found myself building NPC's whether they be villains or the like by creating them much like I would my own character. Creating Backstory first, power set and then putting attributes and skills at a level that I believe would best accompany the kind of character I've created. But this is a long process and usually takes at a minimum of three or more hours. So I'd like to come to the community and discuss how you build your NPC's.

    Do you do the bare minimum, only fleshing everything out for the most important of characters your players will interact with? What does your process look like? Whats the biggest challenge for you when it comes to building NPC's?
    GM Pillars Rise and Heroes Fall (OOC) (IC),Setting Notes for Pillars Fall

    Games I'm In:
    Emily Whittier aka Arc in Crinoverse: Tales to Astonish

  • #2
    Re: Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

    I usualy steal the mechanics from other NPCs already made, tweeks them as desired, and write up a one line blurb. One my big bads in a recent pbp I did was

    Mr. Monstroso (Elder Evil from book of magic, psychotic and views all life as food and leader with crazy bent towards cloning and eating the clones)
    [url=]My characters past and present[/url]


    • #3
      Re: Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

      Personally, I get a lot of mileage out of archetypes with a few chances. Hero Lab ships with a lot of them, and even without it, it doesn't take much to write down "Fire Controller archetype, +2 PL, add Emotion Control at PL limited to rage". Changing PL usually involves just adding those numbers to all effect ranks, attack values, and saves.

      Plotwise, I usually give them a bare template and then evolve them with notes as my players speculate on who they are.
      [url=]My Builds[/url]

      [b]Current games:[/b]
      [url=]The J.V. Team (GM)[/URL]


      • #4
        Re: Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

        Originally posted by Awfulmonk View Post
        Do you do the bare minimum, only fleshing everything out for the most important of characters your players will interact with?
        I do like to flesh out the "lieutenants" the heroes face. Something of a backstory, but usually I can keep that in mind, and it doesn't need to be written down.

        Most of the minions (crooks, thugs, creatures, etc.) are just one barely-complete template copied several times (sometimes two templates) and that's about it. Generic descriptions, often with aesthetic variety both to make it feel more real and to allow easier target specification. (One might be taller or bigger, a few might be women, one could be noticeably younger, racial differences, hairstyles, attitudes, weird mutant coloration, etc.)

        The big bads get the full treatment. A fleshed-out character, full details of their backstory and place in the campaign and/or session plot, careful thought of the specific mechanics of their powers, personality, alliances, etc.

        Often there are time constraints, but this is what I strive for (and hit often enough.)

        What does your process look like?
        Whew. Well, I like to be story driven. Occasionally there's just a "villain-of-the-week," but I like to have an overarching campaign plot, and minor plots within. This helps constrain the characters the players will encounter (if there's a corporation they've discovered that's working with one of the supervillains, the lieutenants will likely be direct proteges of the villain, or hired hands, who may be powerful, but either without the disposition or kinds of powers that could stand on their own. Compatibility is key. If the corporation isn't blood thirsty, they're not going to hire assassins, so stealth won't be a common trait. If they make volatile chemicals, they're not going to have a pyrokinetic as a security guard in their secret basement.)

        So I start with an image of the kind of character I want early on. Once I've settled on a power--hopefully nothing similar to what the players have seen recently--I try to see if there's a new twist I can put on it. In either case, then it's straight to Hero Lab to build it to an appropriate PL. As NPCs, I'm not too picky with power point limits, especially for lower-PL NPCs who I want to have interesting powers. But otherwise I try to be somewhat close.

        Also... I almost never try to match villains to counter the heroes. I plan to have an "anti-hero team" crop up at some point in the future, but generally speaking, the plot is the biggest factor as far as who they run into. Occasional exceptions are made for players who have characters who like to engage against a specific enemy. A swordsman just has to eventually run into another swordsman, etc.

        Whats the biggest challenge for you when it comes to building NPC's?
        (1) Time. If I have a climactic battle planned with several lieutenants, two big bads and a host of minions, even just throwing in generic crooks from the handbook, that all takes quite a while to fully flesh out. The standard heroes from the handbook have always struck me as a weak starting point for my NPCs, as I usually prefer more unique powers and greater variety, and greater depth overall, and random characters seldom feel holistic, especially when trying to match up a backstory. So I may take a few days before I feel I have a decent idea for a good lieutenant. Fortunately, that's not every NPC, but it's enough that there's almost no way I could keep up with the sort of encounters I like to build and run a session every week.

