Checklist NPCs

Often when I’m running a game, I focus on antagonist NPCs, characters who force me to think about what they’re doing and how the player characters can react to their activities. It is rare when an allied NPC gets spotlight time, which brings me to this idea of “checklist NPCs”. The NPC is associated with a checklist of prompts or events that best represent their purpose in the game. A player can check an item off the list to bring that event into play.

  • Checklist NPCs shift mental effort from the GM to the player or players most invested in their character’s relationship with that NPC.
  • The checklist items reinforce the archetype or personality of the NPC.
  • Often there is an ending event or some sort of mechanic whereby the NPC’s relationship can evolve once a certain number of events occur.

Over the past few years I’ve scraped together enough time to make two collections of checklist NPCs. They’re over on my itch page:

  • A mundane friend for your costumed hero
  • A shady corporate quest-giver
  • A hairy copilot
  • A rival or frenemy
  • A loan shark
  • A god
  • A guy in the chair
  • A young tagalong
  • A mentor
  • A transactional relationship with an old friend
  • A real scumbag
  • An ex
  • A gang leader
  • A bounty hunter

I Can’t Take All (or Any) of the Credit

Although I’ve certainly taken to the idea of checklist NPCs, the inspiration for my work mainly comes from Paul Czege, who has created several NPCs in this style, starting with a good, good boy over on his itch page.

Furthermore, I’m not sure any of these resources would’ve gotten made if not for Michael Prescott’s MOSAIC Strict idea, which describes a sort of schema for producing atomic, self-contained rpg mechanisms.

Why Now?

I’ve been working hard on White Line Nightmare, and after I had gotten through chargen’s Tragic Backstory section, I realized it would be fun to give each player a checklist NPC relationship from the start. I modified some of my Stay Awhile and Listen npcs, added some more, and here we are.

Not Just For That Annoying Sidekick

Consider using checklists for more than just NPCs in your own games. For example, my group plays Star Wars across a multitude of systems. It would be nice to have a consistent way to handle the temptation of the Dark Side, so I made that a checklist that can plug into nearly any game.

Maybe there’s a magical artifact that you’d like to imbue with some cool effects besides a +1. Perhaps the crew’s starship has a lot of custom modifications that make it temperamental. There are many opportunities for you to do these little bits of game design without worrying too much about throwing something out of whack. Have fun!

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