        Yes, I understand that a lot of this is detail the players will likely never encounter--I have scores of characters with scores of traits that have never been noticed--but I like to be prepared for any attempt at discovering such traits, so I try to be as thorough as possible.

        (2) Originality. As I run in a world of my own creation, I try to have NPCs that don't just fit all the tropes, and feel like rehashes. Granted, I have no problem occasionally copying DC/Marvel/etc. characters, but even then I try to change them enough that the similarity isn't always immediately obvious. I also try to do this while having characters who occasionally bring attention to the core rules and such of our gameworld. Yes, if the team's going to face a telepath, there's only so many ways you can do that... but I'm usually determined to scrape the barrel looking for twists on the idea rather than just "she's a bank robber who has Mind Reading, and it powers her high Dodge."
        My builds can be found in the Roll Call forum [url=]here[/url]. And, here's the latest version of [url=]The Cast[/url].
        Currently playing in: [url=][color=#d7af50]Xenoforce: Earth's Strangest Heroes[/color][/url].


        • #5
          Re: Building Villains + NPC's and the like what's your approach?

          When I first began, I had a character sheet for every villain my heroes encountered, including skills, advantages, equipment points, etc. However, as I've grown more comfortable as a GM and with the rules of M&M, it has become obvious how unnecessary this is.

          Nowadays I might keep track of villain by just one, maaaayyybbee two line of notes.


          Brainstorm, PL10, Brain Blast +12: R. Dam 8 Will, Ray Gun + 10: R. Dam 10 Tough, D: 12 P: 12 T: 8 F: 6 W: 14

          And that will handle 95% of that character's encounters with my players. In regards to advantages, my villains have every advantage I feel they need as combat goes on. Does Brainstorm need to do a Power Attack? Bam! Now he has Power Attack. The mechanics aren't as important as making sure that combat is interesting, dynamic, and believable.

          Skills are given a similar rule of thumb for my villains. Their PL +/- 5 as appropriate. Brainstorm is a super scientist. So he has a Technology of 15, an Athletics of 5, and a Perception of 10. Simple as that.

          My players don't care how interesting my villain's combat mechanics are, they care about how interesting my villain is in combat. It's a fine distinction, but an important one that I've seen many rookie GMs misunderstand.

          So as I made clear, I can make a villain's combat stats in under 3 minutes. I'm sure there are GMs here who are much faster than that. When I'm getting ready for a session, what time I don't devote to general plotting and personal drama of my PCs is used on developing the personality of my villain. Who they are, how they speak, why do they speak that way, what are their goals, how would this person accomplish their goals, etc.

          Generally, I will start with an archetype or a seed of inspiration from some other piece of media, and then expand from there. Brainstorm was inspired by Saturday morning villains like Cobra Commander. He has a funny voice, he likes to monologue, and he is very one dimensionally dedicated to his own evilness.

          From that base point, I will try to get into character. Whenever I'm driving, I'm almost always speaking in character as one of my villains. It lets me flesh them out, become comfortable with using that persona, and allows me to act more naturally when it comes time to play.

          Now to be clear, I don't believe that every villain you create needs to be the most original, Pulitzer-winning character ever conceived. Comic books are known for playing towards certain archetypes, and the reason a lot of people play M&M is to interact with those archetypes. The key isn't to make our villains original, it is to make them believable. The more fleshed out, solid, and/or "real" your villain is, the bigger impact they will have on your players.

          Brainstorm was my attempt to mimic the corny villainy of old 80's cartoons. Yet he has enough personality in spite of his copycat origins, he has quickly become my players' favorite villain to face off against.

          Brainstorm isn't a successful villain to my players because he is a super scientist with a Brain Blast+12 and a Ray Gun+10. Brainstorm is a successful viallain to my players because he is their super scientist with a Brain Blast+12 and a Ray Gun+10.